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Writing With Randall: Hip Hop Mandolinist

April 28, 2010

So today I had the privilege of writing with my good friend Randall Goodgame (http://www.randallgoodgame.com) whose writing credits run the range of several of Caedmon Call’s signature songs to Veggie Tales Silly songs.  He’s also written and recorded his own music for years including a brilliant ode to Charlie Brown and the Peanuts gang and his collaboration with Andrew Peterson to make the best children’s album I’ve ever heard – an album that is as much for adults as it is for their kids.  Randall also helped me write “Everything Sad Is Coming Untrue (Part 1)” and “Help Me Thank You”.  And is if that weren’t enough, he’s one of my best friends and favorite people in the world.

We have similar lyrical sensibilities and a taste for musical adventurism, so he seemed like the right guy to bring my recent enthusiasm for some Hip Hop artists I’ve discovered this past year.

“Okay, listen… I know I’m like an 8 foot tall Minnesotan of Norwegian descent and that I’m one of the whitest people I know – I mean really white – but what do you think about trying to borrow from hip hop on our next song.”

“Yeah, man,” Randall says.  “Sounds fun.”

“I mean, of course it can’t be all like hip-hop – I think people would laugh at me – but maybe we could play in the hip hop toybox awhile and see what comes of it.”

“I think that’s great, let’s go for it,” says Randall.  “Let’s write a hip hop song Jason Gray style.”

“Alright, this is going to be fun – we can do this!” I say.

And then we sat down and I grabbed my acoustic guitar and he his mandolin, and we set out to write our version of a hip hop influenced singer/songwriter kind of song.  It took us a whole hour into the process before we realized how ridiculous we were, that we’d get excited about writing hip hop and then grab an acoustic and a mandolin…  Who does that?  Has that ever happened in the history of music making I wonder?  Ah, but we try.

It being influenced by hip hop, the song must of course be groove driven.  And include pop-culture references. And phat rhymes. Word.

The danger is avoiding coming off like Jason Mraz (who is very talented, but sounds a little like a white boy trying to get funky. Don’t get me wrong, he’s great at what he does and I’m a fan, it’s just that since he’s already doing it, we don’t need to).  The other danger is making it feel like a song that belongs on one of my records.  In other words, I probably shouldn’t use words like “bling” and sing about run ins with the po po.

The other thing that proves challenging is trying to avoid singer/songwriter tendencies of writing lyrics that tell a narrative and have a story arc, and being careful of poetic imagery.  All these are great things!  But they are the usual suspects of singer/songwriter songs.  It had to sound more like street language, and instead of a narrative we wanted to create little visual vignettes that leave emotional impressions instead of leading the listener through a cognitive lyrical thought process.

Several times Randall would throw out some amazing line, and I’d have to say “oh… you’re killing me… that’s brilliant… but it might be too poetic or clever…”

But with our acoustic and mandolin we forged on… and we’re about half way done.  However it turns out, it was fun to force ourselves into unfamiliar territory.  “I feel like you brought me a new toy to play with” Randall said when it was time to go – And it occurred to me that this was yet another one of his brilliant word pictures that perfectly named a moment… but would probably never work in a hip hop song.  Unless the hip hop song featured a mandolin…

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. Lisa Mongold permalink
    April 29, 2010 8:31 pm

    Lol. I’m got to wonder what a Jason Gray song would sound like with you singing (or rapping??) about the po po. Lol…that’s awesome! Hey, if Family Force 5 can pull it off…
    I’ll have to look up your friend’s childrens cd. I teach young kids and LOVE to get my hands on new music for them.
    Btw- my husband and I will be celebrating our 17th anniversary on May 8th. You’ll be playing a show in Illinois that night, only about an hour from me. I’m trying to convince him that seeing you live would be an AWESOME way to spend our anniversary. He’s not buying it. He says he really likes your music, but why would he want to hear you sing it in person. He IS NOT a concert goer! I’ll keep working on him 😉

  2. Liz Edie permalink
    June 17, 2010 11:34 pm

    I was lucky enough to meet Randall Goodgame May 21-22 during his recent trip to Southern Oregon and chat with him briefly. I would love to be a fly on the wall watching you guys at work/play making a hip-hop tune. You story about it put a smile on my face. I admire the way you create music and the I am enthralled with the result. May God Himself – the God of Peace guard your life, heart,and home.
    I also want to say “More Like Fallin In Love” is exactly what I want my friends and family to understand about Jesus. It was like someone struck a bell the first time I heard it. It is the gospel like it needs to be told. Thank you
    PS Hope you’ll make the journey over to TCF with Randall, Andrew, Ben and bring your families too some time soon.

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