I was asked recently - and have been asked throughout my songwriting career - if the subjects of my songs know that a certain song is about them. The answer is no. Maybe I have a few particularly astute muses who have a hunch, an inkling, a particularly strong feeling that a certain song is about them. But I’ve never told anyone - other than close friends - that a song is about them.

Why, might you ask? Well, first things first: I’m a coward. If you can pour your heart and soul into a diary entry and then hand a physical copy of it to who you wrote it about, not only am I in awe of you but I also fear you. As far as I can tell, most people don’t have the courage to do that. Except for Taylor Swift; that woman had more backbone at sixteen years old than I’ll ever have.

Often, the period in which a song is written is a volitile, chaotic, mess of a thing. That’s usually where my best work comes from. The feeling is rooted so deeply inside of me and the only thing I can do to get some relief is put that feeling into words. I’m also not a very casual songwriter, which means that the last thing I’m going to do is spill my metaphorical guts out to the person I’m so caught up in.

However, time does pass and it’s fair to wonder why I might not tell someone that a song is about them long after it was written - long after the passions fade and settle into memory. The answer might seem complicated, but I’ll try to explain my headspace to the best of my ability: by the time I’m in a place where I could feasibly tell someone that a song is about them, the song has evolved.

I have two songs called “Ghost” and “Bodycount” that capture two separate but very specific instances in my life. Both were written in moments of revelation. “Ghost” is about watching someone I always thought would be in my life drift away little by little. “Bodycount” is about realizing that the person I thought I was in love with would never love me back. At the time, these were fresh, aching wounds that never felt like they’d mend. But eventually, the pain dimmed to a flicker. Now, I recognize how pivotal those feelings were to creating a song I continue to sing years later.

Those songs will always be written about the same person. I’ll always think of who inspired them when I pick up my guitar to play. But the songs have grown beyond that initial inspiration. The person who helped me experience those emotions - positive or negative - is no longer the reason that I continue to sing that song. The songs are now connected to the people who tell me that a particular song is their favorite; both “Ghost” and “Bodycount” - songs I thought would be too emotional for people to enjoy - are songs people have let me know spoke to them. There are some songs I play live that others will sing along with me. The life that listeners give to songs supercede those who inspired them and I love that.

So, when it comes to my songs, I wrote the song for someone but I kept it around for me… and for you. :-)

Growing Pains

Now, I considered making a whole other web page for a blog, but honestly, why do that when I have an entire domain? With my name on it! That I'm paying for! So here is the inaugural post for the Heather Ehlen: Singer-Songwriter blog. We'll just call it "Blog", to prove that every once and a while, I can get straight to the point instead of dancing around it. 

I've been a writer for as long as I can remember. From the earliest age, I was telling stories and weaving together narratives as my imagination demanded. I wrote my first "novel" in the fifth grade; although it was about cats and more or less a total ripoff of the Warriors series by Erin Hunter, it was still over twenty pages of my writing. As time went on, I continued to start stories, but developed an issue with finishing them. The issue being that I never finished any of them. There is a draft of a story on my hard drive collecting metaphorical dust as we speak. 

At fourteen, however, I discovered something that I not only had a passion for but also something I could follow through on: songwriting. I bought my first guitar - a Art & Lutherie Ami (which I'm near positive has been ~*re-branded*~ as the Parlor) - with my own savings and wrote my first song about my Mom as a Christmas gift to her. I took lessons from a wonderful guitar teacher who helped to shape my love of songwriting and pushed me to learn as much as I could (he desperately tried to get me to learn the guitar scale/keys, but I was hard-pressed to put in the effort. It's tough and I'm stubborn. I'm now paying the price every time I record with actual, studied musicians). 

Don't be fooled: music has never been my be-all-end-all. The intricacies of production and the breakdown of a perfect song aren't my focus, as I know they are for many musicians. To each his own! But for me, songwriting stuck because it is it's own art form. I can take the narrative of a novel and distill it to the length of a poem without needing to follow the rigidity of poetic form. I can pursue the confessional nature of a diary entry or a blog but feel as if I am properly creating something rather than indulging in my own inherent narcissism. Finally, I can help to bolster a tone by developing a specific melody to marry with the words; I like to think of creating melodies as the most technical skill of the bunch. 

As I've grown in my songwriting - over ten years strong - I've gone through phases with how prolific I've been. There have been weeks at a time where I won't even pick up my guitar. Often, I feel as if I've run out of things to say or, worse, everything has already been said by those far more talented than me. But then, without rhyme or reason (actually, a lot of rhyme), I may write four songs in a month. Not all of them stick, but the inspiration was there for one bright and shining moment! The problem is that I have grown accustomed to seeing songwriting as an all-or-nothing artistry: either I'm inspired or I'm not. Either I make something great or I make nothing at all. 

My goal as a songwriter now is to acknowledge songwriting for what it is as a technical skill. I need to work it like a muscle. Just because I haven't felt a particular emotion strongly enough to write a song about it doesn't mean I shouldn't bother picking up my guitar at least once a week (it should be once a day, but let's not get ahead of ourselves). Songwriting doesn't have to be topical; I can just as easily look back at how something made me feel rather than waiting around until I feel something in the moment. One of the best songs I've written to date isn't even about me: it's about a fictional character! So I need to work myself out of this headspace of write now or write nothing. 

Was this self indulgent? Yes. Is it a good example of exposition? Yes. I was an English major. It's what I do. 

Talk to you soon!