This week I am in Anaheim CA attending the 2012 Romance Writer’s Of America National Convention. In my absence I’m republishing some of my best of’s. This is part of an interview I conducted with Hal Ketchum in February of 2008. It first appeared on Blogcritics.com
I planned to ask about “Poor Lila’s Ghost.” It’s quite an epic story and song. Did you have any concerns at all about it being such a non-traditional length?
I just thought it was worth it. It was worth recording. It’s such a journey; I really wanted it to make the record.
The beauty of doing a European record is they are very open to… song length is not an issue. I knew from my previous work in the U.K. that the English don’t get hung up on how long a song is. So, it seemed like a good way to get it out there. And now that I’m playing it live, people are into it and it’s really okay. People are going to either really love it or really hate it.
You’re right about the song really being a journey. I really enjoyed the track, but immediately wondered about how it would translate live. It’s good to hear it’s being received well.
It was surprising how well it was received, yes. It’s really a joy to play it. I did it with just two guitars and it really worked out. People hung in there and it was fun.
Another song on the new album is “Forever Mine.” There’s a story in the PR sheet for the album about how you wrote the song around something you overheard your wife say. Is that the first time something like that happened?
Oh no! That happens all the time in some capacity. It really does. Sometimes it’s a misunderstood phrase on an airport PA or maybe it’s a half conversation overheard. You know, eavesdropping is a great way to get material. A lot of times, it might not be exactly what somebody might have said, but that inspires a phrase that just works for me.
Do you find most of your songs are built around lyrics then?
Usually it’s lyric first, but sometimes it’s melody. And I carry a hand-held recorder everywhere I go so I can just hum or whistle a melody if one hits me. Sometimes it’s both simultaneously – lyric and melody at the same time – those are a little confusing to me, but sometimes it comes in that form. I just feel like I have my own little radio station and sometimes the static clears and something beams in from out there.
And some days it’s really fuzzy reception, right?
(Laughs) You know. You’re a writer, you know. You just can’t chase it. The beauty of it, for me, you can’t make it happen. That’s the beauty of it; I have absolutely no control over it. It’s not mine to manipulate. If I’m quiet and I sit down and clear my mind, it will present itself.
That’s the intriguing part, it’s free. Isn’t it? You can’t go buy it. You can’t sit down and say, “I think today I shall write.”
It doesn’t work that way.
No, that’s usually the kiss of death, for me anyway.
We were talking about “Poor Lila’s Ghost” from One More Midnight, if you go further back through your albums there is “Someplace Far Away” and “Daddy’s Oldsmobile,” which are also really well-crafted stories as well as songs. Have you ever considered story or novel writing as another creative outlet?
You know, I have. I have. I have a whole pile of short stories that I… you know. I just don’t know. I think songwriting is my niche. That’s what I do, write those little movies. I don’t know if I could pull something off in novel form. I’m just not sure.
With my short stories, I try to find resolution with everything so they’re a little too clever, I think. They’re not really stream-of-consciousness. That’s a hard thing to do.
I don’t think there’s such a thing as too clever. Do you really think there is?
I don’t know yet. I just don’t know.