Paul Thorn is fearless in his songwriting. His music catalog spans multiple genres, including blues, rock, country, and even gospel. In his lyrics, Thorn is not one to shy away from complex subjects and hard truths. With eleven studio albums and an expansive list of legendary co-writers, Thorn is an informed and advanced songwriter. He sat down with American Songwriter to talk us through his writing process and share some wisdom for blooming songwriters.
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Throughout his career, Thorn has collaborated with songwriters of all different genres and backgrounds. “I mean, I don’t mean to drop names,” he starts, “ but I’ve written with everybody from Jon Bon Jovi to Carole King. I’ve written with all these great writers.”
Although he has been writing music for over 20 years, Thorn is still constantly learning from his fellow musicians. “I’ve been schooled. I’ve been to school on songwriting, man,” he laughs. “One of the best things to do is to hook up with somebody who’s better than you that has experience and learn and learn how to write songs and listen to great songwriters.”
While all musicians have unique writing processes, Thorn made note of one similarity in everyone he’s written with: imposter syndrome. “If it was either Carole King or a guy down the street that wants to write a song with me, the one thing I’ve found in all of them is that everybody is insecure,” he says. “When you go into a writing session with somebody, you’re always nervous that you’re not going to bring anything, and they’re going to see that you’re a fraud.”
Thorn noticed this songwriting insecurity when writing with Carole King, who is widely considered one of the greatest songwriters of all time. “I could tell she was just as insecure as I was. Because she wrote ‘Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow?’ and all this stuff, but that was then. What are you going to do right now?” he asks. “I learned that everybody deep down has insecurity when it comes to songwriting.
Thorn explains that when songwriters team up, that initial intimidation can stunt creativity. So, it is essential to remember what you’re really there for—making music. It doesn’t matter who finds the creative spark, as long as you leave the session with something. “It might be you one day. It might be the other person,” Thorn shrugs. “Sometimes, when somebody gets on a roll and you’re writing with them, you just kind of cheer them on.”
No matter who he is writing with, Thorn’s goal is always the same. “I just try my best to bring something to the table,” he says. “I just want to leave the session knowing I contributed something.”
When asked what advice he would give to budding songwriters, Thorn took a moment to ponder. “Well… there’s a lot,” he laughed.
Thorn emphasized the importance of listening attentively to the songs you love and learning what makes you love them. “Whatever genre you’re in, whether it’s country, rap, rock, whatever, listen to the great ones and try to figure out what they’re doing and how they’re doing it,” he says.
“And it’s corny,” Thorn prefaced, “but it has to be true and right from your heart.” He notes that focusing on the honesty of the lyrics will always mean more to listeners than lengthy words or grandiose statements.
“Don’t try to be pretentious and don’t be scared to write about your frailties,” Thorn says. “Own them and celebrate them.”