About the Song – “Fear Not Want”

Editorial note: The first section of this post is a brand new article about the writing and recording of this song; the second section is adapted from a write-up originally posted on Facebook about the meaning behind the song.

“Fear Not Want” was the first single from Development & Compromise, and it has become the unlikely success story (relatively speaking) of my musical career thus far. As of writing this, it has nearly four times as many Spotify streams as my next-most-popular song. This fact has its pro’s and con’s; the extra exposure and the unusually high numbers are great, but I’ll be the first to admit that these thousands of people hearing my single aren’t converting into thousands of new followers and fans. Yet if there were one song on this album that had a lyrical message I think most people need to hear, it would be this one — so I’m very privileged that so many ears and hearts are being exposed to it.

I’ll get into the meaning and message behind the song later on, because there’s something in particular about this track that’s emblematic of the making of this album. You’ve potentially heard about how I recorded D&C within merely five studio days, or that I didn’t know how many songs I’d be able to record in those five days. To have a better chance of recording as many songs as possible, I decided to re-write each song to be as concise (AKA as short) as it could be. I began trimming fat, making key editorial decisions such as removing extra chorus repetitions or shortening instrumental interludes. Some songs took bigger hits, like “Developments,” where I cut out the pre-choruses altogether. Across the board, after these changes were made, each song was at least 20 seconds shorter than in its demo form, bringing multiple tracks beneath the three-minute mark (which used to be sacrilege to me — thankfully, I have since matured out of that arbitrary opinion). However, one song received more cuts than all the rest: “Fear Not Want,” which shrunk by two minutes.

The original demo of “Fear Not Want” (which, fun fact, was written and recorded on the same day as the original version of “Wired Side of Content,” in June of 2018) was nearly five minutes long. In fact, so much was removed from the song that I considered naming the official studio version “Fear Not Want (Abridged).” For years, I was quite devoted to the demo, but after enough of my trusty companions shared their doubts about the song with me, I simply knew there was something better that the song could be crafted into, like chipping away at a rock until the image of a sculpture becomes clear and smooth.

The easiest cuts to make were the musical ones. Originally, the verses included some bouncy, surfy guitar riffs that hinted at the main riff, which arrives during the outro. However, these early riffs were momentum-killing as well as too upbeat to fit with the tone of the verse’s lyrics. There was also a lengthy musical segment between the bridge and the final chorus, which, albeit fairly epic-sounding, also hurt the pacing of the song. There was one chord progression from this interlude that I desperately wanted to keep, and one day (hilariously close to when I would start recording the album), I realized that this chord progression fit perfectly over me singing the final line of the bridge (“The only place safe from love…”). This convenient and concise change not only saved me eight seconds, but it also created one of my favorite moments on the album.

Structurally, the biggest change was removing the first chorus. On the studio version of the song, it might be hard to tell that this ever happened, but the opening verse of the version you know actually used to be two different verses, (one about “want” and one about “love”), with a chorus separating them. That original version, then, had a much more standard structure (verse > chorus > verse 2 > chorus 2 > bridge > chorus 3 > outro), whereas the new version plays out less conventionally (verse > chorus > bridge > chorus 2 > outro). But the biggest change of all was making those two choruses identical to one another, whereas the original demo had different lyrics for all three choruses, including a very lengthy third chorus, with lyrics that were scratched entirely:

I’m still not big enough to see
That all is grace, all is mercy
They’re not impossibilities,
That’s why the angel told me, “Fear not”
Maybe in my few short years
Love will cast out all my fears
To love and lose is worth the tears
That’s why the angel told me, “Fear not”

Originally, I viewed these lyrics as indispensable. I wasn’t even considering removing them until one day, while sitting at a coffee shop working on these re-writes, my friend Liz walked by and asked me what I was doing. I let her read through the edited-but-still-lengthy version of these lyrics, and she was really touched by one line in particular: “Fear would be the cancer, not the cure.” It took until this moment, seeing her reaction, for me to realize that this line could be the ending of the song. The ten lines of lyrics that originally followed were implied by everything I had succinctly summed up in this one line about how we try to treat fear as our medicine instead of addressing it as the problem. This revelation unlocked the song for me.

A few other small changes were made (such as stylizing how I played the guitar parts, writing some new drum patterns, adding new background vocals and harmonies, etc.), but ultimately, my clunky two-year-old demo transformed into my most successful song yet in thanks to 1) friends who were honest about what they didn’t like about the song, 2) a willingness to “kill my darlings” and not commit myself to old ideas that weren’t right for the song, 3) listening to the reactions of people and which parts of my lyrics were landing, and 4) a producer, Sean Power at the Hilson Studio, who brought excellence and expertise to the song in order to realize the best possible version.

I’ve said it before, but it’s worth repeating: Even though it might seem very non-communal for me to be making solo music where I write the songs and play all the instruments myself, I owe so much to my friends and community. Their fingerprints are all over the “solo” music I have the pleasure of creating.

Listen here.

(The following section was first written and published in the week between the release of the single, December 18, 2020, and the Christmas holiday.)

“Fear not.”

Two and a half years ago, I was wrestling fears stronger than I’d ever experienced before. I truly thought that I was on the verge of losing everything I loved and cared about. And what was worse — the fears weren’t even new. This season came with the realization that I’d been living my whole life from the vantage point of fear: the way I treated friendships like I was on the last straw, the way I would walk into work each day thinking something would happen to get me fired. I remembered a day in elementary school when my mom was late to pick me up, so I started walking home, convinced that she’d died. The roots of fear went back impossibly far.

So I started finally trying to do something about it…but I didn’t really know what to do. It wasn’t like a switch that I could simply turn off. Sometimes fighting made it worse — being afraid that I would never stop being afraid. But at that time, I had started studying through the Gospel of Luke, and I kept coming back to chapter 2, the very same Christmas narrative that millions worldwide will be celebrating this weekend. I kept returning over and over again to verses 8-10, where shepherds are filled with “great fear” at the appearance of an angel, who comes bearing “good news of great joy.” In other words, these regular guys are visited by a majestic, heavenly creature, and rather than responding in joy, excitement, or awe, they’re filled with fear.

That’s when I realized: I’m not primarily afraid of bad things. Sure, it’s easy to be afraid of unfortunate circumstances, to be afraid of sickness and death (especially in 2020!), but my deepest rooted fears were consumed with the good things in life. I was afraid of beauty, afraid of grace, afraid of all the wonderful opportunities and relationships I’d been given. Why? Because I was convinced that I would ruin everything. In a classic case of self-fulfilling prophecies and self-sabotage, I “knew” that my own failures would eventually destroy whatever good I’d found. I refused to believe that God could have good purposes for my life, that redemption was a real possibility for me. I refused to listen to that terrifying angel as he said, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people.”

So back in June 2018, when I was processing all of this, I did what I usually do… I wrote a song about it. I’ve learned over the years that I will forget all the great lessons of life if I never put them down in a song. So “Fear Not Want” has since become a much-needed reminder to me that good things are not meant to be afraid of, and that my fear of destroying something good might be the very thing that destroys what I was trying to save. The things in life that are worth pursuing, worth fighting for, worth loving… these things are risky. The possibility for greater reward always carries with it the possibility of greater risk; that’s as true in economics as it is in relationships. But if we cower in fear rather than ever taking those risks, we’ll miss out entirely.

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