Writing an album as SON OF THE FOX

Visit sonofthefox.com to listen to the music.

The past few months have been quite productive for me creatively, and I've been sitting down to write music as often as I can. When we were camped just outside Nashville for a week, I got a chance to record a few demo tracks. By some random chance, Jenn clicked a Facebook link that revealed the meaning of our last name, and now my music is packaged as Son of the Fox.

It's strange — before I had a name or made up a logo, it felt like I just had a few songs sitting around in a notebook that I could play around the campfire. Now that I have a name and a website, it feels like a real thing. So, yeah, I'm working on an album and you can listen to it as it's being written at sonofthefox.com

Writing the music

Typically I'll just fool around with a few chord progressions and record them into my iPhone voice memos where they gather digital dust. Occasionally I'll have some sort of melodic idea to go along with the chords, and even more rarely I'll get a lyric idea right away and start working it into a full song. 

For whatever reason during the months of April and May all the songs were showing up more or less complete each time I sat down to write. That's rare, but it's my dream scenario: start playing, start writing, and end up with a complete song in an hour or two.

About the songs

These songs are weird. They are in styles I've never written before. One I wrote completely on a piano. One is totally country. One came to me in a dream. More than once I woke up at 3am with lyric ideas that I typed into Evernote with one eye open. The main thing I've had to overcome is the idea that I "should" write in some particular style, or sound some particular way. After that it's all procrastination vs productivity. Show up and work on music, and the muse might show up too.

The track Outta Here is sort of a redneck vacation song that was finished in about 5 minutes as I was sitting on the shore of the lake with Jenga. The last one, Freedom, is a more contemplative life philosophy type song I wrote after reading Bruce Lee: Artist of Life. Everything in-between is a mix of life songs and love songs.

I'm learning that inspiration will strike whenever it wants to, and if I'm not ready to capture it I'll miss out on a great experience and possibly a great song. I keep thinking about all the times I've watched a movie instead of writing music, how many songs have I missed? Here's to not missing any more music!

If you're interested in the gear I used to record everything, I wrote up a little page about that on the SOTF site. Enjoy!

Jenn's Christmas Song

The month of December was a strange one for us.

For the first two weeks of the month, I flew back to Portland to work with my new business partner, Lou Radja. It was about 1:00am by the time I got back to the trailer from the airport. Jenn was taking off for a week long Portland visit of her own at 5:00am the same morning!

After a short nap I dropped Jenn off at the airport I'd just come from. I returned to discover there was more than just holiday decor waiting for me. Aside from things generally being decorated to the max for the season, she'd left a little tree covered in gift tags.  

There just happened to be 12 days until Christmas. There were 12 tags on the tree, which was surrounded by little presents. She'd gotten me everything I'm always looking for, like local honey and two games of chess in a row. It was awesome. I was terrified.

She'd be gone for a week, and I had come up with nothing nearly as creative to give her as a Christmas gift. So I did the only thing I could think of, I picked up my guitar and started writing a song.

At first, it was pretty much just standard cheesy love song lyrics. I worked out the basic chords and a few vocal ideas, then set it aside for a day. When I picked it up again, I had a funny verse line in mind, and added that to the mix. It started to feel like a 90% cheesy, 10% fun song, and I thought, why not just go 50/50?

I re-wrote all the verses to describe everything from how we met (on match.com) to her spirit animal (the glorious Unicorn). Each verse starts with a serious sounding line, then ends with a personal twist or joke.

This is easily my favorite love song I've been lucky enough to compose so far. Owing to our time in Nashville, its even got a bit of a country twang. To really bring home the Unicorn callback, it starts with a short audio clip straight out of Jenn's favorite childhood movie, The Last Unicorn.

Writing songs in Music City U.S.A.

On our way from Maine to Florida we stopped off in Nashville to visit my cousin, Shayla, and her beautiful family. We had an awesome time touring the city together, enjoying delicious food and drink that reminded us of being home in Portland.

Her husband, Jackson, recently signed the first major deal of his flourishing Country music career with Curb Records. He was kind enough to give us a personal tour of the studios (and bars) where great music is made.

It felt humbling and inspiring to be inside the rooms where some iconic songs were recorded. I even got to play the piano!

On our first night out to dinner at bartaco, we were talking about songwriting and how rad it is that Jackson gets to spend his life writing and sharing his music with the masses. I remarked how I'd always seen the word "together" as "to get her", and how some musician should really do something about that.

He instantly started texting a friend of his, who also happened to have the most incredible home recording studio I'd ever seen (and yet another location responsible for some gold records). The next afternoon we were in the studio working on turning that little idea into a song of its own.

Writing songs with a songwriter

Jackson is a true pro, and it was fun to learn first hand how he approached his craft. It was also inspiring to write as a team, since whenever one of us ran out of steam the other would kick in a new idea to keep things moving forward. 

At first we weren't sure where to take the idea — was it a "lost the girl and gotta get her back" song, or a "so lucky to have her" kind of thing? Sad or happy? Being generally happy folks, we went the positive route.

After some conversation we landed on a theme — a relationship that blossomed into a comfortable love where the little things still mattered. I had no idea how we'd complete the song in one sitting.

Our Studio host, Dale, was playing around on an electric guitar. Jackson started singing some nonsense words to different melodies. In no time he'd created the melodic blanks for us to fill in with lyrics. That kind of structure made it much easier to focus creatively, and gave me hope that we might actually leave the session with a complete song.

We worked our way through the song, finding melodic structures to frame the lyrics, then filling them in line by line. After a few hours of work we had the song finished and ready to be made into a demo track. Dale completed the track a few days later and Jackson went in to add his vocals. The final demo turned out awesome, but unfortunately can't be shared publicly. Fortunately you can check out Jackson's new music on iTunes!

It felt great be in a professional studio, writing music with a professional songwriter. Even though the track may never hit the Billboard charts, it'll always remind me of our wonderful time in Nashville, and inspire me to approach songwriting like any other job — show up and do work!

A song from Beverly Shores

I wrote this song as we camped just outside Chicago. The whole thing came together in about 2 hours from writing to complete recording. Usually it's much more frustrating to get from start to finish, so this one was a nice surprise.

My plan is to continue writing and recording songs everywhere we camp. This week, I begin the challenge of licensing songs for use in video/film. I have no idea what is involved in creating a consistent revenue stream from music, but I am taking on the challenge and will share whatever I learn along the way.

The sound of camping on a cliffside

Here's a little tune that came to me while enjoying the view from our cliffside campsite at Whistler RV Park. I may add vocals at some point, but I'm trying to get into the habit of sharing the process rather than waiting for the elusive "some point".

One of the driving reasons behind our recent lifestyle shift was to free up large blocks of time for our personal creative work. To spend as much life as possible doing the things that matter most to us. To in some way "turn pro", as Steven Pressfield describes in his excellent book, The War of Art 

When we’re living as amateurs, we’re running away from our calling—meaning our work, our destiny, the obligation to become our truest and highest selves.
— Steven Pressfield

He follows that with, "To feel ambition and to act upon it is to embrace the unique calling of our souls. Not to act upon that ambition is to turn our backs on ourselves and on the reason for our existence." Please enjoy the first song from the first week of this new way of being.