December 12, 2010

Whenever I mention the fact I’m in a band there are always two standard questions people ask. Firstly, who do you sound like? In order to put you in a box, work you out, relate and if needs be claim a ‘oh i love that kind of thing’ or ‘oh, I’m more of a Dubstep man/woman myself’. Secondly, if they are interested (and a few are!) they tend to ask

So, how do you write your songs? Is it music first or words first?

So I got thinking about how I write songs, how my band writes songs and thought I might muse upon it a little. The first song I ever wrote was called ‘Bluebell Sophie’. I didn’t know a Sophie, she merely existed in my head as a 13-year-old princess with blonde hair who would one day turn up to school and set my heart on fire. I wrote words and music. 3 chords probably. My fingers struggled with the G chord on the guitar. It was probably in E. And as such, I’ve always grown up combining the two. Words and music together. It’s interesting to imagine how some of my hero’s – like Michael Stipe come up with melody, seemingly without touching an instrument. Feels alien to me. I like the comfort of my guitar. Not as a prop or penis extension, as a thing that helps me emote when performing. A thing that I’ve been used to associating my creativity with.


I’ve made 3 studio albums in my life and almost without exception the songs on them are a collaborative effort between me and musicians. Usually with the strong influence of a Producer. I suppose one of the reasons this current climate feels strange is that it’s almost gone full circle, back to the days when teams of songwriters wrote for other artists. I always feel it’s better if a musician can write their own stuff. It’s less puppet like, despite there being some very talented puppets out there. Most indie/rock bands would claim songs start as idea’s. That’s true for my band iko. Often one person starts a riff, begins a chord sequence, we ride the wave of it until we’re standing on both feet feeling comfortable. Sometimes you’ll patch ideas together. Sometimes, because the atmosphere is right, the wine is flowing and you feel good you can write brand new songs in the studio.


With the recent release of all The Beatles songs on itunes it did occur to me the reason they were so special. Not just because in many instances they were the first to do something… I’m assured at the time, no one had ever written an album like Sgt Pepper. No, for me the thing that sets them apart is that every single one, firing on all cylinders created the greatest most prolific collection of songs in the history of music. And yes, Lennon and McCartney were central to that – but when your shy, retiring guitarist can write a song like ‘Something’, well. No one else is going to hold a candle to you. Even Ringo contributed. Sure he’s rock’s clown like kicking boy, but he was 100% involved, sculpting, driving, creating and writing histories greatest pop and rock songs. Any dismissal of Ringo is pure jealousy.

And I suppose it’s obvious but they are hard to escape. I’m currently trying to write a piano and voice piece for film and we had to stop midway though – our verse was just to close to ‘imagine’. Their legacy makes it very hard to remain original.

I do think there can be an appreciation of all styles of songwriting. I was at a friend’s wedding a few years ago and we sat watching people on the dance floor, whilst the cheesy wedding dj rolled out the greatest hits. There are things written to be danced to. Robbie Williams’ Rock DJ as an example. Not a song I own, or even like that much, its derivative nature annoys me as did the man at that time because I just saw him as someone who’s voice I didn’t particularly like.

But at that wedding, it did strike me how incredibly clever that tune is.
The children’s show squelch at the start, the terrible spoken word rhymes. And then ‘whack’ chorus. Huge, sweeping the dance floor aside.
Pummeling you until your head and feet are swaying. Fists clenched. Perfect disco pop crap. And how many people have had an amazing evening dancing, slightly drunk with family members to that song. Sure, sit at home, glass of wine, analysing its artistic worth. Fail. I appreciate it was probably written and produced as a collaborative effort but you see what I’m saying.
In its context, there’s not a lot better. Hence why Gaga, Beyoncé, ABBA, Madonna and Micheal Jackson continue to crush the competition.



And of course Hero#4


And #6

I don’t know if there’s a science to it. Most songs should and do come right from the heart. The ones you remember the most always come from there. And strangely it’s a very personal thing to do, and yet its universal appeal makes that feel ok. If you stop and ask yourself the question why am I letting everyone in on how I feel? you’d never write. And I think more people should write songs than they realise. You might not think you have a great voice or can’t play an instrument. It’s all about baby steps and just having a go. I’m sure that’s how most of the greatest song-writers have done it.