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FIRST COMES THE NIGHT: I had this piece of rolling melody in my head, and the line, “That’s your stuff/I kept it just the way it was/It’s the only thing I got that’s left from us.” To me, it summed up how many people end up feeling when someone is gone, and they almost make a shrine. Even though I’m the writer, I often feel like an archaeologist with a brush on the ground trying to knock off the dust and figure out what this song is really about. Is it about a girl who’s dead or just gone? I realized this is about a relationship and the girl he’s still searching for. I brought what I had to two of the guys in my band -- Roly Salley and Scotty Plunkett -- to see what they’d bring to it. They helped bring “First Comes The Night” up to a bigger place. Thanks to them, this song has a dark, sad undertone, but happy possibilities too. 

PLEASE DON’T CALL: I didn’t know that Natalie Hemby is this big Nashville songwriter, but I can see why – because she is absolutely fantastic. Writing with writers in Nashville ran the gamut. I sat with writers who just throw out any word that rhymes and I’d say, “I think I left something in my car” and never come back.
 But then, you meet great writers like Natalie, and true collaboration just clicks.  I write lyrics really fast and so does Natalie, but I won’t settle for something just because it rhymes, and she has that same dedication to getting every song and every word right. 

PERFECT LOVER: “Perfect Lover” is my homage to Roy Orbison – “homage” is French for “rip-off.” Somehow “Perfect Lover” ended up as Orbinesque as anything I ever wrote, and I so wish Roy were still alive because I would be bothering him, saying, “Roy, this song is perfect for you.” Roy had all those great songs where love is tragic and hard, but then there’s a turnaround, like one of my favorites, “Leah.” I like how “Perfect Lover” ends on a positive note when the man in the song wakes up -- so it’s a song about bad dreams and happy endings. People may not hear it, but at the same time this is also my nod to ABBA, who I really loved, so the song has that big production and my friend Michelle Branch singing along so well.  

DOWN IN FLAMES: In Nashville today, people often write in groups of three. I loved writing this one in a trio with Gordie Sampson and Caitlyn Smith. I’ve been kicking around the first line for a while about how “Kennedy got it in a Lincoln/Caesar got it in the back/Somebody told me Hank Williams died in his Cadillac.” I thought they might think it was too strange, but immediately Caitlyn came in with “Down In Flames” and Gordie came up with “Elvis died alone or did he?” which really made me laugh. As you can hear, we all had a lot of fun going “Down In Flames” together.

REVERIE: This song was written with Natalie Hemby and Michelle Branch. Natalie had a great piece of melody and that beautiful title “Reverie.” I love when you hear a word that describes something quickly and perfectly. This one’s about someone who makes love, but then shuts the door and is gone again emotionally. I came up with a line I like, “Wish you could see your face/You go someplace no one can touch you.” I’ve found that I love writing with women -- in this case Natalie and Michelle -- because they just have a different way of looking at the world. Michelle and I have worked together back to when people still thought she was a kid, but she’s always been very mature and she has a very emotional voice. I always believe what she sings.

BABY WHAT YOU WANT ME TO DO: I wrote this about a woman who was very pretty, but had such a mean vibe. She told me stories about how she had been vindictive with her ex, and some bad stuff he had done. So I pictured a beautiful woman walking down the street, breaking hearts just to get back at whatever man had hurt her. I always pictured her with a tight skirt, black boots, but those are my issues. Thanks to Paul Worley, this sounds like the title song from some Forties movie. I love the string section. That’s why Paul has Grammys cluttering up his room. I told him, “Paul, if you get tired of them, I have plenty of room in my house.” 

KISS ME LIKE A STRANGER: I wrote “Kiss Me Like A Stranger” with James Slater, a songwriter who has a feel like no one else. James already had a good start on this song when we met, and that title which is a great one.  I like to think I brought it to a slightly different place. It’s neat when one person starts somewhere interesting and then the other person can take another left turn.  You follow some cool forks in the road. It’s a true collaboration. 

DRY YOUR EYES: That’s one that I have had kicking in my head for a long time, and I always liked the chorus, but I could never figure out how to put it all together. When I finally did, I was really happy because it felt like something by the Strawberry Alarm Clock or some lost Sixties band. It’s a little bit out there – but I am glad to have that strange corner of the musical universe covered on this album.

DON’T BREAK MY HEART:  This one started out as the kind of song you do just to jam and have fun with the guys in the band. Then one day I thought, why am I not recording this song if it’s so much fun? “Don’t Break My Heart” reminds me of Elvis, but not the most famous Elvis, but the songs in some of the bad Elvis movies. I was aiming for that kind of happy Elvis song in like a 1966 movie. Now I just need the bad movie to go with this good song. 

RUNNING DOWN THE ROAD: A huge influence on me is Jerry Lee Lewis, and so that one is odd because I wrote it on a piano and as my piano player can confirm, I am not a good piano player but somehow I did it all in one take. Then I said to Scotty, “Can you play what I played, but better?” And that’s what he does.  He took my piano riffs, and made it his own and much better. This is real rock and roll about blowing out of town and running away from your problems.

INSECTS: Yes, it’s really true: “Bad ideas are like insects on the windshield of my mind.” I love that our keyboardist Scotty Plunkett brought this to an almost Mose Allison place. I love Mose Allison. When I first started playing clubs in San Francisco, I played down the block from the Kasbah – a strip club with Latin music, and one day one of the strippers invited me to come over, and I swear for some reason he was playing there. I instantly fell in love – with the music of Mose Allison - so this is kind of my tip of the hat to what he does. 

THE WAY THINGS REALLY ARE: I’d be walking down the street, and that little melody would get stuck in my head. The song tells you when to finish it. Then when we start to put all the songs together, it becomes like flower arranging and you can see what colors you still need. Usually, I have a lot of ballads. If you have seven or eight slow songs, you know you need a fast song. This album I had a lot of upbeat stuff for a change, which was nice for a change.

First Comes the Night will also be available as a second configuration – a deluxe edition featuring five additional songs – released simultaneously with the standard edition.

NOVEMBER 13, 2015