New Song: “Never Enough”

Never enough

Here’s our new song, “Never Enough.” 

When I handed this song off to Andrew not even half-written, I realized that we’ve gained a lot of confidence about working together. I’d taken it as far as I could, and I knew he’d at least be able to come up with an idea that would allow us to figure the rest out together. For the first three songs, I was able to make a morning’s work of coming up with some kind of melody and nearly complete lyrics. It didn’t go as smoothly this time. 

Beginning with our second song, “New Girl,” I’ve been thinking about the Nine Inch Nails album, The Downward Spiral. I bought this album when it was released in 1994. It’s a concept album detailing a man’s downward spiral, and it was recorded in the house where Sharon Tate and four others were murdered by members of the Manson Family, a choice I found to be disturbing and tasteless even when I was sixteen.The album is dark, and I listened to it a lot and thought it was good without ever falling all the way into it the way I did other albums of the era. What strikes me now when I listen to Nine Inch Nails is how synthetic the music is, in a very deliberate way, but how emotive and human the lyrics are. This contrast feels perfect to me.

By any estimation, these songs are melodramatic, but I admire Trent Reznor’s fearlessness in exploring the darkest aspects of himself. No one does self-loathing like he does. I haven’t been able to bring myself to sit down and listen to the entire album again. It’s bleak. But I’ve listened to several tracks, including “Hurt”, a lot during the past few months. I love this song. It’s a heartbreaker. Something about the self-awareness and despair gets me every time.

From the start, I’d envisioned my character, Dean Callahan, having a downward spiral, too. He’s self-aware, and filled with self-loathing, and he can’t seem to change. We’ve written three songs for him. In the first, he’s playing with denial over what he’s done, but he’s also repentant. In the second, there’s also some denial, but he’s reaching for a relationship he thinks might help him. He kind of knows it won’t, but he’s trying, in his misguided way. In this new song, the reality of the relationship has become clear. His vision of himself is dark: “You should have known better/I wore no disguise/I’m a wolf in wolf’s clothing/a snake that won’t hide.”

That’s the lyric I started with. I thought maybe my play on a wolf in sheep’s clothing was an original idea. Ha! A Google search revealed that it wasn’t. Instead of ditching it entirely, I decided I could still use it as a starting point, but I wasn’t going to try to get a chorus out of it. What about “snake in the grass,” I wondered? This idea has also been amply explored by others. I kept going. I wanted to bring in some key words from the Bob Dylan song my protagonist is named after, “Visions of Johanna.” I worked in “vision,” “conquer,” “deny.” That was enough. The river is literal. They swim in it. But you know rivers — it’s hard to keep them literal. I came up with about half of these lyrics in my first writing session. I had a melody, but it was country in a bad way, and I hated it. Still, it helped me find the rhythm of the lines. I struggled for a chorus. I had this idea of these two people using each other up, but I had difficulty turning it into a chorus. At the end of the session, I didn’t feel I had a lot to show for my time.

I handed the lyrics over to Andrew when he came home, complete with a big fat question mark where the chorus should have been. I was afraid the lyrics were a little too wannabe Leonard Cohen (I do wannabe, but I don’t want it to be too obvious). I sang him the melody but told him we’d all be better off if no one ever heard it again. He said when he’d read the lyrics, he imagined it being a lot more aggressive. I agreed. He got up early the next morning and came up with some great options, which he discusses in more detail in his post. I was relieved that this thing might not be a total loss.

That night we tried singing through some ideas together. I started to really like and understand the feel, and we realized that what I pretentiously dubbed an “inchoate chorus” would probably work well. The song would be so lyrically dense with his arrangement that having some room to breathe in the chorus seemed like a good idea. It was clear that the lyrics would go by fast and I’d need to write more, but now that I got where it was going, I was able to double the lyrics pretty fast. I decided to just follow my Cohen muse and write about kingdoms, gates, rivers, and such with a dash of vulgarity (His take on Greensleeves is just so deliciously wrong). 

Andrew had strong ideas about this track, and I was on board with almost all of them. I had handed him the beginning of an idea with a lot of misgivings, but as soon as he got to work on it he was excited about it. I think this is the most excited he’s been about any of our recordings. We had one heated exchange over a synth sound, and he wound up changing it, either because I’m really annoying or because I was right.

This song covers more difficult emotional territory than our last song (written by Johanna). That one makes me feel good when I hear it, and this one doesn’t. But I love the driving feel of this one, and the lushness of the track. Andrew made it sound like it couldn’t stop even if it wanted to, and that goes perfectly with the emotion of the lyrics. The ohs, which I sing, provide a break. There’s no happiness there, either, but there’s a little bit of relief. Andrew came up with the melody for the new line at the end, and it was there that my idea of using each other up finally found its home.