Behind the Song (and First Single): Better Man

It’s been a long time coming, this record. I think I wrote the first song for it back in 2015 or 2016. Planned to record it in 2017, ended up recording it in 2018.

And here we are now, with our calendars/planners/online widgets saying February 2019, and the first single of the record is finally getting to see the light of day.

In the grand scheme of the universe, or even in the mid-sized scheme of pop music in America, that probably won’t raise many ripples. But in the tiny scheme of my own journey, it feels worth celebrating. (Celebrating is, perhaps, a relative term. Tomorrow it looks like watching old Mr. Rogers episodes with my 2-year-old who is stuck at home with some version of pink eye.)

Better Man cover final

listen to “better man” now

I’ve always had mixed feelings about artists who over-explain their songs, but if you’ll humor me, I’ll share some of the backstory on these new tracks.

“Better Man” is not only the first single, it’s also the first track on the record. And if you’ve listened to any of my stuff before, you’ll notice pretty quickly that we’re not in Kansas anymore, so to speak. There isn’t a single note of acoustic piano on the record, and that space has been filled with rhodes and wurlitzer (i.e. old electric pianos), and layer after layer of analog synths.

As for the lyrics, well, here goes a rambling attempt to unpack this one.

It’s so very hard to change. I’ve been thinking about that for years, wondering if anyone really changes, wondering if I myself am capable of lasting change or if all my fresh starts and good intentions are bound to whither within a few weeks/days/seconds.

So there’s a tension of longing to grow as a human but acknowledging that my own history doesn’t inspire confidence that I’ll be successful. This inability to change also means I don’t have things as figured out as I’d like to believe or project…starting with my own heart, my tendencies to respond in anger or unkindness to others, my lack of direction for how to spend this life, and so on.

And if it wasn’t hard enough sorting all this out in my own mind, I’m married, which means my shortcomings deeply affect one specific person more than anyone else. There’s a lot about my life that isn’t what I hoped it would be, and I’m sure she could say the same. We carry this pain in our respective hearts and often place (or misplace) it on each other, and nothing about that is easy. To me, there’s a question all of this begs (which is the bridge of the song): Will you stick around even if I never figure anything out?

Yikes, it feels heavy to write all that out. These are hard things. But I’m reminded of a Rainer Maria Rilke quote that haunts me (in a good way) when I’m tempted to take the easy way out:

“The fact that something is difficult must be one more reason to do it.”