The way I write a song is similar to a collage. Sound upon sound. Textures. I come up with an idea and I try to make the idea come to life. But it doesn’t always go to plan. That’s just the way it is. For my latest song I wanted to get a raw, stripped back sound. Just a guitar and a voice. So I plugged the Telecaster into the Orange amplifier. Two simple chords – G and C if you’re interested. And then a voice. Job done…
Or not. The Telecaster sounded a little weedy and instead I had to resort to my ol’ faithful – the acoustic guitar. I then found that if I stuck with the acoustic for the bed of the song, I could bring in the Telecaster in the latter half as a duvet. So, I’ve barely started and I’ve got 4 tracks of guitar. I tend to double track guitars, panning one to the left and one to the right. Panning – the positioning of a sound in relation to the listener – is a science in itself. I may talk about it at length one day for any budding musicians out there. Panning is a fundamental and often misused weapon in the producer’s arsenal. Panning can pull an element of sound ‘in’ and ‘out’ of a mix.
So I now have a sketch of the song with just guitars – acoustics coming at you from the left and right, electrics coming at you from the left and right. It’s quite a long song and I enjoy ‘kicking in’ in the latter parts of a song. The way I achieve this in this latest song is to leave the song pretty naked for three minutes or so… and then to kick in with bass and drums together. The intention is to take the listener by surprise. Okay, the surprise is ruined if you write a description of the song on the internet before you even let anyone hear it… but this is a site that exists to describe what it means to be a songwriter. We have tools. It can take years to learn these tricks of the trade. To be honest, even as a young band you’re likely using a lot of techniques without actually knowing it. You’re picking up little tricks from listening to your favourite bands. It could be Nirvana, it could be Jay-Z. The point is that even a novice knows the basics – the fundamental rules. Then you spend a few years understanding the rules… until eventually you learn to break those rules. And then if you’re lucky you come to the realisation that rules are there for a reason. Then you finally exist in a space where you don’t know anything anymore. Totally perplexed, you write the greatest songs of your career… because you are writing from within yourself, and nothing else matters.
So I have guitars, bass and drums. My style is to then lay on a whole symphony orchestra. I don’t HAVE to do this. But this is a sound that turns me on. It’s a set of rules that I have created. I know what I’m doing. The orchestra is an important colour in my sound palette. I like epicness. I strive to achieve epicness. I am taking part in a battle against the planets to produce the ‘most epic song’. I’ll let you know when I think I’ve created that song. Be warned… the day may never come.
Ah… then my friends, come the lyrics. The most important part of a song? Well, they can be. They certainly can be. But they can also be incidental to the ‘sound’ of the song as a whole. I’ve lost count of the number of songs where I’ve misheard and then mis-sung the words (I’m pointing at you – Beatles songs!!!). It never really mattered. Lyrics often mean the world to the songwriter and very little to the casual listener. The devout fan however… well, perhaps that’s a different story.
Stay tuned to hear the finished song. I can’t let you know too much more at this point. I’m not sure which direction it will take during the final lap. It should just run round the track and straight across the finishing line – but my songs do have a habit of turning 90 degrees, heading out of the stadium and to the nearest hot-dog stand where they hang about discussing the latest shenanigans on the Apprentice.