Cocoon for Two
I’m not sure what happened this week – had a good week last week with David Keeble and our cowrite – but a lot of other things are getting in the way. Difficult skype session for my Matt Dusk song and we decide to call it quits on the project. Skyping 3 ways was just not working – we did give it a good try but you need to get and sustain momentum when cowriting and that just never quite happened. I hope I get a chance to write with these guys again –they’re both awesome writers and good people. The challenge hasn’t worked out as planned and I’m not sure after this latest blow whether to keep going or call it – there are a lot of other unexpected distractions. Also my lack of production chops and gear – something I was planning to rectify (gear-wise) prior to the challenge and then use the 6 weeks as a kind of boot camp didn’t happen. Now hearing what so many are capable of in a short time frame I am inspired, and frankly daunted, by the mad skills on display. It’s a good wake up call.
This week’s task was definitely within my wheelhouse so it would have been a shame not to put something together although I dawdled. I’ve never done heroin and I won’t ever try it – I do like imagining what it would do to the human condition and mindset. Finally last night I finished the idea and recorded it today, my bandmate and musical savant Zac Barrett is playing fiddle, the recording is again iphone low-fi. It is so rough compared to what others are doing – but it’s real and live – which I like. I’m not sure if it’s a song I would work on more or ever play again – this is new territory for me since I would not typically finish a song unless I was compelled to play it over and over again. It’s good to exercise this songwriting muscle – no doubt it will make me stronger and help me finish many songs that might otherwise be on the cusp.
So life has changed since the last blog – without getting into details that are going to distract from this challenge and the songwriting task at hand, let’s just say that I’m happy that I am able to get back on the train with my fellow challenge takers. I missed the week 2 and 3 challenges but I resumed writing this week and had a fruitful Skype experience with David Keeble whom I met a couple SongStudios ago. It went like this – I had a single idea that I emailed to David that was inspired by the guidance from Ron Irving’s challenge. David sent me a solid list of potential titles from which I chose a couple that resonated with me. The next day we had a Skype call; first we worked through my idea and ran that ball downfield for a bit – I had in mind something along the lines of Save a Horse, Ride a Cowboy to meet the edginess criteria. We set that one aside while we talked through a couple of David’s ideas – Girls with Boyfriends was the one that resonated the most with me and we looked at it from several angles. The story started forming, more tweaks and turns and we were getting somewhere. It was in the bar and this girl (flying solo) was flirting but kept saying she had a boyfriend…we couldn’t think of what would make it ok for our hero to pursue her flirtations so it morphed from a pickup to her pouring her heart out to her long time friend of the male variety. Ooh now we were getting somewhere, and he’d been listening to her relationship woes for years and was frustrated. Really though, he’d been smitten by her for a long time but could never bring himself to risk the friendship – but now he’d had all he could take. From this a tagline popped out – Long Line of Losers – ooh maybe even a title we thought. We wrote the chorus, then a verse, then pushed through another and though we didn’t write a bridge we both agreed on what the bridge needed to do. Feeling pretty spiffy with our efforts – we did some virtual high-fiving and agreed that we would work on the music separately and reconvene. Also, we would send along our lyric versions in case they were different. So then working on the music separately we came up with two quite different paths. When we got back together one became the default and the other went on the back burner. It was a tougher second session as we hammered out more of the lyrics and arm-wrestled over what the story needed. I did a lot of second guessing of what we had originally come up with but got more comfortable with it by the end. Partially it was the musical rift that got me a little less than productive – note to future self that ego checks of many kinds are required to keep the cowriting ball rolling. We followed up with several email correspondences – didn’t get too far that way. Then on Friday I tried to work the song up with my drummer and keyboard player (no bass unfortunately). Tried a few different versions and the phone recording here, vocal flubs and all, was the best take I got. It is fun to play new songs (or partial songs) with a band to see where they can go. It was quite different from the recording David had already made – but thankfully he liked it. We’re both curious to see what our fellow challenge takers think of the different versions. A note of caution – my recording is extremely low fi and I didn’t really have the song down enough to play it well (still don’t, but it’s coming). After that – more emails as weekend schedules were busy but we did get a call in Sunday night after identifying we weren’t making good progress without skype. So we did a fairly rapid line by line and got to a good place by the end and we’re both pretty happy though feedback on the different versions would be lovely to have. Thanks, glad to be back on board with y’all.
6 weeks – 6 songs. That’s a tall order and will no doubt kick start some creative flow. In the end, how happy I am with my new songs will be directly proportional to how much creative stamina I can muster – is it a sprint, marathon or random drunkard’s walk?…let’s find out. See, songwriting is not so bad – song finishing, though, is kryptonite-hard. That’s been my experience for the last several years of marrying music and words and I have many, many unfinished songs to show for it. I think these SAC deadlines are a remedy for my song-finishing woes or at least a mechanism to get them to the stage where they’re ready for rewrites 😉
The Matt Dusk challenge is a good one. It’s not something I would typically try to write but not so far out of my wheelhouse either. I do like songs that groove, be it funk, rocknroll or jazz – a grooving rhythm that people or players can move to is sonic bliss, pure and simple. It was definitely going to be up tempo for me and I knew the referenced Pumped Up Kicks and Up all Night to Get Lucky songs but the Big Bang was new to me – pretty cool tune. I youtubed all of them to refresh my memory and learned the Pumped Up Kicks bass line which is the source of the groove for that song as far as I’m concerned.
So I decided to start writing a bass line – and that lead to a nice 4 chord groove that I played around with and locked in with some minor chordal variations for spice – I like my groove and I’m convinced it will work. The reference songs all have a simple repetitive chord pattern with the melodic variations providing lift and movement throughout the song. Some cool melodic hooks will definitely be needed – in addition to a killer chorus they will make or break the song I feel.
Hook inspiration came while driving home from dropping my kids at school on Tuesday morning. Dave Matthews live version of All Along the Watchtower was playing and it has a good groove to it although quite different then what the pitch will require it still can provides a backing track for melodic/lyrical ideas. I’m not sure how I got there, but I was thinking about something I used to say to myself before wrestling matches in high school!! And out of that came a tasty little hook – you’ll have to wait til a future blog for me to spill the beans though 😉 …. I do know I had a pretty good feeling that it would work and I haven’t looked back since.
The co-writer conundrum. So many of today’s hits are written by teams of writers and there is a push to collaborate with other writers for this challenge and in other songwriting circles. I’ve had some fun and written some songs I’m very proud of through collaboration. I’ve also had collaborations that started strong and then fizzled out with not much to show for it. I’m mostly set on writing with people that I like (usually that’s easy, songwriters are a very cool tribe overall), and ideally I really like their style and they have a complimentary skill set to mine (especially production chops). So I listen to people’s work with an open mind and a discerning ear. Time is short so I’ve got to be efficient but can’t afford to stifle creativity by checking the clock or pushing too hard. Then there’s usually a push to write with someone who is better or more established then yourself. More on this in future blogs but I am happy to report that I have what I feel is a strong yet manageable cowrite team formed for the pitch.
Wish me luck with Challenge 2 and the massive amount of work left for Challenge 1!
Starting tomorrow I’m going to write a song a week for the next 6 weeks. I’m not alone though – I’m one of several songwriters (not sure how many yet??) that have signed up for the Songwriter’s Association of Canada 2015 Songwriting Challenge. There are a number of industry professionals who will be issuing challenges and mentoring along the way. Giddyup!
I plan to post recordings of the songs on Soundcloud – maybe even full band versions if I can work it up with Thar Be Dragons in time…