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May 2024
Vol. 23, No. 8

Talkin’ Craft

What’s Love Got to Do with It?

by Lindsay WhiteFebruary 2024

I’ve never been much of a Valentine’s Day fan. Don’t get me wrong, I can get down with cards and candy and romantic dinners and sexy time, but I’d prefer all that stuff on any other day of the year. V-Day just lacks actual heart. Nonetheless, I can’t help but clock when Cupid comes calling every February. The reason? My wife loves conversation hearts…possibly more than anyone on this planet loves them…possibly more than she loves me. And because I love her, you’ll find me in the clearance aisle every February 15, stocking up on bags of Brach’s, all so my doll face can chomp on those tiny chalky delights all year long. Just call me the CVS Casanova.

In a Talkin’ Craft context, Valentine’s Day has me thinking about what love songs and what constitutes a good one. A subjective point to ponder, but I can’t think of any genre that’s done it better than ’90s R&B (you can take the girl out of Fresno…). I was nine years old when SWV released “Right Here” but fast forward coughy-cough years later, and you’ll find me right here grooving to the Human Nature Radio Mix with my boo in the kitchen. I know I’m biased as a Xennial, but it was such a great era of music! There was Mariah singing “Honey” on her symbolic escape-from-Tommy-Mottola jet ski. There was Whitney belting Dolly’s “I Will Always Love You” while Kevin Costner protected her like that national treasure she was. So many classics, just as good now as they were then. What a time to be alive, slow-dancing to Boyz II Men’s “I’ll Make Love to You” at your middle school dance even though your mom wouldn’t let you go to Sex Ed. class. What? Just me?

There’s also what I call the “swoony croony” era (the ’50s/’60s give or take). I just know that timeless tunes like “I Only Have Eyes for You” (popularized by the Flamingos) and “At Last” (popularized by Etta James) will be spinning at zombie weddings long after the apocalypse.

I could go on, but I’ve got artists to interview, so I’ll just say that from a lyrical standpoint, I believe that a great love song—no matter the genre or era—is best when focused on either comfort (i.e., this relationship feels super safe, steadfast, and cozy) or compulsion (i.e., this relationship makes me want to snort TUMS). Since I’ve been shacked up with the conversation heart connoisseur, I’ve been mostly writing the cozy kind, thank St. Valentine.

I asked this month’s featured Songwriter Sanctuary artists to wax romantic on the topic of love songs and share the story behind one they’ve penned. Read on to learn a little bit about what love’s got to do, got to do with songwriting for these troubadours:

Kai of Topeka Clementine

Kimiko and Kai from Topeka Clementine

“I think a great love song comes from a place of yearning. Longing for a love saturated in desire is a universal experience, and an element of sacrifice is a theme ultimately tied to an impactful love song in my opinion.”

Kai told me about “Breakfast for One,” a forthcoming single inspired by what they describe as “the worst and best date I’ve ever been on.”

“I was at once thrilled and overwhelmed by the beauty of this person I had a crush on in middle school, and we met almost a decade later by pure coincidence. I worked it all up in my head, and I was a nervous wreck and got ghosted shortly after. We still watch each other’s Instagram stories, and I saw her post a breakfast that her new boyfriend made her, and I couldn’t shake the feeling of dread it lodged in my gut.

“The song poured out of me that morning sitting at my childhood piano, and I based the rest of the recording from the demo I recorded at the piano. I met with my then idol, now friend Holden Miller for a co-write session, and he helped me take the bones of an already heart-wrenching song and flesh out the storytelling verse by verse. The resulting product is a song I can barely get through in one sitting but it’s one of the rawest and scariest songs I’ve written thus far.”

“Breakfast for One” Lyric Excerpt (follow on Instagram for release date)
You stole the show
You still haunt my dreams
There you are standing in line while I’m checking IDs

How could I know?
Cuz it’s Halloween
And you’re all dressed up as someone I that thought I’d never need

Thought you moved to New York
Guess you’re still in LA
Now I’m staring back into those brown eyes I knew in 8th grade

Did you come alone?
I’m here with a friend
But maybe when everything slows down we could play pretend

Cuz you know that I’d give you everything right now I’m stuck making breakfast for one
Coffee don’t taste the same
Miss how you say my name
Guess I just wasn’t the one

Rachel Jay

Rachel Jay

“I measure the greatness of a love song by its ability to reproduce the impact of a romantic experience, whether it’s one of ecstasy, heartache, or all things in between. Of the love songs I’ve written, my song ‘Fleeting’ is my favorite. The song paints a picture of the polarizing emotions of bliss and the void that follows its come down. Though the story being told is not exclusively about romantic love, it encapsulates the emotional experience of love and loss. I wrote it from a melancholy perspective, reflecting on love as a temporary high, fearing its inevitable come down, and judging my longing for its return.”“Fleeting” Lyric Excerpt (Listen to full song on Youtube)

I caught a glimpse of your smile and it brought me to life
Taking a hit of this worn out community pipe
Holy euphoria I’ve never felt quite this high
Don’t let me fall from this cloud, I’m not ready to say goodbye…

I wish I didn’t need you, wish I was fine on my own
Since you’ve revealed your colors I’m hardly amused by a simple rainbow.

Tori Roze of Tori Roze and the Hot Mess

Tori Roze & Johnny Alexander

A great love song is a familiar feeling—like I’ve been there before (even if I haven’t). Some part of me aches with lively relative sentiment in communion with it. It’s not about the words for me, so much as it is about the composition in its entirety… it’s a tug at the chest cavity and the gut and the mind by way of emotion-evoking chords, visceral melodic notes, and intentional word use. It completely envelops you. It’s perfect sonic manipulation—the song takes you to a specific time and space whether you gave permission for it to do so or not.

“Technically speaking, ALL of my songs are love songs, but each refers to a different kind of love…The song “Oh Lord, Please” had a very interesting writing process, to say the least. When my wifeband and I started dating, I literally blew up my whole life as in I set it on fire. I knew what I had to do in order to be with her, but I also knew the Universe/God/Whatever you want to call it had my back. She was/is my destiny.

“At the time, I needed to get some monumental feelings out. I had a strange and very foreign (to me) almost honky-tonk country-like chorus melody enter my head. So, I invited Johnny Alexander over to try and flesh this mysterious thing out. I recorded a voice memo of the idea and we let it simmer for a sec. We then altered the style in which I was hearing it into something a little more soulful and in line with the handful of lyrics I had already laid out: ‘Oh lord, please, send me guidance, so I know which way to go.’ Keeping in line with both the lyrics and our personal musical style, we realized it needed to be a gospel song…so I packed the lyrics full of religious metaphors with the love for my wifeband being the ‘holiest of the holy.’ We then slowed it WAY down and gave it a touch of the tempo it really needed to fly.

“After figuring out the style, the song simply flowed and somewhat wrote itself. When we then presented our heart-felt rough draft to the band, Harley Magsino brought the special sauce to the bridge in order to bring a little additional eargasmic pleasure to the mix. Harley is magical like that. The whole band is amazing, actually—Jordan Morita, Lee Clark, Rashaad Graham, Julien Cantelm, Johnny Alexander, and Harley Magsino. That is how you know it’s a good song: parts just fall into place. It’s still one of my favorite songs we’ve ever written in our nearly 16-year herstory as a band, too.”

“Oh Lord, Please” Lyric Excerpt (available on Bandcamp and all streaming platforms)
Oh Lord, please send me guidance
So I know which way to go
Oh Lord, please send me guidance
I need to know which way to go
Which way to go

You take me to church when I’m alone with you
I feel so holy with all the things that you do
Ain’t worn a smile this big in ages
And I’m writing scripture pages

In this version of a telling
Every moment’s so compelling

Final Thoughts

What makes a great love song in your opinion? Write it on a bag of conversation hearts and bring it to Songwriter Sanctuary at Normal Heights United on February 23. Then stick around to fall in love with Topeka Clementine, Rachel Jay, and Tori Roze with Johnny Alexander. See you there!


Three other things I’m thinking about this month: 

  • My mother’s upcoming death-iversary on February 7, but I’ll spare you the grief tsunami. 
  • The tragic compartmentalization of “Black History Month.” Black people literally built this country and have had just as much if not more to do with US history (and music history!) than any other group. Black History is US history, and it should be celebrated as such, complete with a hefty reparations package and a banning of book bans.
  • The best Valentine’s Day gift I can possibly think of.

Thanks for Talkin’ Craft with me!

Pics provided by artists
Kai and Kimiko from Topeka Clementine
Rachel Jay Photo credit: Huy K. Nguyen
Tori Roze and Johnny Alexander

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