To celebrate the release of the New Pornographers' fifth album, Together , RS handed A.C. Newman the keys to the RS blog, where he's been writing about the songwriting process and artists he admires. Check out How the New Pornographers Became Black Sabbath, The Genius of Felt, All Inspiration Begins in the Bathroom and Dancing the Frug With the Unclaimed. Today's topic: how the group wrote torch song "My Shepherd":
For a few years I have been obsessed with the song "Se Telefonando" by Mina. It is such a beautiful classic torch song, though I don't understand any of the lyrics. It was always in the back of my mind that I should rip it off somehow, write my own version of that song.
Last year, Margaret Cho wrote to me about writing a song with her. She sent me the lyrics of a song called "Your Dick." It was basically a poem about the glory of somebody's dick. I initially thought that I couldn't do it. I had nothing. Then it occurred to me to make it a song in the style of Dionne Warwick or Dusty Springfield, and it actually worked. In fact, the song will be coming out on Margaret Cho's album on August 10th this year, alongside a bunch of other funny and brilliant songs.
For me, it was a fun experiment. It came out so well that I thought I would write my own torch song. My idea was to put a new spin on the formula and make it a song that is not about dicks. I knew that I had Neko's torch-song-ready voice, so I was half the way there.
The music came fairly quickly but then, once again, I had to figure out the lyrical angle. A few things influenced me. I had just read Going Places by Leonard Michaels and a story called "Crossbones" had stuck with me, a five-page story about a quiet, bored couple that suddenly explodes into violence at the end. I had also just seen the documentary Crazy Love, about the woman who married the man who had blinded her years before, to give the shortest possible synopsis. I wanted it to be a very dysfunctional song about a very unhealthy relationship. Explore the same kind of emotions that those kinds of songs do, but take it to a more extreme level. Once I had the chorus of "You're my lord, you're my shepherd/Careful kid, no one gets hurt/You made me," the rest was pretty easy. I threw in a line from Johnny Hallyday's "Joue Pas De Rock 'n' Roll" just for the hell of it, because I really like that song. That's what I do. I write songs about songs. The medium is the message.
So "My Shepherd" was my "Se Telefonando." That's the simple version.