Everyday FAWMer

One of the reasons I love FAWM so much is hearing regular but talented people making great music that relates to their lives. Katie Dwyer wrote this lovely song as part of FAWM last year and it was cool to come across this video of her singing the song to her son Henry. Great voice and a great audience!

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Oh April! – Five Reasons To Finish A Bad Song

I wrote Oh April (You Made A Fool Outta Me) yesterday. I was completely fried from working on Dig Down Deep To Normal (my kids FAWM album) but the First Tuesday Songwriting Group meeting was that evening and you have to have written a song to be allowed in. And as I host the group it would be a little embarrassing to get banned from your own meeting! The end result was a simple bluesy song with a stream of consciousness wordplay type lyrics, written on the bus to school – it was April the first (Oh April, you made a fool outta me), we were on the cusp of springtime (heading for a fall before summer was through), someone was swearing (used your dirty mouth to get clean away), someone else was talking about buying a smart phone (on your smart phone waiting for a dumb reply) and so on.

It’s really not that good.

So why bother finishing what you know is a bad song?

  1. It makes you a better writer. The only way to get good at writing songs is to write songs.
  2. It cures writers block. Because there is no such thing as writers block. There is only a paralysing fear of writing a bad song. The best way to get over that is to write bad songs and say “So What!?”
  3. It feels good. There is a joy in creation. I had written some words on a page. But when I started singing them over a simple Am to C major vamp the song came alive. It felt like making a bird out of clay and then breathing on it and watching it come alive in my hands. Something that didn’t exist on Monday night, even as a thought in my head, was a tangible thing by Tuesday night.
  4. It tells you who you are as an artist. Writing a lot, whatever the quality, holds up a mirror. It shows up your default chord progressions, rhyme schemes, pet topics, points of view. This is useful whether you’re into self discovery or trying to discern the ruts you need to break out of.
  5. It provides spare parts. Even if a song doesn’t work out it may provide with some decent lines riffs or chord progressions that you can recycle in the future.

Here’s a bonus reason.

You might be wrong. It might be a good song after all.

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Behind The Song: [Everything Is] Broken

A Break

At the tail end on 2010 I had quit leading worship at my church, planning to spend a year recharging my batteries, learning about songwriting and writing every day. [Everything Is] Broken was one of the first of the new batch of tunes, though the basic lyrics date back to 2004.

At the time the concept ‘if a good God make the world why is it so messed up‘ was to me little more than an ‘apologetic’ device – an explanation for ‘non-churchgoers that might persuade them to sign up. But in the years since I wrote the song it’s given me a frame of reference to understand the ever-present darkness in my world, helping me deal with it in my own life and allowing it into in the art I make.

All These Broken Things

From the start the concept was that the structure of the song itself would reflect brokenness (something I call madrigalism), musically I decided to write the verse in mostly 7/4 which gives an impression of a missing beat. I wanted to use a string trio, or rather, a ‘broken’ quartet with the second violin missing. (This is why I ended up using a trio on Brother Bull and Better For Me too). There are no drums for the same reason. The song breaks down towards the end interrupted by ‘random’ samples and the vocal degrading and the last word missing.

In the lyrics there are 18 broken things

Shattered frame
Torn photograph
Broken home – his daddy doesn’t live here anymore
Wedding vows – unmade
A mug that’s chipped
Broken skin – cuts her lip
Broken sentences – staccato, each incomplete
Stillborn baby
CD player
Broken peace treaty – torn up
A hairline fracture in the universe
Broken Earth – cranky and she’s getting worse
Broken city – split by an earthquake
The church boiler
The church heating pipes
The choirboy’s voice
The communion bread
Christ’s body

Development

The song was written as a distorted solo rocker in Am – imagine if If Billy Bragg had joined a discipleship group led by Derek Webb, or if CS Lewis secretly hankered after playing in Iron Maiden. On the demo, the distorted guitar, my amp crapping out and my voice cracking as I screamed my head off all seemed to reflect the subject matter, but my producer friend Mark pointed out that the song didn’t sit with any of the other material on my EP. So I dialled back the mayhem, transposed it down, played fuller chords capoed at the 3rd fret. When I tracked the guitar I did what I call a ‘Lennon Extension‘ by accidentally adding an extra beat into one of the prechoruses. A happy accident.

I agree with Chris Cornell from Soundgarden when he says he likes writing in odd meters because it feels like there’s only one melody that it can possibly be.

Wachowskitarianism

Observant Christians might wonder what’s up with the weird church service. It has real bread (not wafers) like a pentecostal church but has a Priest and an old building (like a Catholic church) and they have the wine before the bread (like no church I’ve ever encountered). I guess that’s what they called poetic licence. In my mind it’s church as imagined by Frank Miller or the Wachowski brothers. (I do not attend a church like this).

The concept of a fracture in the universe comes from a 2009 Easter sermon by Matt Chandler, “red wine burning in my chest” came from a journal entry about taking communion in an Anglican church and “the earth is cranky” came from somewhere else that I can’t remember.

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Nina Smith – This Love

Nina is a great Nottingham-based songwriter and a classy vocalist, destined for great things, here she is live in her living room!

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I Am Studio Face!

Did two cool musical things today (apart from teaching and buying Billy Joel CD’s from Fopp!).

First – I launched a facebook forum for Beatles Songwriting Academy. If you’d like to help me with questions, advice, links or opinions as I blog through all 211 Beatles songs please head over there and join up!

Second – I had an evening session with Deeper Than Forever recording a ‘live in the studio’ track which should be out tomorrow. I was blown away with this band of one-take wonders most of whom are still at school/college.

Here’s a vid of their first ever live performance last month.

A little while ago I noticed Let’s Build An Airport had gotten a review on iTunes! By a complete stranger! And he liked it! “Beautifully understated soundscapes with lovely melodies and chords that might just crumble at any minute” indeed!

Get Let’s Build An Airport here

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