A month or so ago, I saw a tweet by Jon Foreman (leader singer of Switchfoot) about a project he’d been involved in called For the Sender. I knew nothing about the project and so did a little bit of internet investigation. It turns out it’s one of the most unique and moving artistic expressions I’ve come across for a while.
In the midst of his own grief, singer Alex Woodard received a letter from someone he’d never met before. He and a friend turned the letter into a song, and For the Sender evolved from that point. The final book and CD offers 12 songs born out of four letters, with the musical talents of members of Nickel Creek, New Found Glory, Switchfoot and many more.
Alex was good enough to answer a few questions to give a bit more background to the book.
This is a pretty unique project. Can you give us a short summary of the process you took from receiving the letters to creating the songs and the For the Sender project?
I was trying to let go of this identity I had created as a singer-songwriter, as well as my best friend, when I received a letter about a different kind of letting go. A woman named Emily lost her soulmate, and writes him a letter every autumn since he passed. She sent me that letter, which I showed to my friend Sean Watkins, and we wrote a song about it. It was the first time I had co-written a song I didn’t sing. That song led to another song, and another, and as more letters crossed my path we wrote and recorded more songs about them. That set me off down quite a different path than I was on, which changed the course of my life.
What was the response of those who you approached to be involved – there’s some pretty big names on the CD, was hard to get them in?
It wasn’t hard because we are all good friends…everyone’s response was positive, even though they didn’t know exactly what they were signing up for at the time because the project was still evolving. They trusted me with their voices, and hopefully I did good by them.
Where is your favourite place to be?
These days, on my horse.
What does an ideal day look like?
I wake up early, feed my horse, feed my dog, feed myself, and see what the day brings. That’s my ideal day, and lately almost every day.
What’s your hope for the book – the one thing you want people to get from it?
Probably that people take away the message that we are all part of one story, one conversation. What I call my pain, or joy, may be by a different name, but it’s the same as yours at it’s core. The loss of my dog might be the loss of your partner, or dreams, or childhood. We all have the same victories and defeats, the same triumphs and tragedies, we just call them different things.
What’s your hope for the future?
I think ‘hope’ takes power out of the present moment, which is all we have to create the future…I’m more interested in the steps you take every day, how you speak to your neighbor, how you treat yourself and the planet. Don’t hope for better times…create them.
What sounds like a slightly curious finished product is actually a moving journey, one on which as the reader you feel immediately involved. The combination of the letters and the songs means that this is more than just a re-telling of a season of Alex’s life. It’s as if the letters are given a new lease of life, a new telling which places them in part of a bigger story.
The drawing in of so many famous musicians is testament to the unique nature of this idea, and the love so many people have of telling and re-telling stories. There is a feeling throughout the book that this is just more than a musical project; this is a coming together of ideas, people and stories to produce a snapshot of a moment in time, giving an enduring legacy to letters and emotions.
Given the nature of the book – built on personal stories – the finished work doesn’t shy away from the difficult questions that arise in dark times. However, there is a sense that – as Alex hinted at in his answers above – we are all part of one bigger story. There is no denying we live our own lives, but this book more than any reminds the reader that so many people have similar stories – of loss, grief, pain, hope and hurt.
Above all, there is a real beauty throughout this project. It feels more like poetry at times. The letters are heartfelt and genuine, and there is a rough around the edges feel to the whole thing which only adds to this. Alex and his friends have put together a beautiful reminder that whilst life is difficult, there is always light at the end of the tunnel, and that creativity and community can help us through our sorrow.