Paul McCartney – “Yesterday”

October 28th, 2012 § 0 comments § permalink

Wikipedia describes how Paul McCartney dreamed the melody to “Yesterday” and then set it to nonsense lyrics:

According to biographers of McCartney and the Beatles, McCartney composed the entire melody in a dream one night in his room at the Wimpole Street home of his then girlfriend Jane Asher and her family. Upon waking, he hurried to a piano and played the tune to avoid forgetting it.

McCartney’s initial concern was that he had subconsciously plagiarised someone else’s work. As he put it, “For about a month I went round to people in the music business and asked them whether they had ever heard it before. Eventually it became like handing something in to the police. I thought if no-one claimed it after a few weeks then I could have it.”

Upon being convinced that he had not robbed anyone of his melody, McCartney began writing lyrics to suit it. As Lennon and McCartney were known to do at the time, a substitute working lyric, titled “Scrambled Eggs” (the working opening verse was “Scrambled Eggs/Oh, my baby how I love your legs”), was used for the song until something more suitable was written.

McCartney said the breakthrough with the lyrics came during a trip to Portugal in May 1965:

“I remember mulling over the tune ‘Yesterday’, and suddenly getting these little one-word openings to the verse. I started to develop the idea … da-da da, yes-ter-day, sud-den-ly, fun-il-ly, mer-il-ly and Yes-ter-day, that’s good. All my troubles seemed so far away. It’s easy to rhyme those a’s: say, nay, today, away, play, stay, there’s a lot of rhymes and those fall in quite easily, so I gradually pieced it together from that journey. Sud-den-ly, and ‘b’ again, another easy rhyme: e, me, tree, flea, we, and I had the basis of it.”

Source: Wikipedia

The Doors

October 28th, 2012 § 0 comments § permalink

Keyboardist Ray Manzarek and guitarist Robby Krieger talk about how “Light My Fire” was written and then modified to be a radio single:

Manzarek: By March 1966, we were running out of songs. Up until then, I had been putting chord changes to Jim [Morrison’s] sung lyrics. At a band rehearsal, Jim said, “Everyone go home this weekend and write at least one song.” But when we regrouped the following Tuesday, only Robby had written one. He called it “Light My Fire.”

Krieger: I was living at my parents’ home in Pacific Palisades [Calif.] at the time. In my bedroom, I came up with a melody inspired by the Leaves’ “Hey Joe.” I also liked the Rolling Stones’ “Play With Fire,” so I wrote lyrics that used the word fire.

Manzarek: We had been rehearsing in the downstairs sunroom of a beach house at the very end of North Star Street near Venice [Calif.]. The people who lived upstairs were at work during the day, so we could bang away without disturbing anyone.

When Robby played his song for us, it had a then-popular folk-rock sound. But John [Densmore] cringed. He said, “No, no, not folk-rock.” He wanted it to sound edgier. He added a hard, Latin rhythm to the rock beat, and it worked.

Krieger: As Jim sang, he changed the melody line a little to give it a bluesy feel. Then he came up with a second verse right off the top of his head: “The time to hesitate is through/No time to wallow in the mire…”

Manzarek: Once the lyrics and melody were set, we realized we could jam as long as we wanted on the song’s middle two chords—A-minor and B-minor—the way John Coltrane did on “My Favorite Things” and “Olé.” All of us dug Coltrane’s long solos.

But we needed some way to start the song. At the rehearsal, I started playing a cycle of fifths on my Vox Continental organ. Out came a motif from the Bach “Two- and Three-Part Inventions” piano book I had used as a kid. It was like a psychedelic-rock minuet.

We didn’t use a bass player—I played the bass notes on a Fender Rhodes keyboard bass while my right hand played the Vox, which could be cranked up to a screaming-loud volume. My bass line for “Light My Fire” grew out of Fats Domino’s “Blueberry Hill,” which I loved growing up in Chicago.

Krieger: Afterward, Paul felt the song needed a little more drama at the end. Because Paul loved what Ray had done with the minuet in the beginning, he said, “Hell, let’s put it at the end, too.” So he spliced in a copy of Ray’s minuet after Jim’s vocal, as an outro.

Manzarek: Paul brought in Larry Knechtel of the Wrecking Crew to overdub a stronger bass attack. Then the master was blasted into the studio’s cement echo chamber, which gave the song reverb.

Krieger: A few months after “The Doors” album came out in January 1967, Elektra founder Jac Holzman called and said the label wanted a single for AM radio. Dave Diamond, an FM disc jockey in the San Fernando Valley, had been playing the album version and was getting a ton of calls.

Manzarek: But a single meant our 7:05-minute album version had to be cut down to 2½ minutes. Everyone groaned, but Paul said he’d take a crack at it. When we heard the result the next day, the organ and guitar solos were gone. Robby and I looked at each other and said to Paul, “You cut out the improvisation!”

Paul said: “I know. But imagine you’re 17 years old in Minneapolis. You’ve never heard of the Doors and this is the version you hear on the radio. Would you have a problem with it?” Jim sat there and said, “Actually, I kind of dig it.” We agreed.

Krieger: It was gut-wrenching to hear my guitar solo cut, but I actually liked the single better. I was never crazy about the album version. It had been mixed at a very low volume to capture everything. On the radio, it wasn’t very loud or exciting. The single, though, snapped. The secret was that Paul had wrapped Scotch tape around the spindle holding the pickup reel, so the tape would turn a fraction faster. This made the pitch a little higher and brighter, and the song more urgent.

Source: Interviews compiled by the Wall Street Journal

Songwriting technique overview

September 25th, 2009 § 0 comments § permalink

I’ve written a high-level post on common songwriting techniques for the writing portion of my site. Look here.

Nine Inch Nails

July 10th, 2009 § 0 comments § permalink

Trent Reznor, the man behind industrial rock/metal outfit Nine Inch Nails, comments on writing inside versus outside the studio and coming up with rules to get the process moving:

“By the time I did [albums] Downward Spiral and The Fragile I had a studio to work in, so I would write in that environment,” he explains. “What I found was that songwriting and the arranging and production and the sound design process became the same thing. A song would start with a drum loop or a visual and eventually a song would emerge out of it and that was the song. This time I got back to starting with lyrics and words and really separating the process into songwriting and arranging and production. And when I came out here I just set up a piano, drum machine and computer to record vocals into.”

… This time [for album With Teeth] he forced himself to write two songs every 10 days, and he recorded them even more quickly. 

“If I come up with rules or limitations it focuses me in a direction,” he explains. “And those rules can change if you realize it’s a dumb idea. You start to mutate it to see what fits best. In this case one of the early concepts was I wanted it to sound played. Not like a garage band, necessarily, but with computers it’s easy to fix things and make everything perfect, and sometimes you can lose an element of humanity and imperfection. And the message emotionally was to be a bit frail and unsure of yourself, so we treated things as performances.” 


Sting (The Police)

June 11th, 2009 § 0 comments § permalink

Sting — singer, songwriter, and bassist of The Police and solo musician — describes in detail his writing process for “Message in a Bottle.”  This comes from a video interview in which Sting plays instruments to illustrate his points, so I highly recommend watching that instead of reading this!

Do you write when you’re on the road?

I’ve got lots of little boxes. I wrote “Message in a Bottle” on a bus on this [gestures to device], which is a tape recorder with a drum machine in. [presses play, and then plays “Message in a Bottle” riff on guitar along to a drum beat] … 

So lets go in to “Message in a Bottle,” then. How did you write that?

Well, let’s go further back, even. I mean, as a songwriter, as a composer, you like the sound of certain chords, and I like the sound of, say, D-minor-9th. [plays chord on guitar] But I also like what follows it, which is A9. [plays chord[ And the combination is… [plays both in sequence] That’s good, I like that. Where do we take it from there? Go up to B, F#. [plays those two chords] And over two bars, you’ve got a sequence. And we start humming along. [plays chord sequence while humming melody]

So the music comes first, before any lyrics, then?

No, that’s not true. It comes from two different areas. You put your music hat on, and you sit and write a riff, and then you go away with your notepad and write lyrics to it. And sooner or later they meet. By using tape recorders, you can keep track of your ideas, because it’s all flying around your head.

So with “Message in a Bottle,” were all the bits there, did they all come at once, or did you have one bit–

No, it all happened very slowly. As I say, I had this sequence going. [plays chords again] By arpeggiating, you get the riff [plays chord sequence again with arpeggiation] So we stick it down– [reaches for drum machine]

So this is how you demoed it to the band?

I get home from the bus, and I stick Dennis the Drum Box on, because Stuart [drummer] is not always available. [turns on drum machine] … And then I put this riff down, just from memory. [plays riff to drum beat, messes up] Mistakes as well. Wind it back, turn Dennis off, leave it for a day. Go back to it, listen to it, play along with it, see what happens. Play some sort of harmony with it.

Before you even got to another part like a chorus or something?

Yeah. Well, I just muck around. [starts previous recording of drum machine and riff] Put a harmony on it, like… [plays harmony part on guitar along with recording] Thing is, most nights when you do it, it sounds awful. … In this case, it was good. So then you think, “Well, what should I do next?” Put Dennis back on. [starts drum machine] And think, “Right, that’s a good verse, let’s have some rock and roll in it.” [plays palm muted riff along to recording]

Would this be something you might come up with before an idea for a chorus?

Maybe. Maybe it’s in a pile of tapes … because it doesn’t fit in anywhere. And all the time, you’re sort of mumbling rubbish. And when you’ve got a sort of reasonable structure written, with a chorus, you go to the big pile of lyrics, which you write all the time. You can write them anywhere: you can write them at a bus stop, you can write them in the pub. And you just look through them, and you see “message in a bottle” … that’s an interesting title. Because I write from titles. I don’t write the first line of a song. It’s a mistake, because then you have to come up with the second one. If you write backwards from the chorus line, which is usually the hook, then you usually come up with it.

So I had this “message in a bottle.” What’s “message in a bottle” about? It’s usually about some guy with raggy trousers and a beard on a desert island.

So you’ve got the rough idea for the chorus there, and then the idea for the verse. So how, then, do you present it to the rest of the band?

Well, you join all the bits of tape together in a rough fashion. You know, with very rough parts. … Then [the other band members] learn it, and they adapt it and change it. It’s lucky to have brilliant musicians. [laughs] …

So you had four weeks in which to write most of the material for this album? Did you find it only came in the last week or something like that?

No, so I write in bits and bobs, you know — a bit here, a bit there. It is like a jigsaw puzzle. And the last few weeks [I put it all together]. …

One song I really like on the album is “Invisible Sun,” which I wrote on this thing here. [gestures to floor] This is like a foot piano, which I play on stage. [plays it with foot] That’s a bass sound. I’ve also got a synthesizer sound. [plays it with a new sound] So I was just sitting at home one night with E-flat on there, and I play this… [plays guitar along with foot piano tone]

Did Dennis [the drum machine] get involved?

Dennis was involved, like so. [turns on drum machine, and plays along with foot piano and guitar] …

When you do give the song to the band, do you go to rehearsal first, or do you go down straight into the recording studio?

In good time, we go to rehearsal. We go straight into the studio, and if it’s not happening within half an hour, we ditch it. … We’re very impatient, but I think that’s a good way. The pressure’s always on. It has to be good very soon, very quickly. If it’s not, out the window.

Do you have it live, or do you have a lot of overdubs and edits?

No, it usually has to work with the three musicians playing it and me singing, and that’s usually good enough.

Source: Jools Holland interview (thanks Songwriting Zen)

Porcupine Tree

June 1st, 2009 § 0 comments § permalink

Steven Wilson, founder of progressive rock band Porcupine Tree and musician/producer extraordinaire, comments on using different writing approaches for different projects and channeling depression:

Provide some insight into your creative process.

I don’t really have one to be honest with you. People ask me “Do you write songs on piano or guitar? Do you start with lyrics or music?” The answer is all of the above. I have no rules. There’s a great deal of diversity in my different projects. … there’s a completely different artistic process going on behind each. Bass Communion is all about the manipulation of recordings of acoustic instruments in the computer. Porcupine Tree is closer to a traditional songwriting approach of sitting down at a piano or guitar with some lyrical themes to work with.

So, there’s no great pattern, except for the fact that in order to write music, I have to be depressed. I was never really aware of this until the last couple of years. I usually create music when I’m in a negative state of mind. It’s quite a painful process. I love recording, touring and promoting the records, but the art of writing music is very much a cathartic and painful one for me. People ask me to reconcile my personality, which is not melancholic or dark, with the music that very much represents those things. My explanation is that the music is where that side of me goes. The music is an exorcism of those elements within.

Source: Innerviews

Green Day

May 23rd, 2009 § 0 comments § permalink

Billy Joe Armstrong, vocalist and guitarist of pop-punk band Green Day, comments on bringing ideas to the band and writing electric guitar parts on an acoustic:

You write all the songs together in the band. Do you start songs on your own and bring them in?

Yeah, sometimes. I’ll come up with the song with the chord changes and the lyrics, and then I bring them into practice, and then we sort of restructure them together. I like to come in with a tune. I’ll just play guitar and sing it for them, and then we start to learn it. And as soon as we start to learn it, we can make changes and come up with a different structure. Move the chorus around, make the verse a little longer. That kind of thing. I definitely like to think of it as a collaboration between the three of us.

Do you always change the songs?

Well, we have a lot of songs. There have been some that I have brought in and nothing really needs to be done. Sometimes I’ll suggest a part that needs to be worked with, and we’ll try some different things. And then they’ll write their bass-lines and drum parts around it. 

These days do you write on electric guitar? 

No, on acoustic. I have a Silverine Harmony. But it sounds good. I just have it around the house, so I’ve written most of the songs on it. 

Do those songs then shift a lot when you bring them to the band, and play them on electric? 

No, because I always have it in the back of my head about the dynamics of electric guitar and drums and bass. Between me and [bassist] Mike and [drummer] Tre, I always have that dynamic in my head – what am I going to bring to the table that they’re going to be able to play, and which will have our certain energy. I always keep our energy and our music in mind, sort of subconsciously. But I think that’s the beauty of this. That not only can I play these songs with a band at full volume, but also that I can play them on a cheap, acoustic guitar. And it can have the same kind of impact. 

Source: Blue Railroad magazine

Brian Eno

May 17th, 2009 § 0 comments § permalink

Brian Eno, man of many hats and the father of ambient music, comments on his use of “Oblique Strategies” cards to spur inspiration:

INTERVIEWER: I was in a studio once, and we found these cards … this was the most useful thing I’ve ever seen in the studio, and it’s called “Oblique Strategies” … the idea is that when you came to a dead end, you weren’t quite sure what the next thing you should do, you would open the box and pick out one of the cards and follow the strategy. And this is your invention, this whole thing.

So I’m just going to pick out the first card at random [from a deck of such cards] and see what it says:

“Listen to the quiet voice.”

… So is that one of your strategies, to sort of take things away?

ENO: Yeah, exactly. … I noticed when I first started working in studios, when you’re very in the middle of something, you forget the most obvious things. You come out of the studio and you think, “Why didn’t we remember to do this or that?” So these really are just ways of throwing you out of the frame, of breaking the context a little bit, so you’re not a band in a studio focused on one song, but you’re people who are alive and in the world and aware of a lot of other things as well. So it’s a way of breaking the tendency to get the screwdriver out. …

Did you use the cards when making your own record?

I don’t use them so much now because I’ve internalized them, so they’re sort of in my head all the time, really.

Source: Later with Jools Holland (thanks Songwriting Zen)


May 11th, 2009 § 0 comments § permalink

Avant-garde singer-songwriter Björk comments on using her memory as an editor and gathering lyrical thoughts in diaries:

Take us behind the songwriting process: what comes first?

The melody, always. It’s all about singing the melodies live in my head. They go in circles. I guess I’m quite conservative and romantic about the power of melodies. I try not to record them on my Dictaphone when I first hear them. If I forget all about it and it pops up later on, then I know it’s good enough. I let my subconscious do the editing for me.

When do you start writing lyrics?

Well, my writing really differs. Sometimes a song is about a particular emotion, so I sit down and gather all my thoughts. Sometimes I have to write lots of thoughts down in a diary and edit them until I have the right words. Sometimes the words will come in one go. …

Do you ever get writer’s block?

Well, I do have a poet friend called Sjón who helps me sometimes. Usually I have one song that is the manifesto for the album—on Post it was Isobel, on Volta it’s Wanderlust. When I write these songs I usually fill two or three diaries with words. Sjón will then help me narrow it down to two verses and a chorus. In my head I know what these songs are about and I can write books of words on them, but I can’t put them into a song, so Sjón helps me.

Source: Q Magazine


May 6th, 2009 § 0 comments § permalink

Wikipedia describes Mozart’s use of sketches and the keyboard in his compositional process:

Mozart often wrote down sketches, ranging in size from small snippets to extensive drafts, for his compositions. … Ulrich Konrad, an expert on the sketches describes a well-worked-out system of sketching that Mozart used, based on examination of the surviving documents. Typically the most “primitive” sketches are in casual handwriting, and give just snippets of music. More advanced sketches cover the most salient musical lines (the melody line, and often the bass), leaving other lines to be filled in later. The so-called “draft score” was one in an advanced enough state for Mozart to consider it complete… However, the draft score did not include all of the notes: it remained to flesh out the internal voices, filling out the harmony. These were added to create the completed score, which appeared in a highly legible hand.

Mozart evidently needed a keyboard to work out his musical thoughts. … [He] had a prodigious ability to “compose on the spot”; that is, to improvise at the keyboard.  This ability was apparent even in his childhood, as the Benedictine priest Placidus Scharl recalled: “Even in the sixth year of his age he would play the most difficult pieces for the pianoforte, of his own invention. He skimmed the octave which his short little fingers could not span, at fascinating speed and with wonderful accuracy. One had only to give him the first subject which came to mind for a fugue or an invention: he would develop it with strange variations and constantly changing passages as long as one wished; he would improvise fugally on a subject for hours, and this fantasia-playing was his greatest passion.”

Source: Wikipedia


May 5th, 2009 § 0 comments § permalink

Pop star Madonna comments on her back and forth with Prince while writing “Love Song”:

You and Prince wrote “Love Song” together, which is a wonderful song. Did you and he work together or did he give you a track?

No he didn’t give me a track. We sat down and just started fooling around. We had a lot of fun.

What happened is that he played drums and I played the synthesizer and we came up with the original melody line; I just, off the top of my head, started singing lyrics into the microphone. And then he overdubbed some guitar stuff and made a loop of it and sent it to me, and then I just started adding sections to it and singing parts of it. And then I sent it back to him, and he’d sing a part of it and add another instrument and send it back to me … it was like this sentence that turned into a paragraph that turned into a little miniseries.

Source: Songwriters on Songwriting, Paul Zollo

Joey Vera (Fates Warning)

May 5th, 2009 § 0 comments § permalink

Joey Vera, bassist of progressive metal outfit Fates Warning, comments on stepping outside his usual songwriting formula for his solo project:

… I wanted to challenge myself to stray away from the habits I have with song arrangements and instrumentation. So, I purposely stayed away from the ABC way of writing and let the music dictate what it wanted rather than being overly concerned with song length for instance. I am especially bored with much of popular music these days, so I want to hear things that are interesting even if it’s not something I’ll ever remember. I made this record as a sort of exercise in reworking the way I work, and an attempt to make something I’d actually listen to. …

… For the most part, I like to write songs pretty quickly and sometimes the skeleton is written in an hour. But because I really tried to challenge my writing techniques, I made myself go back with an editing mind and throw monkey wrenches into to the arrangements just to see what would happen. Sometimes, it sucked but sometimes it was really cool. …

During the struggles, I often will reference other things. Sometimes, it’s other works of art such as paintings or installations with multi media.  I’ll go out to a museum, or go see a band in a club, watch a movie. Anything. I have to admit that when I was in the writing chair in my studio, staring at my guitar as it glows from the computer screen, I’ll whip out a record and analyze a songs arrangement, chord progression etc. For this recording I went to Pink Floyd’s The Wall a lot. Also Animals and Wish You Were Here. … I like to analyze chord progressions, song arrangements and production tricks and you can get great ideas from just about everything.

Source: Joey Vera’s MySpace blog

The Beatles

May 5th, 2009 § 0 comments § permalink

This page has a long list of Beatles songwriting quotes, mostly from John Lennon. Here are a few of my favorites:

I like ‘I Want To Hold Your Hand’, [Paul McCartney and I] wrote that together and it’s a beautiful melody. We wrote a lot of stuff together, one on one, eyeball to eyeball. Like in ‘I Want To Hold Your Hand’, I remember when we got the chord that made the song. We were in Jane Asher’s house, downstairs in the cellar playing on the piano at the same time. And we had, ‘Oh you-u-u / got that something…’ And Paul hits this chord, and I turn to him and say, ‘That’s it!’ I said, ‘Do that again!’ In those days, we really used to absolutely write like that – both playing into each other’s noses.

Paul had a lot of training, could play a lot of instruments. He’d say, “Well, why don’t you change that there? You’ve done that note 50 times in the song.” You know, I’ll grab a note and ram it home. Then again, I’d be the one to figure out where to go with a song, a story that Paul would start. In a lot of the songs, my stuff is the “middle eight,” the bridge.

‘Rain’. That’s me again, with the first backwards tape on record anywhere. I got home from the studio and I was stoned out of my mind on marijuana… and, as I usually do, I listened to what I’d recorded that day. Somehow it got on backwards and I sat there, transfixed, with the earphones on. I ran in the next day and said, ‘I know what to do with it, I know… listen to this!’ So I made them all play it backwards. The fade is me actually singing backwards with the guitars going backwards. (sings) ‘Sharethsmnowthsmeanss!’ That one was the gift of God, of Ja actually, the god of marijuana, right? So Ja gave me that one.

I was lying on the sofa in our house, listening to Yoko play Beethoven’s – Moonlight Sonata, on the piano. Suddenly I said, ‘can you play those chords backwards’. She did, and I wrote ‘ Because ‘, around them. The lyrics are clear, no bullshit, no imagery, no obscure references.

Source: John Lennon: In My Life


May 5th, 2009 § 0 comments § permalink

Mårten Hagström, guitarist of industrial/experimental metal band Meshuggah, comments on building from riffs and creating demos on the computer:

Sometimes when you come up with stuff, you can hear three riffs in a row: you’re coming up with one thing, and you’re trying to put it down, and in the process of doing it, you’re coming up with what should come next … then you build it, and then all of a sudden you have half a song or maybe even a song … most of the time it’s just like one riff here or there, but the whole process of writing it is kind of making the blueprint …

I sit down and program the drums, record the guitar and record the bass in the computer, so when I present an idea to the other guys it’s presented in band form pretty much the way I want it to be. … we might change out the arrangements over a fill or maybe a choice of cymbal or maybe moving something a little bit but we stick true to the general idea pretty much; it’s not a lot different. On some songs we actually restructure a lot, but it’s rare. …

[The drum machine] is just such a superior tool when you know how to use it … When I have an idea, I hear the drums and everything … so when you put it down it’s like figuring out how to program the drums so they sound the way you want … then you record the guitar, so it’s pretty much a demo, which makes it real easy because you can get so close to what you want to get across … even though it’s not 100 percent, it’s close enough to make an intelligent decision as to whether it’s good or not.

Source: The Metal Forge


May 4th, 2009 § 0 comments § permalink

Ihsahn, head of legendary symphonic black metal band Emperor and now solo musician, comments on writing in the studio for the band’s final album, Prometheus: The Discipline of Fire & Demise:

I have always been very interested in arranging music. From this perspective, it was very relieving to write the music in the studio and not writing band music: drums and guitar and then adding synths, vocals etc. later as filling. I could record a riff when I came up with it, or I could write a riff to accompany a new synth passage, or vice versa. The arrangements became more complete because of this; I had much more freedom. I could delve into various elements for a mid-section of a song, and then not have to worry about the beginning or ending of the songs until later on. I think this way of working is much more interesting and rewarding. It gives me greater control over the various musical aspects. …

The writing process is also very fragmented; I always work that way. Sometimes it is just a full chaos. This is why it feels so comfortable to have a studio at home. I can document my ideas as I get them, record riffs immediately after they are developed. Later on, I can pick out elements and work more on them or change them afterwards. …

Being able to distribute tracks from the start, rather than writing the basic song first at a rehearsal and then just adding/filling synths, etc. This time I was able to write everything from the beginning at the same time. Letting the guitar lead, the melodies came naturally. Also, this is the first time we worked with seven-string guitars. With the massive platform they provide, there was no need to add that much synth tracks. The guitars filled a larger portion of the spectrum now. …

As I learned and grew as a musician and songwriter, I got a less-is-more attitude. On Anthems… [a previous album] we had the basic songs first, then I sequenced all the synths at home before playing them live in the studio afterwards. When doing this, however, you don’t get the true feeling of the music that actually is there. It drowns in all the fillings. It is no problem filling out with synths and arranging and arranging forever, until you have a complete wall of sound, but how relevant is it to do this? With such a massive fundament as we already have, and the tempo and everything, we have focused more and more on staying true to the essence of the music. Instead of adding layers, we tried to vary the different themes when they reappeared and so on.

Source: Chronicles of Chaos


May 4th, 2009 § 0 comments § permalink

Brann Dailor, drummer of progressive sludge metal band Mastodon, comments on the role of jamming and the absence of “songs” in the band’s writing process:

It’s a long, arduous process. We’ve got a skeleton for the whole record and these huge chunks of music four of five different segments that don’t have a beginning or end yet… We’re just basically in the middle of the record, adding stuff, giving it a taste then adding a little more ‘pepper’ or ‘salt.’ Once all the ingredients are in there, you have to bake it — which is just playing it over and over again until it feels right. The main goal is to get the songs right so you don’t have to think about the time changes — so you can relax with it and play it how it should be played. There’s a level of difficulty to our stuff and if you’re too wrapped up in trying to remember how many times something goes and the timing for the next riff, you can’t examine the song for being a song. So it takes a while.

Source: Rock Sound magazine, via

Nick Lowe

May 4th, 2009 § 0 comments § permalink

Nick Lowe, rock musician and producer, comments on aping the style of his heroes as a young songwriter:

… I hadn’t been writing songs very long and, like everybody else who starts out doing anything creative, you start off plundering your heroes’ style and catalogue. When you’ve exhausted that, you move on to somebody else and do the same thing with them, and the day comes when you’re rewriting your latest hero’s works, and you put in a little bit of the first guy’s thing that you ripped off, a middle eight, or a bridge, and as it goes on you include more and more of these bits and pieces that you’ve ripped off, until, suddenly, you haven’t ripped them off at all. They’ve actually become your style. And then all you need is a good idea. And then you really are in business. I remember having this idea—“What’s So Funny About Peace, Love and Understanding”—and almost falling over in astonishment that I hadn’t heard this before, that it really was an original notion.

Source: Vanity Fair

Paul Simon

May 4th, 2009 § 0 comments § permalink

Paul Simon, folk singer-songwriter and partner of Art Garfunkel in Simon and Garfunkel, comments on how he likes to start a song:

“You Can Call Me Al” seems like the perfect example of that combination of the colloquial with enriched language. The chorus is extremely conversational, set against enriched lines like “angels in the architecture, spinning in infinity…”

Right. The song starts out very ordinary, almost like a joke.  Like the structure of a joke cliche: “There’s a rabbi, a minister and a priest”; “Two Jews walk into a bar”; “A man walks down the street.” That’s what I was doing there.

Because how you begin a song is one of the hardest things. The first line of a song is very hard. I always have this image in my mind of a road that goes like this [motions with hands to signify a road that gets wider as it opens out] so that the implication is that the directions are pointing outward. It’s like a baseball diamond; there’s more and more space out here. As opposed to like this.  [Motions an inverted road getting thinner.] Because if it’s like this, at this point in the song, you’re out of options.

So you want to have that first line that has a lot of options, to get you going. And the other things that I try to remember, especially if a song is long, you have plenty of time. You don’t have to kill them, you don’t have to grab them by the throat with the first line.

In fact, you have to wait for the audience–they’re going to sit down, get settled in their seat … their concentration is not even there. You have to be a good host to people’s attention span. They’re not going to come in there and work real hard right away. Too many things are coming: the music is coming, the rhythm is coming, all kinds of information that the brain is sorting out.

So give them easy words and easy thoughts, and let it move along, and let the mind get into the groove of it. Especially if it’s a rhythm tune. And at a certain point, when the brain is loping along easily, then you come up with the first kind of thought or image that’s different. Because it’s entertaining at that point. Otherwise people haven’t settled in yet.

Source: Songwriters on Songwriting, Paul Zollo

Dream Theater

May 4th, 2009 § 0 comments § permalink

John Petrucci, virtuoso guitarist and co-founder of progressive metal band Dream Theater, comments on the role of improvisation in the band’s songwriting process:

Usually [songwriting] stems from some kind of jam or improvisation.  One of the things that we’ve done from the very beginning is that we love to play together and improvise and have these long, extended jams.  And usually when we do that something will come out of it, whether it’s a feel, a melody, a chord progression, or something we can latch on to.  And then once that seed is planted, then the sparks start flying and we just kind of go off — you know, “That’s really cool, let’s move it in this direction, let’s make it go 4 more times,” and then some guy will chime in, “You know what would be cool? There’s this feel on such and such album that I could picture here.”  And there’s such a great chemistry.  And then once it starts to become a little more cohesive, we generally map it out.  We have a big, some sort of display, some sort of board, a grease board or something, and we’ll start writing out the arrangement.  And usually it’s something that’s erasable because we constantly change it.  And we develop it from there.  When we feel like it’s complete and the song is done, there you have it.

Source: Youtube

Tarja Turunen (Nightwish)

May 4th, 2009 § 0 comments § permalink

Tarja Turunen, operatic vocalist and former singer of symphonic metal band Nightwish, comments on her songwriting process:

What do you usually think when you compose your songs?

Every time I sit down in front of my piano, I like to improvise with the instrument. It depends on my mood of that day what kind of melodies and rhythms I am playing around. Sometimes, even before starting to play I already have a quite clear picture of a song I would like to compose, or at least the sound of it. Sometimes a song can be born in few minutes, if the feeling is right, some other times it can take days. I do always the music before the lyrics. The story or an idea for the lyrics appears during the composing process normally, but some other times I already have a strong idea of the story I would like to sing before any music comes to my mind. So as you can see, it really depends a lot of the circumstances. I just let myself flow free with the melodies and harmonies and then see if I can create something interesting. I am the most critical person in judging what sounds good or bad.