This Companion Stories Series features essays which look at my album The Work and each of its songs in detail, going behind the scenes to de-mystify what artists too often try to keep mysterious.
No Simple Love
Listen on Spotify here.
Sometimes writing songs is just fun :D
I have tons of songs on my computer where I just played around with different instrument sounds and rhythms and layers; no lyrics, just going into my software and saying, “What does this button do?”
The musician St. Vincent (one of my absolute favorites) once said, “At some point you have to learn all you can and then forget everything that you learned in order to actually start making music.” I totally agree. I don’t think about the music theory I learned in school when I’m making songs like this, or usually when I’m making music at all. I’m sure the contrapuntal introduction is all wrong. I know I used some really wonky marks in my score to get the sounds I wanted. But what is music if, at the end of the day, it’s not about how it sounds and how it makes people feel? And this song felt weird and energetic and totally dancey, and that seemed valuable to me.
No Simple Love is certainly the product of experimentation, but with the lyrics added I think it swelled into something bigger than that. The words are my confession that, despite what seems to be a societal imperative that love be childishly simple – a game of satisfying desires and pure selflessness and eternal bliss – I would like a relationship that actually reflects human life, please. I want so much more substance and nuance than the one option we seem to be presented with. I want the flaws to be up front, not insidiously hidden away, destroying the relationship silently from the inside. I want an adult who is doing his own work. I want someone I can do the work with. I want the POWER of that. I’m sure it’s insanely difficult, but I’m saying here that I’m finally ready to show up for it.
My brilliant producer Pete added so much to this song in production. He put a music box effect on the lone piano in the intro, which for me evokes early childhood and its beautiful simplicity. From there the song gets harmonically and rhythmically more complicated, and the reverse cymbals and booms bring out the climax on the climactic words: “Give me your power!” I also wrote a shamisen part in the bridge because why not? A shamisen is a three-stringed Japanese guitar-like situation that has this intensely mesmerizing quality, and I think it adds surprise and intrigue to the song, like the surprises and intrigues of complicated relationships.
I had a lot of fun making this track and I hope you have fun listening to it!
Tune in next week when we dive into Pedagogy of the Oppressed, one of the most lyrically intense songs on the album. See you then!
Words are the backbone of my music. They often reference powerful ideas that strike me in my readings or develop from my life experiences. The creative expression of these ideas sometimes begs for musical form, and other times it comes out on the page. Here is a selection of my lyrics, poems, essays and other writings.