Songwriting at night and bringing back gold coins from the in-between land.

One of my very favorite times of day to work on music isn’t a time of day at all, it’s a time of night. Best is between 10:30 and midnight, when I love to sprawl on the couch with my guitar and pluck out chords and mumble melodies to myself. Outside the window lurks the San Francisco Bay, which is watched over by the slow, steady sweep of the lighthouse beam shining out from Alcatraz.

Mostly I use these sessions to solve problems. Maybe I need some better chords or maybe there’s a lyric idea I just can’t quite find the words to express or maybe it’s some combination of words and music I’m after. No matter, the night time is the right time (couldn’t resist). However, come morning, I confess, many of the ideas I thought were so great the night before seem incomprehensible, but I understand why. It’s because when I work late at night I’m in that in-between place where you teeter on the edge of sleep and your mind works in ways a fully awake mind just doesn’t. Thoughts you would dismiss at noon are welcomed and you will chase ideas you wouldn’t entertain for a minute over breakfast.

On those lucky mornings when the bright light of day does not incinerate the work from the night before, but rather glints off of its polished surface, you know you have something of profound value. Because you have come back from that in-between, near make-believe place with something real. Imagine if you could wake from a dream in which you were wealthy beyond measure and in your hand was the massive gold coin you had been holding in your dream. You would close your fingers over it, put its reality to every test you could imagine, you would not believe your luck. It’s like that.

My tunes are full of examples of nightwriting, but I think my favorite is the middle 8 of The Forgotten Place on Deep Salvage (listen below!). The words to the song were written by my friend Dave Tutin and the music to the verses and chorus had come easily and quickly. But the middle 8 resisted all of my attempts to crack it. Morning after morning I awoke to replay what I had played the night before, only to set my guitar back down in failure. Until one morning I replayed the night’s work and... liked it. I played it all that day and the next and the next, I recorded a demo, I played the demo in the car, I put its reality to every test I could think of... I still liked it. Finally, I recorded the song. And that section, for me, is the gold coin brought back from a dream.

Thank you, water, light and dark. I hope to jam with you many more times in the future.

<a href="">The Forgotten Place by Dave Tutin and Jeff Shattuck</a>