Songwriting struggles…or just minor complaints.
It seems lately that I have conflict with how I write songs. I am really proud about the pieces of music I write, be it the classical stuff, the quintet, solo guitar, or just the music for my songs for my lyrics.
But it’s those songs that are leaving me conflicted.
First off, all of my friends are always listening to new music. Be it Ben Clark showing me Bon Iver and others, or Spotify being shoved my way. Thing is, I love trying out new music, and Spotify is pretty freaking fantastic. My trouble is that I still am trying to catch up listening to all the music I have already. And there’s pieces of music I listen to everyday because I get something new out of it every time (i.e., Punch Brothers…I can’t get enough).
The conflict is with my lyrics. I can’t decide if I need to be more of a story-teller than I am an emotion-provoker. My friend Ryan Brewer is a great musician who is so awesome with his words. He tells a story with every song I’ve heard of his. His lyrics tell a story and they command the listeners’ attention. I listened to a guy the other day, Chad Mills, who does just the same thing. They make it very comfortable to fall into tunnel vision listening to what they have to say, or sing rather.
I am proud of all of my songs, otherwise I wouldn’t share them with the world. I have a song called “War With Myself”, for example, that is essentially (as is quite obvious by the predictable title) about a time in life when I struggled with my own self-definition, as I’m sure many people do go through. That’s life. But lyrically, while I’m still proud, it only provokes an emotion. It aims at one emotion, and covers its feelings with music and words. Again, I like my song, but here’s what it doesn’t do (that people like Ben Clark and Ryan Brewer or Chris Thile and Bob Dylan do): it doesn’t give any sort of storyline; it doesn’t give any picture of process. Neither of these approaches (single thought focusing or storytelling) are better than the other. (I just wonder what I want my songs to say, so here I am writing about it.)
It wasn’t until I wrote “Other Peoples”, a song about my grandpa, that I felt a shift in the way I approach songwriting. I usually write the music first. The notes have to catch my attention first before I decide to put up with something for minutes at a time. With that song, I wrote the lyrics first with no idea of music for it–and I think it turned out fantastic. It paints a picture and tells a story, as opposed to picking an emotion and making a song about it.
In my mind now, if I replace my song titles, a short list might look like this:
5. My grandpa was a great man and this is what he was like.
I think I want my songs to be more like #5 there. The listener walks away having learned something about the musician. It is essentially a public diary entry, whereas the others are just singly-named emotions with which the listener can relate.
In this particular case, my blessing and curse is that I’m always going to require the music (not lyrics) I write be intellectually, emotionally, and physically stimulating. Of course I can still do that and produce the type of lyrics and stories I’m talking about–just got to get there.
Perhaps that’s why I’m certain that the Punch Brothers are my favorite band for life. Furthermore my favorite piece of music ever is (by the Punch Brothers) Chris Thile’s “The Blind Leaving the Blind.” The music is just what my ear is looking for–(and instead of explaining what it’s like, just go listen to it.) It’s in four movements.
But his lyrics are just so strong. They completely implore the listener to be fully engaged in what is happening–likewise the concurrent music. Over 40 minutes he publicly explains the rise and fall of his marriage. So strong.
I guess all I can do is keep writing down thoughts and experiences. And to my best attempt, keep trying out new music.