Last week the students in my Writing Close to the Earth online class read George Orwell's classic essay, "Politics and the English Language." In it ... Read More
Ron Block’s new album, Walking Song, released two weeks ago, and although it has Ron’s mug on the cover, there’s another person that’s responsible for the lyrical content inside. Rebecca Reynolds, long-time Rabbit Roomer, joined up with Ron to co-write most of the songs on the album. I spoke to her about what it was like to participate in a collaborative artistic endeavor like Walking Song.
You began this journey simply by reading The Rabbit Room and contributing to the discussion once in a while. In fact, you weren’t even aware of who Ron Block was at the beginning. How exactly did a sometime Rabbit Room commenter end up writing lyrics for a big-time album?
Hmm. Well, it’s not my natural bent to think about music in terms of “big-time” or “small-time.” My mom has an undergraduate degree in music, so I grew up surrounded by all sorts of songs. Some of my earliest memories are of her sitting at the piano for hours upon hours practicing [Dmitry] Kabalevsky or [Robert] Schumann.
In my home, music was not perceived as a business, rooted in what was popular or influential. It was seen in terms of a language used by people to communicate ideas. It was kind of an unspoken principle in my home that a song used simply for business was a prostitution of art.
Growing up, we listened to classical records or turned the radio to “A Prairie Home Companion.” We attended folk music festivals. Mom would break out an ancient plainsong or one of those early experimental digital pieces like “Celestial Soda Pop” from Ray Lynch’s Deep Breakfast. However, I almost never heard rock, pop, or country. Those sorts of music (and the concepts of charts, popularity, etc.) were introduced to me in bits and pieces as I became more integrated with teenage culture. I was never one of those kids who knew much about the top ten.
When I’m getting to know someone, the music they like is important to me, because it tells me about the dialect of their personality. It is a venue for knowing their soul. But I care very little about whether their music or mine is popular.
So, as far as I can remember, I never had aspirations to “be” any sort of name in the music world. I wanted to write songs, because I felt like I needed the other half of my voice. I walked around with an uncomfortable sense that I was half an artist in this regard. Lyrics would come, but I could not make music to match them. That was very frustrating.
Ron and I became friends via RR theological discussions. I knew he played guitar, but I didn’t understand the music business enough to realize all of what he really was—and I’m glad now that I didn’t. My context for pursuing art making was delight, the ache to express, and hunger for beauty. I needed someone to play and discover with me.
I tease Ron sometimes about being my Annie Sullivan. I was caught in darkness and silence, and he gave all the words stuck inside me an outlet. You hear about supernatural healings, the mute being given speech and the blind sight. That still happens, I think. At least it did to me. My patron saint just happens to play the banjo.
You and Ron worked closely together for this project. What’s the collaborative process like between the two of you?
I think it is a very unique gift we have been given. He and I are very similar in personality. We have read and loved many of the same books, and our core values are nearly identical. We share a native tongue, and that is not something people can create. Decades of separate lives wove that language into us, and we realized this similarity instead of creating it. This means we don’t have to mess with a lot of the translation many artists encounter when communicating with one another. We can hit the ground running.
There is a line from an Andrew Peterson song that says, “A thing resounds when it rings true.” Creating with Ron is like that. We share an artistic alert system that says, “Yes. This is it!” or “No, that is not it.” So, creative dialogue is very fluid. Very easy.
Also, because we are fairly divided in our tasks, there is zero competition. He trusts me with words. I trust him with music. We’ve both lived enough life to value respect, affirmation, patience. We help listen for one another, speaking out snags we notice, but there is never any serious struggle for power or identity. We are wholeheartedly for one another.
You know, Ron’s already been successful, and I don’t care much for becoming known. I’m content in the shadows. This allows us to focus on art for the sake of art, which is incredibly freeing.
As the record began to move past the writing stage and into the production stage, you had to give over your contribution to the musicians. What was it like to watch the record actually being made?
Well, that’s funny. I had never been around record production, so I didn’t know enough to worry.
Actually, production kind of made me mad at first, because I wanted to keep writing songs. We had written 40-50 songs that first year, and I hated the thought of that creative flood stopping, just to make some CD. I’m horrified now looking back at some of the things I said to Ron during those months.
“Who is Stuart Duncan? Sheesh. Just get some fiddle player, I mean, you live in Nashville. Surely there is more than one person who plays fiddle there.”
But as Ron sent me bits and pieces of the growing thing, as I saw him move into the role of composer instead of just creator/musician, I was humbled. I began to hear layer after layer of beauty emerge. I didn’t know who Jeff Taylor or Jerry Douglas were before I met Ron, but I heard their instruments make the ocean sound like the ocean. I heard the magic of a fiddle that makes stories come alive. The work of their hands made me cry with joy. Same with the other creators who contributed to the album.
I began to regard my co-writer with a new kind of awe. He was pulling a two-dimensional thing into three-dimensions and four. I hated the time that took, but I was thoroughly enchanted with the results. I still am.
You’re a pretty prolific poet. Was this your first time writing lyrics? What’s the difference between writing poetry and writing lyrics?
Density. Flow. Where vowels and consonants hit. I’ve always loved the oral element to poetry, and my MA is in Storytelling. So, I have a natural focus on the sound of literature. However, my early songs were way too dense. Ron has helped me with this. He’s a great teacher.
Let’s talk method. How do you write? Are you disciplined or easy going? Are you deadline driven? What’s your methodology?
I cannot not write. I know it doesn’t work like this for every creator, but I’m one of those people who can only survive life on planet Earth by means of hovering with my Lord over life’s chaos, shifting words on paper, and speaking order through the darkness.
Writing is certainly work for me, at times it is painful. But I cannot avoid it any easier than I could avoid prayer. That process is one of the most spiritually intimate things I ever do. It is a must.
When I read about people procrastinating writing, trying to find time for it, complaining about how hard it is, etc., I am baffled. That is not a critical statement, I just don’t understand that mindset. I need to write more than I need to sleep or eat, and often do.
I have a full-time job, and I have three children. So yes, I am what some folks would call “disciplined” or “driven,” a.k.a. “willing to be exhausted.” But that is not a matter of performance or deadlines. It is a matter of passion for a central idea that must be caught before it fades. It is a matter of a question which must be sorted through. There is an urgency inside me for art that could never be inspired by external demands.
The record is out now. The details are all finished. The CDs are shrink wrapped. What now for Rebecca Reynolds?
Well, school starts next week, and I’ll be teaching a full load of literature/philosophy courses to the best teenagers on the planet. My husband and I are also praying about moving to Dublin to help with an arts/faith project. And there are some new record ideas in the works, as well.
Walking Song is available at The Rabbit Room Store.
John Barber is a music lover, film nut, husband, and father. Last year he set out to watch 365 films in one year, and he lived to tell about it. That means he's seen more bad movies than we even want to think about.