I say to my students that I can't teach them how to write a good song, but I can teach you how to write a better song. Talking about this idea of it being a process. By going back and not settling for something and find a way to step back from your songs-which is a very hard thing to do-but when you're stuck or you can't move forward, start doing some polishing.
Kids who are least impressive in my class are the ones who only listen to one kind of music. They only listen to country or only to rap or to gospel or anything. It's a sad thing. I try really hard to get them to go out and listen to things. It's amazing what you learn. ... I'm still trying to learn. It's not like I'm going to be a calypso singer. That's not going to happen, but I'm sure there's something in that, that I can learn from and apply to my own work.
In the 80s, in the cover band I was in, we'd slip in original material. If you didn't say anything about it, people just didn't care. Sometimes they'd ask where that came from and you'd tell them, but you still had to play a bunch of Willie, Waylon, and Merle.
Some things need to be a song. Some things need to be a play. Some things need to be a painting. Some things need to be-though I'd never be a choreographer-some things might ought to be a dance [laughs]. I've found that exploring an idea in different ways, it gives you different opportunities.
I had to really do some studying and examination of my own songwriting and I realized that, there's not a formula by any stretch of the imagination and aren't any rules, but there are principles. The first one is that art is a process, not a product. In fact, that holds true for damn near everything we do in life. The product is just something that happens. If you're faithful to the process, the product takes care of itself.
So I realized when I was successful in a piece, it was because I didn't abandon a notion early on what it ought to be, and I let it take me along. So I've had songs that started out as being about the environment and ended up being love songs and love songs that ended up being about the environment. I've had things that I thought would be a poem and realized that it was just too big for that. I've got to do something larger and it became a play. I wrote one poem that started a whole play.