I started writing this song several years ago while I was recording Scarce (2006). I had the melody and the first lines “We don’t got money, we don’t need fame, but we all want something like it anyway,” but that was all I could muster at the time. I was never able to figure out what to do with it or where to go from there. Clinging to that melody over the following years, I worked it into shape for Birds of Relocation, determined to make something of this little poppery song. This, in my estimation, is a song about community. As Kathleen Norris says in her most excellent book, Dakota, “Community is being together while leaving each other alone.”
I wrote this song for my wife (of nearly fifteen years now). On every album I record, I’ve tried to include at least one song specifically about and for her. I remember writing this on a late-night drive home through the dark Appalachian foothills after a show in Knoxville, Tennessee.
Every now and then Danielle will comment on my eyes’ “crow’s feet,” both of us wondering and remarking on what they’ll look like when we’re eighty and have grandkids. It’s good that she knows the crap in my life and all the bitterness I hold in my heart at times. She also knows how hopeless I can be, how I shrink into darkness, how I hide from my friends. It is good to be known. It’s even better to be nurtured back to life. Behind every halfway decent man is a far superior woman.
I’m really very talented at daydreaming, at wishing away the days, at allowing my mind to wander, at avoiding or ignoring reality. Just ask my wife. In a dangerous and perhaps ill-advised move, I sought to put myself in her shoes, reminding me — hubby and friend — to snap out of false worlds, to return to and bask in reality (as plain, stale, or frustrating as it may be) and to appreciate what is here and now: the gifts in front of me awaiting the polish of recognition and attention.
I started seeing a counselor (Al Andrews of Porter’s Call, a blessing and a gift to many full-time artists here in Nashville) in late 2010. It was crucial for me to seek help. He and I talked through my many issues, the biggest being my terribly low self-esteem, a result of my haste to listen to the foul, belligerent voices in my head that speak to and yell at me. I was at a point where I could no longer tell the difference between God’s voice and those that lie to me. I had been suffering anxiety and an inability to think clearly, to physically move, or to make any actual decisions. I was a frozen, confused monster. At one point during these counseling sessions, Al noticed and remarked that I was choosing to love the things that hate me the most. For homework, he asked me to write down all the things the plaguing voices regularly tell me and write a song about them. This is that song. I suspect that if the vile voices haunt me, there’s a good chance they haunt you too.
I hope you hear this song as a smile and a hug. This song is an IOU to a group whose music I adore, The Weepies. I wish I were a Weepie. This is the first of the album’s three love songs for my wife of nearly fifteen years.
I wrote this a couple of years ago in a Sarasota hotel room during a spring run of Florida concerts I was playing. A week or two before this particular tour, a Florida State University student, Patrick Gines, wrote me asking if I would consider writing a commissioned song for his final thesis undergraduate project, a short film he was directing. Patrick had heard me play years before, and, somehow, had remembered me and my music. Randomly, and unbeknownst to either of us at the time, I was scheduled to play at his home church in Tallahassee later that very same week. “Random” seems never an accurate enough word for these sorts of occurrences. We eventually put two and two together and realized that we would be able to actually talk face-to-face about the possibility.
The night of that show, he handed me a copy of his script. I took it with me to my next event in Sarasota, read through it a few times, and quickly honed in on an intentionally sarcastic line, “Don’t hold your breath.” Though sarcastic the character’s comment, I took it in a different direction, and later that evening in a Sarasota hotel room, I wrote the vast majority of “Don’t Hold Your Breath,” though it lacked a solid, well-defined chorus. The following morning in Sarasota, I was scheduled to play a couple of songs for the host church’s services. The pastor spoke of waters rising and falling, and, there in my seat, I scribbled out the final bit of the chorus.
(Apologies to that pastor if I seemed distracted. It was for a worthy cause.)
For a number of years, I have been involved with a high school outreach ministry called Young Life. For many summers I’ve had the great opportunity to spend a month sharing my music with the students who attend. Each night, the speaker and I share the story of God’s severe mercy for us, the speaker often using humor and stories to communicate, and I through the songs I’ve written over the years. But I’ve always felt that I lacked a certain topical song to play on the night that the cross is explained to campers, many of whom are hearing the very Good Story for the very first time in their lives. In talking with a dear friend of mine on the Young Life staff, I agreed that I needed, and wanted, to write a song to fill that particular gap in my repertoire. This song, I hope, is my way of telling that story.
This song began the writing process for Birds of Relocation. I wrote it, largely, in retaliation against the year 2009, a psychologically brutal season for me. I see this song as an “I’m staking my claim” pivotal core from which the rest of the album branches. Fear reduces us. To hell with fear; we should refuse to live there any longer, living instead like living souls.
“A story, some reminiscences… they are the yellow leaves that hang upon these boughs that are not so bare and ruined but that they still dream from time to time of the sweet birds’ return.” –from The Yellow Leaves by Frederick Buechner
I often provide food to wild birds in the form of sunflower seeds, suet, nyjer on occasion, peanut butter spread onto pine-cones, crumbled crackers and popped corn strewn about the yard. Birds seem to especially appreciate this in the winter months by congregating when naturally appearing food sources are more difficult to find. There are days I covet their freedom: flitting between branches, dangling here and there, pecking at the belly of leaves, frequenting feeders whose owners consistently keep them filled, a creature as free to fly across the open sky as it is to loiter its entire life within feet of its nest of birth. Then there are days — those gray, paperweight hours — bitterly cold, miserable by most standards, when I am especially thankful I am not a bird, much less any other wild creature: powerless to warm itself, forced to find shelter beneath just about anything, struggling to keep the heart beating amid numbing cold, breath-stealing wind, no moment free from the search for food. It’s no walk in the park for feathered creatures.
Surely one of the great wrongs in the entirety of the music industry is that Jill Phillips is not a household name. This is a heinous crime against the arts. It will not stand. It must be rectified. Together, my wife, Danielle, and I will inflict correction upon the world. Wonder Twin powers, activate!
Eric Peters: Jill, your new album, In This Hour, releases 11/8/11. This album’s initial recording and release were delayed by the May 2010 flooding in Nashville. Would you mind commenting on that, the damage to your home, and perhaps your emotional or psychological, even professional, reaction to that and to any ensuing events?
I recently wrote a piece for Art House America titled “Voices.” I hear voices. I suspect you do, too. With that sneaky suspicion in mind, I thought a handful of you Rabbit Roomers might care to read the essay. Here’s an excerpt:
I have listened to inner voices for as long as my brain has had the ability to remember, recall, and, unfortunately, deliver psychological sucker punches. That is to say, for most of my life. The voices are debilitating. Most often laced with venom, despicable and cruel in all manner of punishing remarks, the voices that speak to me are old demons to whom I willingly lend an ear over and over again. The monologue is destructive and poisonous. This admission should not strike you as odd or maniacal, for I am convinced they are present in each of us. We lean in and listen, believing the voices to be true.
They are with me from the moment I awake: as I brew a pot of coffee, each time I lose patience with my kids, when I see my stubbled face in the mirror, when I peek at my bank account balance, when I scrape my knuckle working on a project, when I am unable to make eye contact with another human in my perceived inferiority, until the moment I finally lay my head on the pillow at day’s end. Sadly, they are loudest when I write, when I seek to string together words and bring something beautiful into the world.
Read the entire essay here: Voices
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I’m teaming up with the super-kind folks at Under the Radar (with whom I have done two previous smaller tours) for a house show tour anywhere within the continental USA. No joke. Anywhere.
You may be thinking to yourself, “Neat, that sounds fun, but I bet it’s expensive.” Be at peace, grasshopper. UTR is subsidizing the entire trip. Cost to each host is a mere $150 American dollars. That’s not a typo. UTR will fund the rest of the tour expenses (travel, lodging, meals, etc.).
Florida State University film student, Patrick Gines, approached me early in 2010 about writing a commissioned song for his film thesis project, When The Waters Rise. Randomly, I was scheduled to play a concert at his home church in Tallahassee just a few days after his initial email. (“Random” never seems quite an accurate enough [...]
(1 Sam. 16:7, Rev. 21:1-7)
Lake City, MI is as fine a place as any to witness the kingdom come. Throughout the course of my thirty-days at a Young Life summer camp, the faint revelation occurs every Wednesday evening just as the night’s burger-themed dinner is winding down. Tangibly speaking, it has all the trappings of [...]
Gus, a delicate yellow gosling, celebrated only a few waddling days on the Mississippi red-dirt farm where my mother grew up. Of the few sights the creature saw during its abbreviated life, the final was the inside of a German shepherd’s toothy mouth. As with King Charles I, heads rolled. Gus’s premature death caused great [...]