Evolution of a song: Raven Steals the Moon

The title track of my acoustic EP was the most difficult to write. Other songs on this release were written very quickly, with a sort of single-brush-stroke ease. For whatever reason, the method I used to write "Raven Steals the Moon" was much more tedious and involved. I think that this approach was actually necessary for the song's narrative development. Though it was a major headache, I'm glad that I took the time to chisel away it bit by bit until I could see its shape.

"Raven" started life as just an idea. I had watched The Fast Runner, an independent movie made by Inuit filmmakers and actors. The story is a retelling of a Native American legend that seems Shakespearian in its scope and drama. It was a reminder that the land we currently call "home" was taken from people with a whole culture and literature of their own. I wanted to let some of those legends and stories seep into my music. Besides, I had just written "Before Too Long," a very personal song. I wanted to write about someone else, and narrative songs always fascinated me. Not everyone wants to hear about my own life!

I checked out some books of Native American folk tales from the library. Some stories were very simple and straightforward. Some were bizarre and twisted. I realized that there was not one single tale that would make an appropriate song for me, so I combined a few and added my own elements. I leaned toward Trickster tales, as the Trickster figure (sometimes a coyote, raven, snake, or other beast depending on the culture) has always been very interesting to me. A Trickster is sort of like the Joker, Wile E. Coyote, and Glenn Quagmire wrapped into one very cunning but often unfortunate fellow.

The music started with the odd-metered chorus, the first thing you hear in the song. As you can tell from this early scratch track, the tempo was initially slower and the chord progression was more involved.

When writing the verses, it seemed like I would completely throw away the chord progression and melody and start from scratch every single day! I had a rough idea for the lyrics and the story I wanted to tell, but I couldn't seem to find music I was happy with. This early version sounded a bit too much like Dylan's "I Shall be Released" to me.

I had a general idea of the characters and the story, but the exact wording in the lyrics also seemed to change daily. Here's a page from my notebook:

I liked to get a rough recording of myself playing and singing the song at the end of every work session so I could listen to the most current version of the song the next time I worked on it. Even as the tune neared completion, I was still changing things every time I played through it. I captured an "a-ha!" moment in this particular recording.

After a ton of tweaking, I arrived at the final version. I guess some songs write themselves in an hour, and some take weeks. "Raven" was definitely the latter.