Scott Alan: Behind the Song

In 2010 composer-lyricist Scott Alan found himself suddenly single, wanting children, and unable to put any of his emotions into song. Two weeks abroad gave him the chance to just breathe — and inspired his most intimate song yet.

BY Advocate Contributors

December 19 2010 5:00 PM ET

The past year has had its ups and downs. I had the incredible opportunity to do concerts in exciting places like London and Australia, but I also learned how lonely life on the road can be — and how returning home is even lonelier when there's nobody to return to.

Two years ago when I turned 30, my heart found itself in a place it wasn’t expecting to go. It was, for the first time, ready to start a family. In the song "Nothing More," sung on What I Wanna Be When I Grow Up by the wonderful Christopher Sieber, I wrote about my yearning to leave more than a song behind as my legacy. I knew there was something major missing from my life, and I knew exactly what it was: a child.

After giving everything I had to a relationship that fell apart only a year later, the question became, How much more of myself did I really have left to give? When the relationship ended despite my best efforts, I felt numb to everything around me and completely exhausted. But more than that, I found that the one constant in my life, writing, was suddenly not happening. It was like I'd been put on pause. I couldn’t find words; I couldn’t hear melody. I felt trapped. Though I had so much to say, I couldn’t find the right words with which to say it. I’d sit at the piano and nothing matched the emotions I felt in that moment. They were just words and notes. Words and notes without any meaning to them.

Here I was at a crossroads; I wanted a family, yet the family that I'd been building with my partner was now nothing more then crumpled pieces of unusable lyrics filling up my floor. I was no longer in control of anything.

To understand me is to understand one important thing — I write about my life and all that comes with it. To say that my music and lyrics define me is an understatement. I put every element of myself into song. All of my secrets, inner turmoil, and celebrations are musicalized. It’s my therapy.

Day after day, I kept sitting down at the piano, hoping that some sort of genius idea would present itself. Then one day I started slowly writing again — When the life you had planned / Slowly slips through your hands / When it feels like you just slept through all the best years of your life / When the heart's beyond repair / When you wake and no one’s there / When your home consists of only you / Is there anything worth holding on to?

That’s all I was able to write at the time. I couldn’t find other words to describe how completely trapped I felt or how losing the ability to explain it in song made me feel even lonelier. 

I needed to take a break — to just step away from the piano and from everything around me. I took a vacation to Italy. No phone. No computer. Traveled for two weeks. Stayed in the nicest hotels. Got fat. Drank wine. Ate more gelato than I care to admit. And just breathed. In a relationship it’s easy to forget yourself. This was my chance to get to know me again.

When I returned I put all my energy into finishing the new album. As minutes turned into months we had 11 songs finished. But my coproducer and arranger of the album, Jesse Vargas, insisted that we add one more. I hadn’t sat at the piano since I returned from Italy, too afraid to find that I may still be in the same place I was before I left.

I sat down. Put my hands on the keys. I took a breath. I wrote. When you’re so far from home / When you’ve lost signs of hope / When you're searching for salvation / But there’s none that you can find / When the words have disappeared / When the melody's unclear / When there’s nothing left inside of you, is there anything worth holding on to? I sat for a minute ... there was still something left to say. Cause I will still be holding on / To everything worth holding on to.

I finished — six months after I'd started it, but it was finally finished.

Jesse decided that if this song was going to be the one to complete the album, it had to be stripped down. On an album filled with lavish orchestrations and arrangements, he believed that it needed nothing more than its lyrics, its melody, the incomparable voice of Crystal Monee Hall, and a piano.

The day I released the album I sat on my couch, studying the cover. I took out my two previous albums, Dreaming Wide Awake and Keys, and put all three of them on my dining room table. Taking a close look I realized that for now these are my children. And I couldn’t be more proud of them. For the first time in over a year, my heart felt full again.

An hour later I started planning the next birth.

Tags: Music

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