Hubris and Humility in Writing Pop Songs


I am totally tickled to have co-written a song, ‘Fruit’, that has just been released by Australian pop artist, Sayah. Working with Sayah was alchemy – seeing an idea come to life is a special kind of magic. The song was produced and co-written by Taka Perry, who is a wizard space genius. Seeing him work is like watching Peni Parker control her robot spider.



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It is such a joy to hear it out in the world.

It’s also a song that has taught me a great humility as a songwriter, that I am still grappling with. The idea for this song came out fast, for me. The lyrics to the chorus came out in one little crack of inspiration; I set them to melody in about 20 minutes, and then wrote the first verse in another 30 or 40 minutes, all the building blocks clicking together. 

The ‘easiness’ of this is totally misleading—and it has startled me that it’s a trick of my own devising that I fell into. Because this one felt ‘easy’, it filled me with a sort of hubris; that I could basically pump out a bunch of songs like this on any given day. But it turns out that I have tried, and it hasn’t happened quite like that.

I was relieved to hear John Mayer talk about this in a zoomy interview thing that I stumbled on in a recent youtube rabbit hole. 

They key moment here that resonated for me was this:

“Once you’re done writing an A+ song, you once again know nothing about it. You once again know nothing about writing. At the beginning of every song, you don’t know anything. You’re a baby. You’re an infant.”

I’ve heard him talk about that specifically with the song Gravity—that after writing Gravity, he expected to be able to write another Gravity…but couldn’t. The glittering hubris of a good song is so quickly turned into humility. 

It’s a lesson I learn, and need to learn, again and again. There is (I hope) knowledge and experience that accumulates over time and practice, but there is also this deep humility and gentleness that needs to hold their hands. Without the humility to accept that a song cannot be replicated even when it felt easy, there is a rough bump against the expectations that we mount for ourselves, and the inevitable feeling of failure when we can’t meet them. 

I’m working on embracing the open sense of unknowing before the songs I’m currently working on. I’m practicing being gentle when they steer off in unexpected directions. I’m trying to bring my craft onboard without letting it steer, and also being open to having written one banging pop song, and being open to whatever comes out next. 


You can hear the here! Language warning, friends.

Sonnet – Zen and the Pizza Delivery Guy

I teach a poetry class for Berklee Online. The course culminates in the writing of a sonnet. I’ve always loved the sonnet form. That tight little couplet at the end is like a bow on a birthday present.

In the week before the end of the class, just as lockdown was easing in Sydney around June 2020, I went with my family to a local pizza restaurant. As we waited at the table for our pizza to arrive (well, to be honest, it was only me waiting. My kids had taken an interest in the bathroom…), a delivery guy came into the restaurant to collect an order. I wrote this for him.

As dough began to bubble on its pyre,

Fior di latte melted languidly.

The waiter pointed out the oven’s fire,

And my two delighted children begged to see

The bathroom one more time. There’s no accounting

For the tastes of youth. From the open doors,

With music pulsing through the restaurant, in

arrived a delivery man; a pause.

He then began to dance with shuffling feet,

hands and fingers that twirled, sparkled and skipped.

My kids returned: “What are you smiling about?”

I could have said, “Delight, my dears, is wrapped

Inside surprise”—so wise, so clear, and true!

Instead, I said, “Oh, nothing. How’s the loo?”

Me, June 2020, pizza restaurant in Newtown, Sydney.