Annabeth McNamara is a singer/songstress from Harrisonburg, VA, with experience traveling and performing across the U.S. and Europe. We talked about the process of songwriting, and focused on one song in particular, Lavender, that she had finished recently. This story weaves together a clip of a solo rehearsal of the beginning of the song, a streaming of a the middle of the song during a quick band rehearsal before the show, and the end of the song during a performance.
Editor's notes: To listen to the song in entirety, you can find a full video at the bottom of the page. The following story is in the artist's own words, excerpted from interviews.
What does the song mean to you?
"It came from memories I had from living in France. I was nostalgically missing certain aspects of that experience, the nature and the really sweet people that I met who were good to me. I was missing France, not wanting to go back there, but just kind of reminiscing a time and a place that has passed. Also wondering how I can create more of that feeling in my life, like being close to nature and surrounding myself with really kind people."
What was the writing process like?
"I guess the song took a few months to unravel. I came up with a guitar groove that I liked and I was playing it to myself over and over. Just like, ‘Yeah-- I like this.’
And then over time, words started to come to mind and some of them stuck in my head, some of them didn't. I had created the instrumentation and I was working on it, so it was unraveling on its own.
Awhile back I had checked out a book from the library on songwriting, and the author said the part of your brain that writes the words is different from the part of your brain that writes the music. She really recommended separating them entirely, which I had never done before. She suggested literally song-writing, like sitting down at a certain time to write lyrics. So that's what I did with Lavender. I wound up writing this very lilting poem that I didn't see how it would fit into a song. Then I eventually I got around to trying it out with that chord progression, and it started to kind of work. The process felt disjointed, but I think the final product benefited from it."
"So as I started to sing the written words to the song, and then more words started to come that weren't written down, but kind of made sense with the flow of the song. And then at the end, I even got off subject because I was going through something at that time and just wanted to express something about that."
"I kept tinkering with the song as it was evolving, and then I played it with some of my friends and they start to add a little bit of feedback. They were like, 'oh I like this part', and 'how about this'. And a friend started to do a little round on it. She isn't even in my band, but I really liked that, so I had my other singer do it."
"After all that work on songwriting, some of the lyrics don't even make sense for the story. But that’s actually great. One of my favorite musicians, Feist, loves writing songs that don't really mean anything. They are open to interpretation, which she says is a big part of her song success, because people can project whatever they need on to the song. She will sing something that sounds like it is about a relationship, but it is all metaphors that almost make sense but don't quite, so you can just – whatever you are feeling, you can relate to it in a strange way."
What was the reaction when you first played it for others?
"When I first played it with my band, they all each had a different reaction, and a pretty strong one. One was like, 'Oh, this is just like my past relationship, I can't play this song because it is so sad.’ And the other one was like, 'Wow, it sounds like this whole love story where the guy dies at the end.’ There is a sadness to the song, there was a sadness to that story, but I've moved past it, so maybe they are picking up on that."
"And that happens with my materials and my songs. Sometimes it starts from a really deep, dark place, but then it ends up in kind of a lighter, more colorful place and I think that's kind of what I do with my life. I start my day in a pretty dark, negative space – I must not breathe enough when I'm asleep. So I wake up and I just have to take a bunch of deep breaths and do my morning ritual to get on a positive note. So I think maybe my music does that too."
"It's exciting to realize I experience the song my way, and the listeners are all having this kind of deep resonance, but in their own way. At first I was unsettled because I was like, ‘Woah, it's getting misconstrued!’ But very quickly I was excited, because I realized it was doing that thing that some of the best musicians out there do."
"I feel like I'd reached a more open level lyrically where people could relate to it more because it wasn't so specific, so I feel like it's a great success."
“Lavender” performance by Annabeth & the Larkspur at the Golden Pony in Harrisonburg VA, February 28th, 2016.