This was around the time I was listening to Michael Holt’s Windows and I was really curious about his writing process. I called Mike up and asked if I could come over to talk to him about writing, and to play a bit. We got together for a couple hours one afternoon and talked a lot about being honest, and about playing only what you hear.
Ali once told me about this thing she heard Paul Simon say in an interview: He said that when you have writer’s block, it’s because you’re not writing from where you are. When you’re not writing from where you are, you’re trying to be something you’re not, and that’s usually a bad idea.
So Michael and I talked for a while, and then we played – Michael played piano, I played guitar. We didn’t play any tunes, though, just improvising over simple changes. I think we just played over a C and F chord for about 20 minutes, taking turns playing what we hear. When I say “what we hear,” I mean melodies that you hear in your head before your fingers touch your instrument.
It’s easy to let your fingers improvise while your brain kind of checks out.
We also talked about how he develops a song in his head long before he brings it to the piano to play. He won’t play it on any instrument, he won’t record it, and he won’t write it down. That way, if it survives, it survives by it’s own strength.
That’s how I wrote Take This, Leave That. I sat at the keyboard for a few minutes each day and developed this little melody. Whatever I couldn’t remember the next day was lost – it wasn’t strong enough in the first place to be remembered!
It’s simple on purpose. It’s just exactly what I heard that week.
We got lucky in the studio on Wednesday and got it down in the first take. I usually don’t like to do more than three takes, but one is even better!
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