When Mike Deeson got stuck in traffic on the Gandy Bridge on the way to a meeting, the 10 News reporter thought the situation made for a pretty good metaphor.
"I thought it could be a good parable for a relationship, being stuck on a bridge in between," he said. He took that parable and turned it into a song called The Damn Gandy Bridge.
"I was just irritated being stuck on the Gandy Bridge," he said. "I always try to look beyond the title and use it as a metaphor for something."
Deeson, senior investigative reporter for WTSP-Ch. 10, is a songwriter, too. He is the regional coordinator for the Nashville Songwriters Association International. Sometimes the two worlds overlap, like when he co-wrote the song Paradise Lost with friend and fellow songwriter Heather Leigh for a 10 News special on the BP oil spill. The song was nominated for an Emmy in 2011. He writes music in his home studio, which is equipped with a keyboard, guitars and music software.
Deeson sat down with Times staff writer Keeley Sheehan to talk about his inspirations, and why songwriters love ballads.
How did you get into music? Is that something you always liked to do?
When I was in high school I was in a couple of groups. Before my voice changed, I could sing and I was writing songs back then. It must have been about 20 years ago I wanted to get serious about it. I started doing a lot of research because I wasn't a performing songwriter. It's a harder way to go because you've got to find someone to perform the songs.
I had listened to a lot of country music, because country music today is the pop music of when I grew up, of the '60s. I saw that country music had a high percentage of nonperforming songwriters. I wanted to do something with my songs because I'd written so many. To me, writing a song, it's very much like a news story. It's got to have a beginning, a middle and end, it's got to be a concise time period. You can't change voices in a news story, nor in the song.
What inspires you when you're working on music?
Usually I will either see a situation where I go, wow, I'd like to write about it, or someone will say a phrase and I'll say, wow, that could be an interesting song. For example, we do a show here called Studio 10. One of the hosts said he may have to cancel his vacation because his wife just had an operation. They were supposed to go to Mexico and he was worried, he wanted to make sure she was fully recovered.
I said, "You can go to Mexico, Mo. I've been to Mexico, Mo., on a Greyhound bus," and I looked at him and I said, "There is a song there." I don't know what it'll be, but from that title I'll sit down and I'll start thinking and that will end up a song. The song What Did I Do Right, that one came about when I was playing golf with one of my best friends and I hit a perfect shot. I hit an 8-iron that was perfect and stopped inches from the hole to tap in. I looked at my friend and said, "What did I do right?" Then I said: Oh, man, there's a song there.
Tell me about Paradise Lost.
We were doing a special on the BP oil spill and I wanted to write a song and do a little bit of a music video for it. The woman who sings on it, we've co-written songs together before and I asked her if she'd do the vocals. She said, I've got some ideas for it; do you want to co-write it? Sometimes we've written together but often times we do it on the Internet. So I sent her the song and then she said, I've got some ideas for a couple of changes. We both have the same software for the music, so I would send it back to her and we came up with the final piece. We used it in the special and it got nominated for an Emmy.
Do you do a lot of co-writing?
Not as much as I'd like to. The only reason I don't co-write more is because of time. Now, the Internet has made it easier. I co-wrote a song with a guy in Wichita (Kan.) that I talked to on the phone twice but we did all our stuff sending mp3s back and forth. I'd like to co-write more, I think it adds some breadth to the song, it adds some new ideas.
I like co-writing with women because most songs on the radio are targeted toward women. That's what record companies are looking for. So for a man writing from a woman's point of view, it's sometimes harder. So co-writing with a woman is sometimes easier, but I've co-written with a bunch of folks. About 90 percent of my songs I've written by myself. I wish that the balance was more like 50-50 but time is the only thing.
What kind of music do you like to write?
It just depends. I think most songwriters love writing ballads. The thing is there are so many ballads out there, they're pretty, they're nice. I like writing ballads but if you're going to do anything commercial, they want more up tempo songs. So I always try to force myself to write at least two or three up tempos before I write a ballad. But I write a lot of songs at once. Some I finish quicker than others, and others take years to finish. I'll do something, I can't get it and then I'll come back to it. But I think all songwriters like to write the big ballad that's going to win an Academy Award for music. But there are a lot of ballads out there.
Are you working on anything in particular right now?
There's a military song that I'm working on called Goodbye Lullaby. The story line is about a dad who is getting ready to go overseas and is kissing his little girl goodbye. He's tucking her into bed and saying, "Keep thinking of this while I'm away." I've got the tune for that. I really like the tune, I just haven't quite finished the lyrics yet.
I've been working on for the longest time a song about my youngest daughter, who is now 22, called, All My Gray Hairs Are Called Megan, which I haven't finished yet. I have a whole bunch of songs I work on at the same time. The software allows me to save the melody and pull it up. A lot of times I'll just be doodling around on the keyboard and I'll go, oh, that's sort of cool, or on the guitar. Although I have five guitars, I keep a 12-string next to my chair in my office, which is right next to my keyboard. My 12-string is the one I pick up the most. I'll just start screwing around with that and just playing. All of a sudden I'll say, "Oh, that's nice," like yesterday, "I've been on a Greyhound bus through Mexico, Mo." That is going to be a song.
Sunday Conversation is edited for brevity and clarity.