Our single ‘The Fire’ was released yesterday. It wasn’t the kind of launch we might have expected a year ago before lockdown and social distancing. I wrote this blog post and spent most of the day either promoting it on one of the bewildering number of social media and music sites we subscribe to rather than toasting our achievement with champagne. I guess we’re all holding our breath for the album release just three weeks away, but thinking about it now, it is a milestone. Another surprising moment is the publication of this blog on a Monday, the day it’s actually supposed to be out. The reason is, I wanted to explain how I write songs before the two two next posts where we’ll be publishing the lyrics of the album tracks and describing what inspired us to write the individual songs and what they mean to us as a band.
And while we’re promoting our single and the album we’re writing for the next album. For anyone rubbing their eyes in disbelief, yes, it’s true. The treadmill never stops. There are three reasons why. First, because if we are going to release another album in 12 months, we have to start now. It will have taken 16 months from our first meeting with Tom Hughes, the producer, to release this album. We’re not the slowest. I’ll put my hand up, Razz and Rob had finished their tracks by December and although lockdown slowed us up it was slow-arse Silver who didn’t finish guitars, vocals and keys until July. Second, because when we start doing gigs again we need a fair-sized repertoire. We could do 90 minutes with a few covers but if you play original songs it’s a point of pride to play your own stuff. And for those pessimists who reckon it will be another 12 months before venues re-open (those who haven’t gone bust), we plan to start live-streaming as soon as we are allowed to meet up. And third, because the songs are there. I’ve got them ready, I’m making demos as I write.
Today I’d like to try to give you a sense of the process of writing a song. There are probably as many ways of writing as there are songwriters. Even more. I write some one way, some in another and I’m pretty confident I’m not the only one. I guess there must be a university or a college or an online course… definitely a book or a website which will tell you how to write a song. Maybe I should enrol! But in the end you have to start with inspiration. You’re sitting there thinking to yourself, I want to write a song; and the question you, or someone else is going to ask you is, ‘What’s it going to be about?’ And you don’t need to be specific. It can be about an emotion – love, desire, heartbreak, joy. It can be about music. Our track, ‘Rock and Roll Life’ is about that. So there’s no shortage of subjects to write about. We’re talking about a song with lyrics. An instrumental is even easier. Ask Bruce Hornsby who wrote the most beautiful piano piece called ‘Song C’. And all those classical composers who wrote Rhapsodies in Em, Etudes in C# and so on. But for the purpose of this post we’re going to work through a song with lyrics and melody.
So you know what you’re going to write about. Don’t worry about the title yet. We’ve got a little way to go before we write those words. You can have a working title. I know a metal band who use working titles that are absolutely eye-wateringly disgusting! You can change titles quite easily. Changing lyrics can have unforeseen consequences.
So now we come to a fork in the road. Lyrics or music? Which comes first? Sometimes they come at the same time. I was/am walking the Camino de Santiago de Compostela, a mediaeval pilgrimage route through southwestern France and northern Spain. Was, because I started it in 2019 and reached half way with the intention to do the remaining 500 Kms last year. That didn’t work out because of a pandemic but I’m still hoping to get to Cape Finistere this year. It’s for a good cause. I’m doing it for cancer research. Anyway, my point is, I was walking through a forest in the foothills of the Pyrenees and a song came to me. Two lines…”Pilgrim; Why are you doing this?” Followed by more lyrics and music. I pulled out my phone, opened the Voice Recorder and sang it. Just as well I was in the middle of the country and there was no-one else around. That’s happened to me a few times before and it’s great when the whole song just comes in one burst. Other times I wake up and there’s a riff or a line of lyrics jangling around in my head. Then it’s a rush to get to a guitar, my piano or a sheet of music. Most times, though, it’s a bit more prosaic. You need to work for your song. I’ve actually got a load of titles. More than 100 at the last count but if a new idea comes in my mind I’ll take it. If I am sitting at a keyboard, computer or musical, or if I’ve got a guitar to hand, and a melody, or a lyric fits, I’ll write it down because there’s nothing worse than forgetting it. That song you know will get a billion streams, lost somewhere in your subconscious. In the end, you’ll work it out. And I haven’t even spoken about collaboration. Razz and I have written a couple of songs together. He gave me the lyrics and I did the music. It works fine. He also writes on his own.
While you may write on your own or with someone else, as soon as you take your song to the musicians who are going to play it, then it becomes a collaboration and you can never be too precious about it. I’ve had demos thrown back at me by the guys. We’ve spent hours trying to make a song work and it still doesn’t come out the way it sounded in my head. You can’t be precious. Positive criticism is sometimes tough to take but if it improves your song it’s a gift.