Here’s a live performance of One More Hour With You. This was the first ever public outing and it’s only taken me 3 years to edit the video. You can read more about the song here or download the demo here
The verses of KS Rhoads‘ incredible track Hiyayayayayaya seem to have been created from the ‘Build A Title’ game from the Doug Loves Movies podcast (let me know if it has an older origin). It was expertly transcribed, nay deciphered, on Jen Cox’s tumbler
Call me Ishmael | Al Pacino | Nobility & Sympathy | Theo Huxtable | Below the belt | Belt Buckle | Buckle Under Pressure | Pressure Point | Point Break and Johnny Utah | you taw a puddy [tat] | cat’s in the cradle | cradle to the grave | grave danger | Danger Mouse | Mousing around | Around the Way Girl | Girl, you know it’s true | True Romance | Romancing the Stone | Stone Cold Steve [Austin] | Steve McQueen | Queen Elizabeth | Bethlehem | Hem a skirt | Skirt the issue | Issue a verdict | Dick VanDyke | Ike & Tina | Tina Turner | Turner & Hooch | Hoochie-koochie mama | Mama was rolling [stone] | Rock the Cas-bah | Bar Mitzvah | Fuggetaboutit | It ain’t over ‘til the fat lady [sings] | Lady & the Tramp | Trampoline | Lean On Me | Mika Su[shi] | Siouxsie & the Banshees | she’s a cap? | Capitalize | Liza Minnelli | Nellie Furtado | Do-Re-Mi | Me Tarzan, You Jane | Jane’s Addiction | Dictionary | Areola | Hola, Como Esta? | Taj Mahal | Halter top | Top Gun | Gunnar Nelson | Nelson Mandela | Delaware | Where in the world is Carmen San Diego? | Go-go Gadget! | Jitterbug | Bugsy Malone | I’m a loner, Dottie. A rebel. | A Rebel Yell | Yellow Submarine | Marine Biology | Jesus Christ Almighty
Who’s been sleeping in, in my bed
The guillotine gonna come and get your head
Take what you need and leave the rest
But the big bird borrows from the little bird’s nest
Mighty Mouse | Mouseketeers | Tears For Fear[s] | Fear and Loathing in Las [Vegas] | Loss of blood | Blood sugar | Sugar Ray | Ray Charles | Charles Manson | Manson Family | Family Matter | Matter of fact | Factory farms | Farms cattle | Cattle call | Cauliflower | Flower power | Power to the people | The People vs. Larry Flynt | Flint, Michigan | Michigan J Frog | Frog Leg | Leggo my Eggo | Go Tell it on the Mountain | Mountain lion | Lionel Ritchie | Richie Sambora | Bora-Bora | Bore a hole | Hole in the wall | Walter Matthau | Thou shall not kill | Kilogram | Gram Parsons | Arsonist | Hysterectomy | Meter maid | Made in China | China doll | Dollywood | Would a woodchuck | woodchuck could chuck wood could chuck | Chuck Berry | Bury my Heart at Wounded [Knee] | Wounded soldier | Jury duty | Duty free | Freaks come out at night | Knights of the Round Table | Table Tennis | Tennis elbow | Botox | Toxicology report | Puerto Vallarta | artificial insemination | Nation under God Indivisible | Invisibility | Tina Fey | Fay Dunaway | Wade in the water | Water-chilled | Children | Ren & Stimpy | P’s & Q’s | Use Your Illusion | Illusionist | Istanbul | Bulletboys | Boise, Idaho | Hotel | Tel Aviv | Viva Las Vegas
I got my 1-wood | Woodrow Wilson | Wilson Phillip[s] | Phillip Morris | Morris the Cat | Catnip | Nip and Tuck | Tucker The Man and his Dreams played by Jeff Bridges | Bridges of Madison Count[y] | Count of Monte Cristo | Toe the line | Line of fire | Fire in the hole | Holy water | What are we to do | Do the right thing | Things that make you go hmmmm… | Humphrey Bogart | Garth Brooks | Brooks and Dunn | Dunlop tennis balls | Balls of steel | Steal third base | Base makeup | Make up for lost time | Time Travel | Travellers check | Check the mail | Mail order bride | Bridal showers | showers bring may [flowers] | Mayweather | Whether or not | [ready] or not here I come | Come Together | Together we are one | 1-2-3, a-b-c | See Spot Run | Run DMC | See Dick and Jane | Janie’s Got a Gun
Earth Below are the fruit of the latest Inspire ‘Supergroup’ Project that I’ve been working for the last year along with fellow tutor Nina Smith. They’re a really talent 7 piece band and will be launching their EP Almost There at a BBC Introducing Gig in Mansfield on Jun 29th. Here’s the video for the lead track Mountains
Pray for a man to put the ‘fist’ in ‘pacifist’
The good die young. Or they just die.
Download mp3 demo
I’ve never really written a 12 bar blues I was happy with but John Lennon Blues is the closest I’ve got so far. At first it may seem like a pro-gun song but it’s anything but. I was trying to explore the paradox that those who promote peace are often the ones who die violent deaths and the resulting dilemma: if they hadn’t have been so committed to non-violence they’d have survived to preach peace another day, but then their message would have lost it’s potency. So would you rather the men (and women) survive at the cost of their message?
Verses 1 and 2 started with leftover lines from my song Guns. “The lone gunman is not alone” and “put the ‘fist’ in ‘pacifist'” came from my random lines folder and verse 4 borrowed a phrase from Blue Like Jazz by Donald Miller – “Hold our palms against the wound” (p.114).
“That coward Caulfield” is a reference to Holden Caulfield in J.D. Salinger‘s novel The Catcher In The Rye, a character that John Lennon’s killer Mark Chapman strongly identified with (in fact he read the book outside the Dakota Building whilst waiting for the police to arrest him after the murder). There are biblical references, Jesus refused to “call down fire from heaven” on those who didn’t welcome him (Luke 9:54), promised “all who draw the sword will die by the sword” (Matthew 26:52) and said “Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone” (John 8:7). I also liked the ambiguity of juxtapositing the blues holler “whoa” with the biblical curse “woe”.
Musically it owes something (maybe an apology?) to The Beatles Yer Blues and Helter Skelter and Jimi Hendrix’s Hey Joe. When I wrote the track during FAWM I had a really heavy cold and knew my voice wouldn’t be up to multiple takes so I decided to record guitar and vocals at the same time. Sure enough by the end of the first take I started to cough uncontrollably (I managed to mute the mic but you can still hear it in places) and the coughing fit lasted another 10 minutes until I tore a muscle in my chest. And that’s why there’s no take 2.
Whoa If John Lennon had a gun
Whoa If John Lennon had a gun
He still be singing “all you need is love”
Oh if he’d given peace a chance
Oh and pulled a piece on each crazy fan
And shot that coward Caulfield in the back
Woe if Gandhi had a knife
Woe if Reverend King took a life
If Jesus Christ had enough and just rained down fire
If you live by the sword you’ll die by it – that’s gospel truth
But the sword of a sinner can pierce a righteous man too
And you’ll die holding innocent hands against the wound
Woe, the lone gunman is not alone
Woe, the lone gunman is not alone
And every man without sin has pockets full of stones
Woe that the world should come to this
Woe that the world should come to this
And pray for a man to put the ‘fist’ in ‘pacifist’
Whoa if John Lennon had a gun
Whoa if John Lennon had a gun
Those Dakota steps would have been stained with another man’s blood
This year I only managed to write eight songs instead of fourteen. While the the usual suspects, hubris and illness, played a part, there were other aspects that tripped me up and I think they’re worth noting so I don’t make the same mistakes in future. I want to make a whole new set of mistakes!
I’m a big fan of Limitations. They can really help you “get on with it” and cut out one of the most insidious forms of distraction – ‘choice’. There’s lots studies that show that if a supermarket stocks 25 types of jam in the supermarket they won’t sell any because the customers can’t decide which to buy. Only stock 3 varieties and sales are much healthier. But for creativity there’s a tipping point where too many limitations make it harder to work.
FAWM has a massive limitation built in: you have to write a lot of songs in a short space of time. Adding any other artificial constraints could be asking for trouble. In my case I had chosen to ‘co-write with my younger self’, digging out old tapes and using the ideas to write new songs. Just consider how many other steps that assumes.
- Digitise the tapes
- Edit and label mp3s
- Listen and evaluate which ideas are worth working on
- Relearn old ideas (many of which were badly recorded and a quarter-tone sharp). Where there were mistakes, try to discern what my intention was. Try to work out if I had used a capo or an alternate tuning
- Compile various versions of the idea scattered across different tapes
This is all work I had to do BEFORE I could get down to writing a song. As opposed to the FAWM-friendly approach of grabbing an instrument and strumming away till I come up with something.
One of my favourite FAWMers is American multi-instrumentalist, Izaak Wierman. He often sets himself narrow artificial limitations like writing a song in every key or every mode. But this year he was stranded in Australia with only a mandolin and a phone to make music with. So, wisely, he chose not to set impose any additional limitations on himself.
Secondly I was already out of my creative comfort zone. I had been ill before FAWM, seriously enough to make me cancel some work commitments. I also had some building work done at my studio which required changing the layout. Just like the Beatles during Let It Be, this was a signal that I should have just done the old familiar things rather than introduce some more chaos and variables. Maybe even spent time fixing the broken things in my system. Getting the room and recording space into a workable state?
Thirdly I failed because I didn’t really want to write. I’ve been on a kind of crusade for the last 5 years trying to make myself a better writer by writing a lot. Some 200 songs later I think that’s worked. But the natural by-product of that process is a bunch of good songs that I haven’t had the time to demo, let alone post online or release officially. So I’m feeling the drag of “what’s the point of writing another 14 songs that are never going to see the light of day?” Part of me wants to stop writing new songs, or at least slow down, so I can fix the next part of the supply chain – how to release music. And if part of you wants to write songs and part of you doesn’t, you’re going to have problems.
I really want to revisit my old music and see if there’s any way to absorb some of the more complex compositional approaches I’ve been neglecting. I’ve pursued a deliberate strategy to simplify and become truly melodic rather than churning out monotonal melodies over tracks constipated with chords and riffs. But I think I’ve got some kind of handle on that now and I need time to go back to the drawing board and explore. And leisurely exploration isn’t what FAWM is about.
So with hindsight I should have attempted everything I wanted to do … in March through December. And let FAWM be a sandbox for my subconscious to play with whatever catches it’s eye.
Next year, whatever I’m feeling and whatever my plans are, I’m going to take February off and just play. And whatever happens, happens.
Lesson (hopefully) learned.
THE END … or is it …?
Why I DIDN’T fail at FAWM
I wrote 8 songs
Writing songs of any description is a victory. If you write bad songs, you may be a bad songwriter, but if you write no songs, you’re not a songwriter at all.
I wrote 3 or 4 songs I’m happy with
One popped right out of my subconscious with no warning. Another is an idea I’ve been trying to write for 2 years. I doubt any of these would have been written without FAWM kicking me in the pants.
I wrote 1 song I love
Other people seem to love it too. The fact that FAWM is so non-judgemental made it easy for me to write and record something so left field for me. The network of writers, musicians and producers meant I could easily hook up with people that had the skills to complete it. The positive response from feedback on the site encouraged me to go all the way and release the track.
A few old ideas have been turned into songs
Some revealed they weren’t worth much and can now be cleared out of my ‘song starts’ folder. Many more ideas didn’t even make it to the writing stage, so again FAWM prompted a kind of spring cleaning of ideas. Others, while not great songs, have proved that they’re good ideas worthy of shaping and developing in the future.
I learned a few things
About co-writing and myself as a co-writer. And of course I have learned some valuable lessons about the right and wrong ways to use limitations and about how I can self sabotage my work.
So did I fail to deliver 14 songs in Feb. Yes.
Did I fail FAWM? No.
My EP Everything In The World Is Fighting Everything In The Sky is finished. One of the coolest things about it is the great musicians who lent a hand. Lisa de’ Ville added vocals to two of the tracks and right now she’s working on a new album of her own. She was recently a guest on the Proc-Cast talking about her influences and writing methods. You can download or stream it here.
Rob Green was another recent guest, showcasing songs from his new EP (listen here). He’s a great lyricist and I loved working with him on the recent Earth Below project at the Royal Concert Hall. “Rob Green Says ‘Start Clean'” will forever be part of my rehearsal lexicon…
Don’t take out the bullet, girl, don’t even try
That little piece of metal’s all that’s keeping me alive
Stuck into an artery like a finger in a dyke
Don’t scrub the wound like you used to scrub my back
Don’t make me walk it off, don’t even make me stand
Darling I’m not hungry, put away those pots and pans
Baby, baby, baby, please don’t ever shoot me again
Baby, baby, baby, please don’t ever shoot me again
I’m still your man but I might not be for too much longer
I did you wrong, but you did me wronger
So baby, baby, don’t you shoot me again
Don’t grab my bleeding arm and hold it in the air
I got precious little blood left inside of there
Darling please stop crying, I know you’re trying to show how much you care
I’m sorry that I hurt you, sorry that we never talk
I’m sorry you can’t fix me, just get me to a doc
Most of all I’m sorry I bought you that 9 millimetre Glock
Izaak Wierman is a multi-instrumentalist, singer, music educator, and songwriter from western U.S.A. I met him through FAWM and asked him about his view on limitations (natural and self-imposed) as a songwriter.
There Is Always Some Kind Of System
Music is organising sounds, and the possibilities are truly infinite. I took the classical university music path, and one of the things you learn when you are studying the history of music is that there is always some kind of system (even in free jazz). Order from the chaos.
FAWM is a great system. There will be 14 new songs in 28 days. Your time is limited. Try to post a song every two days and move on. From there I usually come up with an additional self-imposed system before February. Since 2011 I’ve come up with some fun ones, and usually rely on some music theory to help. They’re like song cycles, sets of related songs. Here’s a list of some of my past attempts:
- 7 songs, one for each of the modern modes.
- 12 songs, one in each key signature, lyrically based on each symbol of the Chinese Zodiac.
- Songs derived by randomly selecting two or three from a list of 126 fundamental rhythms.
- 12 two-chord songs using parallel Major or Minor triads at each interval (m2, M2, m3, M3, P4, Tritone)
- 14 songs each focusing on a specific melodic interval (m2, M2, m3, M3, P4, Tritone, P5, m6, M6, m7, M7, P8, m9, M9)
- A set of rounds
A Path Through The Wilderness Of Possibilities
I know it looks a little intimidating if you aren’t into theory, but these kinds of systems give me a purpose and a direction and a little step to take on the long path to 14 songs. Also, understand I’m not a die-hard completist. I think the Chinese Zodiac is the only one I actually completed in its entirety. I managed that by writing the last three songs during the following 50/90. I find these kinds of systems really helpful because they give me smaller decisions to make. What’s the key signature? What are the chords I will use? It’s like a game. A path through the wilderness of possibilities. Additionally I’ll take on any of the weekly challenges or forum challenges that strike my fancy, especially for lyrics. I’ve had a lot of success with story cubes, tarot cards, Loteria, and animal totems.
A Mandolin And A Phone
This year was different because I didn’t really have any self-imposed music theory ideas. I intended to leave things a little more open because I knew I would be stuck with mandolin only, and only the phone to record with. I found the acoustic one-take to be surprisingly difficult because the simultaneous singing and playing gives you many more chances to mess something up on a brand new song demo. I did get lyrics ideas from challenges on the FAWM site (Superhero themes, Loteria and Story Cube) as well as songwriting games like Explore the Core*, Morph** and Auntie-Sin***. I also wrote four traditional folk instrumentals because it’s something I can do without any instrument at all.
Every year’s a bit different. I can’t call 2016’s limitations clearly good or bad. My demo recordings definitely suffered, and I won’t likely listen to them as much as my full production demos in the future. But at the same time, the songs I wrote for 2016 are much more likely to find their way into actual live performances. Much of the music I’ve made for past FAWMs isn’t something I’m able to recreate for a live audience. But this year’s mandolin songs? … no problem. In fact, I need to get out to the local open mic here in Adelaide, and see what people think.
*In Explore the Core each person writes a completely different song based on a the same set of lyrics and using a list of possible chords.
** In the Morph challenge Songwriter 1 writes and posts a song. Songwriter 2 listens to the song before them and changes 51% to create their own song (eg lyrics, time signatures, melody, harmony, chords, style, every other word – whatever your interpretation of 51% is). Songwriter 3 listens only to song 2 and the game continues. Later, everyone listen to the whole chain to see how it morphs along the way.
***Auntie-Sin is a Thesis-Antithesis-Synthesis chain. Someone writes a song and the next person in the chain writes and records the “Anti” or opposite of that song, the thirds person then writes a synthesis – a new song that combines the first two songs. The fourth person writea an ‘anti-song’ of the third song which is followed by a synthesis of the anti-song and the previous song and so on.
I usually try to take a book with me wherever I go but one night in 2013 I went to see Mountain Schmountain at the Malt Cross I was book-less and bored waiting for the gig to start*. Being a fully hipster approved watering hole they had a few boardgames and paperbacks lying around so swerving Clancy, Grisham and Dan Brown, I picked up The Independent Book Of Medical Emergencies by Dr. Stuart Fischer. I’d been experimenting with minimalist music using ‘found’ texts (apeing Philip Glass) and on p.99-100 I ‘found’ the following ‘Advice Regarding The Treatment Of Bullet Wounds’
Don’t try to remove a bullet
A lodged bullet may be preventing blood loss
Removal could expose a severed artery or vein leading to circulatory collapse
Don’t scrub the area
Or use soaps
Of any kind
Don’t allow the patient to stand
Don’t elevate a bleeding arm or leg
Because an artery may be injured
And circulation of blood to the limb could be impaired
Don’t make any assumptions about the extent of the patients injury
Because a bullet’s path is unpredictable
Get the patient immediate treatment
Obviously the poetic stanzas were my own doing and I set it to an ever evolving melody over a three chord progression. It was terrible. Too terrible to share publicly. Oh alright then.
And that was it. Experiment over, on to the next thing. But a few weeks later I had a light bulb moment – why not fold all this real life medical info into a narrative, with the ‘reveal’ that the singer is addressing the lover who shot him. I even recycled the chords I’d used before. The bVI7 IV I (Ab7 – F – C in the key C) became Eb7 – C7 – G in the new chorus.
Because I’d already written the song once, the new blues version became Advice Regarding The Treatment Of Bullet Wounds NUMBER 2, making a wonderfully pretentious title even more pretentious.
The only subsequent change I made was originally the song in A and sung down LOW like Johnny Cash. That’s the way I did it at First Tuesday Songwriter’s Group but it sounded better up an octave in G.
As well as a solo song I’ve also done it as a duet with First Tuesday regular and my cello playing wingman Rachel McClean.
I had a great time tonight at the open mic hosted by Martin Ison
Click on the titles to hear the songs – go here to get a free copy of Let’s Build An Airport and sign up for my mailing list