Steve explains his writing process with his label, Escape Music
The writing process for Black Butterfly took me in many different directions and made me look inside myself-sometimes a little too deeply, and wonder about different events that have influenced my life, and others around me. I really had no plans to do any more recording after I left the band Kansas, and then along came Escape Records. Khalil who runs the company sent me a song without melody or lyrics done by Tommy Denander, whom I had never heard of before. The music blew me away. I had tried so hard over the years to get the vibe Tommy had captured that I couldn’t turn away. So being a pessimist and as Bob Ezrin once described me as “the dark cloud in a blue sky”, I went to work thinking of a theme for this song that moved me so. It just so happened that there was a documentary on the Beatles that I had recently seen, and so I started thinking about the power of some people who had shaped my life and career as well as many others. The documentary was an unblinking approach to one of the Beatles in particular: John Lennon. I remember the day he was shot by Mark David Chapman and the whole back story of Chapman reading the book “Catcher in the Rye”, and the character in the book, Holden Cawfield. I had tried to read this book before, but just couldn’t make sense of it. But Chapman read it, and concluded that if he could become the character in the book, that that was his calling in life. He was bitter about how Lennon had seemingly led a whole generation to believe one thing about himself, when really, Chapman saw just the opposite. In his mind, Lennon was the Pied Piper of millions of people to be what he seemingly wasn’t. So I decided to write the lyrics from Chapman’s point of view. Not to absolve him of such a heinous crime as murder, but to try to explain his fantastic illusion of what would garner him the fame he was so desperate for.
If I’m not mistaken, “Born in Fire” was my next attempt to interpret one of Tommy’s songs lyrically. Dreams are a necessity in life, and somehow they connect and repair our brains while we sleep. But often times we wake up trying to analyze them, and in the end we chase our own tails. I’m sure most people wake up laughing sometimes, crying sometimes, and wondering what the hell their dreams were saying about themselves. These seemingly random thoughts made up most of my lines in the song.
“Grace And Nature” came from a movie I saw by Terrence Malick called “The Tree of Life”. Malick paints most of his movies(I think he’s only done 5 in his whole career) with scenes rather than dialog. I’m sure he must have been an admirer of Stanley Kubrick who at times relied on that same concept. If anyone sees “The Tree of Life” you will immediately see where I got the idea for the lyrics. The movie isn’t for everyone, but it spoke volumes to me about how human beings have a choice to live one way or another.
“Dear Kolinda” is about lost love. There’s not much more I can say about it except that I’m sure a lot of people have felt hopeless after having lost the love of a person in their lives. I did a short European tour in 2015 and one of the backup singers was named Kolinda. I’m not sure if she even spelled it that way, but I always thought that was a cool name. So I borrowed it for this song. I hope she doesn’t sue me.
“Tanglewood Tree” is about suicide. I don’t mean to romanticize the idea of a person taking their own life, but I know in the wake of such a tragedy, a lot of questions go unanswered-especially by those closest to the victim. Recently, there have been a few artists that have resorted to such a finality, and I won’t name names because I didn’t know any of them, but it still resonated with me about loved ones left behind to wonder, and contemplate, and maybe even feel remorse.
“Warsaw” is pretty self explanatory. I’m not a scholar on the subject of World Wars, but it just seems that this city in particular got more than it deserved by all sides. I had written a whole different song with some of these lyrics, but when Tommy sent me the music to this song, I knew I had to adapt my story to his great musicality.
“Nothing but Nothing” is for my kids. I want them to live in a world where they aren’t always afraid, and unfortunately the world is getting increasingly unpredictable. My daughter even helped me sing some on it. I’m not sure if she’ll ever pursue a musical career, but she’s got a sweet voice, and so when I envisioned what I wanted to write about, and Tommy sent me this one, I thought of her and my 2 sons.
“Hell or High Water” is lyrically about returning soldiers to a world they view differently because of the pain and horror they have had to endure. My father never spoke about the wars he was in, but there were times when I could sense that he was frustrated with certain aspects of his life after he got back. He was strict, but he was good. I wish I was as good a father as he was. I miss him, and after he died, for a long time I dreamed about him-always in the prime of his life and never as he was when he got older. I don’t think he ever came to grips with what I did for a living. He was a hard working man. And he loved my Mom dearly.
“Billy Carbone is Dead” is a song about apathy. I guess I watch too many news programs, but in my heart I feel that when a horrible crime is committed, people want to know why. And often times, there’s just no answer. The world has become a lot more complicated than it was in the ‘50s when I grew up. There’s 3 times the people living on earth, and a lot of times we get in each other’s way. I guess it haunts me a little why we seem to want to know more about the perpetrators than we do about the victims. So many people die without a reason, or without remembrance. Billy Carbone worked for Kansas as a front of house mixer. And he died alone in a rental truck from drug and alcohol poisoning. Again, I don’t mean to romanticize how he went, but he became an example to me about how easily it was for me to forget just how much he did for me when he didn’t have to. I guess I felt that a lot of people go out that way, because the world has just become so damn apathetic. And I include myself. I hope he has forgiven me.