Holding the Key: The Album That Almost Was


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

Jason Gray is a recording artist with Centricity Records. His latest single, out now, is "When I Say Yes".