Anger” is the twelfth song (of twenty-five) in my Atlas: Year Two series, and the third of four songs written for the basic human emotions, Joy, Sorrow, Anger & Fear.

You wouldn't guess it from the last decade or so of music I've released, but I have a small trace of rock and roll in my blood. You can kind of hear it in my first full length album, "Ghosts" and it has shown up in very small doses from time to time in songs since. I figured that "Anger" is my moment to fittingly return to something that sort of resembles "rock" music. (What I really mean to say is that there are drums in this song, even a bit of distorted guitars and things!) For someone that has a deep love for quiet, calm music, it was actually a lot of fun to write this song! (the lyrics, however, were a bit of a monster. More on that later.)

According to poet, David Whyte, "What we have named as anger on the surface is the violent outer response to our own inner powerlessness." It's an overflowing of all of our emotions - sort of a blender of everything we feel. That’s how I approached writing this song: without a lot of pre-meditated thought or precision, I dove in and added more and more ideas into the blender. (I even maxed out the number of tracks allowed in my recording system!. It was such a fun experiment to work in such a frenzy!

The rule for every instrument played, was it had to be played angrily. My dear friends, Emi and Kumi Bankson played the violins you hear throughout the song.. they are incredibly sweet people, some of the nicest I know, so it was especially fun to have them play their violins as angry as they could!! They played so wonderfully aggressive, it was perfect! Fitting the theme and lyric, I wanted the violins to sound like sirens going off.

In "Sorrow" I made a string quartet the center-piece of the song. It felt really important to carry on the strings in "Anger" too, because those emotions overlap frequently. Sometimes sorrow leads to anger, and vice versa. So in "Anger" the strings lose the somber cello and viola, and adds dozens of intense violins. Rather than playing with a sad, introverted tone, they are played aggressively, extroverted, and much higher up on the scale - unhinged in a way. Also, "Anger" and "Sorrow" are bookended with soloed strings: "Sorrow" opens with a solo string quartet intro, and "Anger" ends with a solo violins outro, as a way to complete the circle of sorrow and anger.

I asked my pal, TJ Hill to play drums on this song, again once of the kindest folks I know. (Apparently I am amused by asking very nice people to do angry things!) I told him to get mad at his drums... and especially in the end, I wanted him to channel his inner Phil Collins and go to town on the drum fills. He played SO great and angry! Love how it turned out.

As I mentioned, the lyrics gave me a lot of trouble on this song. The music was a total joy to work on, but the lyrics were very disagreeable indeed! It took me a better half of a month to get words down for this one. Lyrics are rarely easy, but when they are difficult, they sure know how to drive my crazy. I kept hoping that the frustration would turn to anger and give me the inspiration I needed, but nope.

I knew the lyrics needs to abrasive - when we get angry, we blurt things out, sharp edges and all, so I thought it'd be interesting to write in that way as well. I knew it needed a lot of action lines - containing a lot of movement and punch. (Perhaps those limitations were what made it so difficult to write?) But in the end, I found the words I was looking for.

I didn't want the song to be about being angry about something someone did. That felt out of character and a bit one dimensional. So in thinking through how anger manifests in my life, I realized that if I'm honest with myself, there are moments where I've found myself angry at God. When hearts break, it's very easy to be angry that God didn't intervene. As any religious or spiritual person knows, it's not as simple as just being angry at God. There is guilt, confusion and so very much doubt surrounding that experience. And more often than not, people of faith, feel afraid of their anger at God and push it down and down and down until one day it becomes a monster. This song is that story. It's an internal wrestling match that suddenly finds its way to the surface and the mess of it all.

The opening line:

"like wildfire
it starts in my chest
the silence grows louder
ringing out in my head"

The word "wildfire" is a play off of the opening verse of “Joy” where I talk about the sunlight starting a fire in me… the dictionary definition of "fire" mentions nothing of it being out of control, no negative or positive connotation, but “wildfire” is defined as: “a large destructive fire that spreads quickly over woodland and brush” - I thought that was an appropriate definition of anger itself, so it felt right to open this song with that image/idea. Whereas in "Joy," fire is a metaphor for energy, warmth, and joy itself. Brief and tame.

Side note: wildfire is also a word for heat lightning! (lightning without sound. Read more!) - I thought that was a neat way to pull in the cover art for this song into the lyrics, as well as lead into the line about the "silence grows louder" - which is a reference to God's silence, but it's also a nod to that thunder-less, heat lightening in a distant storm.

The music and lyrics have a story arch together - the opening verse section has suspense, something about to explode, while the lyrics talk about the pressure building and building inside of.. then the chorus is when things fall apart - the outburst:

"it all spills out
reckless but honest words leave my mouth
like kerosene on the flame of doubt
i couldn’t make it right
alarms will sound
but it’s too late for holy water now
sooner or later the fire dies down
then i’ll open up my eyes"

Then the fire and anger in the story dissipates, the music settles down:

"i’ll try to find the image of God
in mountains made of ash and clouds of smoke"

This lyric is the coherent moment of the song - the sincere attempt to find God in a broken world.

The lyric:

"and it takes everything i have" 

... is SO simple and basic, so much so that I nearly tossed it out. But it has 3 meanings to me. 1: it takes everything to stop it once it's started... anger often requires something big and disarming to shut it down. 2: at its worst, anger can take everything that means anything away from us. (when anger destroys relationships, or turns violent, etc.) and 3: it takes everything I have to get me, personally, to the point of anger. I'm much quicker to being sad, disappointed or irritated than angry.

The final lyric:

"sooner or later the fire dies down
then i’ll open my eyes again"

That's the resolution - the fire always dies down and usually we receive the gift of getting to start over. A new day.

In writing/typing lyrics out, I pay a lot of attention to punctuation, as I feel it’s so important for the words to not only sing well in the song, but also read well. (Not to mention, punctuation can add worlds of depth) But in the spirit of anger being blunt and wild, I decided that there should be no punctuation here. I also let this song be a bit more abstract in the lyrics - I noticed when someone is mad, they jump around to a lot of different subjects, so though there are clear threads throughout and there is a specific story being told, I tried to write it a bit more abstractly than I normally would. 

I spent a great deal of time writing each of the emotions songs so that they tie together in various ways. (because our actual emotions are always intertwined) I've mentioned in earlier posts about ways each song ties into one another, but here are a few other ways in which the four Emotions songs are intentionally connected:

All four songs mention breathing, and how breathing corresponds with each of the emotions:

Joy"so i let go and in this moment, I can breathe."
Sorrow"it once was so easy; breathe in. breathe out."
Anger: "i feel the pressure building until i can’t breathe"
Fear: though an instrumental, there are several easter eggs hidden throughout.. one of which is fearful breathing. (hard to explain, but if you pretend you're scared right now, you'll know what i'm talking about.)

All four songs contain recordings of my daughter hidden throughout, they are brief moments of her expressing those emotions.

Joy: her laughter.
Sorrow: her crying.
Anger: her tantrum. (more on that below)
Fear: her telling me and my wife about scary thunder and how it makes her feel.

And as a whole, these four songs talk about faith, through the lens of each of the four basic human emotions:

Joy: at best, my faith is a “glimpse of light in a mine of gold” - a flicker of overwhelming goodness and love that exists outside of my understanding.
Sorrow: the difficult seasons of doubt and feeling a sense of being out of focus and out of control, but ultimately recognizing that “with a broken heart, transformation begins”
Anger: after those seasons of doubt, and especially when ugly and terrible things happen (death and loss, etc)  God's “silence grows louder, ringing out in my head” and slowly over time this builds resentment and anger towards God, who didn't intervene according to my wishes. When “it all spills out, reckless but honest words leave my mouth” - there is so much relief in that, understanding that honesty is a vital part of healthy faith. 
Fear: the unknown, the "what if i’m wrong?" The "what lies ahead"? Then there's hope and faith in the ancient, biblical text "so do not fear, for I am with you" (which is another easter egg in "Fear".. read all about that in the post about Fear.) 

The artwork on each song is of the same ocean landscape, featuring weather that corresponds to each of the emotions. i.e..:  "Joy" features a clear, bright and beautiful sunny day. "Sorrow" is overcast and dreary. "Anger" features a dark and scary looking storm. In "Fear", an ominous and foggy scene. (Huge tip of the hat to the wonderful Elicia Edijanto for her gorgeous art - collaborating with her is one of my very favorite things!)

If you listen real closely toward the later chorus of the song, you'll be able to hear my daughter, Lily yelling "No WAY!!!" and screaming. I know, I know, it's probably not very nice of me to record a temper tantrum, but it was over candy (as it often is) and was true unbridled anger, so I had to do i!. Plus, she's in each of the Emotions songs, so there you go. Side note: during a vocal take, she came down to my studio and yelled "no way" over and over while I was singing. She wasn't angry, she was just telling me to play instead of work. Actually, it's a great daily reminder. I didn't use that take, but I'm glad I worked in the recording of her temper tantrum version of  "no way." Full circle.

There's a lot more to say, but I'll leave it here. It means a whole lot to me to be able to put these thoughts and details down for each of these songs and especially that you'd take the time to read it! Thank you!!



like wildfire
it starts in my chest
the silence grows louder
ringing out in my head
i feel the earth shaking under my feet
i feel the pressure building until i can’t breathe
and it takes everything
it all spills out
reckless but honest words leave my mouth
like kerosene on the flame of doubt
i couldn’t make it right
alarms will sound
but it’s too late for holy water now
sooner or later the fire dies down
then i’ll open up my eyes
and i’ll try to find the image of God
in mountains made of ash and clouds of smoke
it’s fight or flight buried in my bones
it’s flight or flight that keeps my body whole
but i feel it break
with just one misstep down the fire escape
and suddenly i am someone that prays
a last minute man of faith
but i leave behind
miles and miles of jagged lines
upon the surface of the divine
i wish i could set them straight
til it all spills out
reckless but honest words leave my mouth
like kerosene on the flame of doubt
i just couldn’t make it right
alarms will sound
but it’s too late for holy water now
sooner or later the fire dies down
then i’ll open my eyes again