COLUMNS Thoughts from the Other Side
By Andrew Shaver of Clever Hopes
Igotta say , when Canadian Musician asked me to write a column on songwriting , I wondered in what alternate reality I ’ d begun to exist . My buddies are the songwriters . I even reached out to a couple of them to ensure they ’ d already written their article . For a brief moment , I considered pulling all my music off of the DSPs and claiming there ’ d clearly been some kind of a mix up ; that they had the wrong Andrew Shaver .
Enter Eva Foote , who walked me back off the ledge , the way she helped talk me into writing these songs in the first place .
I met Eva in Montreal when I was directing the musical Once . The ensemble was full of musician pals , and pretty well every night after the performance , we ’ d hang out downstairs , drink whiskey , and pass around the guitar . I ’ d keep up by bashing my way through choppy renditions of “ Early Morning Rain ” or “ Out on the Weekend ,” but a couple weeks in , when we ’ d exhausted the songbook and people started playing their own tunes , I was relegated to being the guy who ’ d hand the guitar from Justin to Eva . And then from Eva to Bryan . And from Bryan to Eric … I had nothing to contribute and , man , it bummed me out .
Eva gave me a bit of tough love . She said , “ For someone who loves music as much as you do , Andrew , there ’ s no reason why you shouldn ’ t be able to write songs if you really wanted to .”
A week later the show closed , a month later my relationship imploded , a couple months after that I took off for the other side of the world , bought a beater guitar , and set myself to writing . Nothing like a little light shame , some big heartbreak , and a completely new environment to shake up a stagnant sense of self .
I wandered the streets of Melbourne thinking about songs . I ’ d record voice notes on my phone : reminders of images , a sequence of words , an unexpected rhyme . I ’ d archive it all so that when I got back to my little apartment in North Fitzroy , I could fumble through some chord progressions and see if I could marry the day ’ s vague musings with a melody , and eventually a narrative .
I spent months working on these songs , just following my nose , like I do as a director . When I found myself stymied in one and ready to call it quits , I ’ d move onto another fledgling idea as a change of scenery . And so , the beat went on .
On the beach in Byron , I remember discovering that the refrain of one unfinished song was actually much better as the bridge in another . I shifted things around and , like magic , it unlocked both of them . It was a familiar kind of magic , like I ’ d felt making theatre . The sort of magic that brings a clarity of focus and quells the worry that you ’ re fruitlessly chasing after something . Instead , it makes you realize that the thing ( the key to a scene , the right song structure , etc .) has been there all along , as though it were waiting to be found .
A friend once told me to be a kind shepherd for my songs and let them show me where they want to go . I felt like I was becoming a song shepherd , and I realized that Eva was right . I knew how to tell stories and so , yes , I could write songs .
I read an interview recently with John Prine in which he said the power of songwriting lay in the balance of which details you put in and which you leave out , which , coincidentally , is how I ’ ve always looked at making theatre : you empower the empty space around what is shown and what is said , so that the audience has room to see themselves in it and allows their imagination to do the rest of the work .
In the final few days before recording , I realized that I ’ d left out something vital to the emotional resonance in songs about a couple ’ s fiery end — her voice . I ’ d written these songs from my perspective and imagined Eva singing harmonies to bring a sonic depth and beauty to them . But actually , what these songs were asking was for Eva to give voice to the other side of the narrative . On a structural level , I ’ d put in too much of my perspective and left out too much of hers . The moment we flipped pronouns , and divvied up the verses , I felt us harness that magic once again . We took that spirit into the studio and did our best to let the songs show us how they wanted their stories to be told .
Now , on the other side of writing and recording an album , I ’ m contending with the unexpected joys and various disappointments of its release . I ’ ve loved hiding in the ephemeral beauty of the theatre ; it ’ s there and then it ’ s gone . It lives on only as artifacts in the memories of those who were lucky enough to see it . I ’ m struggling with the unchanging permanence that comes with having made something that now lives on , as is , forever .
I ’ ve overcome my fear of writing songs so this must the inevitable next step in my creative evolution .
Hey Eva , how do you do this part ?
Andrew Shaver is an award-winning director , actor , and songwriter based in Toronto . In 2020 he formed Clever Hopes with Eva Foote and in January 2022 they released their debut album , Artefact . The album was produced by Matthew Barber and is available everywhere . www . cleverhopes . com
CANADIAN MUSICIAN 29