This is the fifth of 7 daily posts about the songs on my first solo EP, Story Unfolding. It will be for sale on Bandcamp starting January 27, 2013. Before the official release, you can listen to samples on Reverb Nation.
One bit of advice I heard from a more experienced songwriter a few years back is: it's okay to borrow. He played a guitar riff of his that he knows is very similar to one in a Bruce Springsteen song. But that riff is very much like a riff in a song recorded 10 years earlier by another artist. Artists borrow all the time.
Sometimes in the process, I realize that I've done this, too. As I sing/play/write a song, I'll sometimes realize that the hook I thought was so catchy and original, is actually based on something I've had in my music library for years. And that's okay. I don't want to totally rip-off someone else's song, of course. I've thrown out a song or two over the years because I realized it would always sound like that other song. But when another artist's work is inspired, and when it is inspirational to you, it moves your own art in new directions. Such is the case for "Where Will You Go."
The song started out as a finger-picked guitar melody in A-minor, but capoed on the 2nd fret to put it in B-minor. It was pretty and delicate, and the minor key made it mysterious and spooky. I recorded it on my computer (GarageBand is great as a digital musical idea scrapbook) and let it stew for a while.
I came back to it. Played it some more. Got better at playing it. Hummed a few vocal melodies along with it. Started imagining that the song would be a great duet for a baritone and an alto.
"Wait a minute. Hold up. What does this sound like?"
I turned the guitar melody over a few times in my head. Then I went to my iTunes library. Looked for songs with captivating male and female harmony, great acoustic guitar melodies, and spooky minor keys.
"Uh-oh. There it is. If the song were in 4/4 instead of 3/4, this would sound a lot like '20 Years' by The Civil Wars."
I love The Civil Wars. Which is why, when I wrote the little guitar melody, I liked it a lot. The inspiration for the song came from another song. And that became the inspiration for writing the rest of it, too.
I changed the guitar picking a bit, I left it in 3/4, and I kept going on it. I wrote some lyrics based on Jesus healing the leper in Matthew 8. I came up with a different chord progression and vocal melodies. I played it for Daniel Christian, played it for my brother, played it at an open mic. At this point the song had taken a life of its own. I asked Crystal Davy to sing on it, because I couldn't get the male and female harmonies out of my head. We recorded it, added a big bass drum, shakers, vibraphone, a Nashville-strung guitar, and sent it off to Eric Medley for mixing. Got a message back from him a few days later:
"I'd like to add a bass instrument and perhaps a little snare drum just in the short big section prior to the last breakdown. I think it would take it a little more in a Civil Wars/Decemberists direction."
Good call. I hope the end result reflects the inspiration, but is at the same time unique and original.