Subtraction is just one of those beautiful words. Beautiful, all that taking away. Because to take away is to leave something rare and visible behind; it’s addition someplace else.

When I make up a song, I subtract:


Sound. A pause can be as beautiful as the note. It can make you want the note more.

Words. I look for what not to say, not what to say. I sing, “nothing remains of love” and you, the listener, fill in the missing pieces. I invoke your imagination to reveal the fullness of how little is left. Forced rhymes, familiar metaphors, clichés: I subtract them, too, because they get in the way of making art that’s new and genuine.

Last, I empty myself from the song. I erase the flesh of me and the ghosts of experiences that inhabit me. My life is just the scaffolding for the song, something I tear down as I work through it. Small details from my life are borrowed to make something that isn’t literally true, but something new and truer. If it’s art, the song eclipses the source material.

This afternoon I begin work on a new song. By night, what will be left of me?