Quotes Songwriting

Tom Waits On … Limitations

I like limitations. If I don’t have limitations I’ll impose them on myself naturally, just to narrow it down. Time is always an element. If we were going to write a song right here now, and we had only a half an hour to do it it would take on certain characteristics.


More Tom Waits wisdom here

Quotes Songwriting

Tom Waits On … Truth vs Imagination

I feed off [my neighbourhood]. But at one point, you really have to stop and go away and sit down and collect all of the things you’ve been through. You have to be away to let your imagination work along with your memory.

Tom Waits on Tom Waits: Interviews and Encounters (p.106)

I think that you can continue to write about certain things without staying overnight there – it’s safer. Hubert Selby Jr. has a nice family and he writes about the dark side. It all depends on how you handle it, I guess.

The creative process is imagination, memories, nightmares, and dismantling certain aspects of this world and putting them back together in the dark. Songs aren’t necessarily verbatim chronicles or necessarily journal entries, they’re made out of smoke.

Usually you hide what everything represents, you’re the only one who really knows.

Interviews And Encounters (p.147, 201)

More Tom Waits wisdom here

(you can find a lot of the interviews online at

Behind The Song

Behind The Song: Djimi Traore

Listen to Djimi Traore here

I Dreamed A Dream

Paul McCartney wrote Yesterday in a dream. Coleridge wrote Kubla Khan in a dream. I wouldn’t put myself in either of them but Djimi Traore came to me in a dream too. But as well as hearing the chorus playing over and over in my head I also dreamed about playing the finished song for lots of scousers (they hated it) and the ‘real’ Djimi Traore (who found it personally insulting). In my dream the ‘real’ Djimi was an elderly, overweight white scouser and living in a modest Liverpool home. When I woke up I wrote down the parts I could remember and wondered if Paul’s dream came with it’s own harbingers of doom.

No One Ever Sang Before The Beatles

The inspiration for the first verse was an article on the Anfield Wrap website that credited Liverpool FC with the birth of football terrace singing. Before 1963 the fans used to clap, cheer and chant players names, but when a new PA system was installed at Anfield DJ Stuart Bateman started to play the top 10 singles before the match to entertain the crowd and, as this coincided with the explosion of the Mersey-sound, many were by local bands and singers (one of the hits was You’ll Never Walk Alone which became the club anthem). The fans in the Kop stand sang along and when the matches started people carried on singing.

He Just Can’t Control His Feet

The message of the song is that anyone can have a significant part to play. Djimi was a much loved figure of fun at the club, earning his place in the Kop songbook with a comedy own goal

Don’t blame it on the Biscan
Don’t blame it on the Haman
Don’t blame it on the Finnan
Blame it on Traore

He just can’t, he just can’t,
He just can’t control his feet.

But towards the end of the 2005 Champions League final Djimi made a clearance off the line that kept Liverpool in the game that they went on to win after penalties, claiming their 5th European title.

4 Fabs, 2 Goals And A Pub

With an opening verse like that I wanted to go full Beatard. The arrangement – poor and synthetic as it currently is, was a nod to Eleanor Rigby and the the first melody note, a 4th over a minor chord is a steal from Help. The Can’t Buy Me Love and I Want To Hold Your Hand nods were happy accidents.

The bridge was constructed from the commentary on two famous Steven Gerrard goals. I’d heard them over and over again on my son’s DVDs. I love working with ‘found lyrics’ like this.

The Sandon is the famous Merseyside pub where LFC was formed in 1892.

Arranging Great Guitarists Humour

Nile Rodgers Primer

One of the all time funk guitar greats, master arranger, stellar songwriter. Here’s a brief intro to Nile Rodgers

And some other links

Guardian beginner guide and a Spotify one

Quotes Recording Songwriting

Tom Waits On … Catching Songs

Just ’cause you’re not fishin’ doesn’t mean there aren’t fish out there. You can go out there when you want, when you’re ready to do it . . . We’ve got a piano called a Fisher. And that’s what we use to catch the big ones.

Tom Waits: Innocent When You Dream: Tom Waits: The Collected Interviews (p.229)

You know, songs are out there all the time. Some of them only live two weeks. They’re like houseflies. So if you don’t get them, that’s it. I got all these old songs. So it’s good to have new songs to sing. And the new ones, you send them out there and you say, “Go my beauties, go! Bring Dad home some money! Come back with money!” Ahhh, that’s not really how I feel about it.

Tom Waits: Innocent When You Dream: Tom Waits: The Collected Interviews (p. 270)

[If a song] really wants to be written down, it’ll stick in my head. If it wasn’t interesting enough for me to remember it, well, it can just move along and go get in someone else’s song. Some songs don’t want to be recorded. You can’t wrestle with them or you’ll only scare them off more. Trying to capture them is trying to trap birds.

Some songs come easy like digging potatoes out of the ground or like gum found under an old table.

Some songs are only good to cut up as bait and use to catch other songs.

Tom Waits: Innocent When You Dream: Tom Waits: The Collected Interviews (p. 346-7)

With music, it’s difficult to talk about the writing of it. It’s all made out of smoke. When you really think about it, it’s invisible. And you’re afraid it’s not going to come and sit next to you anymore.

Waits On Waits: Interviews And Encounters (p.159-60)

Sometimes I’ll listen to my own stuff, and I think, God, the original idea for this was so much better than the mutation that we arrived at. What I’m trying to do now is get what comes and keep it alive. It’s like carrying water in your hands. I want to keep it all, and sometimes by the time you get to the studio you have nothing.

Waits On Waits: Interviews And Encounters (p.205)

My theory is the best songs have never really been recorded. We’re listening to things that made it through but there’s so many songs that have never made it because they were scared of the machine and wouldn’t allow themselves to be recorded. The trick is to get it in there, don’t hurt the song when you record it.

Waits On Waits: Interviews And Encounters (p.224)

I don’t know, music is a living thing, and so it can be . . . you can hurt it, you can bruise it . . . songs are strange, they’re very simple, they come quickly. If you don’t take them, they’ll move on. They’ll go to somebody else. Someone else will write it down. Don’t worry about it.

Waits On Waits: Interviews And Encounters (p.234)

I got tired of carrying all those folks around in my head without paying rent, so I said, go out there and make Dad some money.

Waits On Waits: Interviews And Encounters (p.310)

A lot of people say, “You really captured something on that.” There’s something alive in a song and the trick to recording them is to capture something and have it be taken alive. So there’s always a trick in the studio.

Waits On Waits: Interviews And Encounters (p.337)

Some of what goes into song-building is almost a medical Frankenstein process. What does it need? It’s very beautiful but it has no heart, or it has nothing but heart and it needs a rib cage, or whatever. I’m usually good at the medical questions about music. Eventually I’ll probably just be a medical consultant in music. I’ll be called in to look at sick songs and I’ll either say, ‘Put the sheet over it,’ or, ‘Operate.’ I’ll have a little bag with my saw. Some- times you have to break the leg and then reset it. I’m good at that. But it’s painful. But if you didn’t call me in early and you need me now, you gotta be willing to go through some discomfort. I like breaking songs, breaking their backs. I like songs with scars on them—when I listen to them I just see all the scars.

Waits On Waits: Interviews And Encounters (p.220)

Everybody loves music, but it’s important that music likes you

Tom Waits: Innocent When You Dream: Tom Waits: The Collected Interviews (p.217)

More Tom Waits wisdom here

(you can find a lot of the interviews online at

Live Video

Sweet Baby Hand Grenade – Live

Here’s me rocking out to a very warm crowd at Bunker’s Hill in Nottingham – lyrics provided at no extra cost

Former Pupils Nottingham Sounds

Privateers In LeftLion

It’s great to see Martyn Wells‘ band Privateers getting a rave review in LeftLion this month. I’d highly recommend checking out No Magic and their previous EP The First Thing That We Did.