write for other projects and other people – I wrote serious songs. Gran was the catchiest one and it’s still a pretty dark song if you listen to the lyrics. I also wrote very slowly, those kinds of songs aren’t easy to write. Then I was asked to play in a fledgling celtic punk band. The very first jam session we finished a song, I wrote the verses and Enzo wrote the intro and chorus. The next jam session we had two more. Songs were coming so fast because I wasn’t writing for me, I was liberated by working in the confines of a genre. A song like War Of Whisky would have been far too simple before, To The Cliffs too romantic and old timey, Pride Of My Hometown started off being written for that project because I jotted down a list of topics one could write celtic folk punk songs about and ‘being a boxer’ seemed like a neat idea. That band collapsed (and we’re now putting back together) before I had anything more than the intro verse but the idea stuck around and as I went back to writing for myself I had so many new tools in the box.
The other way this takes shape is hanging out with my non-songwriting friends and we’ll joking say this or that would make a great song and the next day I’ll wind up fleshing out the idea. Writing with the intent of not creating a great album worthy song but keeping a joke going and using my skills to entertain my friends. If you go to my soundcloud you’ll find two new songs that came from drinking and laughing as we do and the next day I realized I had things I could say in those jokey ideas and both songs turned out good enough I might put them on the next record. That’s also how Cough Syrup And Beer was written for Richmond Road.
Record your ideas – This came in handy just yesterday. I’d just demoed a song and was strumming my guitar when I hit a chord progression I liked. I started singing off the top of my head, total improv lyrics, and I clicked onto a melody and some words that were a great chorus. I sang it over and over and started working on verses. I was madly in love with this chorus. I made a quick recording of it then went out to buy groceries. Heard other music, thought about other things and when I came back and picked up my guitar the chords were right, the words were right but it sounded lame. The number of times in my life the story has stopped there – where I had a great thing in one moment and whatever little magic made it great was lost in the next – is enormous. So I listened to the tape to see if it had been a bad idea all along or if I had just forgotten something and sure enough it was a great idea, I’d just lost the vocal melody. So quick crappy little recordings can save your sanity, remember that.
Write Live Songs, Album Tracks, And Singles – I love slow songs and songs with really odd structures. I love songs that are out of character for a band or have unusual instrumentation. I love backing vocals. A lot of things that can ruin a song if you play it live. On Richmond Road songs like Go Ahead and Another funeral are songs I really love that don’t work live so I don’t bother playing them. Puppy is a song a lot of people like that live is just too slow and quiet so I don’t play it. Some songs are going to flourish in some contexts. Don’t be afraid to write songs that are 7 minutes or 2 minutes, don’t be afraid to dub in a recorder solo or a great harp without discussing how to do it on stage, write vocal call backs and harmonies. Making a great record and having a great live set aren’t related transferable skills. If you just worry about how a song is going to work live and entertain a crowd you’ll turn into AC/DC and write the same album 11 times. If you never worry about playing live and being an engaging entertainer your sets will suck and if your set sucks not many people are going to buy your secretly amazing record.