Dear Theo

my world in words

Favorite Albums of 2012

Posted on | December 25, 2012 | Comments Off

10. “Tramp” by Sharon Van Etten

9. “The Lumineers” by The Lumineers

8) “There’s No Leaving Now” by The Tallest Man On Earth

7) “Synthetica” by Metric

6) “The Idler Wheel Is Wiser Than the Driver of the Screw and Whipping Cords Will Serve You More Than Ropes Will Ever Do” by Fiona Apple

5) “Battle Born” by The Killers

4) “The North” by Stars

3) “The Peace of Wild Things” by Paper Route

2) “Born To Die” by Lana Del Rey

1) “My Head Is An Animal” by Of Monsters And Men

Honorable Mention: “Little Broken Hearts” by Norah Jones, “Master of My Make-Believe” by Santigold, “Babel” by Mumford & Sons

Empty City Nights, available now

Posted on | May 10, 2011 | 300 Comments

Hey Dreamers,

In 2010, Sharlynn and I had decided to trade the road for an empty notebook, hoping to feel the world again in the only way we know how.  Before long, we had filled the notebook up with memories, and thoughts, and songs.  We’d spent years crisscrossing the country, touring as a duo, so when we wanted to turn these songs into an album, we decided it was time to make one as a duo. No more producers, no more hired musicians — just the two of us in a room with the ability to hit record.  So, we bought $200 worth of recording equipment, closed the door, and set out to make the most honest album we could.

The album was inspired by the view from my loft in downtown Kansas City.  I’d be looking out my window late at night, see a handful of lights on, and wonder what was happening in those apartments.  I’d think about how empty the city can feel, even though so many people are awake in their rooms, going through their version of the same thing everyone else is.  Soon, I realized the album we were writing is a trip through the thoughts of these people, in these apartments, on this one city night.

This album is about urban life, love, and loneliness.  It’s about being in your twenties, and trying to learn how to fall in love and how to stay in love.  It’s about being ready to feel something that means something.

It’s about Empty City Nights, and you can get it here:

Bandcamp (where you can name your price): http://music.farbeyondfrail.com
iTunes: http://itunes.apple.com/us/album/empty-city-nights/id430670622
Amazon: http://amzn.com/B004VELJ3S
CD Baby: http://www.cdbaby.com/cd/farbeyondfrail4

We’ve been waiting for this day for a long time, and we hope you’ll be a part of it.  We’d love for you to listen.  We’d love for you to tell us what you think. We’d love for you to help us spread the word.

Yours,
David

Today is my life

Posted on | April 17, 2011 | 341 Comments

I think about life a lot. I imagine what my future will be like; I think about what I want to accomplish and what kind of person I want to be. I want to write a hit song. I want to be a good friend. I want to play Pebble Beach. I want to be generous, and willing to sacrifice for the people I love. Maybe I’d like to write a novel someday, or devote an entire year to traveling the world. Life feels so impossibly big that when I think about it, it’s hard to imagine any limits on what I can do or who I can be.

Over the past few years, I’ve realized that this outlook might actually be dangerous. Not the part about having goals or ambition or wanting to be a better person – where would we be without that? No, I’ve realized that it’s dangerous to think of life as something bigger than it actually is – today, then tomorrow, then another day, and so on. “Life” is just the sum of our days. Days in which we wake up and eat breakfast and make choices before going to bed and starting over the next day.

For this reason, the first thing that I tell myself when I wake up is, “Today is my life.” If there are things that I want to accomplish in life, or a person I want to be remembered as, it needs to be reflected in my days. If not, how is it going to happen? How will I be remembered as someone willing to sacrifice if, when presented with the choice today, I chose to be selfish? How will I accomplish something big or difficult if I’m not willing to take some small step towards it today? Today is my life – not tomorrow, or next year, or in a decade.

This way of thinking is nothing new; in fact, it’s quite a cliché. Seize the day, live each moment to the fullest – they are all variations on the same theme. But where living each moment to the fullest seems like an impossible (and exhausting) task, thinking about the consequences of the choices I make every day helps me stay focused on things that are important. If more often than not, my daily choices are in line with what is principally important to me, I’ll live the life I want to. If they aren’t…I won’t. Today is my life.

Empty City Nights

Posted on | March 22, 2011 | 336 Comments

This is a letter I just sent to fans of far beyond frail, announcing the release date of our new album, Empty City Nights:

I love this time of year.  I love when the weather gets warmer, and the days get longer, and the winter feels like it’s fading away.  I spent yesterday wandering around the little neighborhood in downtown Kansas City that I call home, thinking about the past year, but allowing myself to be distracted by coffeeshops and park benches and views of the Missouri River slowly making its way through the middle of the country and down to the Gulf of Mexico.

The reason I was feeling reflective is that after months of writing and searching and recording, we have a new album.

Our fifth release, and first full-length album, is called “Empty City Nights” and will be released on May 10th, 2011.  We recorded it on one microphone, for only $200, and think that it is the closet we’ve ever gotten to capturing whatever it is that made us want to write songs and play them for people in the first place.  We really can’t wait for you to hear it.

You’ll certainly be hearing more from us in the coming months — more about the album, and more about the songs, and more about where we’re going from here.  But in the meantime, I wanted to let you know that it’s on the way and I wanted to say thank you.  Thank you, because if you’re reading this, you’ve played a part in why we’ve been able to make music for the past seven years.  We’re grateful, and for as long as you’ll let us, will keep making music to show our appreciation.

Yours,
David

Favorite Albums of 2010

Posted on | December 25, 2010 | 304 Comments

10. “The Five Ghosts” by Stars

9. “A Chorus of Storytellers” by The Album Leaf

8. “High Violet” by The National

7. “This Isn’t Over Yet” by Ellery

6. “Catching A Tiger” by Lissie

5. “We Are Born” by Sia

4. “My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy” by Kanye West

3. “The Social Network” by Trent Reznor & Atticus Ross

2. “Go” by Jónsi

1. “Sigh No More” by Mumford & Sons

Honorable Mentions:
“The Ladder” by Andrew Belle, “The Suburbs” by Arcade Fire, “Flamingo” by Brandon Flowers, “Similies” by Eluvium, “Heaven is Whenever” by The Hold Steady, “So Runs The World Away” by Josh Ritter, “Come Around Sundown” by Kings of Leon, “I Speak Because I Can” by Laura Marling

My songwriting process

Posted on | October 10, 2010 | 229 Comments

When I was 17 years old I got my first guitar, learned a handful of chords, and immediately wrote my first song (this explains why I’m such a mediocre guitar player – I’ve never stopped writing songs long enough to learn anything new). Since then, I’ve written hundreds and hundreds (and hundreds?) of songs.  I don’t think this qualifies me as an expert, per se, but I have learned some interesting things about the process that best enables me to write and write a lot.

Before I dive into it, I’d like to preface my “process” with the following:

1) All of this is crap.  Leonard Cohen said that however you can enter into the “tower of song,” that’s the route you should take.  These steps are how it usually happens for me, but I’ll happily throw away all of it if I am inspired to do something different.  Whatever can lead me to a song at that particular moment, that’s what I do.

2) I write because I’m a songwriter, not because something has happened that has inspired me to write.  Therefore, it’s almost impossible to line up my songs lyric-by-lyric to things that have happened to me and things that I’ve felt.  Bob Dylan wrote that his songs were all true until he changed all the words.  This is more applicable to me; there is something true about what I write and the emotion behind it, but the truth isn’t found in a line-by-line breakdown of the lyrics. That’s not to say that real life inspiration isn’t a great reason to write – during the times that songs have come to me like that (breakups, etc.), they’ve been spectacularly easy to write.  My life just isn’t THAT inspiring all the time, and I don’t want to sit around and wait until it is.  This process is designed to help me find song ideas and lyrics outside of my own life so that I have access to a never-ending supply of ideas.

3) I work on ideas and music in parallel.  It’s only after I have a fully formed idea, and a fully formed chord progression and melody that I bring them together and write the lyric.  I’ll touch on this more later, but it’s important to know that this post is more about my process for coming up with ideas than it is my process for writing music.  That post would actually be quite boring, because in all honesty, Sharlynn and I can sit down and write the music half of a song in a matter of minutes.

STEP ONE: “TRIGGER”

A trigger is anything that makes me think, “I bet there’s a song in there.”  It could be an email from a friend, a line in a TV show, the plot of a movie, or a word I overhear in a coffee shop.  I’ve always believed that to be a great songwriter, you need to be a songwriter every minute of every day and this is most evident in this first step.  I’m constantly on the look out for something that can trigger an idea, and constantly writing them down (if you care, I use Evernote to remember and tag triggers).  Then, when I sit down to write more deliberately, I have a huge database of things that can serve as a starting point.

STEP TWO: “TITLE”

I know I’m getting a little “Nashville” with this, but yes, I try to start with a title as often as possible (“Nashville” meaning that a lot of country songwriters swear by this method of songwriting).  Why?  Because great song titles lead to great song ideas.  Great ideas lead to great lyrics; great lyrics lead to great songs.  You get it.  What I’m looking for in a title is something that just demands to be written – something that is interesting and poetic without any other context.  I’m working on a new far beyond frail album right now and almost every song on there started as a title, before I even knew what they’d be about – Empty City Nights, Stay Awake, Someday Whole, The Girl You Never Found, I Can’t Hear You Breathing, Change My Mind, You’d Break Her Heart For Me, etc.  It’s worth mentioning that a LOT of songs start with a title and not with a “trigger.”  I’ll honestly just sit down with a notepad and start thinking of words.

STEP THREE: “IDEA”

Once I have a title, I ask myself, “If a song was going to be called X, what would it be about?”  As often as I can, I try to throw away the first idea I come up with, because it’s usually obvious, overdone, and not that interesting.  I’ll come up with three or four ideas for that title and then pick the best one.

STEP FOUR: “SKETCH”

At this point, I have a song title and an idea and could very easily match it to a melody and begin writing the lyric.  The problem is that writing lyrics is hard – you have to tell an entire story in a poetic and engaging way, you have about 28 lines to do it, and they have to rhyme.  Therefore, I want to have as much stuff figured out as I can before sitting down to write a lyric.  I want to know who the lead character is – how do they think, what do they feel, what’s happened to get them to this point?  I want to know what key pieces of information the listener needs to know in the first verse in order to make the chorus make sense.  I want to explore what imagery I can use that fits the emotional tone of the idea (nighttime, sunlight, etc.).  Essentially, I storyboard the entire song – first verse, chorus, second verse, bridge – and then free write within each of those boxes so that I have a some language to mold when it comes time to write the lyric.

STEP FIVE: MATCH IT TO MUSIC AND WRITE THE LYRIC

I mentioned earlier that I work on ideas and write music in parallel until the time comes to match them together and write the lyric – this is the point where that happens.  The sketches just sit there (sometimes for months) until I have a chord progression and a melody that needs a lyric.  Then, I search through the sketches to find something that thematically matches the emotional tone of the music (a “hopeful” sounding melody needs a sketch with a “hopeful” theme, for example).  That way, I can focus on writing a lyric without needing to occupy part of my brain with trying to write a melody and storyboard the song at the same time.  I’m not smart enough to do that all at once.

Well, there you have it – that’s my process for writing songs.  If you’re familiar with my music and think it’s terrible, feel free to use this as a guide of what not to do.  But regardless of quality, I’ve written a lot of songs and I think it’s because I don’t need to sit around and wait until inspiration hits.  I sit down like it’s a job and simply usher thoughts down the conveyer belt and it leads to songs.

Empty City Nights

Posted on | September 10, 2010 | 287 Comments

I just rewrote most of the lyric, but this a song that Sharlynn and I wrote with a good friend of ours from Martha’s Vineyard named Joe McGill (great, great songwriter).  Kansas City is really strange at night – seemingly empty, even though you know that there are thousands of people in the windows above you.  I guess this about how so many people can live in such a small area, and still feel alone.  I’m not sure if it will be on our next album, but right now I think I like it.

“Empty City Nights”
Written by David Cecil, Sharlynn Verner, and Joe McGill
© 2010 Butterfly Sketches Publishing
© 2010 Grey Glass Music Publishing
© 2010 Favorite Times Music

Another lonely neon night
Moonlit city, moonlit life
I’m not the only window lit up tonight
If it were dark enough, I’d sleep
If there were light, I might believe
In you, in God, in hope, in love, in me

We all want to feel something
Something that means something

Everything is turning red
There’s a pounding in my head
I can’t believe that I’m back here again
Quiet, staring at the street
If I look long enough I’ll see
Someone who feels the same staring up at me

We all want to feel something
Something that means something

It used to all make sense
But I’ve lost what I felt back then
I’m supposed to write a life, but I’m stuck again
You know, it’s gonna be so strange
When we look back on these days
And see an empty page

We all want to feel something
Something that means something

Staring at city lights, another empty city night
Staring at city lights, another empty city night

September

Posted on | September 9, 2010 | 341 Comments

For those of you who are interested in keeping up with my band, far beyond frail, here’s our most recent newsletter:

Hey Dreamers,

September snuck up on me more than usual this year.  There’s something about summer that feels eternal, and it can be jarring when you suddenly realize that it isn’t.  It’s kind of like youth in that way.

Part of what makes the arrival of September significant is that it means that I might have let a whole season go by without letting you know what is going on with life, music, and far beyond frail (unless you follow us on Facebook and Twitter, in which case you’ve probably heard far more than you care to).  Hard to know where to start…

When we released “Wonder” in February, I wrote that those songs were born out of feeling both frustrated by the trials of being an independent musician and the still burning passion for capturing life in songs.  Much of this year has been centered around not just coming to terms with those feelings, but trying to decide what they actually mean with regards to where we go from here.  We’ve gone back and forth between feeling tired and feeling energized.  Back and forth between wanting to keep doing what we’ve always done and wanting to do something completely different.  Back and forth between missing how it felt to be 22 years old, not worried about anything beyond playing songs at coffeehouses, and loving how it feels to be approaching 30, starting to place more value family and stability – on a sense of home that exists outside of notes and chords and lyrics.

What this has meant for us is that we’ve been busier than ever, but not in the way we’ve been busy in the past.  You’ve likely noticed far fewer shows posted on our website, far fewer emails asking you to spend an evening with us when we pass through your town.  This has been by design (not that we haven’t missed you).  We’ve taken all the time that we typically devote towards booking, promoting, and playing shows and given it all to writing and recording music.  We asked ourselves, what would it sound like if we made our first album as a duo (no more full band, no more polished production)?  What would it sound like if wrote far more songs than we could ever use, threw them away, started again, and then picked the best ones?  What would it sound like if we limited ourselves to one microphone, a laptop, and a $200 budget?  We’re not sure yet, but we’re getting more and more excited that you’re going to like the answer – especially if you came to know us through our live shows and not our recorded albums.

As always, I don’t think we’ll be able to stay away from the road for long, but we’re trying not to put a timetable on when we’ll pack up and leave again.  We’ll no doubt play here and there this Fall to try out some of these new songs, but we’re primarily focused on trying to put a collection of songs together that we feel happy sending out into the world sometime in the Spring.

As always, thanks for being on this journey with us.
We love you.
We miss you.
You’ll hear from us soon.

Yours,
David

I used to think about God here.

Posted on | August 29, 2010 | 383 Comments

I used to think about God here.
Sitting, quiet, waiting for those moments
to come where I

felt sure.

It was easy to believe big things at
that young age. Easy to imagine
a world beyond what I could see,
or touch,
or understand.
It was easy to feel like I was connected
to that world, if I only sat, quiet,
long enough to recognize it.

I don’t think I’ve stopped believing.
I think I’ve stopped sitting, quiet,
waiting for those moments
to come where I

feel sure.

My life brought to a stop

Posted on | July 11, 2010 | 137 Comments

My life brought to a stop,
by a girl, by a look, by a word.

Years later, each look has the same effect,
making it so

I’ll never be anywhere but that place.
I’ll never be anyone but that boy.
Frozen in time,

not wanting anything but you.

keep looking »
  • About Me

    My name is David Cecil. I write songs. I play in band called far beyond frail. I own a creative agency called Johnny Lightning Strikes Again. This is my blog.
  • Sites

  • RSS Tweet, Tweet