Guess Who? You got it, I’m back for round 2 of the Blogging world of bloggages and the same rules apply as the last one: I WILL go off on a tangent; it’s just the way I work so you might need to read back at times. It’s the Quentin Tarantino effect lol.
I think the hardest part of writing a great song is knowing when you’ve written a great song. You’d think you would know. Sometimes you do. Sometimes you think it’s horrible and it takes hundreds of people slapping you on the face with a wet fish before it sinks in that it’s got legs.
The song, not the fish. They had their chance.
Good is the biggest stumbling block there is on the way to great. Sometimes it’s easier to go around good and strike out towards great from the safe and familiar ground of being totally shit. You might be wondering what I’m talking about. And yes, I am drinking whisky.
What I’m trying to say is, you can work on a song and make it good. You can endlessly write a more appropriate chorus, work on the perfect drum fill, put in your favourite chord shapes. And you’ll end up with a good song, pat yourself on the back, and feel like a right little songsmith.
Doesn’t mean the song’s great though. It might be insipid. It might not move a mollusc, let alone a discerning music lover. But because you can point to all the good things in it, you’re blinded to the fact it just isn’t inspiring or inspired. And conversely, a song can be shit and then suddenly make the leap to brilliant. You can point at all the ways it doesn’t work, is boring, or fails in its intent, yet for some reason it all suddenly clicks together. We’re lucky – it sometimes happens to us. I’ll let you in on a secret: I didn’t think Poker was a very good song. It was terrible for the longest time, only when Mez and Whitty performed it with such wide eyed conviction did we see that there was more to it that a workout on the bass guitar.
We’re working on songs now. Songs that started life as acoustic demos I recorded during my sojourn from work in May, while the leaves grew on the trees and the sun shone down unnoticed by me. I was in a little bedroom with recording gear and an acoustic guitar. The curtains were shut, and I was on my own. Now we’re hammering them out in the practice room, sometimes reeling off new ideas with ease, sometimes bouncing off the walls in anger and pent up frustration at the songs, each other, our own fingers…
The things I’m noticing are interesting. As we make these songs our own, they change. They become leaner, we distil them down. Songs that I thought were ok when it was me and an acoustic become forces of nature with the band pounding them out. Songs I arrogantly thought would be immense and emotional might not work at all, or prove to be flat and samey. Then one of the guys will take the song and fix it with an idea so simple or so obvious that I’d never have thought of it in a million years. More than at any point in the last few years I’m feeling a connection with my three brothers. I can’t describe how it feels to watch these guys take my ideas in their hands and actually treat them with respect, with passion, and with belief.
When I first played the other guys what I’d been working on, they were my songs. Now I listen to that CD and it sounds so boring and flat. Those songs have changed, grown up, and they’re not mine any more. They belong to the band. I absolutely cannot wait to start recording them, because thanks to Alex, Mez and Whitty I think we’ve got something special on our hands.
Have you ever wondered where songs come from?
Welcome to 2011: they come from my mobile phone. At least, that’s where the songs we’ll be talking about in this blogfermented. Some became stronger, more purified and lean. Others turned to mushy mulch, wet and stinking, straight from the bottom of a compost heap.
I play the guitar at home quite a lot. Sometimes I’ll be noodling away and an idea will just fall into my head all by itself – a guitar riff, a lyric idea, a special effect that I think would be cool in a song, even just a feeling that I want to try to capture in music. And when that happens, I know I’ll forget it totally within minutes. It’s a race against time to catch it before it vanishes forever. So out comes my mobile, with its handy voice record function. I bet your phone has one too, have you ever used it? I use mine almost every day. If it weren’t for mobiles, I’d have to carry a Dictaphone round like a rogue reporter who’s never had a scoop in his whole career. I record the idea, be it 10 seconds or two minutes. Then, safe in the knowledge that the idea is safe in my phone, I forget about it. Having an idea is much easier than finishing a song – ideas are always great because of their potential. Songs are crap because you haven’t lived up to that potential.
I’ve been working like that for about 5 years. A few months ago I decided to sort through the recordings I had and try to turn the best ones into songs. Only one snag: there were 1,500 of these buggers: little snippets of the embryos that would one day grow up to be music. Oh, crap, ah’m gonna be a daddy!
But I’m nothing if not industrious (read: stupidly obsessed) so I listened to them all. I was really harsh – if I didn’t think what I was hearing was special in some way, and had potential to be a song, I’d delete it. Sometimes I’d hear an idea recorded years ago, then recorded again much more recently, with different words or a slightly different hook. Sometimes the same idea would be a recurring theme in loads of different recordings. Often I’d hear an idea that had since become part of another finished song. It took about 5 days, but eventually I had 300 ideas that I felt might, with a bit of hard work, inspiration and luck, become finished songs that didn’t totally suck.
How do 300 sound clips, probably averaging 20 seconds long, turn into the basis for a Captain Horizon album? Ideas are only one ingredient, and they’re easy – anyone can have an idea. Turning it into something good is the hard bit.
For me, the second ingredient was something very bitter indeed. The week I finished sorting through the clips, me and my workmates were called into the Bosses office at my job and told there was no work for us that month: We’d either need to take unpaid leave, or face redundancies. I left work that day facing three weeks of unpaid nothing. Some people would have looked for another job, or at least temp work to fill the time. Maybe some would have gone travelling or visited friends or at least tried to get some sunshine.
I set up a studio in the spare bedroom, and closed the door on the world.