From Dana Coffelt:
Where do you get all the ideas for the lyrics of the songs? Does it take you quite a while
or just come naturally?
Friday, 3 August 2001
Dear Dana - There is no one answer to your question. Every song is different. For example,
let me tell you about "Where's The Girl?" I had originally written a song for Chauvelin that
was called Marguerite and was on our 1992 concept album. I always loved the song, but by the
time I'd written the book and really created Chauvelin's character, I felt I needed something a
bit wilder, a little crazier. I also wanted it to be sexier and wanted the song to subtly
explain the fact that Marguerite and Chauvelin had had a prior relationship, that she had been
different when they were lovers. I felt that I wanted the title to be "Where's the Girl?," that
he would be seductively goading her into glimpses of her former self. The way that Frank always
works is that he writes the music first and the lyricist then sets words to the melody. I have
an extensive library of random tapes of Frank's music to which no lyrics have yet been set, and
I often play through these if I'm looking for a particular melody for a song idea. In this
instance, I went looking for something sexy and evocative which would have a melodic line that
fit the phrase "Where's The Girl?" I found it very quickly in a tiny motif that Frank had
written many years before. He'd forgotten the tune, so I had to mail him a copy of the tape and
the song built from there. So, as you can see, that's a very specific and unusual birth of a
In many instances, Frank will send me a melody intended for a particular show, and I'll
immediately know what it should be, who should sing it, etc. There are other times when I have
no idea what that melody wants to be or when a particular melody doesn't inspire me to an idea.
When I work with other composers, I usually write lyrics first, which they then set to music.
Actually, when I write in this way, it's a very different process in terms of ideas. I am
totally free in this latter type of situation to write any damn thing that I want or that I'm
feeling. This is particularly helpful in writing comic songs because I can just go to town with
all kinds of wild, fun rhymes without having to worry about whether they fit the music. It's
also great for angry songs because I can let the emotion lead the lyric wherever it wants to go,
and then the composer has to make it fall into music.
One of my major sources for ideas is my own folders and envelopes of poems that I've written
through the years. In fact, I was convinced for a great number of years that I was going to be
a poet and I have written poetry all my life. I usually write a poem when I am struck by some
really vivid emotion. The poems are very free-form and uncensored, almost
stream-of-consciousness. Often if I'm looking for an idea or a phrase or just a really vibrant
and immediate expression of an emotion, I just go back to my own poems and to those times in my
life when I was feeling furious, ecstatic, frustrated, whatever. I then will often pull lines,
images, and ideas from those poems, obviously modifying them to the show I'm writing for.
My other primary source of ideas stems from my own "Idea File." This is a folder in which I
deposit any random ideas I have at any time. Maybe something strikes me while I'm riding a bus
and I reach for a piece of paper in my bag - it can even be a napkin in a restaurant - and jot
down the idea, whether it's just a title, a phrase, or a totally formed concept. You never know
when these things will hit you - in the middle of the night, walking down the hall, in the
bathtub. It's just become my habit to keep paper and pen always nearby so that when these
little bits of lightning do strike, I can make sure I remember them. My Idea File is still full
of many thoughts I've never used, but I always check it just in case there's some little bit of
past inspiration that might fit perfectly with the show I'm currently working on.
Lastly, I would say that the length of time it takes to come up with a song is just as
variable as everything else I've described. There are some songs that have taken me three weeks
to write and there are other songs that have come in a matter of hours. It's different every