Wednesday, March 20, 2013

A Songwriting Ramble

Shortly after Sea Salt came out, actually during the recording of Sea Salt, I went on a writing tear and wrote many many songs. I didn’t do anything with them other than write them, make a quick recording of them to revisit later, and then set them aside until Sea Salt was completed and out in the world. The problem with having a boost in songwriting inspiration is that your newest songs are always your favorites. They are the most recent, therefore the most felt. As a songwriter, the writing of the song is the most fun part and it’s easy to get wrapped up in one and want to see it completed. But, if you are still writing while trying to complete another album that is already 14 songs long, then you can’t really focus on these new songs all that much.

But Sea Salt is out in the world now and has been since last August and my songwriting urges have continued to the point that I have at least enough songs for two full-lengths. But now these songs have been sitting on the back burner for so long that I’m starting to doubt them and I hate that.

I’m currently working on an EP due out in June. It’s a simple little EP recorded only on a 4 track player. If you’re not familiar with what that means, it means 1) the song can have no more than 4 tracks – so that would essentially be guitar, bass, drums, vocals. But with some trickery you can put two instruments on one track – but it’s tricky and you still run out of room because you need to record them on two tracks and then have one open track to mix the two tracks down to, so really you can only do it once and 2) Nothing is digital. Everything is done live in one take. It may take several tries to get that perfect take, but there is no cut and pasting. So these songs are mostly low-key acoustic numbers

 About to record some vocals for the EP.

I decided to do this because of this pile of songs that need a place to go. I started separating them into themes or styles and trying to figure out the best way for them to live. So I have this little batch of songs written during the time I was grieving the loss of my dog and just a lot of other things in general and decided they needed their own special place. When Shawn (my guitar player) brought up making a project with the 4 track, I thought this would be a perfect fit. So that’s where we are now with that. 3 songs recorded. Possibly 2 more to go – because I’m hesitating on one of them.

Because that’s where I am now. These songs have been sitting for too long and now I’m starting to doubt them. I look at this potential 5th song and the timeline I’m on and think, well, do I have to put this one out there? Maybe I’ll just do a 4 song EP instead. I haven’t even played the 5th song for the full band yet. We need to come up with an arrangement for it and I plan to have the whole thing (recording, mixing, mastering, and packaging) done by June because I’ve set up a residency at the 331 Club as sort of an EP release show(s). So there might not be time. But I feel I owe it to these songs. So I will find the time – or I will try to.

And then there is the full-length album. The recording of it is even further out – late July/August is the goal, but money and scheduling could push it out even further. I originally had another 14 songs ready for it, but I find myself whittling it down, taking songs off, replacing them with others, then putting them back. I think it’s at 12 songs right now, could go down to 11….but I’m still writing. Or trying to. I really want a super cohesive album so I keep debating on whether or not this particular group of songs will get that job done. It’s not that I think they are bad songs…they just might not all go together either thematically or sonically. So I keep trying to write new ones, though I don’t really know what I’m shooting for.

And lately I have no time alone to sit and demo them on the computer at home – layering them with percussion and other instruments to see exactly where they can go. Most of them are all acoustic numbers recorded on my phone with the arrangements hanging out in my head trying desperately not to get lost. The band and I have 3 of them arranged (2 of which are done and we are playing out now) and that certainly drives the sound of the next album. It’s amazing how a song can start out one way in your head, but you bring it to 3 other minds and they all come at it from different angles to create something completely different. It gives me goosebumps to watch it happen. It’s really one of the coolest things I’ve ever been a part of. But it really can change the course of an album. One of the new songs, “Introvert”, for example, is completely different from how I heard it in my head. And I LOVE it. And it makes me so eager to bring all of the rest of these songs to the band and see where they go, how they change. In a way, it almost seems better to not have the time or place to overwork these songs before bringing them to the band because then they are at their most raw and waiting for input.  And it makes them new again.

Also, there is nothing worse than forcing a song. Sometimes I will hear a song and think, wow, I really wish I could write a song like that. I’m going to try. So I sit down and I try and it never happens. All of my favorite songs that I’ve written come from super quick writing sessions where I either think of a lyric and just go from there, or am sitting there messing around on the guitar/uke/whatever and stumble across a particular chord progression that I like. And I don’t stop before they are done.

I just don’t get that kind of uninterrupted time anymore. I miss it. Desperately. I’m very one-track minded so if I have the inspiration to write, it’s all I can think about and not being able to do it greatly annoys me and starts to wreak havoc on my day to day life. This goes for anything. Not just songwriting. Needing to laundry can consume me in this way.

And right now, I just want to write. I want to sit for at least two days, alone, and tackle songs. But I can’t. And it’s driving me mad. Literally.

I’m going to start work on my music room in the basement this weekend. A place I can go to and sit and write and arrange and practice. A part of me worries that once it’s complete, I’ll never see anyone again because I will just want to be in there all the time. But, I guess, it’s fortunate that our basement is not the most relaxing place so I may not want to hang out down there all that often in the end.

Where am I going with all this? I don’t know. Maybe since I can’t seem to find the time to work on songs, I thought writing a quick note about it might help me purge some of the clutter.

Another lesson I need to remind myself of is to not set these ridiculous goals for myself. I went into the year thinking I was going to get an EP and a full-length album out before year’s end. But there is just no way that is going to happen. Like I said, I have upwards of 14 songs for the full-length that keep changing and shifting and the band has only heard 3 of them and April is right around the corner. We have to finish the EP first before we can even begin on the full-length and time is just not great enough to get that done. I think we might be able to manage by January 2014 – but I need to let these goals go and just let things happen as they are.

Of course, I need to finish the EP by June and I think we can do that.

I tend to make life more complicated for myself than it needs to be.

Maybe I should write a song about it.

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