Thursday, January 22, 2009
The Story behind the music: "Here Comes Goodbye"
Clint Lagerberg is literally the smartest, most incredible writer I've ever had the chance to write with - and over the last year, I've gotten to write with a lot of really, really great writers. And, no, I'm not just saying that because Clint cowrote the song that just got cut by Rascal Flatts. I was saying that long before Flatts ever put our song on hold and even longer before Flatts released the song as their first single for their upcoming album Unstoppable (due April 7).
Clint was my cowriter on Empty Me the first single from my record Running Back to You that came out almost a year ago now. When we wrote together the first time, I was blown away by his discipline and his attention, not to every detail but every detail that mattered.
In April of last year, Clint and I had a writing session on the books. When I got to his house in Spring Hill, he told me about this new program he had devised to try and get a cut on the Rascal Flatts album, which he knew was looking for songs at the time. He had gone through every Flatts song and come up with an entire album's worth of titles. With each title, he had a basic idea for the song, a line or two for each one, and a feel (up-tempo, ballad, etc.) for each one. Genius.
The one that I gravitated toward was a title "Here Comes Goodbye". Clint had the idea that a guy hears his lover coming up the driveway and slowly figures out that she's saying goodbye. The line he had written down was "here comes goodbye."
With those elements as a GREAT starting point, we sat down and spent the next couple of hours trying to figure out how to word it. Clint had the first line: "I can hear the truck tires coming up the gravel road". For the next line we wanted to give the feeling that something was wrong. It took us nearly an hour of throwing things around (and getting on rabbit trails talking about music) before we settled on "and it's not like her to drive that slow with nothing on the radio". We thought maybe it should be about a sad song on the radio. We threw out female artist's names with lines like "...with Loretta on the radio" and "...and Martina's on the radio". Finally we settled on nothing being on the radio.
We then wanted to create the sense that with each footstep, with each sound, the dread is building up in the protagonist's mind. We tossed around and tossed out several ideas before landing on "footsteps on the front porch, now I hear my doorbell; she usually comes right in, now I can tell". How better to paint a picture of something being wrong than the fact that your girlfriend/significant other usually comes in but she's now ringing the door bell. And suddenly our guy knows that he and her are through.
The line "Here comes goodbye" is a great line, but we struggled with where to go. We spent close to an hour going back and forth with different approaches. Once we know goodbye is here, how do we paint a picture of heartbreak? After a while, I remember suggesting we treat goodbye like an animate object, and then treat other things that come with break up like animate objects. It became "...here comes the last time, here comes the start of every sleepless night, the first of every tear I'm gonna cry...here comes the pain." Those 4 lines took us forever, but once we had them we knew we had something special.
We ended the chorus with taking it almost into the future: "Here comes me wishing things hadn't ever changed and she was right here in my arms tonight...here comes goodbye." As we wrote it, I remember singing through what we had and getting chills, thinking that this song was approaching love lost in a way that I hadn't seen before. Like I said, Clint is a genius.
Clint has a great project/demo studio in his house, with lots of toys (guitars, keys, etc.). I was playing piano and he was playing acoustic. And we had written an entire treatment of the verse music that was really good, but somehow wasn't kicking our butts like the chorus music was. I mean, we would sing through the chorus and get chills...the verse didn't really do the same thing.
I had to leave because my parents were in town, and Clint was going to have me lay down the piano part to have so we didn't forget it. His daughter, Abby, was downstairs and was being really quiet...with 5 year olds, when they're quiet it usually means trouble, so Clint went to go check on her. As he went downstairs, I began messing around with a piano part that I had had in my bank for a while, just messing around. Clint came back up (Abby is an angel, and was just playing quietly) and I remember telling him that next time we got together we should write a song to this piano riff. He listened for a little bit, then told me to try it with the verse lyric. And boom! It fit like a glove. We threw out the old verse music and I laid down what is now the opening haunting piano riff at the beginning of the song.
After I laid down the part, I left and hung out with my parents. The next morning, Clint called me and said, "Man, I think I just wrote the 2nd verse last night without you." I was a little disappointed at first, 'cause I LOVE the chase of finding the right thing to say in the second verse. But my disappointment soon turned to elation, when he read me this lyric:
"I can hear her say I love you like it was yesterday
And I could see it written on her face that she had never felt this way
One day I thought I'd see her with her daddy by her side
And violins would play 'Here Comes the Bride'
But...here comes goodbye..."
We were both silent for a second and then I cleared the lump from my throat and said, "Dude, we just wrote our first big hit, didn't we?"
The next day, we got together and wrote the bridge. The day after that Sean McConnell (a good friend of Clint's and another amazing singer/songwriter - google him NOW) came into Clint's studio and sang the demo. The morning after that, Clint and I turned it into our publishers. And later that day I got a call from my publisher saying that Joe Don Rooney (Flatts' guitar player) had heard the song, loved it and put it on hold! I flipped out...once I figured out what it meant to have a song on hold.
Then, came the long, long wait. Finally at the beginning of November, my publisher called me and told me that Dann Huff (the producer) had called saying, "We just cut the crap out of your song!" I knew what that meant! And I was elated!
Now, lots of songs get cut for huge projects like this. But not all of them make the record. So, we weren't in the clear yet. Last week, my publisher called me and said, "I just talked to Dann Huff and asked him if our song had made the record." At this point, my heart started to pound, because my publisher sounded very sad. She sighed. "He said that he wasn't sure if it was gonna make the record." She paused and my heart sank. Then she continued, "But he said we'll know by Thursday if it's the first or second single!!!" And I was in shock.
Then on Wednesday, I was driving to Atlanta for a show and got the phone call from my publisher again..."It's the first single!" And I almost drove off the road.