"How Do You Know If You're Dreaming" from Line of Light

Photo Kristen Finn

Photo Kristen Finn

I started writing this song in 2014 with the intention of offering it to Suz for her lullaby record Watching the Nighttime Come. Suz was downstairs tracking vocals at the Brooklyn studio and I was upstairs with our baby daughter Calliope in the Ergo baby carrier. In an effort to keep Calliope from crying, I started playing the piano. The chorus for the song spilled right out.

Writing a song in the studio always conjures a certain terror and thrill because the pressure is on. I am generally not a fast writer, but I drafted some verses and brought it down to Suz and producer Josh Kaufman. I think it was obvious that the verses were pretty half-baked and that the vibe was too rocking for a lullaby record, so the song was shelved.

Over the years, I kept returning to the song. I think I couldn't quite let it go because the chorus felt strong and inspired, and it really spoke to Suz. But the original verses were geared towards the song existing on a lullaby record, and the bridge had more of playful, zany vibe that didn't translate well when we tried playing the song with the band. Despite my best efforts, I felt like I couldn't crack the code. Fortunately though, during pre-production for Line of Light Carl Broemel flagged this song as one of his favorites and encouraged me to keep working on it.

Once I started taking the song more seriously and embracing it as a meditation on the central question of the chorus, I felt like I could finally find my way in lyrically. A technique I've often used when stuck in a song worked here, too. I started thinking about how to capture something physical and visceral that would evoke the very particular moment of being half-awake and half-asleep, which led me to the pre-chorus:

Cool air in

Warm breath out

Blood in the hands

Soft tongue in the mouth

The pre-chorus then showed me the way forward. And once I decided that each verse would stand alone, I started treating each verse as if it were a stand alone haiku. This created the evocative vibe I was going for -- something simple and direct but also mysterious.

David Wax