I think the shower is a compelling space for people and music. It even resembles a vocal recording booth, and the water makes a lot of noise in a way that’s freeing. If you just stand alone in a room and start singing, you might feel self-conscious. But there’s something about the shower, with all that water coming down: it’s the one point in your day when really no one is watching. That’s what’s freeing about it. It’s probably one reason why we have this romantic notion that you can be in the shower, and suddenly this have a brilliant idea pop into your head.
This passage had such an impact on me that, in an indirect way, it affected the way Uptown Special developed. It was one of the first times I read something so poetic I thought it maybe could inspire music. Somewhere, in the back of my head, I think a seed probably got planted: it would be an interesting thing, potentially, to have an amazing author give you words to write music for. On some level, it inspired me to do what I ultimately did—which was write this letter to Michael Chabon, asking if he’d write some lyrics for my album.
I just sent him an email. I told him the kind of record I was making, and asked him if he wanted to work on some music together. I’d just written the piece of music that became “Summer Breaking,” and I could already tell that the chords and the melody needed something more interesting than I was capable of doing. I love how, in Michael’s fiction, you end up rooting for these anti-heroes, these incredibly flawed characters that you love anyway. I wondered if he could pull that feeling off in a song.
A few days later he sent me these lyrics, which eventually became the song “Crack in the Pearl.” While I was reading them, this strange thing happened: I felt like the words were floating up from the page, into my head. By the time they hit the back of my brain, a melody was already forming. This was completely unexpected, because songwriting is usually such hard work. A lot of the time, the final product sounds effortless—but it’s really this arduous task of trying everything in the book, every single chord, and hoping something does the trick. It’s rare for a melody you really love to appear by itself out of some lines like that, like a gift.
So I shared another piece of music I’d written—the song that became “Summer Breaking,” which inspired me to reach out in the first place—to see what he could do. He came back with these lyrics about this sordid affair. It was clear that they were clever. They had this Leonard Cohen feel, and they were definitely good. The problem was, they just never married the music to me. As soon as we put them to the music, something in me just sort of turned off.
That made the beginning kind of tough. It was one of the first songs we worked on. And it was like: we barely know this guy, and we can tell he’s really nice, but how much is he really going to deal with us if we keep telling him to change lines? We thought he was going to tell us, “Screw this, I’m out of here.”