Lyrics Uncovered: Carrie Underwood, ‘Little Toy Guns’
Carrie Underwood's "Little Toy Guns" lyrics bring a strong message to country radio, and according to one of the song's authors, that's one of the most gratifying parts of writing it.
Chris DeStefano wrote the song along with Underwood and Hillary Lindsey, and he says writing with the artist who's going to cut the song is a different experience from writing a song to pitch to an artist.
"As far as artists who are strong writers, I would definitely put Carrie in that category," he tells Taste of Country. "She's a very strong writer, and obviously Hillary is arguably one of the most successful female songwriters in country history. You definitely want to bring your A-game when you're getting in the room with those two."
The song evolved from a basic form that DeStefano brought into the writing session.
"I had this musical idea — the track, basically," he recalls. "I kinda brought that in, and I might have even had some of the parts kinda moved around. I remember playing it for Carrie and Hillary, and they both really reacted to it. I remember Hillary saying, 'I love that riff that you're doing in the verse there, you should move that to the main intro riff, that would be awesome.'"
Lindsey also suggested a title, "Wooden Guns."
"We kinda talked about what it could mean, and we kept throwing ideas out," DeStefano recalls. "And Carrie said, 'What if we called it 'Little Toy Guns'? And it just took it to a different level, I think, when we hit that. It felt right, and once we had that direction, we had more than enough to hang the song on."
When you see the ripple effects, and the journey that the song takes ... it's amazing, it's humbling, it's definitely way bigger than me.
Underwood herself suggested the chorus melody "in true Carrie fashion, as it's just a big, memorable melody," DeStefano shares. "And Hillary put together that verse — those intervals in the verse are so interesting." The trio swapped ideas back and forth in a free-form collaboration that DeStefano likens to "a game of tennis, but we're all on the same side, all on the same team, just rolling with the different ideas. And when one of them really sticks, you just move on."
The "Little Toy Guns" lyrics describe the negative impact on children when their parents fight: "I wish words were like little toy guns / No sting, no hurting no one / Just a bang, bang rolling off your tongue / I wish words were like little toy guns."
"It's so much fun to have written so many songs with Carrie and Hillary, but that was just a special one," DeStefano shares. That's partly because of Underwood's willingness to explore big ideas in a song, he says, and partly because her vocal ability allows the songwriters to explore any kind of musical idea without fear that she won't be able to pull it off.
"It's pretty amazing, because anything you can hear, she can sing," he notes. "It's amazing what she does, just in one time singing through the song, she just nails it. It's pretty incredible. Vocally you can just dig into all kinds of melodies, intervals and ranges. She can just do it all. It's really, really fun."
The song was a commercial smash, but what DeStefano finds most gratifying is the reaction it receives from fans who have found a powerful lesson in the "Little Toy Guns" lyrics.
"I love reading about how it impacts people," he says. "Sometimes I'll just go on Twitter and search for it, and just see how it's affecting people, and that's a really special thing. When you write a song, obviously the immediate feeling that you get from it at the end of the day is a really powerful thing. But then when you see the ripple effects, and the journey that the song takes ... it's amazing, it's humbling, it's definitely way bigger than me. It's an amazing thing to see happen."
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