I suppose naming a song and album “There Will Be Surprises” is rather like praying to God for patience. Meaning, I can’t set out on a project with this title and expect not to be surprised myself. And let me tell you: I’m not easy to surprise. I’m supposed to be the one doing the surprising here after all, but every step of the way, I’ve been given taste after taste of my own medicine.
As I recall, the writing of this song was itself a bit of a surprise. I had just finished up a few days in the studio in January 2019, recording my Desolation and Consolation EPs, when one evening I found myself pacing around downstairs with my guitar, finger-picking this simple chord progression and grasping for words. I remember the vague feeling that lyrically, this song was a dare, a gamble—the narrator is betting with each verse that violence will not pay off, that children will inherit kingdoms with mourners, and that in the end, human ambition will be overturned and upended.
(By the way, I’m stealing shamelessly from the Beatitudes here. If you want the source text, look no further than chapter five of Matthew’s Gospel. Unfortunately, many of us have grown so familiar with this passage that it’s lost its capacity to surprise us, but that’s not irreversible. Sit with it for a minute and see if you can recover your own sense of surprise at Jesus’s relentlessly bold assertions.)
This song continued to surprise me in the recording process. I went into pre-production at the Art House expecting to find a mellow, warm bass-and-drum groove to sit underneath my guitar-picking. Instead, Lucas Morton suggested that we leave the guitar behind altogether in search of a feel that would restore a sense of spacious momentum and vitality to the song. I went home that day pondering what such an idea might sound like.
The next morning, I walked into the Art House and Lucas said, “Drew, I took your song in a new direction after you left yesterday.” And he played me a piano-led, energetic-yet-nostalgic progression, held together by an electronic percussion loop and a synth bass. Not what I’d expected! And yet, in that demo, I heard the heartbeat of the song from when I had first written it two Januarys ago. Although many elements have shifted since that demo, the piano you’ll hear in the master is the take he recorded that day after I had left. It could not be improved upon in any way, and I grew more and more attached to it with each listen.
The cover art process for this song was surprising, too. Kyra Hinton had already made a gorgeous cover painting for the album as a whole, but we knew we needed separate art for when I released the song on its own as a single, to distinguish it from the full album. So, rather than try to re-invent the wheel, Kyra sifted through the steps she had taken to arrive at album art. In that sifting, she found a white canvas filled with a whirling circle of green-blue that she had made along the way. This canvas was never meant to be more than an intermediate step, and yet I was transfixed by the deliciousness of the color and the sense of freshness and excitement that it conveyed. Again, this is not at all what I had expected, but it was perfect for a song that’s all about the subverting and re-shaping of our expectations.
So many mistakes are made and so much damage done in the vain search for completion, for mastery, for the assurance of control. That’s the core premise of this song, and in many ways, this whole album. And the creative process, like every other process in life, invites us to lay down this vain search. Instead of completion, try curiosity; instead of mastery, a confession of ignorance; instead of control, surrender. I’m moved when I consider how this one little song has been issuing me that invitation repeatedly, playfully, all throughout its little life.