Categories
Behind The Song

Funeral Dirge For A Dead Ex-Girlfriend

Joe Satriani Pays His Last Respects
Download     mp3 demo

When I was 15 I had a vivid dream that my recently ex’d ex-girlfriend died. Being a highly strung youth it upset me. But 5 years later when I wrote a depressing foot dragging instrumental I was over it (and her) and decided Funeral Dirge For A Dead Ex-Girlfriend would be a fun name.

In 1989, smack in the middle of the neoclassical virtuoso shredder boom (Flying In A Blue Dream had just come out), I was stuck in an extremely lightweight rock band, but listening to anyone with big hair and a floyd rose. Drummer Mark Nelson and I spent extra hours in a rehearsal room in Grimsby (where the band was based) jamming through ideas for this and another tune called Disney X.

Later, out of the band and back in my hometown of Sutton In Ashfield, I worked with virtuoso bassist Phill Danks on the tracks that would make up my solo guitar debut album (including the original instrumental version of Shang Ding Hong Song called Verbal Gerbils). And then, just like that, I put my prospective shredding career on indefinite hold.

Funeral Dirge finally got an airing in 2005 when I arranged it for the Advanced Guitar Group I taught on a Saturday morning at Brunts School in Mansfield. For the next two years various budding metalheads (including Sarah Kerry and Joel Peat, I think) wrestled with release bends and chromatic melodies. When I left the kids even performed it in my honour along with a medley of Tequila, Mr T‘s Mother, Treat Her Right and The A Team Theme that they shoehorned my name into. And it was as bizarre as it sounds.

So in 2016, looking backwards to go forward, I recorded the first demo, 11 years after the first public performance and 27 years after I wrote it.

I really do have to pull my finger out.

Musically I can definitely hear the influence of Joe Satriani on the main melody (it’s in the same ballpark as Hill Of The Skull) and solo (3:41 and 3:55), Randy Rhoads-era Ozzy (clean dissonant arpeggios 2:04), Cliff Burton-era Metallica (lead bass at 2:20), Steve Vai (wide intervals in the solo at 4:00) and maybe a bit of Stravinsky’s Rite Of Spring peeking through at 2:40.

The main point of interest is how many keys it goes through from Am and A harmonic minor to Cm and Ebm, Em and finally F#m. There are some interesting harmonies to parallel 2nds in the chromatic melody (2:50) and parallel 4ths shortly after (3:02). In the solo I play a lot of 7th (3:31) an idea I got from Izaak Wierman.

The inspiration for the pre chorus came when I realised in A harmonic minor you could have F major and F minor – but if you only heard the power chord you would assume it was major. I liked playing with that assumption.

The freak out right at the end (5:26) was from the guide track which I’d recorded before I dialled in the ritardando (slow down). It sounded so gnarly I flew a rough mix back into the finished session.

Samples

Rain – rain.mp3 by soundman9826
Bell – S: 111013 – Sirmione – Kirchenlaeuten.WAV by aarom
Snare drum roll – snare – Premier Artist Maple – loose – buzz roll x3.wav by bigjoedrummer
All from freesound.org under a Creative Commons license
Laughter from Flight Of The Bumble Bee (Spike Jones), Sunday’s On The Way (Take 6) and Moonglow (Chet Atkins and Les Paul).

Meaning I got to jam with two legends of the guitar on this track!

Categories
FAWM Songwriting

Why I Failed At FAWM

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!

Limitations

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.

Chaos

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?

Motivation

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.

Conclusion

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.

Categories
FAWM Guest Posts Songwriting

Guest Post: Izaak Wierman – Setting Creative Limitations

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.

You can check out Izaak’s music on Soundcloud and ReverbNation and of course on FAWM

*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.