I have written and rewritten many of my songs several times. As an artist, I think it’s important to be open to the idea that a piece of work is never really “complete.” Once a song — whether recorded professionally or played live — hits the ears of your audience, it changes in ways you never even imagined, as listeners interpret each instrument and lyric in different ways.
When I rewrite or make a subtle change to any song, I like to go back and locate the original version, sometimes months or even years later, and listen to the difference my rewrite made. Sometimes I find I even like the original version better. (Or, it could just be that it’s been so long since I’ve listened to it, the old version now sounds new and fresh to my ears.)
Little U is one of those songs that has gone through a couple of revisions. Just a few weeks ago, I released it publicly, and I’m especially proud of the most recent recording. I’ve taken some time to listen and reflect on all three versions and wanted to share those reflections in writing, here.
Little U Solo Version – Vocals & Piano
This song was written for my nephew, Van, and given to him and his parents as a gift for his first birthday. You can read more about that here. The first version of the song is the one that everyone fell in love with (all the while, continuing to fall in love with the boy it was written for.) The melody is catchy and easy to sing along with, and because it’s just me on a piano, you can really focus on the up-and-down movement of the notes as I’m singing.
When I first recorded the song, my voice was still pretty immature. It’s matured a lot just in the last few years and now carries a somewhat raspy quality. I sometimes really miss that immature, youthful sound it had at that time. I didn’t struggle much with pitch and my tone was nearly flawless. I’m not sure what caused it to change. Could’ve been all the cigarette smoke I inhaled while singing in bars before the indoor smoking ban was effected. I used to want a raspy voice. Now, even though I can appreciate the more mature quality it has gained, I’d give anything to go back to that youthful sound. I guess that makes me somewhat like the subject of the song in a way: even though we can all appreciate and enjoy Van’s older qualities, we’d give anything to relive those moments we had with him in his younger days. Thank God for photography and memory, so we can relive those moments.
Almost one year ago, Van’s mom, Melissa, told me this song would take on a whole new meaning once I had children of my own. I will probably connect to it on a more personal level. That said, it’s difficult to listen to this version and hear much feeling in my voice. I guess that’s not surprising, given that at the time of writing and singing it, I didn’t even think I wanted kids. And now, here I am. Eight months pregnant and about to give birth to a beautiful baby girl whom I haven’t even met but already love more than life itself. Soon, I’ll be writing songs for her too.
Little U Full Band Version – One Year Later with Sera’s Alibi
Shortly after writing and recording Little U, the guy who engineered the recording asked me if I wanted to be in a band with him. He really liked my songwriting and thought it would be a great opportunity for us to work together. We formed a band called Sera’s Alibi, and Little U was one of the first songs we recorded.
This is honestly the recording that I’m least proud of. I think it poorly reflects who I am and aspire to be as an artist. When we first did it, I was so excited to have a full band recording, I think I would have been happy with just about anything. But then those who had fallen in love with the original solo version of the song chimed in with their brutally honest feedback. And when constructive criticism comes from highly talented musicians whose opinions you trust, it hits hard. The more I listened to the recording, the less I liked what it had become.
We took a song about a precious little boy and turned it into a cheesy pop-rock ballad with predictable “stops” and a contrived guitar solo. The recording is way too fast. It feels rushed. And since I often sing behind the beat, it sounds like I’m fighting the speed every step of the way – probably the same way Van’s parents and family members have been wrestling with the fact that he’s growing up too fast. A song written about him should allow for some breathing room, where listeners who know him personally can really stop to savor those moments of intimacy they shared during his earliest years. This recording doesn’t allow for that. It sounds more like we were trying way too hard to make a radio hit. We flew through it and tried to put it into this pop-rock box where it just didn’t seem to belong — no more than a 2-year old toddler belongs inside a restricted shell. Just like the boy should be free to play, explore and be himself, a song written for him should allow space for that freedom. This recording was begging for freedom, and on the third try, it seems we finally got it right.
Professionally Produced Full Band Version – Two Years Later with Jeremy Snyder & Friends
I recorded this version in the studio with Charlotte, NC producer, Jeremy Snyder, and some of his very talented musician friends about one year ago. Actually, now that I think about it, we were wrapping up vocals exactly one year ago today. What’s especially ironic is that this was also the day Jereme and I conceived our first child. Sadly, that conception ended in a miscarriage at 9 weeks, but today, I’m attending my first baby shower for our sweet little Indie Grace — one year later, to the day, since the conception of our first child and the recording of my first record. Wow. It’s so amazing how the Lord works things out. Especially considering that when I wrote this song, I didn’t even think I wanted children of my own.
People say this version of Little U makes you want to sit back and smoke a joint. I haven’t tried that, but I must admit, I definitely understand what they mean. Jeremy suggested adding some space into the first two lines of the chorus. I thought that was a brilliant idea, and when we actually tried it out, I wanted to shout “YES!” from the rooftops. The song was finally coming into its own and sounding like the tune it was meant to be all along.
We ended up with a recording that’s nine minutes long. It doesn’t feel rushed at all.
Can’t get enough….
Of your sweet disposition
Being with you is just….
Like a little piece of heaven
Holding out those phrases added some breathing room to the song and made it easier to savor those little-pieces-of-heaven moments that we craved in earlier recordings. There is a very long guitar solo at the end, but it doesn’t feel contrived or cheesy. It feels perfect. The repeated phrasings are enhanced with some subtle production elements in the background that Jeremy added to keep it fresh all the way through. My vocals aren’t perfect, but I can sense the feeling behind what I was singing. Perhaps that’s because I wanted a child of my own when we recorded it this time. The strings at the end of the second verse and the bluesy sound of the guitar also helped enhance its sentimental quality, making it easier for me to make a personal connection while singing.
For best results: listen with headphones or really good speakers, make sure the bass comes through and turn the volume up as loud as you can stand it. (Feel free to smoke a joint, if you’re into that sort of thing, and if you do, let me know if what they say is true.)
Most importantly, close your eyes and imagine Van’s sweet baby face. It’s amazing.