Jordie Lane, one of several Australian songwriters appearing at this year’s Americana Music Festival in September, just wrapped up a stint portraying Gram Parsons in the theatrical concert Grievous Angel – The Legend of Gram Parsons. We asked him about his latest album Blood Thinner, the first song he ever wrote, and more.
Who are your songwriting heroes?
Bob Dylan, Neil Finn, Lucinda Williams, Leonard Cohen, Hank Williams, Gillian Welch, Tom Petty, John Lennon, Paul Mcartney, Jackson Browne, and a million more.
You just got done playing Gram Parsons in Grievous Angel – The Legend of Gram Parsons. How did you prepare for the role?
In many ways. Learning everything about who he really was, his thoughts, his upbringing, his influences. Making trips out to the Joshua Tree, staying in that room, lying under the stars looking for UFOs.
When did you start writing songs? Were they good right away, or did that come later?
I started writing songs, like actual tunes and lyrics, when I was 10. I guess they weren’t bad for a 10 year old.
What was the first song you ever wrote? Tell us about it.
It was called “At The Door.” A song about being completely enchanted by a girl. If I remember it right, the opening lines were, “I saw you standing there at the door, I was hypnotiz3ed , mesmerised by what I saw…”. And it goes on and on like that [laughs]. I was writing about things I’d never actually experienced or felt. So I think when I began to understand what I was saying — like the first time I kissed a girl — it got a lot better.
How do you go about writing songs?
I grew up in a some what stranger than usual family, in that my parents had met in a traveling theater troupe, and my Dad was a clown and my Mum, a comedian. One thing that became clear when I started to get older was that I was heavily influenced by my Mum’s ability to have us on the edge of our seats at the dinner table, with just the aid of what would normally be a fairly mundane story. I began using this in much of my song writing. Basically the art of turning and twisting until the words draw you in. When I started, I was right into playing guitar and always started a progression or melody on that, and then hummed myself along until recognizable lyrics started to come out of my mouth, and that’s where the concept would come from. But as I started to get out in the world, I began to find I had specific stories I wanted to tell, and one day I just flipped the other way and started writing lyrics first. I’m now starting to head back the other way, playing piano as the initial foundation to songs.
I can’t write songs very well while I’m traveling, but in saying that, I must travel extensively before I can then sit down in a solid space with four walls to write. I will usually write 10’s or hundreds of ideas in musical and lyrical form before one starts to keep pushing it’s way back to the top of the while to the point that I can’t push it away anymore. This is usually a good way I find what ideas are strongest for me.
What percentage of the songs you write are keepers?
It’s probably about 5 in 100 ideas that I actually finish into complete songs. And then it’s only 1 or 2 of those that I feel are keepers.
It’s probably only due to the invention of the i phone that made me realize how many ideas your brain comes up with in a day, that in the past I would have just hummed in my head as i walked down the street,only to forget moments later.
Do you have any standards for your songs you try to adhere by when choosing them for an album?
Well for starters they have to fit the concept for the album, which up until now I seemed to have done. They have to be something that I really enjoy singing every time.
I’ve never much tried songs out on live audiences before recording, which might be a bad thing, I don’t know. I’m gonna try that on Thursday [laughs].
What sort of things inspire you to write?
Rather than listening to other songwriters I like to see or listen to people in bars, or at the post office, or the gas station or whatever. But the one thing I can’t shake as being my ultimate muse,
and it may be the most cliche thing of all. Girls.
What’s the last song you wrote or started?
I just finished writing a song yesterday. I guess the working title is called “The Winner”. In no way is it a reference to sport or athletics in any way.
What’s a song on Blood Thinner you’re particularly proud of and why?
“Not From Round Here.” It was a new type of songwriting for me, where I devised this weird mathematical system, along with a metaphorical idea that the lines are like branches of a tree. Sorry, I can hear an Aussie voice in my head saying “You sound like a wanker, Jordie”.
What’s a lyric from Blood Thinner you’re a fan of?
From the song “I Sinned Today” which was inspired by my Mum’s Catholic upbringing, and my Grandma’s troubled childhood.
“I still know nothing about God
I’m learning not to pretend, see
Things? passed down from mother to child
They haunt us again and again”
Is it easier or harder to write songs, the more you write?
I think it felt really hard in the beginning, and then I got into this flow in my late teens, but more recently it has becoming a lot harder again. It’s to do with feeling like you have other responsibilities in your life as you get older and I am the ultimate procrastinator, so I’m trying to learn not to take that call, or watch that reality TV show, and finish that lyric instead. It’s an ongoing battle.
What’s a song of yours that’s really touched people?
I would say the song “I Could Die Looking At You” always gets people. People have talked about it reigniting love affairs, or helping couples get through bad times, or people using it as the wedding song and other things like that. But it was the day after I wrote the song in Townsville, Northern Australia, that really got me. The night before, this rough guy straight off a Navy boat tried to jump on stage and attack me, for not playing jukebox style requests to dance to. The next next after playing that song I just wrote, he came up to me with tears in his eyes, and said he not felt emotion like that for years. I loved how went from a raging jock to little baby crying within one day.
Do you ever do any other kinds of writing?
I have written some short stories, just for myself, and straight up poetry, also just for myself. I would like to write a story for a film one day, as I love pictures, and I would love to combine it all when I learn how to.
If you could co-write with anyone living or dead, who would it be?
I would love to write with all the people I mentioned as influences before, but the ultimate would be Leonard Cohen I think.