CHApter one notes
Jaco and I had talked about this project for over a year, but I had put off writing any of the songs because I was in the midst of still traveling for GATHER and also totally intimidated by what was laid out before me. I had been given each Chapter of Jaco’s book as it was being written and I had spent time with the short book of Joel off and on throughout the year, but to be perfectly honest, it was hard for me to pull out meaning; and I needed Jaco to help guide me through the depths of Joel’s subject matter and thankfully his writing is just as good as his teaching and it accomplished just that. In our conversations, he extended an enormous amount of freedom, but he also gave me some tall guardrails, to help guide me in the process of writing. I found these to be very helpful as it narrowed my focus, yet also really challenging, as the vision became incredibly narrow in some ways?! As I sat down to begin to write, I invited my friends into the process and came armed to every writing session with the Joel text we were focusing on as well as two pages of notes from Jaco’s book to help guide the theme and direction for each song, and what happened with many of the songs was like a surprise or a gift that I got to unwrap, as we chased after the heart of each of the two songs for each chapter; ultimately trying to follow and craft a musical journey that fit the narrative of the story we were reading.
My friend Rachel and I gathered to write in her kitchen that first morning and I brought a guitar part that had surfaced the week before as I was reading Joel. We both agreed the music captured the spirit of what we were reading, and proceeded to write what we thought would be song number one. But after a week of letting the song breathe, realized it needed to become the second song on We Will Remember (more on that later). We dove headfirst into the first half of Joel and culled through the amazingly descriptive imagery that Joel uses to describe the devastation of the plagues of locusts. We felt like our job was to just mine all of the lyrical beauty out of the text. It was not hard to capture the heart of it, and it moved us both to land on a simple chorus of utter helplessness. All throughout Joel 1, the text repeatedly calls us to wail, grieve, mourn, call out, despair, cry and Rachel and I knew that that is what needed to be repeated in the chorus. As we wrestle with the gap that loss creates - between the ‘way it is’ and ‘the way it should be’ in our hearts and minds - we yearn for a dominant other to bridge that gap and bring us hope… and so crying out in lament is what is called for; for as Jaco describes when we cry out, it is not God coming close to us (because he has always been close), but rather us reaching out to God… and ultimately, placing us in a greater narrative than we could on our own.
After sitting with ‘Cry Out To You’ for a while and being moved by what we had written, (which is always a good thing as a songwriter) we began to re-think this as the first song, as we thought about the flow of an entire album of songs. One of the hardest parts about writing this project was that I knew we needed to write the songs in order to help build the narrative, and starting in the complete utter desperation we had just created, would be really hard for any listener to engage out of the gate. The first verse paints a pretty dire picture - ‘The leaves have dried up / The earth is aching / There is no water for the roots / The ground is grieving / No food for taking / And I am withering too, yes I am withering too’ is a pretty rough place to start! And much like a good novel or a Sunday morning service, there needed to be an introduction… or a ‘call to worship’, as liturgical churches call it - a ‘welcome to the story’ that is about to unfold with the understanding that you have a place here. So Rachel and I returned to Joel to give us guidance on where to start this journey and there in chapter 1, we found exactly what we needed - Joel had written a call to worship for us - but we had skipped right over it to dive into the devastation. And isn’t that how we live sometimes? We first see the bad or the difficult and sometimes we focus on that, while missing the urge to community that Joel calls us to. Joel writes -
‘Hear this you elders; listen all who live in the land. Has anything like this happened in your days or in the days of of your ancestors? Tell it to your children, and let your children tell it to their children, and their children to the next generation.’
We had missed his call - right from the very beginning of the book - Joel comforts us with those words of utter importance that we are not alone and that for the love of our children and those who will come after us, we must dive into our loss so that there will be comfort moving forward. Now that is a much better beginning! And a beginning that is both worthy and much easier to step in to. And as Jaco writes, it is not a question of if the locusts and loss will come, it is merely a question of when. So the chorus needed to be intimate and inviting, engaging the listener to step into this story that is a story we are all a part of, regardless of where you find yourself exactly in it. A chorus that doesn’t soften loss, but helps keep it in it’s place, and as something that we can and are meant to learn from and in an essence, embrace.
While backstage at one of my favorite festivals (Soulfest in New Hampshire), I had an amazing conversation with a friend named Frank, who after listening to me play ‘Hear This,’ gave me this pearl of wisdom; When we are in the valley, we often fight so hard to get out of the valley as fast as possible, that we miss what God has for us to learn in that place. We wanted to capture that idea that we are called to ‘receive what sorrow gives’ and ultimately, receive what God has for us in that difficult space. Wisdom comes in the bottom of the valley… so wait for it… and know that many have gone before you, to that dark and difficult place.
Rachel and I wrestled ‘Hear This’ the most out of any song that we wrote for this project. As the first song, it had to achieve so many different things and hold so many qualities that would encourage, challenge, and engage the listener. The melody and music changed three times for the verses, the chorus went back and forth twice and didn’t land solidly until a couple weeks before we went into the studio and I’m grateful to Rachel for hanging in with me and fighting for what she believed to be true about this song as well. It was a beautiful beginning to this project.
And many thanks again to Frank Tate for that wisdom that challenged me greatly, as I hiked up the mountain in New Hampshire that afternoon and that continues to affect me even more as I play these songs out live for you nice folks. I truly hope you will find the comfort in them… especially in Chapter Two’s songs that dive even deeper into the community that Joel calls us to.