After feeling burned out from constructing the lengthy songs on his previous album (Perfect from Now On), Doug Martsch made a conscious decision to write shorter, more concise songs for Keep It Like a Secret. Many of the songs on the album originated from a week's worth of band jam sessions in Boise. During these marathon jam sessions, which could last up to five hours at a time, Martsch used a foot pedal that triggered a tape machine to begin recording. He would later comb through the hours of recorded music and find parts that he liked, methodically building them into songs.
In particular, the song "You Were Right", which features a collage of now-cliche lyrics from songs by The Rolling Stones, The Doors and Jimi Hendrix (among others), almost didn't make the album due to perceived copyright issues. At the last minute, Warner Bros. Records secured permission for the band to use the lyrics. In a 1999 interview with The Onion, Martsch described how he wrote the song: "...I came up with the chorus, 'You were wrong when you said, 'Everything's gonna be all right,' and then I decided the verse would be, 'You were right when you said...' something more pessimistic. And then I knew immediately that it was going to be a bunch of clichés, and I decided to use other people's clichés."