What if Grammy-winning, platinum-selling artists turned your story into a song?
A close-knit group of award-winning singer/songwriters in San Diego have turned four real-life letters into a book, album, and concert event benefitting causes chosen by the letter senders. For The Sender: Four letters. Twelve songs. One story. releases today (September 18th) by Hay House Publishing.
The voices of Grammy-winning bands Switchfoot and Nickel Creek, and platinum-selling New Found Glory, are among those singing the songs inspired by the real-life letters from four women. A first-responder in Haiti, the widow of a fallen police officer, the director of a children’s homeless shelter, and a woman who lost her soulmate sent their stories to singer-songwriter Alex Woodard, who was so moved by their letters that he recruited his close-knit group of musician friends to write and record songs about the letters.
Woodard found the themes from the letters so universal that he wove his own story of loss and redemption into a book with the lyrics, letters, and back-stories. He called the project For The Sender, based on a lyric from the album’s title track that suggests a letter is written more for the sender than the receiver. This for the sender theme runs through the project and is reflected in the donation of a portion of the proceeds to causes chosen by the senders of the letters, including the Stand Up for Kids homeless shelter in Oceanside, CA and the WeAdvance women’s clinic in Haiti.
Here, singer/songwriter, Alex Woodard explains to Noah Brand of GMP how this incredible project came to be.
GMP: You named the project “For the Sender”, based on a Sean Watkins song. What made you choose that name?
Alex Woodard: Sean and I wrote that song together about the letter than inspired the project. It was from a woman named Emily. She lost her soulmate one autumn and every year since then she writes him a letter to tell him about her year and what she’s been doing. That letter she writes is more for her than for him; it’s her way of dealing with things. One of the lyrics in the song is ‘Every year I write you this letter/But like a prayer, it’s more for the sender.’ I think we often write for ourselves, not for the reader or listener. When I sit down to write a song, it’s usually because I have something I need to get out. When someone writes a letter, even though it’s addressed to someone, it’s often because they want to express something.
The interesting thing is that all these songs, the surprise private performances, even part of the proceeds of the project, are all for the senders of the letters. They may have written their letter for themselves, but we’re doing something for them. So ‘For The Sender’ kind of nailed it as a title.
GMP: Tell us about the moment when the idea for this project formed and became reality.
Alex: There are so many layers to this project, from the book to the album to the performances, and each layer has its own genesis. It’s like what looks like a forest now is made up of trees that grew from their own seed. But I remember the moment I first thought about writing a song for someone who sent me a letter. I was in L.A. and somebody asked me how I could personalize what I was putting out into the world… how could I make people feel like what I was doing was just for them. And my first thought was ‘write a song about their story’.
GMP: What has been your favorite part of the project so far?
Alex: The co-writing with and producing artists I respect has been really special, but I think my favorite part has been playing the songs for the senders… traveling from Connecticut to Oceanside to Haiti to surprise these women with songs written just for them.
GMP: Have there been any unexpected surprises or difficulties with For The Sender?
Alex: The process itself was a challenge, because I had to be patient with everyone’s schedules and other commitments. Not only that, but I didn’t really have a vision for the project until I was already knee-deep in it, and I had never written a book before, so I had to really trust the process. The biggest surprise was when I realized that I had my own letter, written but never sent, tucked away in a box high on a shelf in my living room. And I had a song that I didn’t realize I had written about that letter. I wrote the letter to my dog the day she died, and it was tucked away with her ashes. The song is called ‘The Table’, and a live version of it is the last track on the album.
GMP: How has the response been so far, from the letter writers to the artists involved?
Alex: There’s a moment in the video with Jon Foreman after we left the shelter when he sees the book for the first time, takes it in his hands and shares his thoughts. The response to the project has ranged from that to tears and laughter and a sense of relief and resolution. I think each artist and letter writer respond to it according to where they are in their lives. It’s almost like the project is a mirror to them.
GMP: What’s your personal favorite song from the different artists that contributed?
Alex: That’s a tough one. I produced and wrote or co-wrote all but one song, so I’m pretty close to them all. ‘My Love Will Find You’ seems like a special one to me though. But now that I say that I’m thinking ‘Never Alone.’ I can’t really pick just one. Sorry, that sounds like a cop-out, but it’s true.
GMP: Do you have a specific purpose that you are hoping to accomplish with For The Sender?
Alex: Part of the beauty of this project is that I’m just letting it be what it wants to be. It’s as if it’s telling me what way to take it, so I’m staying away from specific goals.
I spent so many years writing about myself, trying to ‘make it’, knocking on every door I could and asking people to listen to me. Making an album and writing a book that was more for the senders than myself was like walking into a bright, airy, beautiful room that had been in my house for years, but I always just walked past. And when I traveled around playing these songs for the letter senders, there was a clear, direct channel between the song and the listener who inspired it. I’d never experienced anything like that before, so I slowly let go of my own agenda to let this project evolve and take shape.
For more information, visit www.forthesender.com.
For a limited time, Alex and the For the Sender musicians are giving away a song. Go to http://www.forthesender.com/my-love-will-find-you-download/ for your free download of “My Love Will Find You,” featuring Jordan Pundik (New Found Glory) and Molly Jenson.