I had been free-diving, holding my breath in waters that were clear and the deepest blue you have ever seen, with a calm and peace seldom seen above, on land. As I finished my dive, and turned upwards to surface, I marveled at the sparkle of the sun on the surface far above. How incandescently beautiful were the rays of light filtering down through the dark. I moved towards the light. It got brighter and brighter as I neared the air above, but I couldn’t reach it. It was like I was on a water treadmill, and as fast as I was kicking to get up before my held breath expired, the surface stayed there up above me, just out of reach. It took so much longer than I had calculated. The water went on and on and on. And even though I could see the light above me, I was still in the depths of the sea.
Then I started to panic.
Started to feel I would run out of breath and faint, and drown there, just feet below the air so desperately close.
So, I kicked harder, and harder.
And with one final flip, felt my face break the surface as I gasped in a giant breath.
There was no air above the surface. Just an empty vacuum, as if I was breathing in a plastic bag, puckered around my face. I sucked in nothing but the staleness of my own exhale.
And so I woke, drenched in sweat and gasping the real air of the room around me, struggling to re-orient myself from the deep-dive of my dreams back into the reality of this world.
Crazy. Crazy dream.
And then I started trying to figure it out. I’m open to interpretations, if anybody’s got a good one.
Then, I started trying to calm myself down and settle my hurting heart.
As I was sitting there, processing it all, one of our AMBERGRIS songs came back drifting through my mind, the one I’m going to share with you today.
“Diamond in the Rough.”
One of the most amazing discoveries I’ve experienced about songwriting, is that it tends to circle right back around to you. What we write and care about and send out in the Universe has a way of coming right back to us. And so this song came back to heal me today, when I needed it.
“Diamond in the Rough” was written in January of 2012, as a 5th wheel throw-away almost-didn’t-happen add-on at the last minute. Musically, we took the chord pattern of “Rough Diamond” and threw in a different time signature and style to convert it from masculine to feminine and we set out to write a complementary song about a Virtuous Woman.
As in most songs, the inspiration for the lyrics came from many places, but this one came mostly from 4 sources: my friend named Crystal, the woman in the Vermeer painting “Woman Holding a Balance,” the Proverbs 31 woman, and the staff & patients in my clinic. The lyrics came together in the most amazing way, and it was one of the first times Phil and I consciously utilized what we have now come to call our Brain Dump technique for lyricizing.
Vergence Project Brain Dumping goes something like this:
1. I spend a bit of time – maybe hours, days, weeks, months – considering everything about the subject we’ve chosen. I think through all kinds of word plays and metaphors, every crazy thought association.
2. I dump every bit of that ADD information into an e-mail and send it to Phil.
3. He laughs – but (and this is important) – he hangs with it and digs into it as if it is a much needed challenge.
4. Then he Marshallizes it. He sorts through all the crazy, bizarre ideas, and he brings them into focus to match our vision, and drafts the lyrics.
5. He brings the lyric draft back to me and we apply it to the music – him on the acoustic, me on the piano – and we see what fits and what doesn’t, usually writing pieces of chorus or verse together. “Diamond in the Rough” was different. He had it pretty much all written out and I added very little modification.
6. Lastly, we run it all through several times, let it marinate a bit, then come back and see if there’s anything that doesn’t quite fit the way we mean it to. For instance, in DitR, the lyrics “Those who doubt her fade.” was originally “Those around her fade.” Didn’t really fit what we meant, so we made the switch.
In order for us to work together like this, there are a few rules we follow. I’ll call them the Vergence Project’s Collaborative Songwriting Rules:
1. There are no bad ideas. This one is really important for a collaboratively creative environment. Creativity & innovation occur in an environment only when people are given space to really reach for the bizarre without fear of criticism.
2. If there is anything that either one of us really hates, or is even uncomfortable with, about any of it – lyrics, instrumentation, composition, production, final product – it gets tossed out without debate.
3. Know when to let go of stuff, even if it’s good stuff, if it doesn’t fit where the music is leading. It’s OK to end up in a different place then we started and a good bit of the process is working through the pieces that hit the cutting-room floor that are important only to get us where we need to be. I have a notebook of scrap pieces to work into new pieces after being salvaged from the cutting floor.
4. Don’t work too far along on any part without coming back together and sharing. This keeps the song on track and not heading off in 5 different directions.
5. Believe in yourselves and your work. If you don’t believe in your own brilliance, the light shining through you, then who will?
6. Follow through. Do what you’ll say you do and complete the execution of the project.
7. Know when to quit. Leave it alone when it’s done and quit editing.
8. Be trustworthy. There is a lot I’m sharing with you here, in this blog, but there is a lot that will stay in confidentiality. That’s because collaborative songwriting is a type of relationship. One that we are inviting you, the audience, to enter into with us with your comments, sharing your artwork, or choosing to hire us for a songwriting project of you own. Relationships, by definition, cannot flourish with trust. And this one is no different. The main difference between this and some other types of professional relationships is the heart-nature of the work. And that’s a valuable thing, worth protecting and respecting. It’s something Phil and I take seriously with each other and that we will value with anyone else we write with.
Heart & soul & relationship. That’s what it’s all about.
And I think I’ve wrapped myself back along to taking care of my hurting heart this morning. The heart and soul we put into “Diamond in the Rough” came right back and spoke to me today so I thought it might be a good day to share it with you all.
“Diamond in the Rough” is the first single release off AMBERGRIS, and Phil and I would like to dedicate it to Every Woman. Every women who has ever held the line in a tight spot. Every single mom struggling to make ends meet for her kids, and every strong and capable woman getting through the tight spots in life, whether it be poverty, or health issues, or grief, or pain.
We are all that woman.
We are all the Diamond in the Rough.