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July 2024
Vol. 23, No. 10

Ask Charlie...

Time and Water

by Charlie LoachApril 2024

Hello Troubadourians! A couple of months ago I was sick with some “thing” that was going around. I had a persistent cough, and I lost my voice on a couple of occasions. So, what did I do while I was feeling so crappy and couldn’t talk? I wrote a song. The song had started as a few lines that came to me while I was trying to work from home. I wrote them down and emailed them to my friend Mark C. Jackson. Mark is an established songwriter and author, so I knew he would tell me if I had something. I wrote that I didn’t know if this was a verse, a chorus, or nothing at all. He replied that he thought it was good and to keep working on it and to let that process inform me what those words wanted to be. That was much needed encouragement. I then showed what I wrote to my friend Sven-Erik Seaholm, whom you should all be familiar with by now, especially if you are a regular Troubadour reader. Sven said that what I had was definitely a chorus. Okay, cool… I said that I thought the line “Someone new and pretty” was the title and the hook. He said, “No, that line, ‘time and water’ is the hook. That’s very interesting… you should focus on that.” Done. I rewrote and rearranged what I had written to feature time and water and the story started to take shape and make sense as lyrics and as a statement of intent. Something I could develop…

Before I continue, some background is required. I have struggled to write lyrics for as long as I’ve been writing songs. I can come up with graduate-level guitar parts and hooks on demand, but my lyric writing remained mired in 7th grade English class. I’ve found this incredibly frustrating since I’ve always been articulate when speaking, yet I couldn’t make that work lyrically. I have written and recorded a few songs that were lyrically and musically professional grade, but I shared the lyric writing credit with Sven. This time, while I was willing to consult with Mark and Sven, I wanted all the words to be mine.

One of the most significant reasons why I wanted to write this column for the Troubadour was to become a better writer. I think that after 13 years the experiment has been successful. But in that time, I have also learned that what I do as a writer doesn’t necessarily translate to writing lyrics. The writing that I do for this column provides a forum and format where I can instruct and entertain with words. I now have the skill to write in a way that I might say those same things if we were having a conversation or if I was teaching a class. Conversely, writing lyrics requires the artist to be much more succinct. Saying more with fewer words while simultaneously making those words singable. And rhyming is good too…

Still, being comfortable with words in this context has built my comfort—and confidence—with writing lyrics. Awareness of the meanings of words—and that there are usually many different words that mean the same thing—is often key to lyric writing. The desire is to tell a story using only those words that have the most significance to the story. Lyrically, I’m not expected to explain. Rather, I’m expected to evoke, and let the listener fill in the rest with whatever makes the story real for them. Wow, that is easier to write than it is to do. At least for me…

Back to writing the song… Now I had a chorus that works and implies a cadence. Next, I needed a melody, and chord changes. Remember, this song started with lyrics which is completely backward from how inspiration normally finds me. Ideas always came from practicing or noodling on the guitar. Not this time, so I had very little idea what the song was supposed to sound like. There was initially a country-ish theme that was in my head, but I didn’t want to write a country song. I didn’t want it to be that genre specific. So, I called Mark and talked to him about it. I complained about it hinting at being so country, and he said to let it be what it wants to be. “A song has to tell you what it is, and you have to let it.” Sage advice. I let the song simmer in my head for a few days, and then one evening I was driving to pick up dinner and my mind wandered across a thought about a past relationship and a new revelation. The thought immediately morphed into lyrics in the cadence of the chorus. This was a gift of a first verse, and I knew I had to remember it. I pulled into a parking space and sent myself a text with those words. Immediately upon returning home with dinner, I excused myself and wrote the entire verse into my journal right below the existing chorus. After dinner, I came back and finished the next two verses. While I was typing everything into my computer, I started to hear the chords and melody in my head. I played the song for the first time as I was writing the chords down. It was like I’d known it all along. And, no, it was no longer country but something much more malleable and genre adaptable.

As the song was “telling me what it was,” the melody and chords flowed in concert with the words like a river in a riverbed. I like to step outside the convention of starting the verse on the I chord whenever I can, so I started the verse on the VIm, in this case F#m. Complementing the lyrics and the narrative, the melody dances between the VIm, I, and IV chords, deliberately avoiding the V, while the chorus substitutes the IIm for the VIm and touches the V as it bounces off the IV to resolve back to the I. Yeah, that’s some nerd-level music theory, but I only took the time to analyze it after I finished writing the song. I had to because I needed to arrange it for two interlocking guitar parts as well as an eventual arrangement for a full band recording. While still almost voiceless, I recorded a rough demo so that I could hear what the song sounded like without having to think about playing it. Listening back, I decided that there were too many words in one specific place in the chorus that looked good on paper but was difficult to sing. Taking out a single word not only made it easier to sing, but it also clarified the statement. Bonus.

I’m very happy with the way this song turned out and so are my Outliers bandmates, Mark C. Jackson and Pamela Haan. They have requested more songs… I’m working on it. In the meantime, here is the chorus that started everything:

“Time and Water” © 2024 Charles Loach
Time and water, It’s elementary
Someone new and pretty, She’s all of that to me
I don’t know if I’m in love, I’ve lost how that feels
She said “You just start it, Time and water make it real”

Need to know? Just ask… Charlie (

Editor’s note: Readers will be interested to read Lindsay White’s Talkin’ Craft column in this issue, which also revolves around songwriting, namely writer’s block. Very interesting and insightful, just like this column!

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