Listen to my brand new song “Middle of My Words” (the first single from my upcoming album Accidental Days) wherever you stream music:
This blog post contains the story behind the song, which is taken from my August 2022 newsletter. The newsletter readers regularly receive exclusive and early content (including access to this single ten days before it released), so if you would like to join the fun, you can sign up here. And if you’re a subscriber, then you have potentially read the content of this blog post already.
“Middle of My Words” was written on the same day as multiple songs that I’ve already released: “Counsel,” “Lonely Saints,” and “Interrogate the Fantasy.” That day (April 4, 2018) was a special occasion, marking the end of an era in my life. A few weeks later, my brother Taylor would get married. I had just moved out of our apartment and he was getting ready to move out, too, after three years of us rooming together. Our journey as roommates started back in Texas, before we decided to move to Nashville together at the start of 2016. Back in Texas, I had played music with Taylor for nearly a decade: I’d been his guitarist, his bassist, his drummer, his co-writer, etc. Much to our surprise, though, our musical collaborations slowed down when we moved to the Music Capital, and by the start of 2018, our musical projects had altogether ceased.
Looking ahead toward our bittersweet split, we decided that a great way to end this era of brother-roomies would be to make music together once more: to dedicate a whole day to the long-overdue resurrection of our brotherly joint efforts. The results of that long, challenging, adventurous day actually varied quite a bit. There was one song that I wrote and demoed by myself while Taylor chipped away at other ideas. Then there was the dude-duet “Power Clashing,” the most collaborative of the six songs we finished that day, which was written from the ground up by the both of us and featured lyrics and lead vocals that were split 50/50. “Counsel” was the result of Taylor crafting an instrumental track while I independently wrote lyrics, and when we brought them together, they fit perfectly. “Lonely Saints” and “Interrogate the Fantasy” also started out as instrumental tracks that Taylor created, but unlike “Counsel,” I wrote the lyrics to those songs based on how the songs inspired me, writing down the words that fit my emotional reactions to Taylor’s music. (Fun fact: that original version of “Lonely Saints” included a guitar solo after the second chorus. I wasted over an hour trying to write a good solo while Taylor took a nap, and when the time came to record the song for Unfall, we rewrote that entire section of the song anyway.)
Ironically, “Middle of My Words” doesn’t feature a writing credit from Taylor, yet the song would have never come into existence without him. During a lull, as we had just wrapped up a different tune, we were both in need of some direction for what to work on next. As a goof, Taylor picked up a book that was sitting next to him, opened up to a random page, and placed his finger on a phrase. Back in 2017 and 2018, Taylor was in a phase where he absolutely loved reading the original James Bond novels by Ian Fleming; he had purchased nearly all of them and read a majority of them. I don’t remember which of the Bond books it was, but I remember that it was a Bond book. And the random phrase Taylor pointed to was: “middle of my words.”
I loved the phrase and immediately started pumping out lyrics for a song with that title. (Life hack for all you songwriters out there: starting out with a strong song title is an excellent tactic that can lead to surprisingly good results.) The phrase “middle of my words” sparked a very specific image in my head: how our words can be interpreted so differently from how we intended them. I decided to use Taylor and his then-fiancé Laura as the basis for my lyrics, since, being my brother’s roommate, I’d had such a close-up perspective on their relationship; I’d witnessed many disputes, misunderstandings, and unintentionally hurt feelings.Through observing them, I could see how hard yet how vital it is to strive to understand one another, as well as how difficult and disarming it can be to apologize for hurting someone when the hurt was caused by a misunderstanding or misinterpretation. Our pride gets in the way and asks us to say things like, “I’m sorry you feel that way” or “I’m sorry you took it that way” instead of simply repenting and saying, “I’m sorry I hurt you.”
Yet while the lyrics of the song are contextualized from the perspective of Taylor and Laura, it was inspired by my own personal hardships, as well. In late 2017, I went through a deeply personal and painful interaction with someone very close to me, who hurt me and was unwilling to say “I’m sorry that I caused you pain.” It was through this experience that I realized how hurtful it can be to hear those words: “I’m sorry you feel that way.” This is a statement of double shame: you already feel pain, and now you feel extra pain because, according to the other person, the pain you feel is your own fault. Above all else, I wrote “Middle of My Words” as a reminder to never be like that; the song is my personal declaration to always be willing to apologize for the pain that I cause, even if that pain was wholly unintentional, and even if the pain was sourced in words or deeds that were well-intended for someone’s good.
The dirty secret about Accidental Days (a “secret” that’s largely true of Development & Compromise, as well) is that all of the songs are from 2019 or earlier. In other words, these songs predate the release of Unfall as well as another major life event, meeting my wife-to-be, Paige. But one of my favorite parts about making D&C and AD was getting to reshape and rethink 2010’s songs through the mind and musicality of 2020’s Chase. Unsurprisingly, the songs on AD that I’m currently most proud of are two songs that received the most drastic rewrites, such that they now feel like brand new 2022 compositions. “Middle of My Words” falls on the other end of the spectrum, as one of the songs that experienced some of the fewest or smallest changes between this and its original 2018 demo.
That being said, the changes made to this song are almost entirely thanks to my fantastic producer, Brendan St. Gelais, whom I discovered after he produced one of my favorite discoveries from last year, Breezewood by Zane Vickery. At the time that I first heard Breezewood, I thought, “This is exactly what I want my next album to sound like!,” and I was elated to then discover that its producer lived close by in the Nashville area. Ironically, my album has since veered far from that original direction – in fact, I’m not sure that any of the ten songs map very neatly onto the style that Vickery championed on his excellent debut. Time will tell, but I suspect that these unexpected changes to the style of AD will come as very good news for fans of Unfall.
Brendan’s producer-ear pulls him in the direction of streamlining songs toward maximum enjoy-ability, whether that means making them shorter, simpler, more structured, or faster. You may or may not have noticed, but “Middle of My Words” is a strangely structured song. It has bookends at the start and end that appear nowhere else in the song; it has two verses that are quite dissimilar to one another; and it has two choruses that are also quite different by comparison, with the second sounding more like a “bridge” (yet in my mind it’s the song’s one true chorus, which is itself a peculiar idea). To my glee, Brendan was surprisingly fine with this odd structure; to him, it worked, and I hope you’ll agree. But what he absolutely couldn’t get behind was the tempo of the song: the original was way too slow. There were a few songs on the album that he encouraged us to speed up ever-so-slightly, but “Middle” got sped up A LOT. For those who know music terms, we’re talking about 10 bpm. In retrospect, I can’t believe that I was once satisfied with the original tempo; and if I had stubbornly insisted that we not speed up the song, then I can guarantee you that I would not now be releasing it as the album’s first single.
A few lyrical changes came at Brendan’s recommendation, pushing me further into the possibilities of imagery within the song. As you may have noticed, the song frequently evokes metaphors relating to air and empty space: flying, falling, ghosts, birds, etc. This menagerie of interconnected similes all comes back to “the space between” the words we speak and the distance that can separate our intentions from the results. Lyrical changes from the original draft to the final were quite minimal overall, but there are a few word choices and line readings that wouldn’t exist without Brendan prompting me to do better, my favorite edit being: “In the shadows that you heard, a phantom caught you.” Brendan’s greatest footprint upon this song, however, is simply in the massive size and spaciness of the chorus. He added gorgeous keys and synths during those sections that fill out the spectrum perfectly; and it was also his idea for me to write a lead guitar riff with heavy delay effects for the choruses, a riff that now feels so integral to the song that I can’t imagine not having it.
One of my favorite behind-the-scenes tidbits about “Middle of My Words” is my overactive use of the affectionate term “babe.” For anyone who spends too much time around my brother and me with our respective wives, you’ll notice that Taylor and Laura call each other “babe” all the time while neither “babe” nor “baby” are terms that Paige and I ever use toward (or about) one another. That’s not a dig toward anyone who uses those terms; we simply don’t care for them. But for me, from a songwriting perspective, throwing “babe” into the lyrics so frequently was my way of placing myself into the “character” of my brother. But it also relates, in a backwards sort of way, to how I’ve intentionally avoided these terms throughout my songwriting career. There are artists that I love, such as House of Heroes (a huge inspiration of mine), who use these words all the time, and I’ve made a deliberate effort to avoid using “baby” in any of my own songs. So while I was writing “Middle of My Words,” I decided that, due to the circumstances, this would be my one and only “babe” song; and with that in mind, I gave myself the freedom to throw in the word as often as I could. A few “babe”s didn’t even make the final cut, as there were more instances of the word in the original 2018 draft.
Wrapping things back around to my brother Taylor, his influence can be heard in one final element of the song: the harmonies and background vocals. On a deeper, historic level of my development as an artist and vocalist over the years, I have him to thank for teaching me how to sing harmonies, period. But he has also helped me craft the harmony ideas for a handful of songs across my albums, this one included. I sometimes need to adapt his more pop/R&B-leaning style to better fit my own leanings, but I cannot ignore the fact that his ear for dense, artful harmonies far exceeds my own. And I’m very excited about the harmony ideas that he helped me to craft for this song. Considering how his influence hovers over the history of this composition, I’m stoked that he gets to have a fingerprint on the final recording, too.
It’s crazy that I have so much to say about one single song, and I am deeply grateful to anyone who’s read this all. I could probably write this much about every song on Accidental Days, and maybe I will… if I manage to find the time. But for now, I hope you were genuinely encouraged by this story, and I hope that you can benefit from the lessons in my own life that bled into this track. It has been a pleasure to record it and I pray it is now to your entertainment and edification to hear it.
Author’s Note: The reason I created this website and write these articles stems from my belief that artists should support other artists, in the same way that art inspires art. If you would like to hear my music, my sophomore album Development & Compromise and my debut album Unfall are streaming every or available for free/pay-what-you-want on Bandcamp. To be the first to receive news and previews of unreleased music, sign up for my monthly newsletter.