It took Jay Shaner a year to record his solo album, "Best Laid Plans." The process, says the Sacramento musician, taught him a lot about what it means to be a songwriter.
"I was working with (other artists) but ultimately I realized that I've come to a point where I have to have the artistic vision for where the music is going."
That recognition of responsibility was freeing says Shaner who also sings and plays guitar in the Cowboy Killers.
"You take music seriously but ultimately you've got to let it go - leave the guitar part alone," Shaner says. "It doesn't need to be pristine it's fine the way it is. I ended up making the album that felt right to me."
Shaner's been playing music nearly his entire life but only started writing his own about a dozen years ago.
It was the Cure's "A Letter to Elise" that inspired him to try his hand.
The sweet, sad pop song moved him, Shaner says, for the way it layered its emotions.
"To be able to say something deep that struck you on more than just a superficial level t the best songwriters write songs that can hit you both a visceral and a cerebral level."
"The Astronaut Song"
Style: Quiet, reflective folk-pop
Behind the song: "The song is about regret and coming to the point where you realize you're not going to be the person who, in your grandest dreams, you set out to be - but ultimately, you can still be happy with yourself."
Reconciling the music with the lyrics proved challenging, Shaner says.
"Early in my songwriting life I erred on the side of making things too catchy," he says. "I wanted this to be more melancholy - less dramatic."
To achieve that, Shaner experimented with a less traditional structure.
"I wanted to keep the middle (of the song) more ethereal and textural instead of (sounding like) a melodic break," he says. "So we brought in more drums at the end to make it more intense instead of adding another melody line.
Listen to "The Astronaut Song" here: