Charlie Worsham’s Songwriting Survival Kit
One of the most gifted musicians in Nashville shares with us the essential elements needed when it comes to songwriting
Back in March 2016 we were lucky enough to witness Charlie Worsham’s blistering guitar work at close quarters. It wasn’t just his obvious musical gifts that charmed us but also his songwriting chops, and it came as no surprise that his latest album, Beginning Of Things, left us equally impressed. Highlighting the artists’ conflicting journey of self-doubt and determination, it’s a record which deserves to be heard and made us even more curious about the Mississippi-born Worsham’s writing process. Here he reveals all…
“Disclaimer: I believe the only tools necessary for songwriting survival are a blank page and an open heart. The most sacred ritual a songwriter must honour is this daily offering to creativity. It can be five hours in a dedicated space or five minutes in a window seat on a plane, but it must be done. Write your heart and do it every day, first thing in the morning if you can. Everything else is icing on the proverbial cake.”
1. My desk
“Given ideal conditions, I like to wake up at home and go to my writing desk. My mom and I made this desk the summer before I left for college. We used her mother’s sewing machine legs and glued together the boards for the top before staining it. I prefer objects that come with a story, and this desk has three generations’ worth of stories to tell (as do the tchotchkes on the desk).”
“When it comes to the actual process of writing, I am a pen, pencil, and paper guy. I love Moleskine notebooks with unmarked pages (no lines or grid), and I’ve taken to labelling each one with the date on which I started filling pages followed by the date on which I fill the last page. It helps me keep track of how much I’m writing. Most of what fills the notebooks is crap, but a mentor once taught me that crap makes the best fertilizer. And sometimes you have to dig down past the layers of crap to find the good stuff.
“I have always preferred pen to pencil, but a co-writer recently introduced me to the Blackwing and I’m hooked. For a pen, I use an OHTO Fude Ball 1.5. Writing utensils are to lyricists what great instruments are to session musicians, and it’s helpful to keep a couple of options handy. You will be more easily inspired if you work with a well-made pen or pencil, and I like to keep one of each at the ready. When I go back over old ideas, I can use whichever writing utensil I didn’t use on the first go round to make it plainly visible which notes were original and which were added later. “
“OK, let’s talk books. The more books I read, the better I write. I am particularly fond of southern fiction. I believe a songwriter should always be reading and should read authors whose works and career mirror the songwriter’s own goals. If you want to write 50 number ones, read Stephen King and John Grisham. If you want to be Guy Clark, read Eudora Welty and Faulkner. Whatever you do, READ. Better input equals better output.
“While you’re stocking up on literature, get yourself a copy of The Complete Rhyming Dictionary, edited by Clement Wood and The Random House Thesaurus Of Slang. Rhyming apps and websites are OK, but they don’t do what these books do. Plus, any digital resource leaves you susceptible to the fatal distractions of internet, streaming, social media etc. Songwriting is lonely work. It can’t be done online.
“Writing better lyrics has always been my biggest songwriting challenge, so I focus most of my writing energy on finding the right words. I bend the music to the lyric when I can, rather than the other way around… probably because I’ve played music for much longer than I’ve been a songwriter. Speaking of writing better lyrics, check out Writing Better Lyrics by Pat Pattison.”
4. Guild guitar and Boomerang sampler
“I use a lot of different instruments in my writing, but for me nothing beats an acoustic guitar. My favourite instrument right now is this vintage Guild nylon string, but I love to work on just about any guitar, acoustic or electric. When I’m trying to stretch my melody and groove muscles, I’ll plug into a pedalboard built around a Boomerang III Phrase Sampler. With the Boomerang, I can build live loops and audition melodies over the rhythm.”
“Thank you for taking an interest in how my songwriter brain ticks. I believe that songwriting is a magical thing that can change the world. Write your heart. Write fearlessly. Write every day.”
Beginning Of Things is out now and Charlie Worsham will be touring the UK next month. Details can be found at charlieworsham.com