The musicians record their songs

by Chris Roberts, Nikki Tundel, Sanden Totten

Bri Smith sings
Bri Smith sings "I'll Fall in Love with you Anyway," the song Best Friends Forever wrote for Songs From Scratch. She says she's an optimistic person and likes to play "dancey, happy pop music." (MPR Photo/Bill Alkofer)
  1. Listen The musicians record their songs

    Jul 24, 2008

  2. Listen Jeremy Messersmith's song: 'The Man with Iron Veins'

    Jul 24, 2008

  3. Listen P.O.S.' song: 'I Made it from Scratch'

    Jul 24, 2008

  4. Listen Best Friends Forever's song: 'I'll Fall in Love with You Anyway'

    Jul 24, 2008

[[header:BEST FRIENDS FOREVER]]

It's the second day Best Friends Forever are practicing their song as a full band. They've been running through it on repeat for the last half hour, trying to get it right.

For a band with such a bright happy sound, Best Friends Forever's practice space is a little out of character. It's a small concrete room filled with drills, table saws and piles of sawdust.

"We're in a workshop basically. You can see a lot of tools around us," said Joe Rand, the drummer for Best Friends Forever.

By day, Rand builds miniature wind turbines here. In the evenings, the band sets up shop. He says there is something mystifying about songwriting. Unlike woodworking, you can't just put in the hours get a finished product.

"We can't force it, but we can't just expect it to come without hard work, either," said Rand. "We put a lot of time in and it didn't just come naturally, but we couldn't just wait for it either. It's kind of weird."

In the end, Best Friends Forever came up with a catchy rock song loosely based on "The Wizard of Oz." They took the character of the Tin Man, and re-imagined him as a sensitive singer/songwriter who bares his feelings on stage, but is emotionally hollow and heartless in person.

Bri Smith, the group's guitarist, wrote most of the words for the song. She's happy with it, but she says singing about boys and relationships isn't exactly breaking new ground for the band.

"I think that I had been hoping for something different from what we would usually would do," she said. "But once we thought of this thing that we eventually ended up using, involving the heartless Tin Man, it was kind of like like, 'Oh yes, there it is, that's a comfortable territory.'"

But Jess Seamans, the band's bassist, says sometimes it's OK to do one thing really well.

"People challenge what we write about, that we aren't expanding anyone's minds. But I think it's OK for there to be bands like that, and for us to be one of those bands," said Seamans. "We just really like writing love songs. And I think the world needs love songs, and I really like love songs!"

[[header:JEREMY MESSERSMITH]]

The last time we checked in with Jeremy Messersmith, he had a melody for his song. He just hadn't fleshed out the lyrics to accompany it.

For Messersmith, the hardest part of songwriting is having something worthwhile to say.

"I actually wasn't really able to write anything until I kind of took on the character of the Tin Man," he said.

Messersmith put the finishing touches on his Tin Man tribute about 20 minutes before the two-week deadline was up, and he was a bit nervous to share the work so immediately.

"Normally, what I would do at this point is I would kind of let it sort of sit for a few weeks or months, come back to it and then sort of see maybe what works and what could be improved," he said. "But, here we go.

'If I had a heart, instead of rusted gears, maybe I could love, feel and be sincere.
But all I am is hollow, I can't move my mouth, I've got a head full of water, but the tears just won't come out.'

"That's really weird. I don't ever just sit down and read out loud lyrics that I've written. And I think it sounds cornier than maybe it sings."

To hear Jeremy tell it, lyrics feel pretty lifeless until they're matched up with music.

"I guess it's sort of like 'The Wizard of Oz' itself. The first part of the movie is in black and white and then all of a sudden you add all this color, and things just sort of have more meaning," he said.

"I guess I identified with the Tin Man. He doesn't have a heart, he wants to feel," said Messersmith. "A big reason why I write songs isn't just problem-solving or something else, it's also about emotional exploration. If what repression is kind of what you do naturally, it's sort of a nice way to work through stuff."

So that's Jeremy Messersmith's song from scratch -- the Tin Man gets a heart, and his heart gets broken.

As we heard, the members of Best Friends Forever were inspired by the Tin Man's tale as well. Their song basically compared young, male musicians to this metal character without a heart. They implied that while many male musicians sing these deep, heartfelt lyrics, in real life, they don't seem to have a heart.

We shared Best Friends Forever's take with Jeremy Messersmith, who saw himself in the Tin Man.

"I'm glad I'm falling into my own stereotypes. That's really great," Messersmith said with a laugh. "I think I would agree with them wholeheartedly on that. If you want any sort of meaningful relationship, don't marry a musician --- that's horrible!"

[[header:P.O.S.]]

P.O.S. is a musician who can turn stress into a motivator, so if he was feeling any pressure from Songs from Scratch, he wasn't showing it. His song came together without any hair-pulling or second-guessing.

When we last spoke, the music and the chorus were done and a bridge had been mapped out. All he had to do was write the lyrics.

"And I wanted to keep it kind of quick and really simple and easy, and that's kind of what it is," he said. "It's a very short song, very mood based more than anything."

P.O.S. calls it a walking song. He gave it a strong forward motion, and it sounds like something Jack Kerouac might have written if he were a rapper. P.O.S. worked out many of the lines while taking a stroll through his neighborhood.

"It's hard to chase with your face to the sun, spun from a whirlwind, trail marked with a yellow brick. Press on, head on, sped pedal for eons."

Words and phrases from "The Wizard of Oz" are sprinkled throughout the song, but they refer to P.O.S.'s own journey.

"Keep going," he urges over and over again. "It's in the steps right left," a reminder that where he's going isn't as important as how he gets there.

"What I like the most about it, it's one of those things to me that you can just turn on and listen to," he said. "You don't have to sweat what it's about. You don't have to think about it, you can just listen. The beat's warm enough, head-noddy enough that you can just kind of enjoy it."

P.O.S. started out expecting to write a dense, complicated mess of a rap tune. He ended up with a simple, almost meditative song about walking. But that's OK with him.

"There's a lot of people that are out to write the perfect, most powerful, amazing song every single time they write a song," he said. "And I think chasing that is where people end up frustrated."

Sometimes a song has a life of its own, and you just have to go where it takes you.

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8 Photos

  • Bri Smith sings
    Bri Smith sings "I'll Fall in Love with you Anyway," the song Best Friends Forever wrote for Songs From Scratch. She says she's an optimistic person and likes to play "dancey, happy pop music." (MPR Photo/Bill Alkofer)
  • Jess Seamans plays the bass guitar for Best Friends Forever. She also sings and sometimes rocks the recorder.
    Jess Seamans plays the bass guitar for Best Friends Forever. She also sings and sometimes rocks the recorder. (MPR Photo/Bill Alkofer)
  • Joe Rand plays drums and glockenspiel for Best Friends Forever. He sees it as his personal responsibility to keep the audience dancing during their shows.
    Joe Rand plays drums and glockenspiel for Best Friends Forever. He sees it as his personal responsibility to keep the audience dancing during their shows. (MPR Photo/Bill Alkofer)
  • Jeremy calls himself a
    Jeremy calls himself a "lazy songwriter." He doesn't keep journals or jot down ideas for future choruses. He says he only writes when he feels like he has something to say. (MPR Photo/Bill Alkofer)
  • "The nice thing about music," says Jeremy Messersmith, "is that it masks a lot of bad poetry." (MPR Photo/Bill Alkofer)
  • P.O.S. had no trouble incorporating Adam Levy's lines into his song. He saved the less rap-worthy words and phrases, such as
    P.O.S. had no trouble incorporating Adam Levy's lines into his song. He saved the less rap-worthy words and phrases, such as "myriad," and "nostrums and prayer," for the bridge. (MPR Photo/Bill Alkofer)
  • P.O.S.'s songwriting notes.
    P.O.S.'s songwriting notes. "Keep going," he repeats in his song. "it's in the steps, right, left." (MPR Photo/Bill Alkofer)
  • A tatoo tapestry covers a good portion of P.O.S.'s body. He started out as a punk rocker and gradually moved into hip hop. P.O.S. also fronts the Minneapolis thrash band, Building Better Bombs.
    A tatoo tapestry covers a good portion of P.O.S.'s body. He started out as a punk rocker and gradually moved into hip hop. P.O.S. also fronts the Minneapolis thrash band, Building Better Bombs. (MPR Photo/Bill Alkofer)
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