This weekend, Brian Mansfield of USA Today‘s IdolChatter site posted his recent interviews with David about songwriting in Nashville and his risk-taking performance of Imagine on Idol. It’s such an epic one-two punch of amazingness that both parts are posted below:
Last week, David Archuleta returned to Nashville to write more songs for his next album. As he did during his last Music City visit in October, he worked with singer/songwriter Joy Williams, even staying at the house of Williams and her husband, Nate Yetton.
“Sometimes, people are like, ‘Nashville, it’s only the country and the ballads,'” David said Friday morning, while sitting at Williams’ breakfast table, eating a bowl of cereal and granola.1 “They are good at that kind of stuff, but they care about the music. Sometimes people forget that special thing and piece to music that is so important. People get lost in ‘We need the hit’ and ‘We need the hook.’ So much is missing from that that I enjoy about music.”
David and Williams brought a variety of other writers into last week’s collaborations, among them Cary Barlowe (co-writer of Lady Antebellum’s latest country hit, American Honey), Hillary Lindsey (Carrie Underwood’s Jesus, Take the WheelA), Danny Orton (Josh Gracin and Tim McGraw’s Telluride), Jenn Schott and Jamie Kenney2.
“Jamie’s just such a sensitive person,” says the 19-year-old singer. “Even the melodies, and the way he plays the piano are so sensitive and emotional. When he was playing the piano part on the track, he paid so much attention to the way he played, how it emoted and what was trying to be said and felt in the song. I loved that. I’ve never seen anybody pay that much attention to those kinds of details, which I loved.”
On Tuesday, for instance, David, Williams, Kenney and Jesse Frasure wrote a song called Nervous. “It’s about going ahead and doing it, even if you’re scared,” David says. “The main thing is, ‘So what if I’m nervous?’ Sometimes you have to take those risks, and sometimes you’ll be nervous, but why should that be an excuse? Some things, you need to do that way. And sometimes those are the most fulfilling things in life.”3
Monday brought a love song with Jeremy Bowes and Cindy Morgan (“It wasn’t about anyone specifically; it was about wondering who that person might be in the future”). Wednesday yielded a ballad with Kenney and Schott (“It was an honest song, about admitting that you’re not perfect … It’s just about letting the inside out”).
In all, David says he’s written about 20 songs so far for his next album. And as much as he’d like to have more hit singles, he says it’s more important to him to convey his personality through his music.
“So many people know who I am and say they’re fans and don’t know I have an album out, even,” he says. “People are still fans, and it’s interesting, because it’s not even because of my music. B
I want people to say, ‘I appreciate what David’s trying to do, in that he tries his best to be who he is and keep doing what he’s doing, and that shows in his music. I can see him and feel him in his music. I can see his personality, and I can see what he believes in and what’s important to him.'” C
David started writing for the album in the fall, but then came his Christmas album and holiday tour. Then had had to work on his memoir, Chords of Strength: A Memoir of Soul, Song and the Power of Perseverance, set for a June 1 release.
“Now I’m finally getting back to the music,” he says.
Writing Chords of Strength was a difficult process, David says. “I never thought I was interesting enough to write about myself. I didn’t think I had enough words to come out of me to make sense.” D
David calls writing the book a great learning experience, “because it helped me remember things I hadn’t thought about for a long time. Sometimes you get so caught up in what everybody else is focusing on — the music, American Idol — that that’s where your life is. It’s like that’s where you were born. 4
“Some people don’t even think about your life before music. Even the writer I was working with would just focus on music. I started liking music and singing when I was 6. I didn’t feel that into it until I was 11. I had a life.5
“But my life isn’t just music. Music’s a part of my life. That’s the thing I tried to make most apparent: Music is a part of my life, it isn’t my life.”6
David generally shies away from discussing his religious convictions during interviews. “I don’t want to weird people out,” he says. “People have different views of life, and I try to respect that. I feel like music has a universal common ground, so I’ve just let the music do the speaking.”7
However, he delves into the subject of his faith in Chords of Strength.
“I decided if people want to know who I am, they need to know this about me, this part of my life and how important it is to me and how it has affected my decisions, how I view things, and why I am who I am.
“I feel like God’s the reason why I’m here, and the way that I’ve tried to do what I feel is right is the reason why I’m here.
“Sometimes I feel like I don’t have the knowledge it takes to be in this position. I don’t know if I deserve this. But God has different plans for me, and I trust him.”8E
While David’s last trip to Nashville involved several outings in additions to his writing sessions, this most recent visit was more work-focused. He even had to skip a Lady Antebellum concert, which he had hoped to attend with actress/singer Jennette McCurdy because he was in the studio recording one of the new songs.
“I still want to go to the Pancake Pantry,” he says. “That’s the place that people keep telling me about. I haven’t been there yet.”9
There were so many ways that February 2008 performance could have backfired on David. Simon Cowell acknowledged as much afterward, telling David it was “very, very risky to do a John Lennon song — particularly that one.” F
After all, Imagine is an iconic song with a simple melody and a message considered both sacred and profane by different groups of people. Beatles fans could have turned on him David for having the audacity to change the melody so much — or simply for being 17 and sing it. The judges might have thought it was too old — or too weighty — for him.
If David had sung the first verse about imagining there’s no Heaven, he probably never would have won back large segments of the show’s conservative, religious viewers. But starting the song’s on the third verse could have caused problems, too. It might have sent the message that he wasn’t willing to sing that first verse — even though he had time constraints as an excuse.
There were so many reasons that performance might not have worked — and the fact that David sang and smiled his way right past every last one of them made him one of that season’s instant favorites.
It turns out, though, that Imagine wasn’t David’s first choice that week.
“I actually picked another song before I picked Imagine,” David says, though he declines to name the other number. “But I knew I needed to do Imagine.
“It was scary, because everyone else was doing uptempo stuff. It was ’70s Week. It was, like, feel-good week. I didn’t even know that no one else picked slow songs until rehearsals, and I was scared.”
David even went so far as working up the arrangement of the first song, only later telling producers that he wanted to change his performance number.
“They were not happy that I wanted to change,” he recalls. First of all, switching songs made an already tight schedule even tighter. Secondly, they wanted David to sing the song’s first verse.
But David stuck to his guns.
“There are more important things about the song than the first verse,” he says. “I leave it to what matters — what matters in life and what matters in music. That song captures those things perfectly, and it captured what I wanted to do with music. It captured why I felt like I needed to be there and what I needed to say.10
“Some people were, like, ‘Why didn’t he sing the first verse?’ You know what? The third verse is my favorite one. Not everybody focuses on what the song’s about — they just focus on those first words and obsess about ‘how bad it is.’ I’m a religious person. I felt like this song meant more than that, and I wasn’t going to let that distraction get in the way.11
“People were upset that I wouldn’t do the first verse — ‘That’s the verse everyone knows!’ You know what? G People need to listen to the song. I didn’t want people to think they already knew the song. I wanted people to listen, because there’s more meaning, and it captures a substance in music that is so meaningful to me.”12
David says he also understood that, with switching verses, he ran the risk of being considered “cheesy,” but “it didn’t matter, because I said what I needed to say.10
“Same with this next album. Maybe it’s cheesy, but there’s a point where you have to be brave to be cheesy, because you know it’s what you’re supposed to do. Maybe I’m a cheesy person, but that’s who I am. I’m not going to pretend to be somebody else just to humor society.”13
Random footnotes (mine, not Brian Mansfield’s!):
1. Cereal and granola? He’s even an over-achiever in the fibre department?
2. This is from Jamie Kenney’s blog: “There are a few things no human has the power to forever resist, no matter how deep the resolve; crying at a Siegfried and Roy show, just one more episode of Lost, and now, so it seems for me, becoming a member of myspace.” He had me at “Lost”!
3. One of qualities I admire, and marvel at, most in David — the ability to feel the fear and do it anyway. PUH-LEESE let this song be on the CD!!!
4. “It’s like that’s where you were born.” … That statement hit me like a ton of bricks. Man, he’s going to be a brilliant songwriter.
5. Like, I was 11, dude! I had a life! Sorry, that just made me giggle.
6. “Music is a part of my life, it isn’t my life.” … Was kinda surprised he said this, but happy for him, at the same time.
7. “Music has a universal common ground.” Amen to that.
8. This whole paragraph had me bawling my eyes out. Such faith. Such trust. Such lack of ego.
9. It always comes back to the food, doesn’t it?
10,11,12,13. Fierce Cheesy David FTW!!!
Seriously, though. WHO IS THIS PERSON???? He’s 19 freakin’ years old!!! The tree theory is the only one that makes sense to me. I know he’s real but he comes out with stuff like this and it makes it very hard to remember that. As Awestruck said, how fortunate are we?
MORE random footnotes (please, somebody stop me!!!!)
A. Canadian content alert: Hillary’s cowriter on “Jesus, Take the Wheel” was Mr. Gordie Sampson from Big Pond, Nova Scotia! Woot!
B. David has fans who don’t know about his music??? Who are these non-music fans? Peeps who only watch the Ford commercials on Idol? iCarly viewers who think he’s some actor? Customers at Kabuto Japanese Steakhouse who thought he was a Samurai Chef?
C. Who says this??? Where’s the “This material is the best I’ve ever done, I’m exploring a completely new direction” stuff we usually hear from pop stars working on a new album?
D. “I didn’t think I had enough words to come out of me to make sense.” You mean, from that “slow world of a mind” of yours? *sigh*
E. Again with the tears, this whole paragraph, too too much.
F. Simon calls singing Imagine risky. Dang right it was risky! Everything David did on Idol was risky — from auditioning at 16, to playing piano parts he barely knew to, hello, those group numbers! He’s a rebel WITH a cause, baby!
G. I just now noticed he says “You know what?” twice in this interview. Like he’s had enough and he’s TAKIN’ NAMES!!! You tell ’em, D.!
H. Saw @AnnieDAFG proposing on Twitter we call ourselves “Awwcheese” … bahahahahaha.