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Maps are great for evoking images for a songwriter like Gretchen Peters, who wrote this song. She loves maps for the names of the towns and cities, and the sorts of images they can conjure in her imagination. "I can just get lost in a map, very easily," says Peters. "It's like a fresh new well, looking at a map." This song came about from a road trip she was planning out West or to the upper Midwest towards the West. "I was thinking about going up that way, and I saw the name St. Cloud, and I just thought, what an evocative name. I had really no particular image of what that place would be like, except I knew it was in Minnesota, so it must be snowy. But I hadn't been there, and so I really just started with that name. And I remember really well the day I was writing. I didn't finish it in one day, but the day I sort of started it and got the main bulk of that song. It was snowing in Nashville, and that I'm sure was responsible for a couple of the lines, like 'With the snow falling down around you like a silent prayer,' and those sorts of things."
Peters envisioned the song as being about a person talking about someone who committed suicide, but in order to allow the listener more freedom for interpretation, she was deliberately vague with the lyrics. She says, "In order to get to the emotional space that you need to be, I don't think that necessarily means that you have to be explicit, or put every detail in. In fact, I think songs are better when they are a little bit more murky, or fuzzy around the edges. Let the listener participate, too, in other words. Let them put their story in. And I didn't feel it was good songwriting, frankly, to put that in there in sort of a blatant way, so the only reference to it in the whole song is, 'I wept in the arms of Jesus for the choice you made.' But of course that choice could have been anything. It was just really something I did for me in order to get emotionally down deep into it, envisioning that scenario. I didn't feel it needed to be an explicit part of the song." Indeed, when Trisha Yearwood cut this song, she was completely surprised when Peters told her what she'd meant when she wrote it, because she hadn't interpreted it that way at all. Which is fine with Peters. "Trisha sort of overlaid her own story on that, because it really can be about any sort of a scenario where you've lost someone."
When writing songs, Peters at times will allow the words to lead her. "There's that period in songwriting, the wonderful, early magic period, when lines just come to you," she says. "And they seem full of possibility and they evoke certain things, and they point you in certain directions, and they seem to come fully formed. They're sort of miraculous. There were a lot of lines like that in this song, and I just sort of had them all sitting there. Then the sort of second half of writing a song for me normally is, okay, I'm looking at all these different lines, what is this telling me? What is this story? What does this song want to say? And then it's almost like following clues, really, and changing things. It's sort of then your intellect kicks in, and then you have to go, 'Okay, well, I have to tighten this up, and this doesn't agree with this, this thought doesn't agree with that thought.' And then you have to do the part that Stephen King, in his book on writing, calls 'Kill your darlings.' You have to take lines that you love and say, 'Well, that's not going to work here.' Take it out. But at the beginning, I really believe that the best thing that you can do is leave the door open for those wonderful magic ideas to pop in for as long as you can, because those are the lines inevitably that are the best ones in the song. The ones that just come fully formed like that." (Check out our interview with Gretchen Peters
. Her website is gretchenpeters.com
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