Tom Waits On … Catching Songs

Just ’cause you’re not fishin’ doesn’t mean there aren’t fish out there. You can go out there when you want, when you’re ready to do it . . . We’ve got a piano called a Fisher. And that’s what we use to catch the big ones.

Tom Waits on Tom Waits: Interviews and Encounters (p.229)

You know, songs are out there all the time. Some of them only live two weeks. They’re like houseflies. So if you don’t get them, that’s it. I got all these old songs. So it’s good to have new songs to sing. And the new ones, you send them out there and you say, “Go my beauties, go! Bring Dad home some money! Come back with money!” Ahhh, that’s not really how I feel about it.

Interviews And Encounters (p. 270)

[If a song] really wants to be written down, it’ll stick in my head. If it wasn’t interesting enough for me to remember it, well, it can just move along and go get in someone else’s song. Some songs don’t want to be recorded. You can’t wrestle with them or you’ll only scare them off more. Trying to capture them is trying to trap birds.

Some songs come easy like digging potatoes out of the ground or like gum found under an old table.

Some songs are only good to cut up as bait and use to catch other songs.

Interviews And Encounters (p. 346-7)

With music, it’s difficult to talk about the writing of it. It’s all made out of smoke. When you really think about it, it’s invisible. And you’re afraid it’s not going to come and sit next to you anymore.

Interviews And Encounters (p.159-60)

Sometimes I’ll listen to my own stuff, and I think, God, the original idea for this was so much better than the mutation that we arrived at. What I’m trying to do now is get what comes and keep it alive. It’s like carrying water in your hands. I want to keep it all, and sometimes by the time you get to the studio you have nothing.

Interviews And Encounters (p.205)

My theory is the best songs have never really been recorded. We’re listening to things that made it through but there’s so many songs that have never made it because they were scared of the machine and wouldn’t allow themselves to be recorded. The trick is to get it in there, don’t hurt the song when you record it.

Interviews And Encounters (p.224)

I don’t know, music is a living thing, and so it can be . . . you can hurt it, you can bruise it . . . songs are strange, they’re very simple, they come quickly. If you don’t take them, they’ll move on. They’ll go to somebody else. Someone else will write it down. Don’t worry about it.

Interviews And Encounters (p.234)

I got tired of carrying all those folks around in my head without paying rent, so I said, go out there and make Dad some money.

Interviews And Encounters (p.310)

A lot of people say, “You really captured something on that.” There’s something alive in a song and the trick to recording them is to capture something and have it be taken alive. So there’s always a trick in the studio.

Interviews And Encounters (p.337)

Some of what goes into song-building is almost a medical Frankenstein process. What does it need? It’s very beautiful but it has no heart, or it has nothing but heart and it needs a rib cage, or whatever. I’m usually good at the medical questions about music. Eventually I’ll probably just be a medical consultant in music. I’ll be called in to look at sick songs and I’ll either say, ‘Put the sheet over it,’ or, ‘Operate.’ I’ll have a little bag with my saw. Some- times you have to break the leg and then reset it. I’m good at that. But it’s painful. But if you didn’t call me in early and you need me now, you gotta be willing to go through some discomfort. I like breaking songs, breaking their backs. I like songs with scars on them—when I listen to them I just see all the scars.

Interviews And Encounters (p.220)

Everybody loves music, but it’s important that music likes you

Innocent When You Dream p.217

More Tom Waits wisdom here

Tom Waits on Tom Waits: Interviews and Encounters

(you can find a lot of the interviews online at

About mattblick

Songwriter/Singer from Nottingham, UK. My 2nd EP, Everything In The World Is Fighting Everything In The Sky, is out now. I'm blogging (& podcasting) through the entire Beatles catalogue at Beatles Songwriting Academy. In my spare time I wish I had some spare time.
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One Response to Tom Waits On … Catching Songs

  1. Pingback: How To Catch A Song Without Killing It | Everyday Songwriter

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