Guest Blog: Mary Fahl On Writing The Theme To Anne Rice’s New Audio Book

Videos by American Songwriter

Videos by American Songwriter

Mary Fahl
Singer-songwriter Mary Fahl, former founder and lead singer of October Project, has teamed up with legendary producer John Lissauer for her long-awaited self-released album Love and Gravity. To support the album, Fahl will be touring in select cities across the country. For tour dates and more information, visit www.maryfahl.com.

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As songwriters, a lot of us work in isolation, excavating pieces of our lives and transmuting those experiences and emotions into song.  It can be cathartic, but there comes a time when you just plum run out of things in your own life to write about.  You can find yourself regurgitating the same themes, or worse, you hit the infamous wall known as “writer’s block”.  A recent experience reminded me how interesting and creatively satisfying it can be to look beyond the confines of your own existence and find inspiration from artists whose medium is very different from your own.

A few years ago, I was sitting at my computer on a rather dreary, drizzly Sunday, when I discovered an email from “Anne Rice”… Could this be THE Anne Rice… the iconic author of Interview With The Vampire?  It was… and her letter was so kind and lovely, it moved me to tears.

She had apparently just discovered a song from my October Project days called “Take Me As I Am” from our first album.  Someone must have told her that back in the day, we had hoped to get that cut into the film version of Interview With the Vampire.  We didn’t have nearly the “star power” at the time to compete with the likes of Guns and Roses, so it never happened, but Anne fell in love with the song and subsequently my solo work and spent the rest of that day posting my songs on her Facebook page.  I wrote to thank her for her generosity and over the next two years, we stayed in touch somewhat sporadically.

Anne is a very gracious woman and being a bit shy, I didn’t want to bother or pester her.  That said, knowing she was a fan, I thought she might like to hear my new album Love & Gravity before it was released, so last July, I wrote to her and she answered that she happened to be in NYC for a writer’s convention and would love to hear it.  I had my publicist drop off a copy to her hotel room and as she was leaving, Anne handed her a copy of the galley of her soon-to-be-released novel The Wolves of Midwinter with an inscription that read “For Mary Fahl of the supernatural voice…” “Give this to Mary”, Anne said, “Tell her she’s in the book.”  Some discussion followed and it was decided that it would be a great idea for me to write a song for the audiobook version of the novel.

I had always loved writing songs for movies… A few years back, I had written a song called “Going Home” for the Civil War epic Gods and Generals as well as “Dawning of the Day” for a film called The Guys.  I discovered it wasn’t so much the narrative – but the inner life of the main characters that gave me a framework to draw on that could take me out of myself.  I loved being immersed in their world and when lyrics began to formulate in my head, they came from what I imagined the characters to be thinking and longing for – their unspoken thoughts and yearnings. I wanted the songs to sound like something the characters would listen to and identify with.  It occurred to me that writing a song for a book wouldn’t really be that different.

The challenge in this case was a nearly impossible time frame… Random House needed the recording in less than two weeks, and with my already packed schedule, I was left with a little more than 6 days to write, arrange, record, mix and master the song. I hadn’t even read the book yet.  As you might imagine, nausea ensued, but I had already committed to the project, and not being one to back out of a promise, I plunged in.

Now I’ve always loved Anne Rice’s work… in large part due to her remarkable ability to create a very believable world out of the unbelievable… a heady, atmospheric world filled with incredibly vivid and sensual imagery… plus, she tells a damn good story.

My first job was to read the book. I told my husband that I was going into my office and not coming out until I was finished. I kept a notebook by me while reading and wrote down whatever images or words popped into my head.  Anne is the kind of writer who makes it easy for you to get into the world of the characters… to care about them… to see what they see and feel what they feel.  By the time the book was finished, I had the ingredients for my song.

When I’m at my best, the music and lyrics pour out simultaneously.  In this case, I had the basis for the lyric and knew where the music should take me emotionally… I just didn’t have the melody and I was running out of time.

Enter John Lissauer… John had done all of the orchestral arrangements for my album on Sony Odyssey called The Other Side of Time and had just produced my new album “Love & Gravity”.  He’s an incredibly multi-faceted composer/producer and a great human all-around. I wanted the song to be very cinematic and given his expertise in film-scoring, I knew he’d deliver what I needed and I knew he’d be able to do it quickly.  I brought him the lyric and gave him an emotional map of where I wanted the song to go… The sound of drums figures largely in the book, so I knew we’d need those to create a primal feeling… I wanted the verses to be minor-keyish, evoking an air of mystery… then it needed to soar on the chorus in an unexpected way and create a sense of movement… so you could imagine running through a forest along with the wolves in Anne’s novel.

Within three hours, our song was finished.  I gave John a day or so to lay down the parts and I was able to record the vocal in an afternoon.  It’s nice to have a great team around you, and with our crackerjack engineer, Leonard Hospidor, we were able to have the cut mixed and mastered with time to spare.

Whew!

This was an invaluable experience… not so much because we were able to pull it off so quickly, but because it reminded me of the power that certain books (and movies for that matter) have to inspire my own songwriting… to push me outside the borders my own limited world – and I was lucky enough to have Anne Rice to draw from.

The scariest part was waiting for Anne’s response to the song… What if she didn’t like it?  Fortunately, she loved it and so did Random House and the rest is history.  Now if only they’d make a movie out of The Wolves of Midwinter...

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