The Writing's on the Wall

Album: Hungry Ghosts (2014)


  • This song is about a troubled relationship in which the two parties see things in different ways. The writing is indeed on the wall for the pair.
  • "The writing on the wall" is an expression that suggests a portent of doom or misfortune. It originates from the Old Testament Book of Daniel Chapter 5, where during a banquet hosted by King Belshazzar, a mysterious hand appeared and wrote on the palace wall the words, "Mene, Mene, Tekel, Upharsin". Daniel interpreted this message as the imminent end for the Babylonian kingdom. Belshazzar was slain that night and the Persians sacked the capital city.
  • The song's music video features the band romping through a series of optical illusions. Everything you see is actually a trick of the eye. The set took nearly three weeks to construct in a cavernous Brooklyn lot and the single long shot over 50 attempts to get right. The connection with the song becomes clear during the bridge, when a camera decrypts a message that reads, "I think I understand you, but I don't."

    "It was important to me that we didn't add a layer of meaning that's not already there," explained frontman and co-director Damian Kulash to Rolling Stone. "We wanted to be able to have messages in there, but I didn't want them going throughout the entire song in way that would make you feel like you were reading the whole time."
  • The video was inspired by an advertisement that OK Go frontman Damian Kulash saw for BBC4. Bassist Tim Nordwind explained to The California Aggie: "The ad [was a film of a] bunch of objects, but you couldn't tell what the the objects were supposed to be. When the camera changed to a certain perspective [the objects] came together and turned into a shape – like a circle or a square – and he was really excited about that. As we got to talking about it, we thought if we did this on a massive level it would make a really good, fun video. That's how 'The Writing's on the Wall" came together."
  • Damian Kulash told Purevolume the story of the song: "Our bassist Tim wrote the initial demo for this song, and in his temp lyrics (we'll usually put scraps of phrases or gibberish in the earliest versions of our songs and then fill the ideas in more when the song has taken more shape), he'd used the phrase 'the writing's on the wall.'"

    "The line seemed to capture the melancholic air of the song, so I tried to write from Tim's perspective about a difficult break up he'd just been through, letting it revolve around that moment when you feel the end coming," he continued.

    "What's crazy is that less than a month after the song was done, my wife left me, pretty much out of the blue," Kulash concluded. "So apparently I was writing about my own life, not Tim's, and I didn't even know it."
  • The song was released as the lead single from Hungry Ghosts. Kulash explained the meaning of the album title to "The reason we named it Hungry Ghosts is it comes from a Buddhist term," he said. "Hungry Ghosts are beings that live inside us and have an insatiable craving for both peace and desire. It's trying to sum up that notion that something is right at your fingertips, but you can't quite get it."


Be the first to comment...

Editor's Picks

Donald FagenSongwriter Interviews

Fagen talks about how the Steely Dan songwriting strategy has changed over the years, and explains why you don't hear many covers of their songs.

Eagles Lyrics QuizMusic Quiz

Lots of life lessons in these Eagles lyrics - can you match them to the correct song?

Divided Souls: Musical Alter EgosSong Writing

Long before Eminem, Justin Bieber and Nicki Minaj created alternate personas, David Bowie, Bono, Joni Mitchell and even Hank Williams took on characters.

Subversive Songs Used To SellSong Writing

Songs about drugs, revolution and greed that have been used in commercials for sneakers, jeans, fast food, cruises and cars.

Little Big TownSongwriter Interviews

"When seeds that you sow grow by the wicked moon/Be sure your sins will find you out/Your past will hunt you down and turn to tell on you."

Marc Campbell - "88 Lines About 44 Women"They're Playing My Song

The Nails lead singer Marc Campbell talks about those 44 women he sings about over a stock Casio keyboard track. He's married to one of them now - you might be surprised which.