songs from the road
The songs for „The Road“ were written between late 2018 and early 2020. After we met again in October 2018, we rekindled our friendship, Frank helped me set up a studio at home and I just started writing songs again.
It felt very natural again and so they came, one after the other, in quick succession.
Once I realized that each of the songs that emerged described a journey, something that was taking place or describing a different place or things that were happening in a different place and that I used it like a guardrail, the bracket more or less came naturally.
about the songs
„Driving on“ was the first song Frank and I wrote together in late 2018. And, man, we´d been proud! It contains a real connection to the past. It’s not even a love story, it just describes the small part of the frustrating feeling of a relationship that doesn’t work because there are too many things in the room that make getting „really“ together impossible.
And which still seem completely irrelevant. So you look into each other’s eyes, are aware of the facts and, despite the many unsaid and unrealized things, despite your past together, go back apart into your parallel world. It´s hypothetical, not real.
It is my deepest belief that sometimes you just need to be there for someone without really doing anything. Just to give the security that there is someone you can confide in and lean on. That’s the story of „Waste a minute“, a buddy song, the rest of the story is very personal.
Every song I tackle starts on an acoustic guitar. Always and in principle. It’s important to us that all songs can be broken down to that one guitar and vocal to manifest that it’s a song, not a patchwork or painting of sounds or a simulated construction. When I record, in most cases there is a „throughout track“ that includes that basic version. And that you can always go back to if you have to start from scratch in the arrangement. „Waste a minute“ is, according to the simple statement, also musically the simplest song of all. Which doesn’t make it any less beautiful.
I moved away from my hometown about 20 years ago, for professional and personal reasons. Since I was 15, 16, 17, I wanted to get away from the city that was too small for me. I don’t remember exactly why, but the world always seemed bigger.
Whenever I’ve returned in the past 20 years, I’ve been fascinated by how few memories surround me when I seek out the significant places of my youth. Yet mixed in with that indifference is a melancholy feeling of a place where you can’t stay because you have to move on. I found myself finding this very sad and then wishing I had a stronger connection to the place where I grew up. But I sort of have and I cannot explain it. Everytime I return, it makes me rather sad. So „The way it is“ is more a cynical notion than lived reality.
Originally, I didn’t want to shortlist the song for the album. But Frank was rock solid behind it and the guys found something in „The way it is“ that I didn’t see. So the song stayed.
I’ve always been very romantic sitting on a bench by the river when I’m writing a song. Never happened. So I tried it, notebook, beautiful day, bench, river, at the border of the sea, right on the harbor. At the place of my choice, the most beautiful place in the world for me. Not far from home, that is. And it worked. The images produced at this point are so concise and striking that you can not help but actually just translate. That’s how „Part of me“ came about, describing the sometimes impossible and stupid situations in life when you want one thing but do another and neither side is particularly happy with it.
But there are reasons for everything, good or bad, that’s another matter. So here are two trains of thought in dialogue, both exploring the respective extreme. This is one of 2, 3 songs on the album that deal with a tricky situation in life from different angles.
None of the songs on the album have even a hint to do with the time before 2018. Except for „Don’t say you don’t“, I’ve been humming the chorus for 10 years. But I never had the peace, reasons or mood to make more of it or complete the song. So now was the time to clean up with that ghost and bring the song to an end.
And it was actually the only song that gave trouble from the beginning and one of the few that went a lot of rounds before Frank and I were satisfied. First there were discussions about the tempo (halftime yes, no), then about the general sound, then the guitar sound, then backing vocals and and and. The song, with its indifferent and rather affirmative mood, plays down the content of the song, another very memory-laden love story that happened exactly like that (Beach, Beer, Rain down the windows) between a woman and me who didn’t really want to until I couldn’t anymore.
Similar to „Part of me“, I sat down in a place where I knew I would just have to be patient until images and impressions became a song. In this case, however, I did it from memory.
Sometime Saturday morning, Frank sent me several unused layouts he had written for another collaboration and asked if I could check to see if anything was there. And you can bet there was something there.
„How to get on“ in the version I heard there only had a verse, a bridge and half the chorus. Basically, I brought back the images from the place I described above and within a few minutes wove them into the song that it became. So I wrote back, „I need verse, bridge, chorus twice, then an interlude, then verse, bridge, ref and end. And he wrote „moment“ and half an hour later the track was complete. With interlude out of nowhere. That’s Frank.
When I made the pictures into lines in my head, I had the story in front of me as if it were real. And it was about my daughter, laughing, dancing through the old town of Leer, enveloped by a golden light, there in the places where the sunlight makes its way between trees and roofs. My children are all very special to me, my daughter is pure love, emotion, warmth and joy.
At some point, when we already had more than enough songs for the album and we could look at it as a whole, it became clear that all the songs united one theme and that was driving, moving and traveling – bringing distance between one and the other. Not really in a spiritual sense, but more proverbial. If you understand „Here is home“ as the beginning, the feeling of hopelessness and homelessness that the song only describes but does not resolve, „For the road“ is the (good) end. With the realization that there need not be any real, tangible goals that signify an ultimate end or the final achievement of a lifelong dream. Or, if there are, we spend so much time trying to achieve them that the ratios become distorted and the importance of the transfer from-to is made much smaller than it is. And the path that is not understood as a component eats up so much that we should respect that sometimes we just do not get there. And that’s perfectly okay. To put it very simply, it’s sometimes hard to keep in mind that you can decide about tomorrow now.
When Frank and I met, he’d already done a couple of seasons of Nashville, I was just starting out. I was a couple of times about to watch an episode and then I read „country“ and then I thought, nope, don’t do it. No country. When I was little we always had music on but more monothematic. I remember Hendrix, of course, the Beatles, some Byrds, the Kinks. And Johnny Cash. My dad had an LP, I think, and although I never really warmed up to the music, there was something mystical, dark about the voice that always attracted and repelled me at the same time. When I saw Johnny Cash drunk on TV as a child, this impression was solidified.
When you start watching „Nashville“ with that kind of attitude, you’re very quickly very surprised at what’s listed as country today. We watched a lot of Nashville episodes, and when I eventually picked up the guitar to write „Here is home,“ the influence was totally fine.
As the beginning of the album, „Here is home“ describes homelessness, loneliness and a functioning life with no hope-giving elements. I used to feel that way. And when I start with „I miss my sons …“ in the second verse, I’ve had a tear in my eye a time or two, because it takes little to become aware of that feeling.
Homelessness is a powerful, albeit negative, to all kinds of nonsense inspiring basic feeling that I do not wish on anyone’s neck – and this is the bridge to Johnny Cash, with whose voice from the early seventies I associate mainly this feeling.
In the first version, „Here is home“ was what it was supposed to be, a pretty sad song that sounded like it. And nothing is more boring than that. But then Frank saw something completely different and broke with the mood with a four to the floor approach. And that was spot on. The slide guitars and the dominant, acoustic rhythm guitar characterize the first song and then somehow also the album and form almost a quintessence.
My wife and I – and indeed a whole part of my family – are collectively driven by the urge to go north, to a place on the coast where we both feel maximally at home. Whenever difficult decisions have to be made, a lot of nonsense happens and things don’t go as they could or should, this place is the one that really brings us back down to earth, showing us the things that are really important in life. I won’t give away where it is, but people tick differently, are not fazed, and always come out ahead. Even if the clock says otherwise, things go slower, much slower. And even if the days are the same length, they seem longer, with more content. Sometimes I’m afraid of time, because it seems to run faster than in my childhood, when days didn’t want to end. Here it is not the same but similar.
„For a moment“ describes what we (or at least I) feel when we are there. That it is possible to take a distance, to keep away from ourselves what means anger, displeasure and nerves and to make peace for a moment with all the circumstances that keep you away – from whatever.
I never understood why sails, sailboats, being on the sea, nothing around you but deep blue water hold such a fascination for me. I don’t even know how to sail, it’s complicated as shit.
But sailing on the calm sea, on the North Sea, along the coast high past Denmark and Norway towards the Northern Lights would be the ultimate north for me. The loneliness and powerlessness, coupled with the permanent uncertainty at sea, the bottomless, inscrutable depths that can’t even be guessed at, and the seagulls that, when you’re heading north, signal land and hope nearby on the starboard side.
The fascination with the image of the endless, mystical sea also comes from an album I cherish and have listened to at least 10,000 times, Sting’s 1990 album Soul Cages. Not only that we listened to it up and down back then, in the band’s first phase. But it contains a lot of inspiring images of ships, sailing and the sea. It may sound strange, but we’re drawing a thread from the ’90s to now.
The protagonists in this song struggle with hopelessness on the one hand and the courage to tackle something on the other, because decisions have to be made, you can’t put them off. The perspective is that from disillusioned hopelessness, wondering if you have to decide at all.
„No difference“ is a very theoretical scenario. Suppose we do all that we intend to do and nothing changes? The question is asked: We can never be sure. It’s never clear before our eyes. But does it make a difference? And does it matter?
From the point of view of the song, I wasn’t sure at first whether I wanted to do this song or not. I thought it was too heavy and too frustrating. But Frank helped „No Difference“ gain luster and grace, a cover that contrasts with the frustrated lyrics. Which in turn makes it very appealing and contrasting.
„Everything changes“ tells the story of two different guys who face different challenges in life and have no place for each other as friends. How to deal with each other especially as friends, when things no longer work as they should and you feel that a change is coming, it may be that things change. And not everything can stay the way it is. Sometimes it’s better to accept and embrace that instead of arguing and being offended. Things end. Things change. Other things become relevant. The hopeful thing in this song is the invitation to let the day, be day, get together and drink to all that makes no sense at all in life. And when you think about it, that’s a lot.
Of course, such a multi-layered story can only be abstracted in a three and a half minute song. But I tried.
From a musical point of view, Frank’s arrangement was very early on as it became in the final version. We didn’t have to tweak it much to know that we had built a real treasure.
listen to all the songs