Question: How do you write a comedy song?
I like it best when there's just a little crystal of an
idea that comes from somewhere, I know not where, and it just sort of
springs forth. A little tiny idea. It can be a line, or an image or just
something that a character would say and, ideally, when it works best,
it's a thing that occurs to me and then I immediately know everything
about that character. It's a little nugget of a thing that makes me
completely understand who this person is and then it just sort of comes
out and it's very easy.
It's rarely like that however. More
often, I have to really kickstart that process at any number of points.
So I might sit around with a guitar and just play and play and play and
play. You know, noodling until I come up with a musical idea that I
like. And then I'll play the musical idea over and over again and sort
of hum nonsense syllables against it until I hear a word that I think
works and maybe that word becomes something. You know, "I know this line
ends with the word 'dissolve.' And so, what rhymes with dissolve and
then what could that be about?" And along the way you have to sort of
keep stepping back and looking at it and seeing if it makes sense and
thinking about where you wanted to take the listener and just sort of
piece by piece, stringing it together until it's the thing that you
believe it should be. Question: What genres have
proven most influential in your music?
a real sucker for the slow, sad, sensitive, folky stuff. I really am.
It's one of the reasons that I love bluegrass. I came to listen to
bluegrass relatively recently but it’s one of the few styles of music
that actually can move me to tears when I'm listening to it. Some of the
sadder bluegrass songs are so amazingly powerful, have such an
emotional quality to them even though the music is very simple and the
message is very simple. There's always a child dying or somebody's
mother is dying or it's somebody just missing their family who's far
away. It's very simple concepts but something about the simplicity of
the music and the simplicity of the ideas, just expressed in this really
raw way. Really, really hits me.
And so I try when I can to,
you know a lot of the time I am writing funny songs, but I try to bring
out that emotional aspect of it when I can. I try to find sympathy for
the characters that I'm writing about, even if they're ridiculous, which
frequently they are. I like to think, "Well, what, you know what do
they want?" and more important, "What is it that they want that they're
not getting, that they're never going to get and why is that sad to
them?" That’s to me the heart of writing a good song, is getting to that
piece of it. Question: What bluegrass song really
does it for you?
I can't think of
the name of the song now, but it's a Stanley Brothers song and it might
be called “My Precious Children,” or something like that, but he's
talking about how his kids have grown up and moved away and it used to
be the family was together all the time and now they're dispersed and he
rarely sees them. I'm getting a little shivery just thinking about it
and maybe it's because I'm a parent now that, that means so much to me,
but that's the one that you know I was driving somewhere in the car and
that song came on and I started weeping. It's really, really amazing.
Recorded on May 6, 2010