Videos by American Songwriter
Q & A with Brandon Church
Amateur Lyric Contest Winner
“When the Levee Breaks”
Ghosts and sacred ground…”When The Levee Breaks” starts out very
mysteriously. Did you intend the song to be a mystery?
I don’t think so. I think it speaks directly from the people it was written about,
to the people it was written for. I was just a kind of mediator. The
ghosts are generations passed. The indians and old timers that used
only what they needed, and lived in harmony with the land. They knew
the ground was sacred. It gave them life. They respected it and the
forces of nature that came with it. I think this song is just a
reminder. This earth doesn’t need us. It was here long before us, and
it will be long after we’re gone.
The title “When The Levee Breaks” is also the title of another famous
song. Led Zeppelin was known to re-appropriate old blues songs and
ideas. Did you write your version of “Levee” to add to the canon?
Not at all. I wrote this song for the same reason I write all my songs.
Something has to be said, and it seems no one is going to say it but
The river in your song is pretty powerful stuff. Were there particular
experiences you’ve had with rivers or water you drew on in writing
My hometown of Amazonia is actually a river town, and the
song is based on true events. During the flood of 1993, I was walking
in the timber a few miles from my grandparents farm near an old quarry
that overlooks the Missouri river bottoms. I was actually watching
when one of the levees blew out. I’ve never forgot it.
“Levee” seems like it would fit into a blues or folk arrangement,
although it’s hard to classify without music. Did you write music for
it as well? Do you often find yourself writing for particular genres?
Yes, I write the music for all my songs, but with this particular one
I just couldn’t get it “right”. There are currently three existing
versions of this song. One is very folk. Just fingerpicked acoustic
with a breathy harmonica. The second is a full bluegrass
arrangement.The last is more contemporary. Guitars, bass, drums. I
think the bluegrass fits the best, but I’m still working on it. As for
writing for a particular genre? No. I write whatever I have to write
to get my message across. People hear one of my songs and tell me to
go to Nashville. Another and they tell me to go to L.A. Sometimes they
hear one and just tell me to leave.
Who are some of the songwriters you’ve been influenced by and what
have you learned from their songs?
I grew up listening to people like Steve Earle, Bruce Springsteen, The
Rolling Stones. I would say they all had a hand in the way I write. I
think alot of my songs I get from my grandfather, and his ability to
tell any story to anybody and make them believe it. As for lessons
learned, there’s only one I can think of that has stood true for every
great songwriter I’ve studied. Be honest. If you want someone to feel
what you’re feeling, you have to tell them exactly how it feels.