"[A]s far I'm concerned, the songs are almost completely lyric driven."
-Dan Messe, Crud Magazine, 13 March 2002
This meanings section is a collection of quotes from band members about the meanings behind their song lyrics, album titles, and band name. Songs can and do mean different things to different people, but I think it's interesting to know the inspiration behind songs. Meanings for the cover songs aren't about song content so much as what spurred the band to record them.
This is the page for Rabbit Songs. Click Meanings on the left menu for the main page.
Click on a title to jump to its meaning. Click here for Rabbit Songs lyrics.
Click on the small image next to each title to see the picture that illustrated that song at Hem's original rabbitsongs.com website, since redesigned. The pictures are similiar to those used in the Rabbit Songs liner notes, but they're all different and all non-instrumental tracks include snippets of lyrics.
Rabbit Songs (the album title)
All That I'm Good For
Betting On Trains
Burying Song
The Cuckoo
Half Acre
Idle (The Rabbit Song)
Lazy Eye
Leave Me Here
Lord, Blow The Moon Out Please
Night Like A River
Polly's Dress
Stupid Mouth Shut
When I Was Drinking
Rabbit Songs
"The album's title is a reference to [Dan] Messe's address on Warren St., but it also speaks to his fascination with rabbits and the whimsical but wild imagery used to depict them in classic children's literature."
[Dreamworks "Rabbit Songs" press release]
"The title Rabbit Songs comes from both the street where Dan lives and writes, Warren Street, but also, he says, because the creature is associated with 'innocence as well as a wild, hunted fear' which he feels is inherent in the darkness of the lyrics."
[Hotpress.com, 14 February 2002]
"Hem's debut album was written when composer Dan Messe was living on Cobble Hill's Warren Street - hence the album's title, 'Rabbit Songs' - inspired by the meaning of the word warren, a place where rabbits live."
[GO Brooklyn, 6 January 2003]
All That I'm Good For
While this song can sound like it's about a person, it's actually about a dog.
[Mentioned (perhaps jokingly, though the lyrics do make a little more sense with the dog interpretation) when the band performed in Newcastle, England in October 2002]
Betting On Trains
Dan used to be a lifeguard on beautiful Lake Lansing (in Lansing, Michigan). There were train tracks nearby and as his mind wandered he convinced himself that he could tell from the whistle blow in the distance whether an oncoming train was a freight train or passenger train. One day he bet himself 20 dollars they an approaching train was a freight train. He was right. Afterward, he came down from the lifeguard platform and found twenty dollars.
[Dan Messe on April 22, 2005 at The Church House in Haddam, CT, as summarized by Fuzzyman (via Hem's Forum)]
Dan wrote this song when he was young, when people write songs that don't tip their hand too much, and he has no idea what it's about.
[Dan Messe on November 3, 2007 at the Highline Ballroom in New York, NY]
Burying Song
The title of this song refers to the initial musical collaborations, the so-called "Burying Songs" cycle, of Dan Messe and Steve Curtis while they were in school at Carleton College.
[Dan Messe, myspace blog, 27 August 2005; Also see Paste Magazine, December 2004]
The Cuckoo
"With [Eveningland], a lot of the songs we were writing about marriage and settling down and the ideas of family and stuff like that, and ['Jackson'] just seemed like a perfect song to include thematically. And also, just the whole Johnny Cash/June Carter era of album making was sort of a touchstone for the sound that we were going for on Eveningland. In a lot of ways that 'Cuckoo' was a touchstone for Rabbit Songs."
[Dan Messe, Gideon Coe session, BBC 6 Music, 16 February 2005]
Half Acre
Not so much a meaning as an inspiration: Dan Messe wrote this song one year for his parents' anniversary.
[Introduced as such when the band performed in Detroit, Michigan in April 2003]
"Gershwin, Kern, and Leonard Bernstein count as influences, as does Aaron Copland. 'Copland was a huge influence,' said Messe, 'especially in the arrangements. If you listen to 'Half Acre,' that's basically a big rip-off of Copland. He created what we considered the American sound to be.'"
[Dan Messe, Playback St. Louis, February 2005]
This song is about growing up, and Dan Messe wrote it for/about his brother Steve and their childhood, which they spent in Michigan.
[Sally talked about this song at several live shows, and Steve confirmed it (Thanks, Steve!)]
"[Gary Maurer and myself] decided to do this one album [Rabbit Songs] that allowed us to not compromise and write songs with titles like 'Horsey.' I swear, that was my one ambition that year. I wanted to write a song called 'Horsey.' I didn't know what it was. It ultimately became a song about my little brother Stevey. That was really an important goal for me because I was so tired of trying to live up to this tongue-in-cheek attitude toward art that I just couldn't really believe in."
[Dan Messe, The Bob Edwards Show, 10 February 2005. Hear the great, hour-long, XM Radio interview here.]
"I was just so sick of writing and trying to be cool [in my previous band], or trying to write ironic songs. It just wasn't me. I wanted to write songs like 'Horsey' [from 2001's Rabbit Songs] I didn't even know what I wanted the song to be about, but I knew I wanted a song called 'Horsey' just as a statement against writing 'cool' songs."
[Dan Messe, Paste Magazine, December 2004]
Dan got this song's title from an ex-girlfriend's ATM code (which is hopefully different by now).
[Dan Messe on October 1, 2006 at a show in Cincinnati, OH. Download the show at archive.org]
"Dan: One of the beginnings of Hem was that I was in some other band previous to Hem that was signed to Sony on some development deal. And we were doing some four-song EP when I wrote the song 'Horsey.' And I wanted to try the song and the A & R guy laughed at me and said, "That is the stupidest name for a song Iíve heard. You cannot name a song 'Horsey.'" So, for me 'Horsey,' that word, for whatever reason, really encompassed my feelings towards my younger brother [a subject in the song]. And I didnít care that it didnít sound cool, it was moving to me. And I remember calling Gary up and I said, 'Gary, can we please do an album where I can include the song "Horsey" on it.' And he said, 'Hell, yeah.'
Gary: And then I wrote that simple guitar riff and it all came together: 'Horsey.' I mean, of course we can have a song called 'Horsey' on a record and you can spell it however you want."
[Stereo Subversion, April 5, 2013]
Idle (The Rabbit Song)
Sally says something along the lines of "I think of this song as being about being dirty, doing something naughty in a park," but it's unclear whether Sally laughing at Dan's very quiet response means that he confirmed or denied her intro to the song.
[An exchange between Sally Ellyson and Dan Messe at Hem's February 2, 2005 show in West Hollywood, CA]
Lazy Eye
"I think it is the same tendency in us that makes it difficult to let go of things in our own lives (whether it be a relationship or a dream or whatever) that keeps us always looking backwards in all things. We definitely have a 'lazy eye' when it comes to music."
[Gary Maurer, Crud Magazine, 13 March 2002]
Gary Maurer wrote the song about/for his mother.
[Mentioned when the band performed and dedicated this song to her in Columbus, Ohio in July 2003.]
When the band first got together, Dan had recently been dumped by a seamstress and thought that a song named "Hem" would be an appropriate ending for that relationship. Now this song makes him think more of his daughter. The name of the song changed to "Lazy Eye" but the name Hem lived on for the band.
[Dan Messe on June 15, 2006 at a show in Northampton, MA. Download the show at archive.org]
Leave Me Here
"According to Dan [Messe], Leave Me Here is about the idea of love being like heaven and conversely unrequited love being like hell"
[Hem's Official Message Board Admin, 21 Nov 2002]
Dan wrote this song when he, in his words, "tried (and failed) to figure out the piano part" for "Help a Man" by Robin Holcomb.
[Dan Messe on August 15, 2023 on Twitter]
Lord, Blow The Moon Out Please
"We're blessed in Hem to have taken on a particularly lovely childhood songbook in the form of Sally; the songs that were sung to her by her mom and that sheís brought to the band are truly some of the most strange and lovely lullabies Iíve ever heard: 'Lord, Blow the Moon out Please,' 'All the Pretty Horses,' 'The Golden Day is Dying,' 'Slumber Boat.' The titles alone are magical, but theyíre most striking when you hear them coming from Sally's voice, because (I would claim) you can hear the grain of that childhood connection. The songs are totally a part of who Sally is as a singer..."
[Steve Curtis, MySpace Blog, 14 September 2005]
"I brought the tape [that introduced Sally to the band, a homemade tape of her singing lullabies] over to friends for them to listen to, 'Just listen to this and tell me what you think.' They would have tears in their eyes listening to this tape. And that's why we actually start the record with a song from that tape, 'Lord, Blow The Moon Out Please.'"
[Dan Messe, WFPL's On Second Thought, 4 January 2003]
Stupid Mouth Shut
"I'm sure [I came to write that song from] a bad relationship, like all of my songs. That actually was one of the few songs that I wrote that was lyrics first. That line ["The sidewalk bends where your house ends like the neighborhood is on its knees."] came to me, and I fell in love with it. I think that might be my favorite opening line of any of my songs."
[Dan Messe, NPR All Things Considered, 10 July 2002. Read a transcript of the whole interview here.]
"'The title I'm Talking With My Mouth is in response to Stupid Mouth Shut, from the Rabbit Songs album, which is about being able to say what you want to say, when you're not tongue-tied anymore,' Dan explains. 'It's about being bottled-up emotionally, my whole life. I used to be very stupid and silent. In the last couple of years, at least in my own life, I've gotten beyond that, I fell in love and got married. I'm sort of in this happy place.'"
[Dan Messe, The Birmingham Post (UK), 1 October 2002]
At a number of Hem's shows, Dan introduced this song with some variation of how he thought this song was about unrequited love but later learned it was about stalking. (Ha!)
[Dan Messe, various live shows]
"The first instrumental piece that we wrote for Hem was actually a waltz. One of the first sort of ideas for the band was incorporating sort of this Americana sound with a more classical leaning. That was sort of the kernal of the idea, and I wrote ['Waltz']. So that was sort of the genesis of the sound that we wanted, and it clearly evolved over the years, over the last five years we've been together."
[Dan Messe, Eklektikos on KUT radio, February 7, 2005]
When I Was Drinking
"Without giving too much of myself away, I realize that I have a lot of songs about addiction. I think it can be a pretty good metaphor for the pull that the past can have on someone."
[Dan Messe, NPR All Songs Considered, 1 July 2002. Read a transcript of the whole interview here.]
"'When I Was Drinking' [is] about the idea where you seek comfort, whether it's alcohol or whatever, wherever you seek comfort."
[Dan Messe, All About Hem Interview, May 6, 2005]

Do you have additional song meanings information? I'd love to know!