Me and Cyrus started up another blog-off contest, seeing who could keep up regular entries for longer, this time at a more manageable rate of once a week. Deadline is Sunday night; here’s me making sure I don’t eff the dog right off the bat.
I want to talk a little about how my songwriting process works. Partly because it’s the aspect of my music that I feel the most confident about, but like the green magician I can’t help but divulge the secret behind the trick; but also because I’m curious how other songwriters’ processes might differ. For me, most every song has a ‘seed’ lyric; one line around which everything else is built. Sometimes it’s exactly the line you would expect, like the words ‘married to the sea’ in the song “Married To The Sea”, or ‘Either kick me out, or kiss me back’ in “The State Of The Garden”*. But a lot of my songs don’t really have a catchy chorus (for a long time I didn’t really know how to write them; not that I really know how now, but catchier ideas pop into my head than before). What do you suppose the seed lyric was for “Come Closer”? I’m interested to know what you think it was; take a second, I’ll wait.
The answer: “But all the things we used to do, you said you never could again / Well, that’s okay, we don’t have to, though we were pretty good at them.” If you thought it was something different, you should write it in the comments! Let’s do a different one. “World’s Oldest Profession” was actually a whole different song (still a breakup song, but much less angry) that got scrapped, and two lyrics that came from the original should properly be considered its seeds. And those are 1) the first four lines of the second verse (“Dear, you were an artist”) and 2) “You don’t bring your face so near /unless it’s to threaten my life”.
Then sometimes there are songs that grow out of a general concept, like “Red Balloon”, where I first had the idea of simply portraying a series of moments where one is experiencing one event in reality and mentally reliving another. I actually made a list of situations I wanted to juxtapose that contrasted sharply but yet seemed to have some shred of a common theme, e.g. not being able to pay one’s bills and being outmanuevered in a fistfight, or the adrenaline rush felt in both lovemaking and being in a car accident. The theme of loss only began to emerge as I wrote more and more verses, and the red balloon device came at the end of the lyrical process; I think the first and last verse were the last two I penned.
Obviously this is all about the lyrical process; there’s lots more I could say about how it’s set to music, probably for another post. I’ll just say now that usually the seed lyric has a melodic line or at least a melodic ‘shape’, although it could change later; I actually never like to write any chords until all the words are done, for fear that I might write shitty filler to fit the preconceived phrase. Anyway, I’m interested to know how other people approach their nascent song ideas. Comment, goddamnit! Thank you.
*If you’re thinking about joking that the ‘balls deep’ lyric was the ‘seed’, don’t bother. I already thought of that and determined that it wasn’t fit to print.