When was this?
Like 2005‚ 2006. For the first draft of the show‚ we really pulled it together quickly‚ which is not how I work. I usually deliberate over stuff a lot. That first version of the show‚ we really put the whole show together -- the songs‚ the score‚ and the staging -- in a matter of months‚ then a couple of weeks of rehearsal. It was sort of like‚ "Whatever comes out is going to come out." It felt like there was something poetic going on that was different from my other stuff‚ and we wanted to go with that. But for the second draft of the show‚ Ben and I both felt like there was a lot of exposition that hadn't been -- there was a lot missing from the story. The question was‚ "How can we get this stuff across?" Maybe there should be this song; maybe there should be conflict‚ like an encounter between Hermes and Hades -- and all this stuff. I was also watching a lot of classic musicals back then‚ and the drama is so clear-cut in those shows. You know exactly who the protagonist is and what they want‚ and what's standing in their way‚ because they come out and say it.
And then they sing about it.
Exactly. [laughter] And then the villain comes….
It's very clear.
Yeah. So I think we tried in the second version of the show to really flush out the story more‚ and I think we took a lot of steps forward the second year‚ but a few steps back. Because there was a way in which we wanted‚ or I should speak for myself as a lyricist‚ there's an element of mixed metaphor in the show‚ certainly that was there in the first draft of the show. It was like‚ "Is this the underworld‚ or is this the mind? Is it the future or the past? Does she die? Is she just a prostitute?" All of these questions were just up in the air‚ and it felt like it was so muddy. Like‚ "Oh‚ we've got to make some decisions here; it's got to be about something." So I think in the second draft of the show‚ I really tried to narrow the scope of the thing‚ which was a plus and a minus. Certain songs really blossomed during that version‚ and there was also an element of some of the abstract magic being trod upon. So for the revision of the record‚ I really wanted to focus on bringing the characters into full color‚ but maybe not have to commit so hard to ideas like‚ "This is about the migration of people."
The "Flowers" song was one of the last songs written for the show‚ and it's sort of a good example of the changes that songs went through. It started out it as a song about drugs‚ almost‚ and then it was kind of about death and embalmment of a body‚ and then it was kind of about sex and the loss of innocence‚ and then it was about flowers and the decay of things. And I wanted to choose‚ and I couldn't choose‚ and ultimately I was like‚ "Oh‚ I don't have to choose; in a way maybe all of those things have a place in the song." And that's the thing about mythology: it's a crystal; it refracts light in all these different directions‚ and all of the directions are valid somehow. So with the third draft of the show‚ I'm really trying to choose the mixed metaphor‚ embrace the mixed metaphor of Hadestown. Also‚ "Flowers" was sort of a way to really give Eurydice a voice in a way that she hadn't had before; she was kind of an unfinished character in a way.
I feel like listening to the record‚ it truly is the first time it focuses on you and what you're saying and what you're singing. It's Eurydice having her moment to tell her part of the story instead of being intertwined with everybody else. It's your moment finally to say‚ "All right‚ now I'm going to tell my part of the story. This is what I remember‚ and this is what happened."
That's funny. If you want a funny story about that song… I don't know if I even should tell it to you. When I wrote that song‚ I was so OCD about the lyrics‚ like to the last minute -- to Michael's frustration sometimes. He wanted the materials so he could finalize his score‚ and it was always me saying‚ "Oh‚ I have a last-minute thing‚" or‚ "Oh‚ I think this is really important. We just got to put this into so-and-so…." And he was like‚ "Okay…." And I got to this point where I was like‚ "Oh‚ he's going to kill me‚ I can't possibly send him anything else."
So we were going to record the thing in a few weeks. I had written the Eurydice song ["Flowers"]‚ we had played it‚ he had written a beautiful score for it -- but it just felt like there was something missing from the song. Then there was a guilty moment when I sat down with my guitar and out came the bridge.
No shit‚ the "I remember fields of flowers" part?
Yeah the [sings] "flowers" part. It was after the score had been written‚ and I was like‚ "Ah‚ fuck. This has got to go in the song." And I wrote to him‚ "Michael‚ I wrote this bridge and we've got to do it‚" and he was like‚ "There's no way‚ I already wrote the score. I can't. We're recording next week." And I said‚ "Okay." But I had it in mind to send it to Todd‚ like‚ "Here‚ I have this bridge‚ don't tell Michael. [laughter] I'm thinking about dropping this bridge in after the session."
That's brilliant. I love it.
So we went into the studio‚ and the song came‚ and I got really nervous because I didn't want to tell Michael that I was still thinking about this bridge. We recorded the thing‚ and a couple of weekends later‚ I went down to Brooklyn and was like‚ "Todd‚ let's just try this. Right at this moment‚ stop the score and we'll come in with the guitar and lay down the bridge." And we stuck it in there‚ and we laid down two guitar parts. It felt really right that there was no score during that moment‚ because it was sort of like a flashback‚ like a psychedelic flashback moment. But it's funny to me know‚ because I had sleepless nights thinking about how to make it work.
That is such a pivotal part of the whole thing‚ almost this moment of Eurydice looking back at this moment of innocence like‚ "Fuck‚ what did I get myself into?" And then the album takes off again. So when Michael finally heard it‚ what did he think?
Well‚ I think he's glad it went in there. I put him through hell‚ man. I did. But you know‚ it all worked out.
In a way‚ the writer‚ the creator isn't necessarily the most qualified person to make decisions. There is a level of editing that has to happen where you're creating things. It's almost like you've gotta trust the muse‚ you've got trust that things are going to pass through you that you don't understand‚ and you don't have control over. You're not in charge of it‚ and to like‚ let that be what it is… it's hard‚ it's hard to remember.
You said earlier that you almost feel like Hadestown is not your album‚ that there are so many people involved that it's much larger than just you.
I feel‚ probably first and foremost‚ more than anything‚ honored and lucky. It's a cool feeling to be a writer‚ and to have my songs brought into the world by other people‚ but to know they came from an intention I understand.