Jackie McLean of the indie band Roan Yellowthorn grants us an inside look at the making of an album from start to finish in her ‘Breaking The Record’ column.
Stream: “I Started a Joke” – Roan Yellowthorn
Since my new album isn’t coming out for another few months (it got pushed back because of all the craziness happening right now) I’ve been really happy to be able to use this platform as an overall outlet. There is a lot I want to say. A lot I want to talk about. Truth I want to speak. Truth I want to live.
Just jumping into the Breaking The Record series documenting the making of our album from start to finish? Read part 1
In songwriting, I find that the best songs I write are the ones where I am telling a truth to the best of my ability and to the fullest extent it can be told. This means that I have to do one crucial thing first – admit the truth to myself. The same way you can usually tell if someone is lying, you can also usually tell if a song comes from a place of truth or if it doesn’t. When it doesn’t, it won’t hit you hard the way a song born of truth will hit you – like a punch in the stomach. I’ve heard love songs before and felt instinctively that the writer wrote it to prove something to someone else or to themselves; you can tell when a writer isn’t being truthful about their own true feelings. It comes through in the song. A truly good song speaks the truth, no matter if the truth is messy or embarrassing or humbling or casts the writer in a less-than-heroic light or makes them feel very vulnerable. A truly good song puts the truth above all else.
For me, songwriting is the place where I am the most truthful. I often go through life in a bit of a fantasy – feeling disconnected from my physical body and surroundings. I think that I live in something of a make-believe world. I am so in my head – my imagination, my memory, my dreams. But the act of songwriting forces me to face reality, to face the truth, to face myself, my experiences, my real and actual life. My truth. This is why songwriting is so difficult. It’s not the rhyming that’s difficult. It’s not the structuring. It’s not the rhythm or the formatting that’s hard. It’s not even the melody, the chord structure, or the marriage of the two. No, what’s hard about songwriting for me, what takes so much energy and life-force is the process of telling the truth. Of feeling it. Of tapping into a place that usually lies hidden inside and of accepting whatever comes out. Sometimes what comes out is a shock. Sometimes it’s unpleasant. Sometimes it diverges from the truth you tell yourself or the truth that you tell others. It’s difficult because, in order to do it well, you must be brave. You must be fearless in searching for the truth and you must be fearless in revealing it.
Often, when a song is just not coming together, it’s because what you’re trying to say is not true. It’s because what you want to say, what you want to believe, is not what you actually know, deep in your core. It’s almost impossible to write a lie into a song and make it sound true. So the song keeps getting re-worked and re-worked until you sit down and really think about what it is that you feel about the thing you’re writing about and you’ll find, every time, that it was wrong – that what you really believe is something else. And once you figure that out, the song will come together. The song will come together so easily that it’s almost like it’s forming itself.
The process of doing this, over and over again, has helped me to live and speak truth in my actual life. Exercising that muscle has made it stronger. It’s getting stronger every day.
During this time, I’ve been listening to a lot of good music. One song I really love is ‘Untouchable Face’ by Ani Difranco. She’s honest.
And sign up for my email list! I’m about to start something really cool that you’ll want to know about: roanyellowthorn.com
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📸 © Jackie McLean
:: Breaking the Record ::