VanArts Radio

Songwriting from the Heart

Mar 29 by Adam Thorp

I am constantly writing down my thoughts and feelings to try understand myself. I have over 1100 notes on my phone right now - most of which are ideas, perspectives and memories that strike at random times.

Sometimes I’m on the bus and an image pops into my mind.
Sometimes a friend says something and it happens to hit a nerve.
Sometimes I wake up in the middle of the night and scribble down random words that came to me in a dream.

I don’t use nearly all those words my brain strings together. Sometimes I just need to write them down to help myself in the moment. But those notes often end up being the seeds of the songs that I write. I plant them in my phone or on a piece of paper and water them with time. I let them grow and eventually they blossom into something more.

People always ask me how I write songs.
I never really know what to tell them.

I wrote my first song when I was 13. Myself, my mom, my dad and my younger brother had just moved to Dubai and left my older sister in South Africa. It was our first night in the hotel and I was extremely overwhelmed by the whole experience. I had never left South Africa before I boarded the plane to Dubai and honestly wasn’t sure if I ever would leave South Africa before I moved. I got a guitar for my birthday that year and remember sitting in the hotel room strumming the same chords over and over again. Music had always been incredibly important to me and got me through the day more often than not. I knew the very basics of guitar and had a lot going on inside that I felt like I needed to get out somehow. I kept strumming quietly while I looked at the moon from my window. I remember thinking that even though my sister and I were thousands of miles apart, at least when we looked at the sky we were looking at the same moon. That brought me comfort somehow, so I wrote a song about it.

Since then, songwriting has been a lifeline for me that I genuinely don’t think I could live without. It allows me to process my emotions and get in touch with things I don’t even know I’m thinking or feeling. I’m a very visual thinker and often need to see my thoughts written down to understand or work through them. If I can get a song out of an overwhelming feeling or situation, it feels like it was worth it to me and I’ll be okay.

I’m also a very sentimental person and always have been. I have an obsession with capturing memories and often struggle to let things go. I have a bunch of shoeboxes at home filled with memories from my life so far. Polaroid pictures, notes, movie tickets, medals, birthday cards, little toys, gifts, books, letters, albums, flyers, cool shoelaces, plane tickets - literally anything with a memory attached to it is in those boxes. I want to remember and appreciate all the things that have happened to me, and that’s a huge part of the reason I write.

Writing a song is like taking a picture of a feeling.
It’s a way to capture raw emotion.
A way to remember.

People always ask me how I write songs.
I never really know what to tell them.

Sometimes I start with chords.
Most of the time I start with lyrics.
Sometimes I pick up my guitar and a whole song pours out of me.
Other times it takes me weeks to figure out exactly what I want to do with one specific line.

I’ve heard songwriting be compared to open heart surgery before, and I fully understand why. It’s deep and vulnerable and intricate and really fucking hard sometimes. Many songs are made from extreme emotion and it’s hard to explain how one translates that intensity into art. Emotions are unpredictable - and thus so is songwriting.

This is kind of an abstract thought, and I’ve never heard anybody say anything like this - but I almost feel like I don’t write my own songs. I feel like they’re given to me in a way. Like someone put those ideas in my head somehow. I honestly don’t know where the ideas or melodies or lyrics come from. It just kind of happens.

There is no right or wrong way to write a song. Songwriting is about expression and you can do whatever the hell you want with your feelings. My advice is to be brutally honest, don’t be afraid to get deep and dark, keep experimenting and do it for YOU. I always hope my songs help other people, but I do it for me at the end of the day. I don’t share 90% of the songs I write because they’re not meant for other people. The songs that I do share are still extremely personal and are still meant for me - but that unflinching vulnerability is where I think a lot of the magic found in music comes from. Music is an extension of the soul and artists are brave to share that with the world.

People always ask me how I write songs.
I never really know what to tell them.

There is no right or wrong way to express yourself - as long as it’s coming from the heart.

- A