Tuesday, May 15, 2012
"Could You Lie" by Ron Block/performed by Alison Krauss
ARTIST: Alison Krauss
SONG: "Could You Lie"
WRITERS: Ron Block
ALBUM: Forget About It on Rounder Records
SITES: Ron Block, Alison Krauss and Union Station
BUY: Forget About It - Alison Krauss
I live in a town that overflows with musical talent and passion. You can't leave your house without running into five great musicians here in Nashville. Still, amid all of that skill and creativity, there is a special tier of individuals that are so good that they are actual masters of their craft. Ron Block is one of those folks. I would watch Ron play the "ABC's" on a xylophone, because I'm pretty sure I would learn something from it. He has done so much as a writer, performer and producer that it was quite daunting to select one thing to discuss. Alas, this song makes my heart sing along every time I hear it. I'm grateful that he put his instruments down for long enough to answer these questions. (I really should have asked him about that xylophone thing.)
BA: Hello Ron, thanks for being a part of the series. I’m so thrilled to be talking with you about your work today.
RB: Thanks for having me here.
BA: “Could You Lie” appears on Forget About It, the eighth album by your longtime friend and band mate, Alison Krauss. How long did the song exist before it was tracked for that record?
RB: I don't quite remember, but I think it was at least two or three years.
BA: Did you write it for Alison to sing?
RB: I think I had her voice in mind when I wrote it, though I didn't write it specifically to give to her for Forget About It. The chord progression is like some of her earlier songs.
BA: The song expresses disappointment in another person with such accuracy. Were you speaking from the experience, or are you just a master of observation?
RB: I think it is a combination of things I'd experienced in a small way in my early twenties, mixed with childhood experiences that affected me, and then combined with things I'd seen others going through around me. Most songwriters combine experience with observation and insight. Without any experience at all, songs won't ring true. Brenda Ueland says in her book If You Want To Write:
"Say that you want to put a Yankee farmer in your story and you want to make him more like a Yankee farmer than any Yankee farmer that ever existed. So you have him look like Uncle Sam and say, 'Wal, Si', etc. The result? No reader believes him for a second. But if you did this: if you had once known a Yankee farmer and, conscientiously and in detail, you describe him as the character in your book, even though he is bald, clean-shaven, and wears neat business suits, the readers will feel he is true. 'There is the most wonderful portrait of a typical Yankee farmer in the book!' they will say. Yes, the more you wish to describe a Universal, the more minutely and truthfully you must describe a Particular."
She goes on in a footnote to say this:
"Second-rate artists and writers never seem to know this. But the great ones all do. That is why van Gogh sighed over those who tried to make a picture by half-looking at something, and then from memory making some vague generalization out of it, instead of studying, studying what they painted and showing what they saw and felt about it with all their consummate powers of delicacy and truth."
So - experience is gold in the life of a songwriter. It helps us to describe things with resonant accuracy. Now, I don't have to have experienced every single thing to write about it. But I do have to have felt loneliness, or rejection, or sorrow, or loss, or joy, or any number of emotions, and in a very deep and painful way, in order to understand enough to make the song resonate in the heart of a listener. If you're going to be a songwriter I think it helps to have had your heart broken a number of times by various circumstances. Not that we should seek these things out. Kids, don't try this at home.
BA: I love these lines:
“When morning breaks my heart won't understand
Spend a lifetime raising houses on the sand”
What a stunning visual. Where did that come from, for you?
RB: It's a Biblical allusion. Jesus talks about a foolish man building his house on sand, and when the storms came, the house fell down and the ruin was complete. The wise man built his house on a rock foundation. He was speaking primarily of living for things that matter eternally vs living for the things of this time-bound world. But we do the same thing even in a time-bound sense; we make bad choices when deep down we really know them to be bad.
BA: Even though Forget About It is technically a solo album for Alison, the members Union Station (Barry Bales, Jerry Douglas, Dan Tyminski and yourself) are present on it – and the album’s production is credited to all of you, along with Alison, as a group. I’d love to hear a little bit about how this song came together in the studio, if you have memories of it.
RB: It's always a thrill to have her singing one of my songs. She arranged it for the most part, as far as I can remember.
BA: Did Alison record the song just as you wrote it, or were there modifications made along the way?
RB: I think she modified a few little things here and there, but essentially it is the same. I have a demo of it around somewhere. It was more finger picky than flat-picked on the guitar.
BA: With a song like this beautiful one, when someone else records it, does it still feel like it’s yours? Or does it belong to all of you – or just Alison, in your mind and heart?
RB: I have often been reluctant to sing the songs after she records them, but I'm learning to get over that. The way she does them is just magical. I do love the synthesis or teamwork of it all, feeling a part of something bigger than just myself.
BA: Who were your dominant influences at the time you wrote “Could You Lie”?
RB: I think I was being influenced by some of Alison's favorite writers - John Pennell and Sidney Cox especially. I'm also a big James Taylor and Joni Mitchell fan. Shawn Colvin, too, especially at that time.
BA: How has the song changed over the years, if at all, through playing it live?
RB: We haven't done that one live much.
BA: What’s your favorite song right this minute?
RB: I am really loving Kate Rusby's songwriting and singing. She's from England and has a real rootedness. I hear a real respect and love in her songs for the depths of her musical heritage. And I've done a lot of songwriting lately with a poet from East Tennessee named Rebecca Reynolds. Her lyrics are full of images and allusions, and I'm currently recording 13 of the songs we've written together for my new cd. She is so prolific the only way I could keep up is to quit playing and recording music and write songs full time. I've learned buckets full of truth about how creativity works just by osmosis as we've written together.
BA: I can't wait to hear it. Thanks again, good sir. Hope to run into you around town soon enough!
RB: Thanks Buick Audra!