The Cinematic Orchestra – ”To Build A Home” Lyrics Meaning

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Written By Brendan Briggs

Brendan is a multi-instrumentalist, songwriter, and producer. In 2022, he released his first album "Dive" under the name "Arctotherium".

“To Build a Home” is a somber piano ballad about the loss of a lover to death. The lyrics focus on comparing the optimism the couple once had with the despair they feel in the present. Additionally, many metaphors are used to describe the state of the relationship. The condition and qualities of the home the two built reflect their changing circumstances.

This track was primarily written by Jason Swinscoe and Patrick Watson over a five-day period in Montreal. Swinscoe brought a pre-existing piano chord progression to Watson, who composed the melody. The lyrics were a collaborative creation and carry similar themes to the song’s sister track, “Breathe.” Due to this thematic similarity, both tracks were combined into a 12-minute short film that served as a shared music video.

In this article, we’ll perform an analysis of these melancholy lyrics to discover their hidden meaning. We’ll also take a look at the songwriting story and the human themes that make this song so sad. Without further ado, let’s begin!

“To Build a Home” Lyrics Meaning

The song begins with a bit of revealing imagery. The object of our attention is a house (not home), which is being described in somewhat detached language. Its “wooden floors, walls, and window sills” are still standing, but “all the dust” has taken its toll on the furniture.

Nonetheless, the narrator feels “at home” and is not lonely here. This indicates that there is another person in the house, even though the house’s energy is mixed at best. Unfortunately, as we’ll soon find out, this person may not be here for very much longer.

In the chorus, the narrator reflects on the past. He “built a home” for himself and his companion, but it has “disappeared” from both of them. Although the house may be standing, the home it was meant to be is now gone. Why is this? The last two loans of the chorus give us a clue: It is time for one or both members of the pair to “turn to dust.” Mortality is coming to collect.

After presenting us with this reality, the lyrics begin describing the narrator’s method of dealing with this situation. He enters (either mentally or literally) a garden wherein he and his love had “planted the seeds.”

In this garden, there is a tree “as old as me [the narrator],” which he begins to describe. The tree is still alive because its branches are still displaying “the color of green.” However, the “ground had arose and passed its knees,” indicating it is partially sinking/submerged. This is another metaphor for the state of the main relationship – still in existence but no longer flourishing as it should be naturally.

“By the cracks of his [the tree’s] skin,” our narrator climbs to the top of this tree to “see the world.” His high position doesn’t last long because “the gusts come” and throw him off. In other words, the universe has tossed him away from his natural position (much like the upcoming death is ruining his life). As this fall occurs, he holds on to the tree as “tightly as you [the companion] held on” to him.

Finally, the chorus repeats itself. However, the addition of “time to die” at the end finally confirms the impetus for the song. These themes of death, loss, and love are also represented in the track’s music video, which shows a woman and a man frantically saying goodbye repeatedly.

To sum up, “To Build a Home” is about one of the greatest joys in life (love) being turned into one of the greatest sorrows. The lyrics highlight the angst, despair, and longing for the past that can arise in this tragic situation. The emotional impact of this song comes from this appeal to universally understood experiences.

The Story Behind “To Build a Home”

According to Jason Swinscoe, the songwriting story behind “To Build a Home” is anything but complicated. It’s a classic tale of collaboration, a chance meeting, and a beautiful result.

Prior to the song’s creation, Swinscoe had been “consciously” trying to move away from beat-centered grooves and focus on sincere songwriting. Notably, this track literally includes no drums, so it’s safe to say he accomplished this goal.

Swinscoe was put in touch with Patrick Watson through his manager, who knew of Watson through a colleague’s old hockey connection. After coming up with a chord progression in Paris, Swinscoe came to Montreal to work on the track with Watson.

Over the next few days, the song was written in its full form. Watson handled the melody, Swinscoe the chords, and the lyrics were a team effort. It’s one of many cases in which the idea seemed to come easily, quickly, and powerfully.

Evidently, fans appreciated the result. “To Build a Home” is a certified platinum track in the UK and has received no shortage of critical praise. It’s also been featured in many pieces of media, including Grey’s Anatomy, Criminal Minds, and Schitt’s Creek. I’ve even heard of it being used as a wedding song for some couples, although I probably wouldn’t do that myself given the song’s meaning.

The next time you play this emotional tune, let these bits of background information make it even more special!