There’s a difference between the songs I write on guitar and the songs I write on piano. The collection on The Light of Day, for example, was almost all written on guitar.
When my brother Marco asked me why “Strangers to Lovers” wasn’t included on that album, I explained that I didn’t think it fit in with those songs. As I considered which songs to record on In Common, I found myself choosing songs that were written on piano. This opened the door to a completely different sound and vibe from the previous album. Here, the aforementioned “Strangers to Lovers” certainly did fit in.
My first idea was to redo the Dancer song, “I Believe in You.” I wanted to slow it down and make it more intimate. Though it was written many years ago as a pep talk to myself, I found that the words were more meaningful to me now than ever before. When I played the new version for Marco, he said, “You know, I’ve never really heard those lyrics before. I was too busy tapping my foot.”
As the sessions progressed, I reached out to Jeff Dellisanti, who had played sax on both Not Afraid and The Light of Day. I sent him a demo with me playing the sax part to show him how I wanted it to go. His reaction was that my playing sounded good to him and that I should record the part myself. Inspired by his confidence in me, I put in some extra practice time and ended up playing sax on several songs.
As the recording phase of this project was coming to an end, I set out to find just the right mix engineer, and my prayers were answered in the form of Grammy-nominated Ariel Chobaz.
I had met Ariel in 2008, and soon after our first conversation, we were working together on the Dancer album. In the years that followed, Ariel went on to work with artists such as Lin-Manuel Miranda, Drake, Christina Aguilera, Nicki Minaj, and Kelly Clarkson. I was not at all surprised by his success, and when I contacted him in 2018, I was simply hoping he’d remember me. Of course, he did, and working with him again was as enjoyable and rewarding as I expected it would be.
At one point, I remember joking to Ariel that this is really an album of instrumentals that I had disguised as songs by tagging two minutes of lyrics to the beginning of each one. Though I was kidding, it is true that many instrumental passages evolved during the arranging and recording process.
The one song that truly is an instrumental, “The Peace of You,” is special to me. It is a prayer without words—a love song to the One who blesses and guides my life. It was the last song we mixed and it put a nice bow on my latest collaboration with Ariel.
Once the mix was complete, it was time to come up with cover art. It didn’t take me long to decide on a photograph I’d taken while flying home from a trip. From my window seat, I could see a glorious sunset from above the clouds. Fortunately, I had my camera with me and, though it took several attempts, I was able to capture it just as the wing light was touching the horizon, thus integrating the plane with the rest of that heavenly scene. The spiritual nature of the image made it the perfect cover for this album.
At the end of an endeavor like this, I always feel optimistic, and this time is no different. Like every musician, I hope my music is heard, respected, and enjoyed. And I aspire to be a part of that musical community that provides songs of every kind to people of every kind.
As musicians or as fans, we all love music. It connects us and reminds us that we’re never really alone. Our favorite songs make us think, feel, dance, and sing along. And that—regardless of who we are, what we do, or where we’re from—is something we all have in common.