TINY DESK 2020 • The Making of On My Way
On My Way is not unusual by birth. It came to this world between two songwriters from very different backgrounds, written over several conversations, hangouts and texts. The over-all message was the first thing we established. While this is not my typical approach, better to have a focus when two minds come together with one desired outcome.
This past summer into fall, Joseph’s album: I’m Alone, No You’re Not resonated so deeply with my need to find salvation and direction in my life, that I had been binging it for weeks. Maybe even months. I had been soaking my soul in their record, absorbing each and every emotion emitting from those 3-5 minute increments.
They offered words of support and encouragement, tales of longing and loss, a recipe guide on how to never give up. I comforted myself in the idea of salvation, “I’d rather be dead than live a lie, burn the white flag.” While in the next 246-second segment I was refusing to die a quiet Nashville death, asking for someone to come lend a hand, “screaming under water SOS…did it to myself now I need your help.” What a great album.
The record had been out for three years. I was introduced to it in 2017 during my time as a VJ host at DittyTV. I had segwayed it plenty of times; it was on the show frequently. But it’s funny the way life goes, you know that old chestnut…that record didn’t find me until I needed it. It seemed like it needed me too. That’s the beauty of music, it always has one more story to tell.
Writing a song that is inspired by the songs of another artist/group can be tricky. I didn’t want to copy them. I hadn’t written in a while, it was killing me. This was the perfect icebreaker. Troy, my co-write, had never heard the band or the songs and I didn’t really want him to. I wanted him to read the message and respond to what moved me so deeply about that Joseph album. I needed an outside view if I, now we, are going to pull this off. So I wrote scattered lyrics on a page, afraid that if I even said them out loud it would be too leading. After all, I didn’t want to plagiarize; I wanted to be inspired. I wanted him to be inspired.
Looking back at the certificate of birth (the original written concept), I remembered more about that night. We were sitting in my kitchen at the island, opposite of each other. This is pretty much how all the one-on-one hangs at my house go. I keep it dark. Candles and alternative lighting are my jam. We sat with whiskey and weed, also a common staple of the island natives. We had a guitar or two and that piece of paper. I wrote upside down on the paper, it must have been in front of him. The writing is recognizably my own just inverted. It looks like a child wrote it.
“Can you hear me calling
Did it to myself now I need your help
SOS Burn the white flag
I will go down with this ship
(Dido reference I know, but it was fitting)
I’ll be an army, no you’re not gonna stop me getting through”
His reply was conversational. He wrote back a response on the same paper. His take on the situation, an overview if you will.
“Someone on a ship. It’s been hit by an enemy.
They are waiting and believing that help will come,
but will fight to the death to do what they need to do”
He swung the paper back my way and asked me to reply to his thoughts. This had turned into a letter exchange over the island. In retrospect, it seemed like the forgotten art that letter exchange can be. Maybe that was some of the magic.
“Perseverance. Landing on your feet. Rising from the ashes.”
I swung the paper back. I am sure we chatted about it all and cheers’d along the way. It was Troy that gave birth to the beginnings of the song. It was the rough draft of the second verse that came first.
“I’ll be here with you all, when it all goes down
I’ll be here next to you, when it goes to town
not gonna back down, not gonna be afraid
because I know you are on your way”
You can also see a smattering of overwriting and crossing out of words where my turn was next or maybe I modified it later. There is a rough arrangement of chords squeezed into the section where the song began. Down on the right corner you can see where I wrote the first verse, sitting on my couch a few days later.
I had used his chords and melodic start as inspiration to craft this new adventure then sent him my revisions/additions. We co-wrote the bridge over several texts and an in-person visit a week or so later where he introduced me to the “Lou Reed Chord.” I had never used it before (it’s a Gaug6 for all that want to know). He pushed me out of my comfort zone lyrically, telling me to accept his and my own words as they came and to not rework the bridge. It was magical not giving into the standard Nashville argument of re-work, re-write, re-think. It felt a little clunky and awkward at first but Lou tied it all together. After that, the ending came naturally one quite evening while I sat, again, on my couch. This story holds irony and seems metaphorically appropriate in its origin. But it still had more to say the day it came to Tiny Desk.
Choosing a song for Tiny Desk can be difficult or simple. If you are a prolific writer, what single baby do you offer up for this world platform once a year? I didn’t have to think about my entry. I just had to get permission from my dear friend Troy. He said he was honored. Are you kidding? I wouldn’t even know what to submit had we not had a smoke filled whiskey night just a few months before the 2020 submissions began. I already had studio time booked to finish my upcoming releases. What’s a few hours with a ready made band that you’ve already paid for? It’s at least something to offer up to fans in this long-promised, breech-birth of a release that just won’t be born. So we made it happen, the producer was on board and so was the band. On March 1st, I traveled to Lawrence, Kansas to get settled in at my sister’s house for the week at Element Studio in KC, MO.
MARCH 3, 2020
I woke up to pee in the wee hours of the morning and saw a text from a friend. It was just past bar closing time and I hadn’t heard from her in a while. She texted “I hope you and the kitties are ok.” I brushed it off as her fishing for a couch to crash on, but I was in Kansas so I went back to bed. My alarm popped off at 6:45a. I looked at my phone to turn it off and saw 20 or so texts from people I knew. The texts were from all over the United States and they came in the middle of the night. My throat immediately sank into my stomach. You know that feeling when you first realize someone is dead. Something really bad has happened. All these missed calls and texts from people you rarely talk to. The messages were worried and scared.
Are you okay?…….I am worried about you…..Did you all make it okay?…Is your house okay?
What the F@$& is going on? As I furiously scrolled through the messages, it was down a bit that I see the word tornado. I immediately search the web and see that my sweet hometown has been hit. North and East Nashville and Germantown have all been hit. Tennessee has been hit. People are dead.
I am 650 miles away and my life and friends are in East Nashville. My home is on the east side. I started wailing. My heart was just broken. I couldn’t go home to help, to be a light of love and support. My life is planned 3 months out. The studio is already paid for and I can’t afford to reschedule. I cried and drank whiskey for three hours that morning. I looked at the destruction online not knowing who was ok. I spoke to a few friends. We cried some more and speculated as we assessed the damage. I grew up in tornado alley. This isn’t my first time but it never gets easier, some might say it gets harder the older you get, the more precious life and time become.
I showed up to the studio 45 minutes late, eyes swollen, nose running and meeting a group of brand new strangers for the very first awkward time. They were understanding and kind. We settled into tracking day. If there was any song to track on a day like this, On My Way was it and for that I was grateful.
I had harvested the little desk from my niece’s room, a child’s end table or stool really. Joel, studio owner and producer, had this cool plastic dinosaur and a tuba mouthpiece that resembled a bell that we used to decorate the desk. He set up the video and used a mic stand as a tri-pod. He angled the clip horizontal to the ground and allowed the slot to become a holder, like a slice of bread in a toaster. We taped the camera so the angle would get all the players and the tiny desk.
We all know how this stuff goes. You get a few takes while everyone gets the parts ironed out and the sound check happens. We all stood in place and Joel ran around gearing and modifying mic distances, hitting start and stop again and again. It wasn’t until we got our final take and decided to go listen and watch that we realized that something was off. Somewhere in all the running around between the two rooms, the camera had shifted and angled up to the ceiling. The final cut had captured from just above my knees to a whole lot of wall and the drop ceiling above our heads. The Tiny Desk was not in the video.
As Joel is looking through the videos, we notice ALL THE TAKES have no Tiny Desk. It must have shifted after set up. The phone screen was blocked by the mic clip and was hard to see. We all discussed what to do next. Normally we would have just taken another few stabs at it and gotten what we needed, but my voice was totally shot. I had lost it the three weeks prior to coming into the studio. I couldn’t even believe I was able to get the few takes we did land, especially after such an emotional morning.
We all talked about interesting ways to get a tiny desk into the video. Have one pop up, maybe float around, we could super impose one. We agreed to ditch any further takes and let me figure it out in the editing. That can be such a magical phase in art production.
When we transferred the videos to my computer we noticed one of them was 26 minutes long. We had accidently recorded the set-up and sound check. IT HAD THE DESK! I played around in Premiere and got the split screen going on. The sound check footage plays at the bottom while the final take plays at the top. I shrank the 26 minutes of setup into the length of the final cut. I have learned this technique of creating a feature out of an imperfection is called #AddedValue. Overall, the video turned out pretty cool. It has a great story and I am honored to share it with you all.
On My Way
l.bridges + t.daugherty