Veteran folk-rocker Steve Forbert is back with a new album, the highly personal Over With You. We talked with the “Romeo’s Tune” singer, whose tunes have been covered by Keith Urban and Rosanne Cash, about his approach to his craft.
Who are your songwriting heroes?
Chuck Berry, Bob Dylan, and Lennon/McCartney.
What’s the last song you wrote or started? Tell us about it.
I’m working on one now about the frequent necessity of compromise. No, it’s not a song about Washington, DC, but hopefully would apply to that as well.
What is your approach to writing lyrics?
I work on them all the time. Inspiration can come from anywhere but sometimes I start with the music and I have no idea where the words are going to go. Sometimes I’m literally saying to myself “I wonder what this song wants to be about?”
I don’t think it’s wise to talk too much about the process. There are no rules with songwriting. It seems that a good song can be about almost any subject. Anything from “Space Oddity” by David Bowie to “Incense and Peppermints” by the Strawberry Alarm Clock.
What percentage of songs that you start do you finish?
I finish about 80% of the ones I start, which is pretty good I think.
What’s a song on your album you’re particularly proud of and why?
I’m really proud of the title track, “Over With You.” It’s obviously a break-up song. Maybe if it becomes popular it will become the song they play at all divorce proceedings.
“Baby I Know” is another favorite of mine. All the verses are basically about myself getting in trouble and doing things wrong in a relationship. It’s obviously a light-hearted song but most of it’s true.
What’s a lyric or verse on the album you’re a fan of?
I’m a big fan of the last verse of “Over With You”:
“Forever’s such an easy word to say or write on paper,
All things end in time;
We have been together far too many nights and days for us to end unkind.”
I like the abstract concept of taking a critical look at the word “forever.” It’s a word you hear every day but what does it really mean?
What’s one of your favorite lyrics or verses from your back catalog?
I really like “It’s often said that life is strange, Oh yes, but compared to what?”
Is it easier or harder to write songs, the more you write?
It’s harder to write songs as you get older because almost everyone tends to have more distractions as life goes on.
The most annoying thing about songwriting is . . .
The most annoying thing about songwriting is that you just have to put in the solitude and the time it takes to get it done. It requires a lot of alone time.
Do you ever do any other kinds of writing?
If you could co-write with anyone living or dead, who would it be?
Brian Wilson. I’d like to try that. He writes great melodies and music and I do primarily lyrics. We’d be a good pair.
What do you consider to be the perfect song?
“Memphis Tennessee” by Chuck Berry. It’s very comprehensive as it tells a complete short story in 4 verses. I think it’s brilliant. It even has a surprise punch line, “Marie’s only 6 years old…”
For more with Steve Forbert, check out our recent Q&A.