This post originally debuted on Very Best of Virginia back in 2013 discussing the writing process of our band’s third EP.
It is since been removed because it didn’t change the world like we were all expecting.
I’ve been asking a lot of people recently, “Why do you listen to music?” Once they get over the initial surprise of the question, most realize they don’t have really any concrete idea. Some think it makes them feel good (helps them relax) others say it can help them study or think more clearly about subjects such as life and love. Others just say they like the fat beats. The interesting thing is that no matter what they say, nobody ever answers with, “I don’t listen to music.” If I ask about their favorite book, movie, television show, or video game, somebody is bound to say they don’t really watch movies or TV or play video games, or they even hate reading. But they all listen to music. When I sat down and started writing songs for “Drift,” my first goal was to not screw that up. If everybody likes music, then I’ve got quite a head start over say an author or even a director. I can get my foot in the door just by virtue of my medium. I wrote a couple of short stories in college that I was pretty proud of, but I practically had to mash peoples’ face against the computer screen to get them to read it. Virtually anybody will listen to at least one song I’ve recorded because they figure there’s a decent chance they’d like it (and I suppose one listen takes less time and effort than reading thirty-five, dark pages about ten year olds in the nineties). So what does this mean practically? How did this knowledge influence the writing of “Drift”? Some of you may immediately think that I’m suggesting that we tried to write the most accessible pop music possible. Appeal to the greatest number of people by targeting the lowest common denominator. You would be wrong (I hope). I took this knowledge of music as something that is universally loved to mean that I could write anything and, as long as it was good, we could convert people from whatever genres they found themselves entrenched in. Everybody in my program is an indie/folk fan. If they hear an electric guitar, they die a little inside. Being a primarily electric guitarist, I wanted to write songs that included a heavy amount of lead guitar work, and yet still managed to catch the attention of those that hate the instrument. The difference would have to be quality.
So once again this leads me to what we did practically to write the album. Every song on this EP took a long time to write. “Here For You” in particular went through dozens of iterations where we constantly ripped the song to shreds and started over with new chord progressions, lead lines, rhythms etc. We wanted to perfect every song. But of course, we failed to do so across the board. No song on the EP is perfect. I’d argue no song ever recorded and released into the wild is perfect. Like my music professor in college once said songs are never finished; they are only abandoned.The trick is balancing the idea that if we make songs of a high enough quality we can convert anybody, but also that most people don’t study music enough to realize that we modulated between a melodic and natural minor during a verse because we wanted people to feel unsettled during one particular line. Some people might care; others will have no idea. The important thing is abandoning the song at just the right time. After you’ve worked it enough to be more or less what you want, but before you rewrite the soul out of a song and turn it into unlistenable, pretentious garbage. Which brings us to how we actually wrote the album. Unfortunately, there is no easily defined process with our band. The skeleton for last two songs on the album, “Sing It Back” and “Drag” were written entirely by myself for a songwriting class I was taking my senior year. I’d written around a dozen songs, but those two seemed good enough to take to the band and have them rip apart. The next three songs (excluding the title track “Drift” which was written by Jon at a computer) were collaborations where I would write the general music (chords, lead lines, rhythms) and then Jon (lead singer) would write the lyrics and melody while the rest of the band (Jeremy-Bass, Caleb – Drums, Anna – Keys) contributed their flourishes and flairs until it became something we agreed was Skyward enough.
What is Skyward enough? Well first, some of you may be wondering how I answered the question “Why do you listen to music?” After the very practical answer of “so I can listen to what other people are doing and possibly steal their ideas,” my answer typically is “to be moved emotionally.”If I’m not feeling anything when I’m listening to a song or a band, chances are that I won’t be listening to that band much longer. Of course that emotion can range from happy to sad to angry to anything in between, but I just want to get the emotion behind the song. Even if the song is just instrumental. As far as what emotion we wanted, we always wanted Skyward to feel big. A recent review described us as “expansive”, and I think that’s a pretty accurate assessment of where we were trying to go. The emotional word we often land on is “glorious”. By this we mean that we want people to feel that twinge in the gut that happens when you realize that the box you’ve been attempting to open contains the exact Red Rider BB Gun you’ve been wanting for years. That feeling you get when your car goes over a bump too fast and you feel your stomach drop out from under you. We try to achieve this with huge guitars, pounding drums, sustained vocal notes, anything to make it feel like you’re in a huge arena. Additionally, we try and back up our emotive music with lyrics that are much more deeply personal than before. There are songs inspired by the loss of family friends and the confusion that comes with graduating. We believe the word drift usually seems to imply being lost or being aimless when in reality the word actually connotes motion. Our lyrics revolve around feelings of loneliness or aimlessness that give way to hope and direction. From hopeless to glorious.
And with that, here we are. We’ve made the EP and I think we’ve achieved what we set out to do. We did everything we could not to screw it up, and we did everything we could to let emotion bleed through each song. This is the first album we’ve made where we really had a goal in mind, and I believe that it shows. I can only write so much about what “Drift” means to us as a band. At this point, it seems like the best way to understand it and us is to listen to the thing and come see us at a show. We’d love to talk to you a little more about what gets us excited (answer: good music).