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.

Posted in Behind The Song, Showing Up, Songwriting | Tagged | Leave a comment

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.

Posted in Behind The Song, Let's Build An Airport EP | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

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!

Posted in Nottingham Sounds | Tagged | Leave a comment

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

Posted in Let's Build An Airport EP, Nottingham Sounds, Showing Up | Tagged , | Leave a comment

The Armando Media Manifesto

I’ve been reading an article where The Thick Of It creator Armando Iannucci describes the ‘strange liberation’ of admitting he’s never going to get round to watching The Sopranos on DVD.

It’s actually freeing to realise you’re never going to catch up with everything you could, or should watch, listen to or do. Here some thoughts…

1) I will never hear/watch/read everything on my ‘to do’ lists

So there is no point knocking myself out trying. The only real purpose that these lists serve is to stop me being aimless when I AM looking for something to read, watch or listen to.

2) I already have too much

If I add no more music to my collection, I will not be alive long enough to listen to all the music I have already – CD Baby President, Brian Felsen

Check your Media Player. Here’s mine.

46:00:26:03? What does that number even mean! AND this is only a fraction of the music that I have (most of it is on a different hard-drive).

If we dedicate our lives to trawling through our music we’ll still only listen to everything a few times. Armando talks about “the strange feeling of depression [of iPod users] – having all music in their pocket, they find it more difficult to be entirely satisfied with the track they’ve chosen to listen to….because logic dictates there has to be something even better somewhere else”. To heavily paraphrase C.S. Lewis, we don’t need to listen to a lot of music as much as listen to a small amount of great music a lot of times.

3) Life is too short

There’s a season of life where you should try everything and persevere with it if you don’t like it or understand it at first. Hopefully you have older people in your life to encourage you in that way. But I am 46. And while I see the merit in them, I am never going to like Miles Davis, Mozart, Eric Clapton, Opera, Frank Zappa’s guitar solos, DC Comics, Incubus or Pink Floyd. I don’t have the time to commit to a sprawling TV series in the hope it will get going by season 4. We all have a finite amount of time on this blob of spit and sand and my time is becoming finiter as we speak. So, dammit, I am never going to read an 800 page book about the Beatles that ends in 1962, no matter how definitive it is. And I feel good about that.

As Armando puts it -

Faced with an infinity of choice, I’ve discovered there is still hope. It boils down to simple mathematics. Anything we watch or read or listen to can’t possibly make the slightest dent in our backlog, since our backlog is infinite. Far from causing despair, this knowledge should liberate us to abandon the quest and revel even longer in what we have immediately to hand.

To put it another way, whether you choose to re-read Great Expectations or read the latest Margaret Drabble makes not the slightest bit of difference. You’ll be no nearer completion, so you might as well settle for whichever you really prefer.

If you are put off reading Don Quixote because you think you simply don’t have the time, think again: the dozen paperbacks or videos you would consume over the same period will bring you no nearer to total cultural fulfilment.

I especially liked this

If you go to see a film and really like it, the following week you can go back and see it again. It’s really up to you.

So here’s my action points

  • Enjoy what you reading/watching/listening to right now. Really enjoy it. As if there is nothing else waiting in the queue.
  • If you’re not enjoying it – get rid of it. Someone said the you should perservere with any new book ’100 pages minus your age’. That’s a good rule of thumb.
  • If you’re familiar with an musician, and you didn’t like their previous work or they no longer move you, you should be able to judge a new album by skipping through it. Doesn’t grab you? Move on! Same with genres. The more familiar you are, the quicker you can decide whether it’s worth your time.
  • If you really enjoyed something, feel free to listen to it, watch it, read it again – straight away or very soon. It’s allowed!
  • Try a ratio of how many favourite old books/albums/films to new ones you consume (I used to read 3 new books, then reread an old one).
  • Try giving away one book/dvd/cd per week to the charity shop.
Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , | Leave a comment