That’s the way the quarterback fumbles.

This is almost definitely going to be boring beyond belief to watch, but here you go anyway. This is what I mean when I say I don’t write songs as much as they just sort of…happen.

I start out with nothing more than a bit of a musical idea and seven words. There’s nothing at all in my head when I sit down and start filming. No words. No form. Nothing. Twenty minutes later, there’s a full page of lyrics and an almost-finished song. I’ve already changed (nay, improved) a few of the lines since the video ended, and the “bridge” section still needs some lyrics, but it’s just about there. In a few days it’ll probably be recorded and mixed.

The video isn’t all that well-filmed — you see my face but not much of my hands — and there’s a lot of pretty uneventful space where I’m writing down the lyrics as they come. There’s one tiny edit where I chopped out about a minute of musical searching so the file would be small enough for WordPress to upload, but aside from that sliver I had to excise it’s all happening in real-time.

I later ended up trying out a different free video editing program just to be able to use a cheesy transition effect to bridge the gap, and while I was doing that I found a way to compress the file size so it wouldn’t take three days to upload. But I still think we can do without that minute or so of aimlessness.

As such, the quality is a bit of a step down from the other videos I’ve been posting. But I don’t think it’s too gigantic of a drop. And I don’t plan on making a habit of compressing future videos to save time. It just helps make life a little simpler sometimes when you’re dealing with a file that’s twenty minutes long and 2GB tall. The program inserted black bars at the top and bottom of the image for some reason. I don’t buy that it was to preserve the aspect ratio (we’ll let the film festivals work that out), but it doesn’t bother me enough to do anything about it, so it is what it be.

I don’t think I’ll be filming or posting this sort of thing again anytime soon. I imagine once is more than enough to satisfy the curiosity of anyone, if it doesn’t outright bore them into a catatonic state. At least you’ll get a bit of an idea of what goes on over here when songs are being written. Not that this is an especially worthy song to demonstrate the “process” or lack thereof. It’s just another one of many that came from wherever it did.

Apparently CREATIVE NIGHTMARES is at #1 on the CJAM charts instead of #2, in spite of what the online charts say. That’s pretty crazy if you ask me. Not that you asked me. It’s always interesting for me to hear what songs DJs will decide to play on the radio. I’ve been hearing a whole lot of “Zombies on Parade” and “Generic Love Song to Play at Your Wedding”. The first and last tracks have been played a few times as well, but not near as much as those other two.

It doesn’t bother me that some of the songs I consider to be the better ones sometimes get passed over. I just like hearing what people decide to play, whatever their reasoning might be. Maybe some folks just like having an excuse to read some of my longer and sillier song titles on-air. Ha!

That “Generic Love Song” was one of the last things I recorded for the album. It was written in about five minutes and then recorded very quickly in an afternoon, almost as a filler track. The more I hear it, the more it grows on me. It’s got this weird almost quasi-soul-soft-rock-ish thing going on that’s not quite like anything else I’ve done. And I like that “sour cream” bridge section with the oohs and slide guitars.

On yet another subject, I think I just discovered my Holy Grail headphones. They’re going to be a fantastic mixing tool. They don’t flatter poorly-recorded/mixed material at all, but when you give them really good-sounding music the results are like sex for your ears. Ear sex. Earx. And I’m not someone easily impressed by headphones. I’ve got at least six pretty expensive pairs of them, most of which are considered recording studio staples, and I’d kick more than half of them out of bed without much thought.

It’s nice when something infuriating (i.e. my trusty old Sennheiser headphones — the one pair I really like, so of course they’ve been discontinued — starting to die on me) has the unanticipated side effect of bringing new love into your ears. But more on that some other time, maybe.

Of course, as soon as I wrote what I did up there about the songs people play on the radio, “Organ Smears” got some airplay. Alright! Debut action! Thanks, Mike. I think that song and “Kamikaze Daybreak” are the first times I’ve ever actually used the mandolin in a somewhat conventional way — as a lead/supplemental/frilly thing, instead of playing it more like a guitar and having it drive the whole song. And whadayaknow? It’s fun to play fiddly things on the mandolin on top of a song that already exists for a change.


  1. very interesting process and very good song….thank you for letting us enter your songspace which seems to happen pretty fast – well done!!

  2. you owe me ice cream too, possibly with chocolate sauce on top, because i easily watched it without falling asleep and all i want to do lately is fall asleep!
    but i like the song. it feels autumn-ish to me. and it’s cool watching the process; kind of inspiring. i find sometimes the best ideas come randomly in a short amount of time (though perhaps not as frequently as they do with you). yay! and yay for double-lyric-meanings. and i’m curious to see if you will be able to incorporate any cute death themes.

  3. Long comment time:

    I don’t really care a whole bunch for ice cream but I wouldn’t mind a milkshake! haha

    I can’t believe that was nearly 20 minutes long…time really flew by. I’m smiling ear to ear after that — It was a lot of fun to watch, you remind me of myself when you say you have to wait for the words to come to you. That’s how I am about drawing. It feels really good to have that in common…’cause people tend to look at me funny when I say it, like it’s hard to believe a process like that could happen, so I feel less alone seeing it happen in your video!

    Love the song. I’ve got it stuck in my head now.

    I find myself looking forward to these videos you post very much — You sure bring out the voyeur in everyone, since they seem to be a big hit. I kinda feel funny to realize I spent the last nearly 20 minutes mesmerized by watching you write on lyrics and strum a guitar…but hey, it’s fascinating. God bless modern technology!

    Congrats on being #1 🙂

  4. man, you can string together any words together and they’d sound like they were a perfect fit
    i want to enrol in the johnny west summer songwriter sessions
    p.s. i was hoping for a photocopier solo….
    p.s.p.s. i’m up for some ice cream too….

  5. Johnny, great video. It’s really generous of you to post this up here. You could teach those self-proclaimed songwriting experts out there more than a few things.

  6. Holy crap! And here I thought that would be boring beyond belief for anyone to watch. I just wanted to provide video evidence of the whole process, or lack thereof, though in this case I actually am reaching and intentionally trying to write a song a little bit, and not letting it happen quite as naturally as it normally would. I’m not sure there’s any craft behind what I do…but I could execute some pretty fine sewing when I was about six years old. Pity I forgot how long ago. Someday I shall sew again.

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