Being a songwriter one of the most fascinating things I find is listening to other artists talk about the stories behind their songs. It brings the songs and lyrics into a whole new light as well as giving you an insight into the writing process. Similarly, I love talking about songwriting as it’s a creative medium with a lot of nuance and so much to explore. As such, I wanted to give you an insight into each of my songs from my debut EP ‘From the Stars Above’. This post will cover my folk inspired tune ‘St. John’s’. The rest of the EP will be covered throughout the coming month.
St. John’s has always stood out to me for two reasons. Firstly, because it is overtly a folk song, right from its inception through to recording. I have previously dabbled in the genre being influenced by many different artists of that calibre, including Tracy Chapman and Mumford & Sons, though I tend to fall on the more popular side of folk. However, when I came up with the initial hook for St. John’s; the line “I dream of her tears in St. John’s” already had a folky melodic rhythm to it. From there on it felt right to let the song steer itself. I took influences from sea shanties and traditional Irish songs before settling somewhere in the middle.
Secondly, St. John’s stood out because while a vivid story and description, I have never actually visited the city in Newfoundland, Canada and the entire scenario is fictional. The initial inspiration for the song came from seeing St. John’s represented in media during the 2020 lockdown. To me, it seemed straight out of a fairy tale or an old folk story. I was fascinated with the place and desperate to visit though obviously that could not happen. The hook that I previously mentioned was my interpretation of a line from those types of aural stories you hear from washed up sailors or pirates. It was from there I constructed the narrative by answering the questions it posed; Why was she crying? Why would I remember it so fondly or at least why had the memory stuck with me? Why was I in St. John’s?
I found it easy to write the story as it felt simple yet relatable, which is where some of the best songs lie. I also enjoyed creating the juxtaposition between the beautiful scenery of St. John’s and the sad position that the woman in the song has resigned to. It creates an antipathy in the song and the audience which always creates a more diverse listening experience. The most difficulty I faced was finding the right words and phrases to convey the story and match the beats of the song. It took months to finally settle on some choices which is not uncommon for some songs but within a year St. John’s was being recorded in a studio for my debut EP. Because it stood out so much was the exact reason it was chosen. It not only showed how I could write in different genres but also it had a strong melody and affecting lyrics.
During production my producer and I really leaned into the genre using a drone, mandolin, and violin to emphasise the folk influences present in the song. It was also the second longest to record as we had to nail the sound. Too folky and it would appear out of place on the record, too modern and the track would feel conjunct. I am happy to say we got the very best out of the track and is easily one of my favourite songs that I have recorded. From unusual beginnings, St. John’s is a great insight into how I write - taking real life into the fictional and fairy tale. If you look across the rest of the posts behind the songs, there is this continued theme of exaggeration and dreaming as that is what songwriting is for me. It’s a way to escape and carry on the imagination. At its heart that is what St. John’s is all about - escape. For me, writing in the middle of lockdown and, for the woman at the centre of its story.
If you found this dissection of my song ‘St. John’s’ interesting let me know! You can message me on Instagram and Facebook (@samnixmusic) or through my contact page on the website.