Saturday, August 4, 2012

A Dream Team's Songwriting Seminar

As someone who can’t sing or play a lick, I have always identified with songwriters because I do like to do the occasional scribble-scribble and can empathize with the difficulties of the process. Thus it was a real treat to come across this mini-seminar on writing following an Austin City Limits acoustic concert from last fall. The performers were a dream team of singer/songwriters that included: Guy Clark, John Hiatt, Joe Ely, Lyle Lovett. Here’s a rough transcript of the group interview in the dressing room.

How do you write? Do you have a method?

Guy Clark: I get a big eraser
Joe Ely: I chain my leg to a tree

Does it take a certain time, does it run in hot and cold spells?
What kind of inspiration do you need? Do you write about yourself? Do you write about anything?

Guy: You don’t believe you’re gonna get up and do it again
John Hiatt: Yeah
GC: It’s never gonna happen
JH: You can’t believe you ever did it before and the next one’s never gonna come.
GC: Yeah. It’s hard work
JH: And you have no…you’ve learned nothing from the last one
GC: All of that
JH: You don’t really know how to do it…

Joe Ely: And then you’re driving you know on Interstate 10 in Houston and this great song comes into your head and you don’t have a pencil or a pen and then by the time you get to the next exit you can’t remember the chorus.

Lyle Lovett: Writing songs is a mysterious, mysterious process and, you know, certainly listening to great songwriters, listening to their songs is …I think you have to have that feeling of wanting to try to say something and listening to great song writers’ songs always gives me that feeling.

GC: Course there’s a real tradiiton of storytelling in Texas, you know, bullshit.
(laughter). Its always been that way.
JH: And even just the guys…the campfire songs and all that rich tradition of cowboy songs and campfire tales and cowboy tales, that’s pretty deep too.

LL: And for me that story telling tradition in Texas music --Guy Clark is the embodiment of that. Listening to Guy Clark and listening to Townes Van Zandt that’s what made me want to write songs. (To Guy) Your sense of imagery and your use of metaphor…your songs are often described as literary but where, I mean your approach where do you get it?

GC: Well my parents were literate to say the least. As a yong person I grew up in a pre- television household and after dinner we would sit around and read poetry out loud or a book, prose, out loud. We’d just pass the book around and just read, the family.
And we were always encouraged in the direction of the arts and good literature.

I guess that’s where Guy came up with lines like these:

Only two things that money can’t buy
That’s true love and homegrown tomatoes.


  1. I love hearing some of my favorite guys talking about how they do it.

  2. Great post. Clark and Hiatt are two of the best poets of the age.

  3. This was just in time. Now I can finish my book, but first I gotta find a pencil.