Songwriting is like meeting a new person
And working out their secret motivation for turning up at your house
There's a round in 'Whose Line Is It Anyway?' where one of the panelists pretends to host a dinner party and the other panelists take turns to arrive with some bizarre character trait known only to themselves and the audience. The host has to ask questions at this increasingly erratic person to uncover what their defining motivation is.
"I see you're kneeling by that lampshade... do you worship all homewares?"
"Here, sit down for a minute and I’ll get you more bamboo... after all you are… a drunk panda?”
This is often how it feels to write a song. Like a weird character has marched into your house and you’ve been commissioned to find out who they are.
Sometimes I clock them so quickly they've barely set foot in the door (Pondering On A Scenario In Which I Am The Hero). We laugh, share stories like old friends and I miss them when they’ve gone.
Other times it's some grotesque charade where I throw out ever more exasperated incorrect guesses while the song shakes its head (Watch Yourself) or gets bored and goes off muttering and cursing my name (various unreleased).
Sometimes it's fun to take some one-dimensional part of them and pretend that's all they are (The Everything Goes Back To Normal Button). Sometimes they tell me things about myself I wish they hadn’t (Sideline). Sometimes they bullshit all night about how confident and happy they are before finally breaking down and admitting it's all a sham (Falter).
Quite often they look frustratingly normal, and like with normal people, it’s not always obvious whether there’s a connection. Sometimes you look over their shoulder while they talk in the hope of meeting someone more interesting.
Artists are like party hosts to ideas. People who keep their door open to these unpredictable characters, invite them into their lives in spite of the collisions that result, hold space for the not-quite-knowing-what’s-going-on until it eventually clarifies.
Often all we really know is who someone isn’t when we see it, hear it, or sniff it, and skill is picked up along the way to persist in this state of not-rightness until we’re left with a sense of them that must somehow be… not wrong.
“Wow Artist… that’s an incredible elephant sculpture you’ve made. What’s your secret?”
“I chip away at every list bit of stone that is not elephant. What then remains will be, must be, elephant.”
“You talk funny, but that is super profound.”
“Yeh man, that’s how we roll in ancient India.”
So I guess it’s also like being a sculptor, or an exorcist, or a detective, or a therapist.
The one thing it almost never feels like, at least for me, is inventing something using impressive personal powers.
Do you do creative things? What does creating things feel like for you? If you don’t, does this all sound like fun? Or a nightmare?
I come from a long line of talented, artistic and creative people.
I have often wondered if I am adopted.
I can come up with something that I think can change the world (the non-boiling kettle anyone?) but get sidetracked and instantly forget everything about it.
I live in hope of finding my field of creativity, I just suspect I haven't got 51 more years to discover it...
It feels like being a connector. It feels like desiring community with others and chasing that solution. I have this thing in me that I want to get out and get into someone else’s head, to show beauty, anger, some kind of emotion. If I’m lucky all the words that are chasing themselves around in my head organize themselves into something with decent comprehension and hopefully like a traffic jam at the opening of my mouth they come out slowly but precisely.
I can only see something dare I say miraculous when good songwriters convey something that actually makes me take notice. How do you not get tired of chasing the same progressions to reorder melodies that feel dishonest? Trying to use words that approach what you really mean?! How do you overcome that feeling of “birthing those children” and loving them for what they are and not what you hope they will be?