“Higher”: organizing the lyric, moving to music

Most of the time, our working process is: we get on the phone and Google Drive at the same time, and talk through the creation of a lyric while typing it out / editing it in real time (usually trying to make each other laugh.) Other times, we grab inspiration wherever it strikes.

We had been talking about a song for Kelly & Rikki around the spot in the show where they go investigating in the basement for the first time. We knew the song would be about Kelly’s approach to things (you have to go poking around in order to discover things), and that the dramatic action would be Kelly persuading Rikki to come along on her reconnaissance mission — and Rikki & Kelly becoming closer friends. Beyond that, though, we didn’t know.

I (Rob) do a lot of thinking when I’m walking; last week, I was walking and thinking about this song — thinking that we’d want to structure it around a punchline — when you use the scientific method, sometimes things explode. So it started with “It’s the scientific method…” as the first line of each section, and “sometimes things explode” / “sometimes things go boom” as the punchlines. I originally was trying to make “catch on fire” / “go up in flames” work as a punchline, but they didn’t pan out. Partly because “fire” and “flames” aren’t percussive punchy words — but also I thought of the last line being interrupted by Hannah when she catches the girls snooping.

So from there it was just working inward from the first line and backward from the last line … a rhyme for explode, a rhyme for boom, etc.

The lyric took shape in my head and I ran home and typed it out. Interestingly, usually when I come up with a lyric (and almost always when we co-write lyrics), there’s a groove or model song that we have in mind for the song. For this one — I didn’t know at all.

Luckily, Katie took a look at the lyric and had an immediate sense of what the music would be — so she sang it into her phone and posted that sketch. Then I transcribed it to sheet music and created a track, adding harmonies and a couple modulations (key changes.) And voila … a fun song.

Katie’s Sketch

Rob’s Embellishment

“THE SCIENTIFIC METHOD” lyric sketch (this came to me on a walk today)

KELLY (with RIKKI at certain points) (While they explore the basement finding the AC unit)
It’s the scientific method
Ask a question
Form a hypothesis
See where it leads you
Explore the road
It’s the scientific method
When you test your hypothesis
Sometimes
Things explode.

With the scientific method
You’ll discover
New ways of reasoning
Make a prediction
But don’t assume
With the scientific method
When you test your hypothesis
Sometimes
Things go boom

(Probably dialogue in here where they realize the AC unit has been tampered with.)

You experiment
You fail
You try again
That’s the process and it’s sometimes slow
You don’t do it for a grade
You don’t do it to be right
You go to find the answers and the answers raise more questions and you go to find the answers and the answers raise more questions
And you know:

You have the scientific method
Making progress
Making discoveries
Making a breakthrough
If it all goes well
It’s the scientific method
And we’re not afraid of failing
Cause things sometimes go to–

HANNAH: Hell-o, girls. Looking for something?
Talking about capturing inspiration when it strikes, regarding writing the song “The Scientific Method.”


The cast of KELLY THE DESTROYER…, students at Lewis and Clark High School (in Spokane, WA), answered questionnaires so that Katie and I could get to know the company a bit more. The questions were:

  • What is your greatest strength as a performer? What do you bring to the table to add to our ensemble?
  • What are the top 3 most played songs on your ipod?
  • If you had a superpower, what would it be and why?
  • Kelly ‘destroys’ things by tearing down what is false, so that the truth can flourish. What would you attempt to destroy so that the truth can shine through?
  • Everyone is at this fictional magnet high school for a reason. What field would you specialize in?
  • What do you do in your free time?
  • List one interesting given circumstance (fact) about you that helps define who you are as a human being or a performer.
  • What are you the most excited for about this process?
  • What would you like to see included in the show?
  • Based on the material you have heard, the discussions we have had in class, and the music you have seen, what would you like Rob and Katie to know?

In this conversation, we talk about some of the things that we noticed in the responses… and we answer the questions ourselves.


The cast of KELLY THE DESTROYER…, students at Lewis and Clark High School (in Spokane, WA), answered questionnaires so that Katie and I could get to know the company a bit more. The questions were:

  • What is your greatest strength as a performer? What do you bring to the table to add to our ensemble?
  • What are the top 3 most played songs on your ipod?
  • If you had a superpower, what would it be and why?
  • Kelly ‘destroys’ things by tearing down what is false, so that the truth can flourish. What would you attempt to destroy so that the truth can shine through?
  • Everyone is at this fictional magnet high school for a reason. What field would you specialize in?
  • What do you do in your free time?
  • List one interesting given circumstance (fact) about you that helps define who you are as a human being or a performer.
  • What are you the most excited for about this process?
  • What would you like to see included in the show?
  • Based on the material you have heard, the discussions we have had in class, and the music you have seen, what would you like Rob and Katie to know?

In this conversation, we talk about some of the things that we noticed in the responses… and we answer the questions ourselves.


When I (Rob) am working on a song, most of the time I get the lyric on a piece of paper, and go for a walk. Then I start trying to find a rhythmic setting for the lyrics — what rhythm do the words naturally fall into? I do this before I even have an idea of what the melodic notes might be. This is especially important for any “rhythm tune” — any song that will have a driving, rhythmic musical setting.

I recorded this on August 22nd while walking around in Eagle Harbor, Michigan. Eagle Harbor is a little village in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, on the tip of the Keeweenaw peninsula, sticking out into Lake Superior. My father’s family has been there for five generations, and he still has a house there.

You can hear that some of the rhythm evolved a bit later on — where the downbeat falls with “gotta do it, gotta make it” and so on. But basically the finished version of the song would contain the core of Katie’s take on the melodic & harmonic content, combined with these rhythmic settings.

 
When I (Rob) am working on a song, most of the time I get the lyric on a piece of paper, and go for a walk. Then I start trying to find a rhythmic setting for the lyrics — what rhythm do the words naturally fall into? I do this before I even have an idea of what the melodic notes might be. This is especially important for any “rhythm tune” — any song that will have a driving, rhythmic musical setting.

I recorded this on August 22nd while walking around in Eagle Harbor, Michigan. Eagle Harbor is a little village in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, on the tip of the Keeweenaw peninsula, sticking out into Lake Superior. My father’s family has been there for five generations, and he still has a house there.

You can hear that some of the rhythm evolved a bit later on — where the downbeat falls with “gotta do it, gotta make it” and so on. But basically the finished version of the song would contain the core of Katie’s take on the melodic & harmonic content, combined with these rhythmic settings.

 
So once we had a lot of rough sketches for “Higher”, we had to get them organized into some kind of structure. We knew we wanted the song to be verse-chorus, and that the chorus would probably be just “Higher and higher” or something along those lines. (We’ll go into song structure in more detail in later posts.)

We had to get the rest of the material into matching sections – when you are writing lyrics, you need the corresponding sections of a song to “match” in their rhythm, so that the music can match. All your verses should match, your choruses should match, and so on.

We put the lyrics into a Google doc, and then color coded the stanzas that matched each other. Then we started lining them up — each verse would go from a blue stanza to green to light blue to orange to red and then to purple.

Once we had that basic structure in place, it was time to start coming up with music. We had an initial “inspiration” song for this number — “Somebody” by Jukebox the Ghost. That gave us the basic beat and groove of the song, along with some seeds of melodic or harmonic ideas (the “oohs” in “Somebody” would morph into the idea of setting the word “higher” in high vocal harmonies, the feeling of everything dropping out but the piano when we return to the verse after the first chorus, and so on…)

Katie took the first pass at melody for the song, and off we went.

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