Lyric Spotlight | May/June 2009
“Like There’s No Tomorrow”
Q & A with Michael McGee
Amateur Lyric Contest Entrant
“Like There’s No Tomorrow” goes from a really gut-wrenching first verse into this airy, breathy chorus, where the “love, baby, love” lines are really juxtaposed with the first verse images. I wonder what this transition actually sounds like?
When I wrote the lyric I was trying to kind of duplicate the things that Beethoven did with his big fat chords in the 5th symphony ( ba-ba-ba-bu-u-um) but with big, emotion-packed visceral words. I wanted the words to be raw, hard-hitting and jagged kind of like a saw on a mirror with lots of contrast (knife of life-breath of death, etc.) then pound home that intensity by using internal rhyme and cadence in each line. And then I wanted to have the ultimate contrast by juxtaposing these jarring images through the ultimate contrast of taking those negative images into an uplifting ethereal chorus with a positive message of hope. I describe it as Melissa Etheridge “Come to My Window” meets Sheryl Crow “My Favorite Mistake’ with a side dish of Leona Lewis “Bleeding Love.” I start out sort of monotone and in a low key and then just keeps climbing high into the chorus.
Was there a particular incident or experience that drove you to write “Like There’s No Tomorrow?”
There was no specific incident, rather the song was a composite of several student conversations that I had over the years dealing with breakups or betrayals of the heart (I work with students and live with them in a residence hall setting). I took the emotions and thoughts of all these conversations and molded them into this lyric.
Describe your songwriting process. What part of the song do you normally start with?
I usually start with a title idea-usually the chorus-and try to write the song to flow into that idea. As most writers do, I try to make the first verse compelling enough that it will to draw the listener/reader interest further into the song. I usually try to get a title that has a unique flavor to it or that has an unexpected twist to it.
Recently, I heard a radio report that primal therapy is now thought to make a person angrier. Do you get worked up singing the verses? Is it a relief when you get to the chorus?
Actually, I don’t write music or sing at all (which is fortunate for the listening public). I am pretty much musically bankrupt. I write only words. In fact I call myself a wordman as opposed to a lyricist because a lyricist is able to write words to music. I really can’t do that unless someone gives me dummy lyrics so I can see how the music wraps around the words. But, I write with composers from all over the world, have won or placed in just about every major international song competition you can name and have been told by my composer friends that my words are very music friendly.
How does songwriting relate to your daily life? Are you often referencing your own personal experience in songs or writing from different character’s perspectives?
I suppose all writing, whether character based or completely autobiographical, have a piece of the writer in them. I certainly think that is true for me as well. For instance, many of my lyrics/songs might have a character or story that has a grain of reality hiding in them. Usually they are composites though of experiences that are sort of duct taped together onto a fictional/factual hybrid story. When I write, I attempt capture a raw emotion and freeze frame it for a few seconds to make sure it stands out, so then people can identify with it and then glue the story to it.
What happens after you finish a song? Run it by a friend? Play it for an audience? Record a demo and start pitching?
When I finish a lyric I have some of my students( usually females as they are more attuned to emotions) tell me what they think and I ask them if it moves them in any way. If it does then I know I have got a good start to the lyric. If it doesn’t then I need to rethink and rewrite until I can get it to move them. When it moves them I send it on to my composer friends who write the music and then we tweak the total song until we think it is right. We then demo it and pitch it or enter contests with it.
Who are some of your songwriting influences? What have you learned from studying or listening to their songs?
Diane Warren-whoa what a great writer. “Unbreak my heart and uncry these tears-how can you write anything more simply or more powerfully than that?
Paul Simon – “Bridge Over Troubled Waters”, “Sounds of Silence”, The Boxer”-the imagery is just so exquisite and the phrasing so eloquent. It’s like finding chocolate without calories.
Paul Overstreet, Lennon/McCartney, Craig Wiseman and Jeffrey Steele-”Love Is Beautiful Thing” -it’s so visual I can see every scene in that lyric.
Wow, that’s a long list.
There are so many more I would need a ream of paper to list. I have learned from all of them that words have to touch you as much as the music.
To listen to “Like There’s No Tomorrow,” visit Michael’s American Songspace Profile.