Holding the Key: The Album That Almost Was

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I had so much fun talking about the ins and outs of the making and writing of my new record, I thought I’d revisit this well again and this time talk about a song I wrote with an artist that I think most Rabbit Roomers are aware of (and if they aren’t, they should do something about that): Andy Gullahorn.

esicu-cover-final-webI was so grateful when Andy agreed to write with me for my project.  We wrote a couple songs together before this record, and we were really hitting our stride when we started to write for this record.  Andy is an amazing songwriter, but as talented as his is, he’s equally humble and generous and every time I write with him I feel like he pulls my best work out of me.

As I started to dream about this record, I originally hoped it would be an entire album focused around the theme of confession.  I started to work toward that end, but as I’ve mentioned elsewhere, I became entrenched in a nearly 3 year battle with creative block, and at one point had to give up trying to force any kind of agenda on the songs and instead just be grateful for what came.  There are still confessional songs on the record, but I had to abandon the “confession” album in order to let the songs tell me what they wanted to be, and in the end the theme that emerged was the larger idea of renewal, which of course has so much to do with confession.  In the end I think the record became just what it needed to be, and though at one point I would have loved to have focused solely on confession, I’m grateful for how everything turned out.

But the songs that really reflect my earliest ideals for this record are the ones I wrote with Andy called “Holding The Key,” and “How I Ended Up Here.”  I told him about the confession theme and he jumped in with me, helping me to write two of my favorite songs on the record.  I would rank “Holding The Key” as one of my favorite tracks that I’ve ever recorded: the drum track, the guitar tones, the way the chorus rises – This was one of my favorite moments in the making of this record.  I’m so grateful for it and have hoped that listeners would connect with it.

We originally wrote the song with no chorus – it was all about the verses.  I knew we had something special, but when we played it for others the feedback was that they wished for a chorus that would take it somewhere fresh so that the verses wouldn’t get tiresome.  We knew that I was working on making a more pop-oriented project so we tried to build a chorus that would make sense in that world, and I think we came up with one of the catchiest choruses on the record.  Our hope was to create the kind of chorus that might get the rest of the song heard.  It’s interesting how this chorus hits different people.  Some of those of a more singer/songwriter persuasion don’t care for the chorus but are enthusiastic about the verses, and those who are more into pop have told me that the chorus is what they love about this song.  This tells me that we were on the right track and I love this dual nature about the song.

It has a strange form: 3 verses, chorus, instrumental section, verse 4, double chorus, verse 5, with unpredictable transitions between almost all of these sections.  The drummer, Paul Mabury, is an incredible player who plays from the gut with a lot of passion – he’s not a technical player who maps out the song on a graph, but rather likes to play by feel – and the form gave him some difficulty.  For a while we weren’t sure if we were going to get it, but then this final pass happened and I thought it was magic.  I love what the band did on this track and how they took it some place I never thought it would go.

Andy Gullahorn is also one of the finest finger style guitarists I know and it was a no-brainer to ask him come in to play acoustic for both of the tracks I wrote with him.  By some oversight he wasn’t credited for playing in the liner notes of the record, so I wanted to make it right and set the record straight here.  (in fact, this entire post might be a ploy to extol the virtues of Andy Gullahorn for all the world to know.)

When Andy I wrote this song, I felt like we had the heart of the record and it was the song going into recording that I cared the most about.

Jame 5:16 tells us to confess our sins to each other and pray for each other that we might be healed, and it seems unfortunate that it’s often in the church among other believers that we learn how to perfect hiding our sins from each other.  And when we hide our sin and brokenness from each other, everybody loses – we lose because the more we hide our sin the more power it has over us; and those around us lose, too, when we insist on parading the mockery of our own self-righteousness instead of displaying the work of God’s grace in our lives, allowing others to see what grace looks like in a real person’s life with real issues.

I wish that my sin could be a private project that just me and God work on, but he hasn’t designed our sanctification to work that way.  He insists that we bring others in on the conversation.

Dietrich Bonheoffer has said:
“Sin demands to have a man by himself. It withdraws him from the community. The more isolated a person is, the more destructive will be the power of sin over him, and the more deeply he becomes involved in it, the more disastrous is his isolation… In confession the light of the Gospel breaks into the darkness and seclusion of the heart…. Since the confession of sin is made in the presence of a Christian brother, the last stronghold of self-justification is abandoned. The sinner surrenders… and he finds the forgiveness of all his sin in the fellowship of Jesus Christ and his brother… Now he stands in the fellowship of sinners who live by the grace of God in the Cross of Jesus Christ.”

So we have to let people in and learn to live confessionally, in community with others.  This is the part of our renewal I wanted to explore in this song.


Holding The Key
JG & Andy Gullahorn

I came here tonight with a mission
To confess what I’m trying to hide
But here in the hour of decision
I’d rather give you the company line

There are secrets I don’t want to tell you
And wounds you might not want to see
But they keep me bound to my sorrow
And I really want to be free
And you’re the one holding the key

You don’t have to give me an answer
An answer is the last thing I need
There’s no magical cure for this cancer
I just need you to listen to me
`Cause You’re the one holding the key

We were made with these hearts
Meant to be open
Then we locked them away
Afraid of being broken
But we’re given each other to set it free
And you’re the one holding the key

This dark room is perfect for hiding
But I don’t want to hide anymore
You can’t force the light here inside it
But you can help me open the door
You’re the one holding the key

We were made with these hearts
Meant to be open
Then we locked them away
Afraid of being broken
But we’re given each other to set it free
And you’re the one holding
The key to the truth
Of what’s really going on
Your listening ear
Is the grace of God
Love will take the shackles off
But you’re the one holding the key

We all need it sooner or later
A safe place for telling the truth
I’m happy returning the favor
‘Cause I’m holding the key for you


20 Comments

  1. Tony Heringer

    Jason,

    I’m glad you illuminated this song for us. I was sure that Bonheoffer was in there somewhere. His thoughts on confession in “Life Together” are wonderful and very convicting. This is one of the songs that fits where we are in our small group ministry at Perimeter Church.

    Another idea that Bonheoffer puts forth in “Life Together” is that as we are connected because we are in Christ; when one of us sins it affects us all – much like our physical bodies are impacted by sickness.

    So God deploys us into the process of spiritual and physical healings over and over again to remind of us His grace — glimpes of how it wil be when Jesus returns and “Every Sad Thing [Comes] Untrue” once and for all. I think this line (a bridge?) is my favorite in this great song:

    The key to the truth
    Of what’s really going on
    Your listening ear
    Is the grace of God
    Love will take the shackles off
    But you’re the one holding the key

    That’s what makes body life (locally in our churches and in places like this one) so critical to our progress in the faith. The other song you mention “How I Ended Up Here” has this haunting line “Nobody’s close to me, what have I done?” “One anothering” is critical to a vital walk with Christ.

    This project does carry the theme of confession but it marries it quite well with the theme of redemption. Strong work my friend, strong work.

  2. Peter B

    “And when we hide our sin and brokenness from each other, everybody loses – we lose because the more we hide our sin the more power it has over us; and those around us lose, too, when we insist on parading the mockery of our own self-righteousness instead of displaying the work of God’s grace in our lives…”

    YES. And this is so, so hard to do. It may be the underlying struggle behind all the other sin-struggles in my life (I’m sure Ron “remember the relationship” Block will chime in and yell “DUH!!!” at this point).

    Jason, I won’t claim to know your whole story, but it sounds like we each grew up with a certain amount of chronic fear, along with communication difficulties that made it easier to curl up into a ball than to have meaningful relationships. Forgive me if I just projected without thinking; all that was simply to mean that I get what you’re saying and it’s huge.

    A man who isolates himself seeks his own desires; he rages against all wise judgement (Prov. 18:1). For some reason, this was one of those epiphany verses for me a few years back. Of course I still haven’t perfected the art — or been perfected, for that matter — but Jesus has demonstrated, over and over, how life-givingly vital his body is. There is SO much power in confession to a loving, grace-filled brother who will listen and encourage and point to God’s matchless gift.

  3. Kory

    Holding the Key is TOTALLY my favorite on the albun too. If I may rank my top 3 JG songs of all time:
    “Why You Brought Me Here”
    “Holding the Key”
    “Place Called Hope”

    Thanks for all you do, Jason. The Lord is using you to touch lives in a profound way!

  4. Aaron Roughton

    This is fantastic, Jason. (And Andy.) From the writing to the performance to the production, nice work. Someday when I’m all growed up I want to write a song with Mr. Gullahorn.

  5. Randall Goodgame

    Another line I remember from “Life Together” is, “He who is alone with his sin is utterly alone.” Too terribly true.

    Thanks for the song, brave songwriter dudes.

  6. Julie

    This has been one of my favorite songs as soon as I heard it posted on your myspace, Jason. It is very meaningful to me since I’ve really experienced the healing that comes thru confession to others. Thanks for this song, Jason.

  7. Pam

    I literally lost my mind before I could go out and purchase “all the lovely losers” when it went on sale in 2007. God has since restored much (not all) of what what lost and I am happy (but not too happy) to say that “everything sad is coming untrue” arrived in my mailbox when I most needed it! For me, as someone who is managing life with the mental illness of bipolar disorder I, I can appreciate the balance you have achieved with this album. I am a fifty something female fan forever!

  8. Deb

    Living honestly with ourselves and with others is hard work. It requires battling not only our own fear, but also the fear of those we walk with. Sometimes I find that I enter a room with a “mask”already firmly in place because of my own fear and sometimes I find that I enter boldly “unveiled” only to be handed a “mask” by those in the room…

    I love the combined truth of both of these songs…love the challenge it sets forth. Love the “grace” that it calls us to…

    As with so many of your songs Jason, I find this one gets to the very heart of the matter beautifully.

    Thanks for allowing God to work through you…

    Deb Henderson

  9. Jason Overby

    Jason Gray’s album “Everything Sad is Coming Untrue” is the one album that I have been craving all year…I had a mental countdown in my head for the release date (“is it 9-1-09 yet?!). I wanted it SO bad that I couldn’t wait till it came out in stores, so I drove three hours to his show in Salem, Indiana days before the release, just to drive the entire way home IN AWE! WOW, I had a great idea of how good the album would be, after following his blogs and previews of a new song weekly on his myspace page…but that didn’t even do it JUSTICE! As I sit here having listened to his Special Edition cd (definately the way to go!), it’s hard for me to find a FAVORITE track….if I were to choose a few, here they are: More Like Falling in Love, Fade With Our Voices, Holding the Key, How I Ended Up Here, Help Me Thank You, Hold Me Back (the piano demo is simplistic, yet stunning), The Prodigal & and The Golden Boy (WOW…no chorus is needed to help convey a message in that one), Jesus Use Me I’m Yours (the perfect prayer), and Everything Sad Is Coming Untrue (all four parts are amazing, each with thier own distinct sound, hard to pick a favorite part (1-4)). When you purchase a copy of Everything Sad is Coming Untrue…don’t just by one copy…buy more! Give a copy to your closest friends…they will love it. This album is such a blessing!

    A quick word about Andy Gullahorn….if you have not heard of this man…FIND out! He is my FAVORITE songwriter..his humor is both straight forward and skewd…always funny and truthful. Causes you too look at a situation that you may have encountered a million times, a different way, for the first time. Amazing artist, performer, and writer. You will leave a show if his, not waiting it to end, and wanting more!

  10. rachel

    this record is stellar. and i don’t like pop music, generally speaking. and all your RR posts have only made it that much more inspiring and enjoyable …

    as for this song, i think it’s definitely better with the chorus. well done.

  11. Tony

    I just want to say that this is a must have CD. There is not one “throw away’ song on this CD and the flow from one song to the next is seamless. From the moment More Like Falling in Love began I was drawn into both the thought provoking lyrics and to the music.

    Just to let you know where I am musically, I listen to no radio anymore. I am into indie artists who don’t get air play, both Christian and non-Christian. I have always been drawn to singers/songwriters and acoustic music. I have become a big fan of “Americana” music. Right now I listen to AP, Gullahorn, Shive, Peters, Osenga, the Everybodyfields, and the Avett Brothers. I was expecting stripped down, singer/songwriter songs when I popped this into my CD player. To say the least, I was surprised. There is such a fullness to the sound that enhances the entire listening experience.

    I haven’t had time to fully dig into the lyrics but with the first listen, I know that the lyrics are deep and multi-layered and say different things to each different listener. This will definitely stay in my CD player for a long time as I savor each song and listen for the messages behind the lyrics.

    Don’t delay – buy this today and if you don’t like, let me know and I will refund your money!

  12. Tony Heringer

    This is a great thread to keep alive. I just returned from misty run at a local park fueled by the good vibrations from this album.

    Tony, my nephew just sent me a Facebook message about the Avett Brothers, so I guess I better check them out. I’m going to pass this link to him. I did hear Jason on my local station this morning – the local DJ came back after the set and noted it was new music from Jason Gray. These guys play cuts from Jason’s previous album too. So, feel free to give them some love via email. Here’s their link: http://www.wwev.org/

  13. Peter B

    Whoa… the Dual Tony Conundrum had me totally flummoxed for a minute there.

    Tony H, that’s awesome; I’m glad to hear that Jason’s getting some radio time.

  14. Peter B

    Perhaps we should issue a challenge to our resident sesquipedalian. There could be a mass submission of bizarre words (filtered for some degree of appropriateness) and our good Proprietor could preside over a drawing whereupon ten such words are chosen at random, to be included in an upcoming Jason Gray song.

  15. Tony

    Tony H.

    You have to listen to the Avett’s several times to really appreciate the music. I would get Emotionalism to start with or go to Utube and watch Murder in the City.

  16. Profile photo of Jason Gray

    Jason Gray

    @jasongray

    Aw shucks… you guys are too kind. I think you’re just buttering me up because I snuck the word “doppelganger” into a song.

    Years ago, I got the word subterfuge into a song. That’s kind of hard to say, let alone sing.

    Yes, yes, I’ve presumed to take it upon myself to help expand the vocabulary of my listenership… It’s a small thing, but it’s my humble gift to the world…

    In all seriousness, though, I had a hard time leaving “doppelganger” in that song… I was afraid it was too conspicuous and would seem like I’m trying too hard to seem like I have a good vocabulary. But in the end it was the right word, so I left it as it was.

    Interesting trivia. I don’t think I have an amazing vocabulary, but any vocabulary I do have can be, I think, credited to my speech impediment. I can tell which words I’ll get hung up on before I say them, so I’m always looking for alternative words. I think because of this I’ve had to keep a decent mental pool of alternative words always on hand. Again, I don’t have an exceptional vocabulary, but any impressive words I might have in my arsenal is related, in part at least, to trying to not stutter.

  17. Jeff Christ

    Jason,

    I first heard this song on Elijah streams last week while I was at work. I have to admit, the melody sound is what first tugged me in. I jotted down the song and bought the individual track that night. What a powerful song.

    I am currently going through a prayer ministry class held by Elijah House and I heard your song the day after we went through a lesson on healing through repentance and forgiveness… I love these little surprises from God.

    I am planning on sharing this song and it’s background with that class as well as my mens group. Men are especially prone to thinking that, though sin is committed in secret, it can be dealt with secretly. Your song hits it out of the park in it’s message and the sound that is used to deliver it deep into the heart of us.

    BTW, if you can fit doppleganager into a song, then my hat’s off to you. I am writing a song right now about Gethsemane… so many syllables, so little room 🙂

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