“silhouettes” is the 24th song in the yearbook series, the last track of the “may” ep. over the past couple years i've had the privilege of being invited to perform at several To Write Love On Her Arms events across the country. (if you're unfamiliar with TWLOHA, please take a moment to learn more. It's an incredible organization dedicated to helping young people struggling with self-injury, addiction and depression. hope is their message, and it's something i deeply believe in.) the founder of TWLOHA, jamie tworkowski tours around the country, telling TWLOHA's story at different universities, inviting local counselors to introduce themselves to this wonderful and brave audience as well. it's a really great thing. i get the incredible honor to play a few songs right before jamie speaks.
as if getting to share my songs with such a special group of people isn't an honor enough for me, i also get to meet these amazing people and hear their stories first hand. a privilege to say the least. hearing such painful histories is always saddening of course, but it's incredibly inspiring too - to hear that they are unwilling to give up. honestly, it's bravery and vulnerability like i've never seen it. i wrote "silhouettes" based around those conversations and stories.
in all of our histories of pain, it's not uncommon that the source is deeply rooted within our family relationships. which saddens me to no end, considering that "family" should to be a relationship that safe and sacred above all else- it's meant to be where you turn when the world is unkind to you, that builds you back up. so, "silhouettes" is a story about someone navigating the waters of hurt and pain from their broken family, struggling to see the simple truth that they are worth love and deserve so much better.
"when it’s too much to bare, memories erase. a disappearing act, deserving of our thanks. when it surfaces, just hold your breath and swim. just swim."
that lyric refers to our incredible, but dangerous human ability to shut down the things that hurt us so deeply- a defense mechanism that goes back through our darkest memories and covers them up from our consciousness. which is perhaps, in someways, a gift that we are able to turn off those unspeakable things and build up strength in order to process it in a healthy way.. but it's so dangerous too because those swallowed memories build and build without us knowing, which can take a serious tole on our health and wellbeing.
it takes an absurd amount of bravery to face darkness, to pick up the pieces and keep moving forward... the TWOLHA event audiences were a perfect example of that bravery.
"it seems only by the hand of God or death, will they truly change their silhouettes. for a miracle or a consequence, you wait and wait…"
that idea is very cynical, yes- it's a very dramatic statement to say the least, and i can't fully say that i entirely stand behind it, but as i was writing this song and really thinking it over... it occurred to me that there's more truth in that statement than i realized. people do change, yes... but it is rare. perhaps not rare enough to be considered a "miracle".. but i kind of believe that every day someone wakes up and decides to be a better human being and makes an effort- that is a miracle. and on the other end of the spectrum, completely outside of our control, there is persuasion to see life a little differently when death is near to us. whether it creeps into our lives through someone we know, or in health scares... or even in masterfully told stories, death motivates like nothing else.
"… maybe distance is the only cure? far away from hurt is where healing occurs."
that lyric probably means the most to me in this song. it's a realization i have had these last couple years- if hurt is something stationary (wether that's destructive family, a town that is a constant reminder of a hurt and brokeness, etc) i believe it's our responsibility to do everything we can to get away from it. an incredible simple idea - far away from hurt is where healing occurs. and somehow i think it's very easy concept to overlook.
the entire writing process for "silhouettes" remains one of my all time favorite songwriting experiences. i've talked before about how sometimes songs come together out of great struggle and others (very rarely however) form more effortlessly and depend on as little "fight" as possible. this was definitely one of those rare occasions... granted, it's a simple song, but sometimes those are the hardest to work on. this was a very enjoyable song to put together, every piece made sense. the lyrics were some of the quickest i've ever written, and musically too!
i knew i wanted the song to be very simple, very intimate musically and in the production. i wanted it to feel very natural and unprocessed.. so i recorded the vocal and ukulele live, together without any sort of tempo.
after the song was recorded and just about done, i felt like it needed a new instrument, and for some reason got it in my head that clarinet would do the trick. so i called my friend paul von mertens.
i met paul a couple years earlier, who i hired to record some woodwinds for a song called "clockwork" off of my "storyboards" record. it was an unusual song, in that i had the privilege working with van dyke parks on it, who wrote the insanely intricate orchestral arrangement for that song... so paul was highly recommended for the job and we kept in touch. (side note: paul is a genius. and he's the bandleader for brian wilson of the beach boys, in addition to having played with wilco, paul mccartney, etc. pretty rad stuff)
i gave him "silhouettes" and told him what i had imagined. i carved out a section in the arrangement of the song to make room for a "solo" of sorts for the clarinet and let him have at it. he did SUCH a beautiful job putting those dueling clarinets together, playing off of the vocal... it was even better than i had imagined it. i love me some sad clarinet.
and that's how "silhouettes" came about. thank you for reading!
listen: [soundcloud url="http://api.soundcloud.com/tracks/16582500" params="auto_play=false&show_artwork=true&color=000000" width="100%" height="166" iframe="true" /]
you wrote your name in invisible ink, for you were so afraid of what they might think. but the scars they left, they were loud and clear, weren’t they? weren’t they?
when it’s too much to bare, memories erase. a disappearing act, deserving of our thanks. when it surfaces, just hold your breath and swim. just swim.
you begged and begged for some kind of change: maybe they’d wake up tomorrow and regret the pain that they’ve passed down to you like DNA, but no luck, no luck.
it seems only by the hand of God or death, will they truly change their silhouettes. for a miracle or a consequence, you wait and wait…
… maybe distance is the only cure? far away from hurt is where healing occurs. but all you really want to do is make them proud, don’t you? don’t you?
it must be so hard, in the mess you’re always cleaning up, to believe in the ghost of unbroken love. but i promise you, the truth is that you’re loved. so loved.