Alexander Wren released his new album "To Whom It May Concern" this week and to celebrate we asked him to tell us about the record's latest single "The Long Way." Here is the story:
"The Long Way" is the oldest song on my debut album. I started writing it in 2015 while I was in the studio recording my very first EP. The song stumped me; I could never figure out how to finish it, so I shelved it. But throughout the coming years I couldn't stop humming that chorus melody to myself and thinking about how genuine and powerful the sentiment seemed.
So, in 2020, when Covid hit and I went to live with my family in Florida for four months or so, I told myself that the song would be my project and that I wouldn't leave Florida until it was finished. I set my little electronic keyboard up beneath a painting that I've always loved in my dad's office space, cracked open a new leather binder, and spent hours every day sitting down in that swivel chair writing and revising, "The Long Way."
What I soon began to realize when I came back to the song in 2020 was that I couldn't previously finish it because I either wasn't ready to know or to admit to myself at the time where the song needed to go. Originally, I started the song as a response to what I once called sin and the guilt that I had surrounding it. My goal was to write a song that would help me cling to a faith that had been handed down to me and affirm a certainty that I so desperately wanted.
Though, in 2020, I realized that the song was changing alongside me. The song, I concluded, had to go a step further. Not only would I need to stay true to the song's conception and explore my past struggles with guilt and sin, but I would ultimately need to confess the loss of that faith - the death of an old worldview in my life. But with this death, a resurrection came.
I no longer can say that I have certainty or think of God as a deity in the sky. But regardless I have a hope: it is my hope that the divine, whatever it is, is powerful enough to cover over the seemingly impenetrable darkness. And it is my hope that the divine understands at the end of the day and is okay coexisting with the grey area and doubts that come with all of life's beautiful nuance and complexities.
But who knows? If there's one thing that I picked up from this song it's this: The only thing I know is that I don't. And it is in this scary acceptance of uncertainty that I have strangely found myself inching closer to the mystery of God.
Musically speaking, one interesting thing to me about the songwriting here is the bridge specifically. In order for a song in this power ballad sort of style to progress and fully be realized I felt like I had to modulate (change keys) for that last chorus. Being someone who isn't well-versed in music theory, I remember studying songs and artists at the time who utilized this modulation tool tastefully - Michael Jackson, Whitney Houston, etc. It's funny, really. Key changes don't really pop up in music in the 21st century, and if they are used, they're usually dated and pretty tacky, in my opinion. Regardless, I followed my gut and tried to see the idea through. And I am so glad that I did. Here's why: the key change provides a musical effect for the song that I believe translates on a spiritual level - it ends up being the song's redeeming factor. Concretely speaking, the key change simply lifts the song's melody up a whole step; it elevates the melody. Consequently, I believe that it also lifts the song's message up, along with the listener. What once was a song about guilt and disbelief turns into a song about redemption, faith, and ultimately hope. This key change along its supporting backing vocals really break this song out of funeral dirge territory and bring it into a fresh and redemptive territory.
As far as the production I feel like the song has so many little quirky elements to it. We recorded the main piano part on a Yamaha DX-7 synthesizer, which is, for those who don't know anything about gear, basically the keyboard sound that ruled the 90's Christian/worship scene. It's interesting to me that this anthem of doubt draws from such a conservative, almost Disney-esque palette. All the while, it's juxtaposed with a drum machine that feels the exact opposite - this stark, Nine Inch Nails-feeling sort of sound. And it all comes together in this beautiful eclectic sort of way.
Hearing is believing. Now that you know the story behind the song, listen and watch for yourself below and learn more about the album here
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