Thursday, 25 February 2010

Breaking The Block!

First Aid Kit

I forgot to mention in yesterday's post, deep though I was in music-recommendation mode, to mention the headliners at the second Deaf Institute show. First Aid Kit are a Swedish band comprised of two sisters (although they were touring with a drummer). Its really beautiful stuff. They're voices, harmonies, songs and general intention really impressed me. I had to leave early in their set to get my equipment home, which I felt a bit of a cunt about because they had been so friendly and humble the whole time I was there, and also because its customary to listen to the other bands, since you'd typically expect them to give them the time day. I caught the first few songs and was enjoying it so much I had to drag myself out of the venue. I listened to their music as soon as I got back to the flat, and I was even more disappointed to have missed them. I like their fleet foxes cover more than I liked the original and they do jilted love songs about as well as you can.


Tomorrow is my last day of work this week, and I'm lucky enough to have a four-day weekend. I'm planning to take advantage of the free time and space to finish some songs, as I alluded to in yesterday's post. I enjoy the process of writing and the satisfaction in finishing a song more than just about anything in the world, but I have to confess that there are whole periods where I'll completely neglect it. I can be a terrible procrastinator. This manifests itself in things like (and this is only an example) writing a blog about intending to write songs when I could just as well be using the time to actually write.

The first two months of this year have been pretty creatively slow. Back to back gigs and a lot of time working my job in the Toy Shop (yeah, I work in a toy shop) have meant very little time to tune out the world. In slumps like these, I often turn to recalling methods I used at times when I was working harder and holding back less. I was thinking about this today and remembered the very anal but effective system I developed while I was still at sixth form, which was probably the most busy and enjoyable creative period of my life. Getting this down is as much to help my memory as it a desire to share it, but I always enjoy hearing about other people's songwriting methods, so it makes sense to put it out there. Feel free to use it. From what I can gather, creative process is a pretty personal thing so it may just totally stall you. Fairly warned, be ye, says I.

The Jo Rose writing system!

You will need:
  1. Two notebooks, lavishly and melodramatically personalised. I chose to put a pretty angsty photograph on my first ('notebook one' henceforth) and a picture of Ryan Adams typing feverishly on a manual typewriter on my second ('notebook two'), as a constant reminder that some people actually work really hard.
  2. One Dictaphone.
  3. A lot of those mini Dictaphone tapes.
The method:

The most important thing is to not let any ideas go, no matter how scrappy or partially formed, in notebook one. I invariably get flashes of song lyrics, arrangements, images and stories in my head during the day and convince myself I'll remember them, only to get to the evening and realise that I don't even remember the gist. The purpose is for nothing to get lost. Unless you can write music or have perfect pitch, you'll also need the Dictaphone for melodies, etc.

Behind the block of flats where I live, there's a few miles of open spaces: woods, meadows and rivers. You can walk around for hours and not see anyone at all some days. I walk around with notebook 1 in my pocket, listening to guitar parts on the Dictaphone, mentally singing over them and writing stuff as it came to me. I'd say before I left the house that I wouldn't allow myself to come back until I had the first draft of something. It almost always works. King Of Your Blue Eyes was written like this.

When I get back, I write it up as pretty as I can in notebook two. I normally typewrite it. Partly because it makes it more fun to edit later down the line, and also I get an ego boost off entertaining some Kerouacian/ Dylanesque romantic aesthetic. If goofy things like this satisfy your ego enough to allow you to put it aside so be it, I say.

Come back to it when you're ready and edit. Brutally. Then play it to a good friend, pretend its a song by someone famous and hope they don't notice.

Thinking about music.

Something that's always interested me is the infinitely different ways that people think about music. I once saw a documentary about this savant who had this superhuman mathematical ability. I think he famously recited pi to a gazillion decimal places or something. He said that when he thought about numbers, he imagined these shifting landscape and it just made sense to him. Its very similar to the things I've heard from friends about making music. My friend Liam, for instance, who plays Mandola in the band and who has a really natural feel for music told me that he visualises colours and shapes when he hears different timbres. He sees chords in terms of physical space, relating to fifths. For example, F would be in front of C, and G would be behind, with G above F and F sharp in between.

When I was a kid and I was first starting to play guitar, I imagined a drama being played out between the chords as I was playing. For instance, if I was playing in the key of G, G (the root note) would be the popular assertive one that all the other chords would begrudgingly comply with. C would be its favourite and D would be the one that came crying to when it was bored of C, and the minor chords occasionally came from outside the social group and just fucked things up. I could go on, but you get the idea. The theme I've noticed is people using things they can relate to to describe something that's totally abstract. It could just be me, but this stuff really fascinates me. Its proof that there's no 'right' way to think about creating music: something good to remind yourself of when you're getting heavy with method. See? It kinda all tied together. Not a total tangent.

I can honestly say that's enough from me.

Speak soon,



ps: If any of you know me through Fear Of Music and are interested in what the other guys are up to, Ali sent me his new band's website address. he's totally reinvented himself...

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