Songwriter U: Where Do Songs Come From?

Thomm Jutz is a songwriter, producer, and guitarist based in Nashville, Tennessee.

It was nominated for a Grammy(R) Award for Best Bluegrass Album in 2020, and won IBMA’s Songwriter of the Year in 2021. It has earned multiple Bluegrass songs as well as over 200 music placements in TV and movies worldwide.

I have lived on a small peninsula in Lake Percy Priest for the past 16 years.

It is a quiet place. There are no lights in the streets. I can walk to the lake in 5 minutes.

The Corps of Engineers lowers the water level in the winter.

I stand and wonder about the foundations of the old houses at the bottom of the lake around

The road, which is now blocked in the depth.

What was the area like when the TVA flooded in the early 1960s?

I take the changing colors of the lake in the spring, the heron – standing in the shallows, silent.

This is where the songs come from.

Mister Willard’s farmhouse is still there, just before you enter Long Hunter State Park, about half a mile off the shore of the lake.

He’s gone six years now, he was ninety-three years old.

We used to see him every morning.

A World War II veteran whose twin brother was killed while fighting in France.

Purple heart on the living room wall, two old dogs on the front porch.

“How are you, Mr. Willard?”

“Oh, fair I think—for ninety-three. Kindly warm up today, right?”

His voice is loud and trembling like Earl Scruggs.

His old house is now collapsing.

The green porch light is glowing – someone left it on.

I have no idea how this lamp lasted for so long.

This is where the songs come from.

Neighbor Clay is right across the street.

If he stops you in your walk, you’ll stand there for 15 minutes – easily.

It will give you a summary of everything that is going on here.

If he sees that you need help with anything in the yard, then he just showed up.

His half-brother Freddy is buried there in the family cemetery.

Overdose, five years ago.

Their mother leaned over his coffin, saying, “He always had terrible asthma.” “We are very sorry, Miss Judy.”

Last year Miss Judy passed away. On the day of her funeral, Clay said, “We should free this body away, the cemetery over there is full.”

This is where the songs come from.

Young family just two homes, with three young children.

He is a police officer who mostly works night shifts. I see him leave around 5 pm every evening.

Image credit: Anthony Scarlatti

What does he deal with when we sleep?

Nina and Rick with their new puppy Alice.

When old Darcy died we grieved with them as we did for our dogs Stella and Lucy,

Friends for many years – adjectives do not do them justice.

This is where the songs come from – for me.

Where is the time lost?

I will tell you exactly where the time went: on the street, around the peninsula and back, every day, quietly, the dogs and only us. And now it’s just me and my wife.

I probably wrote a few hundred songs about this little piece of land.

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The TV in our house stays off pretty much all the time. Books and guitars are everywhere.

I pick up a book, open a random page and read a few sentences.

I play guitar first thing in the morning.

By getting used to the attention, there is a part of the brain that remains dedicated to the writing process all the time. Not only when I actually sit down to write, but also when I work in our garden, go for a run, cook a meal, or during any other activity.

In short – my job as a songwriter is to pay attention.

The Apostle Paul encouraged his followers to “pray without ceasing,” to me, there is an analogue here of “concerning without ceasing,” to honor creation with creation.

Pictures worth writing about appear in the most unusual places. One of my favorite writers, the great poet and novelist Ron Rush, says that most of his novels begin with a single picture.

I take mental notes, keep a thought journal, and may take a picture or record melodic ideas or guitar patterns on my phone. If I don’t respect and honor those moments, those thoughts will disappear.

This is the first part of my writing process.

The second part is letting my subconscious mind help me work. Not every idea you want to write down right away, sometimes it’s like a puzzle. I have lines or song titles that I’ve been wandering about for a year but haven’t found the right way to deal with it.

One of those titles was “Help Me To Hold On” – it drove me crazy for a year, I knew it was worth writing, but I didn’t know how to handle it. One morning while walking with my dog ​​Lucy, I found the key that unlocked this idea. Milan Miller and I finished it off and set a record for Ring Balsam.

My friend, the late great Tom T Hall, one of the greatest songwriters of all time focused on using the stream of consciousness. Letting words and sentences flow on the page, in an unliberated stream of consciousness, is a way to use the subconscious.

Creative imagination, sitting somewhere and following an idea, visualizing it as a downward spiral, is a way to use the subconscious.

It all helps develop images, ideas, and sentences into songs.

To the third part of my writing process.

William Faulkner said:, “I only write when I am inspired. Fortunately, I feel inspired at 9 am every morning.”

James Dickey said, “God will give you the first line, you have to work like hell for the rest.”

It always comes down to: butt in the seat, pen in hand, looking at a blank sheet of paper, fiddling with melody or chord progression.

I have to write all the time to feel like I’m at the top of my game. Like an athlete who has to run, or spend time in the weight room, I have to practice writing.

A classical violinist can’t skip daily rehearsals, no matter how advanced or experienced he is, nor can I keep my writing muscles working.

For me, that means keeping 3-4 writing appointments per week, as well as writing on my own.

This means keeping my pieces of music as a guitar player.

It means paying attention to what I put in my body and working out.

It means reading – the more I read, the more I write.

It means taking breaks.

I don’t wait for inspiration to come to me, I just run towards it.

When I write, I have permission to reinvent the universe and my place in it – you do too.

What a liberating idea!

Photo by Colin Lloyd on Unsplash

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