First off, to those of you coming to this blog cold, this is not going to be a thing saying, like, here’s how you write a song and I know because I’m really successful and blah blah blah and by the way, give me your email address so I can bombard you with more advice you have to pay for!! Hey! HEY! ARE YOU LISTENING? Because you better, buddy, if you want to make it in the business…
I’m not in that business, or indeed any business, except for tax reasons.
What? I hear those of you who’ve been at this blog before. I thought you were one of these poet dreamer types who don’t care a jot about money and it’s all about the art, man. Are you saying this whole schemozzle is a money-laundering operation for some wretched offshore pyramid scheme? Don’t make me come down there…
Well, no. You were right the first time – about me being the poet dreamer type who doesn’t care about the dosh, I mean. But it is true that, on my tax return every year, I describe my ‘business’ as ‘writer and musician,’ and, every year, it shows a healthy loss – ever since I had some local publicity about my first loss-making product, 2003’s co-written Legacy of the Sacred Chalice, drew the attention of Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs and they invited me to fill in a tax return.
Anyways. That’s not really what I set out to write out about. I blame Neko Case, purely because I’m listening to her on KEXP while writing this. She is quite the songwriter while I, well, I’m still working out how it really works, and why sometimes it seems to work without really trying, and other times not so much.
This song (Not That) Complicated is a case in point. I’ve blogged before about the inspirational songwriting weekend I went to in the Highlands back in May this year, and about how one of the exercises, when one of the group improvised singing lines from a book to another person’s guitar, produced a song, ‘Clara Said Yesterday,’ that a few people have been kind enough to say is one of my better ones. But that wasn’t the song I set out into the stunning scenery to craft.
Me in the Highlands, about to come up with a song. Probably. Pic: James Whyte
About four months later, strumming along with a new chord I’d learnt via Youtube, I came up with a chord progression I liked, and something a bit closer to the original idea I’d had back in May – two people trading smart one-liners, in a way that I imagine goes on in New York loft apartments all the time (I watched a lot of Woody Allen films as a young adult, and they may have had the effect of distorting my view of what really passes for dialogue in New York loft apartments).
So far as the craft of songwriting’s concerned, I still maintain I know virtually nothing about how it’s done. Neither of these songs follow my usual pattern, which is to come up with a melody first, or at least a bit of one, before I lay hands on a guitar. In terms of the words, in the case of the first of these two I wrote the last verse right after the first, then wrote the bit in between on the paper that was left.
With ‘Complicated,’ on the other hand, I had no idea when I started off the lyrics how they might end up, and the pay off actually came as a surprise to me. Which, I guess, means, I really, really, know nothing about songwriting.
But then, as the late, great, William Goldman said about a similar creative endeavour (how to make a successful movie) no one knows anything. Not sure if you can call the current Brexit crisis a creative endeavour, but … you know the rest.
What I do know is that you can now hear Not That Complicated as sung by the divine Kelly Brooks rather than my trademark groan, and even contribute to a good cause by purchasing it on Bandcamp. Or you can hear it on Soundcloud:
Anything below this is adverts. They’re probably not that complicated.