Categories
Fifty Five Stories Down Interviews

Interview: Mistakes & Magic – Fifty Five Stories Down with Matt Blick

Nicholas Tozier of the Lyric Writer’s Workroom interviewed me recently about my new album Fifty Five Stories Down (available here).


What artists inspired you while you were writing and recording Fifty Five Stories Down?

When I first pitched the idea (one voice, one guitar, live, no overdubs) to producer Daniel Wright he asked me if anyone had done an album like this before. Other than Billy Bragg (Life’s A Riot With Spy vs Spy) I had no idea! So I did some research and found a few. The most influential were Dylan – of course! – (The Times They Are A Changin’), Willie Watson (Folk Singer Vol. 1), Ani DiFranco (first album), Anais Mitchell (Xoa), Loudon Wainwright III (A Live One) and Joanna Newsom (The Milk Eyed Mender).

What inspired you to pick up the baritone guitar? Is that your regular axe nowadays?

The baritone is my main guitar now, at least for singer/songwriter stuff. Daudi Matsiko inspired me as he plays in what is essentially DADGAD but tuned down to Bb. He explained to me how it was helpful in covering more of the bass frequencies when you’re playing as a solo performer. At the same time I was listening to bands like Cleft who play without a bass player and detune to an extreme degree. I considered doing the same but knew all the intonation problems that brings. So I hunted down a Danelectro baritone on eBay. Playing all my old songs was difficult in B so I tuned it down even further – 7 frets below a normal guitar. The lowest string is tuned to A=55 htz which is where the title of the album comes from ‘Fifty Five (Stories) Down.’

Having this guitar has had an effect on my playing – guitar heroics, wild string bends and giant stretches are pretty much off the table. It makes you play ‘dumb’ – I like it!

Where’d you record the album?

In a rehearsal room belonging to Nottingham singer/songwriter Daudi Matsiko in a derelict police station. His ‘neighbours’ were a painter who played religious music while re-enacting 50 Shades Of Grey with ‘lady friend’, a math rock trio and some Vikings. It was hard to get enough quiet to finish the record.

What gear did you use to record?

Pretty much the Danelectro baritone straight into a Fender DeVille amp. Hardly any effects. A Boss chorus on Brave, an auto-wah on See You Dance and I used a TC multi-effects unit for tremolo on Can’t Hang It On Love and chorus/pitch shift on Architects. That’s it apart from some sleigh bells!

Anyone you’d like to acknowledge for their help in the making of the record?

Producer Daniel Wright really helped in selecting the songs and then suggesting edits and tweaks till the material was as strong is it possibly could be. He also let me cover one of his fantastic unreleased songs called Black Sky. 

Ralph Barklam (photo) and Michael Wong (design) really captured the moody ‘Blue Note/Verve’- style image I wanted for the cover. And nearly every song on the album was premiered at The First Tuesday Songwriter’s Group who gave invaluable feedback and encouragement every step of the way.

Where were you when you got the idea for “John Lennon Blues?”

In my studio writing songs for February Album Writing Month! I had a really bad cold when I made the first demo, I knew my voice wouldn’t hold out so I had to capture it in one take. As I got to the end I started coughing and had such a bad ‘episode’ I coughed till I pulled a muscle. That version was more strummy standard tuning song, influenced by Lennon’s Yer Blues. Later I took a riff I’d been playing on the Baritone and sang the vocal line over it instead of the chords.

But to answer the question properly I’d written a song called ‘Guns’ which was a humorous take on America’s obsession with the right to bear arms. One section that didn’t make the final cut became the chorus of John Lennon Blues. It’s a sad fact that violent men seem to be most threatened by people who are committed to non-violence. And the irony that if those men had been able to violently defend themselves they would have survived to continue preaching the gospel of peace, but then would have discredited that very message.

Were these songs all written on bari guitar, or did you transpose some of them down?

John Lennon Blues (version 2) and See You Dance were written on baritone. Architects, Mistletoe and most of Brave were written on piano. The rest were originally standard tuning guitar songs. Pretty much all of the songs stayed in the same keys (as it relates to concert pitch)  as I moved them to baritone, so I had to relearn them in new positions on the fretboard for baritone. I don’t have a big enough vocal range to sing ‘em in different keys!

You play some very complex guitar parts while singing, “Architects of Our Unhappiness” being one example. Did you consciously work on that or has this coordination come with experience?

The last verse of Architects is something I had to work on endlessly. I was trying to get inversions and counter melodies that reflected the lyrics (“an upside down place, gold buried deep...” etc) and gave a hint at what I’d tried to do originally on the piano.

The ‘chord-melody-without-the-melody’ style of Mistletoe was another one that took a lot of work. I was aiming for Joe Pass and Carole Kaye play a Burt Bacharach session, but I think I missed it by a mile!

What’re the keys to a cozy Christmas song, Matt?

C major of course! On Kiss Me Beneath The Mistletoe I wanted to get that warm comforting christmas vibe which I think comes across in songs like Mel Torme’s Christmas Song (Chestnuts Roasting On An Open Fire) and he uses things like harmonising the ascending major scale and using lots of close voice leading, lots of major 6 and 7 chords and the occasional 11th. So that’s what I did! I especially wanted the music to have that kind of vibe to lull the listener into a false sense of security with where the story goes. I initially started writing the song as a very stiff kind of Victorian hymn – which would have been funny – but after coming up with the first line I felt that musical direction would lose a lot of people. (Not that that’s ever stopped me before!).

Which songs were the toughest to write/record?

Can’t Hang It On Love was the hardest to record – I did numerous takes trying to find a way to interpret the song that did it justice and then completely rerecorded it at a later session. Tonight was the toughest to write and went through a lot of changes. It started out sounding like The Mouldy Peaches but then I dropped the key a few times, took out the bridge and generally tweaked it into the near-spoken word piece you hear on the record. 

Which are your favorite tracks?

[Inserts standard ‘choosing between my babies’ speech] As ridiculous as it sounds for someone with no hits I planned this album as a kind of ‘greatest hits’ compilation and shortlisted the songs that I’ve had the most positive reaction to from others. So as songs, I like them all.

But as a recording Architects is very special to me, because after all the reworking, arranging and practice I captured it in one take/first take, which I struggled to do on the easier songs. I’m very happy with Black Sky because I find it very difficult to make cover versions ‘mine’ but I felt I inhabited that one. I was at the first ever public performance that song when Daniel played it at the First Tuesday Songwriting Group, and learnt it from the video I shot on my phone.

And I have a special place in my heart for the live recording of Sweet Baby Hand Grenade because it sums up the album with mistakes and missed chords still in place but the magic of a pub crowd spontaneously singing along as well.

Magic and Mistakes. Maybe that’ll be my next album!


Categories
FAWM

Horribly DeFAWMed (Slight Return)

Here’s 4 songs plus interviews from Sea Monster Eyes – a great band (featuring 3 former pupils) who have grown into amazing prolific songwriters

FAWM Report

Yesterday I finished FAWM 2014. Well actually I finished this morning at 2:25. Given the level of illness, physical injury and general mental imbalance that FAWM can generate I think I got off pretty lightly this year. I wrote, co-wrote or collaborated on 24 songs in 28 days. I’m going to spend March revising the demos (including an album full of songs co-written with young pupils) and rolling them out here on www.MattBlick.com

I’m toying with a 3 month cycle of
writing like mad
demoing and releasing
going through old ideas editing and working on raw material.

We’ll see.

Links

Over Feb I posted 28 songwriting tips derived from the Beatles on Beatles Songwriting Academyget them here

Aaron Krerowicz is a blogger musicologist who I have a strong suspicion is WAY SMARTER than me. He has a Beatles blog and another on the music of Star Wars. Did you know some of the most famous themes appear to be ‘borrowed’ from another film? Check it out.

Nicholas Tozier my blogging buddy from Maine wrote a piece about songwriting so moving I almost cried. I love getting songwriting idea from unusual sources so his ‘Song Written‘ post on poet Sylvia Plath was right up my street. It covers points like There’s no romance in being a “tortured genius” and this brilliant quote about finishing the songs you start

By the time of her death, on 11 February 1963 Sylvia Plath had written a large bulk of poetry. To my knowledge, she never scrapped any of her poetic efforts. With one or two exceptions, she brought every piece she worked on to some final form acceptable to her, rejecting at most the odd verse, or a false head or a false tail. Her attitude to her verse was artisan-like: if she couldn’t get a table out of the material, she was quite happy to get a chair, or even a toy. (From Ted Hughes’s introduction to The Collected Poems of Sylvia Plath)

Some of my FAWM songs might only end up being a chair or a toy (or even an opportunity to teach a young person how to ‘make a chair’) but I’m sure writing all these songs strengthens me as a writer.

 

Categories
Songwriting

Diane Warren Video

It’s no  exaggeration to say Diane Warren is probably the most prolific and successful songwriter working today. She’s also something of an old school ‘non-performing’ writer and very forthright and candid. Check out this interview with bonus questions from my blog buddy Nicholas Tozier

Categories
A Blog's Life

Finally In The Top 100! Count Me Out!

I’ve been working on my album for so long that I’ve built up a tidy little backlog of songs. So now the Let’s Build An Airport album is being edited and mixed and Shabby Road’s had a lick of paint and a erm…patch of carpet (?) I’m hoping to get a few of em up here.

First up is Count Me Out. It’s got a good response when I’ve played this one live. I’ve struggled to write from a place of emotional honesty and now I’m getting some traction I plan to mine that dark seam for all it’s worth. Expect more angst on a monthly basis.

Tech genius Magic Mike Matthews is working on a cool song vault feature but for now you can get links to pretty much all my songs that are online – here.

In other news – I didn’t really make much of this at the time but it dawned on me yesterday that it’s a pretty big deal.

I was named one of The Top 100 Must-Follow Music Resources on Twitter by CD Baby’s DIY Musician’s Blog. This was made even more mind blowing for the following reasons

  • It’s CD BABY for goodness sakes!
  • I’m still not sure I’m in a committed relationship with twitter. We’re both still seeing other people/social media platforms
  • I wasn’t just one in a hundred. The list is divided by type (tech/law/news/gear etc) and I was in the top 10 songwriting resources.
  • Everyone above me in the songwriting list (bar the awesome Nicholas Tozier) is a magazine, publisher, corporation, competition etc)

The post starts

When it comes to songwriting, sometimes the creative well dries up and you need to pray for rain. While you’re waiting for those prayers to be answered, check out the following Twitter resources for new songwriting tricks, perspectives, lessons, stories, and opportunities. I’ll bet inspiration strikes quicker and more often for those of you who do!

I guess I should probably close by saying if you want to follow me on Twitter my handle is Real Matt Blick I’m also on Soundcloud which I’d completely forgotten about. I’ll still be posting everything here, Soundcloud will just have a few (don’t laugh) greatest hits of mine.

 

Categories
Songwriting

The Inspiring David Bazan

 

David Bazan is someone whose music I’ve been immersing myself in this year after several people have said songs like I Got Lost and Israel’s Praise sound like they’ve been hit with the Bazan stick. I really enjoyed the Great Discontent’s interview with him and the following quote stood out so much I blew it up and tacked it above my desk

If you want to do this [have a career in music] and be serious, you have to find your own rhythm independently of money or praise. If you can find that, then you can do it for a long time, but you can’t need more encouragement than you’re going to get. Needing recognition is natural, but you need to get by on very, very little if you want to not go crazy and be able to have a sustainable workflow

if you like it you can download an A4 version here

Something else to inspire you – Nicholas Tozier has an informative primer on ways to freshen up your song structure over at Song Written

 

 

Categories
Showing Up

Day 328: The Other Way Of Writing

So here’s the thing. I’m working on Silver aka Judas’ Song aka Better For Me and I’m still working off a page that I typed out in 2005, annotated with a million different scribbles from the last 6 years (sorry my exaggeration alarm just went off).

I’ve been greatly helped by Nicholas Tozier’s method of writing each section on a separate piece of paper (A5 is how I roll) that way you can rewrite without having to write it all and you can even swop bits around (still not sure verse 1 isn’t verse 2 and vice versa. HAH “VERSE – A” – you see what I did there?!?!?!).

That’s so cool and helpful. I wonder where T said it. Was it here? Anyways…

I’m losing perspective as you might expect with lyrics that are 6 years old and music that goes back to 1992! Some of the things that are ‘wrong’ with it have been wrong for nearly a decade. How will I know when I’ve finished? Or even near finished?

What I did was type up everything I’ve got so far. Hey presto! It’s finished song. (I’ve read that Brenton Brown does a similar thing too).Yes there are still sucky bits, but I can see the finish line from here now. I’m going to press ahead with fixes and then demo, which will act in pretty much the same way as the fake finished lyric sheet. Once it really is a song, rather than a potential song it will be easier for me (or anyone else) to see the wood for the trees.

And in other news, here’s a beautiful vid from Nottingham ‘band’ We Show Up On Radar. Some of it was filmed just round the corner from my house. Those flippin’ foxes are a real pest…

Download the song for free from the We Show Up On Radar Bandcamp page

I’ll be a Ghost from WSUOR on Vimeo.

Free download: Never Be Silent
Other free songs by Matt Blick

[If you’re subscribed to this blog via email, you will have to click on the post’s title to watch any video content (the link will take you my site).

Categories
Showing Up

Day 226: My Exquisite Corpse

I’m still doing way too much multitasking. I’ve interrupted the rerecording and mixing of Let’s Build An Airport to contribute my portion of an exquisite corpse that we’ve got going on the 50/90 site. “What’s an exquisite corpse?” I hear you google. In musical terms we have 11 people co-writing a song. One person writes about 50 seconds of music and then sends the last 10 seconds to the next person who does likewise. Finally someone puts it all together and we all get to hear the song. It’s the musical equivalent of this…

I’m about 7th in line, and I’ll post a link when it’s done.  


Here’s the finished song – You’re Sure To Find Yourself.

The part I contributed was the 6/4 and 7/4 prog metal instrumental bit. It’s after the folky 6/8 bit with the “we can do what we want” sample. Unfortunately during the edit my part comes in too early but to be fair I was asking for it superimposing 4/4 over 6/8 (If you’re interested, here’s how it should have fitted together).

Guest post

The second part of my series for Krown Media is up now. One of the reasons Christian’s make poor artists is they spend way too much time obsessing over their motives. Here’s a sample –

So, whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God (1 Cor 10:31) applies to all of us, no matter what profession. But have you ever noticed that Christian plumbers, Christian school teachers and Christian I.T. specialists don’t seem to suffer the same kind of paralysing bouts of self analysis that artists do? Maybe because they instinctively realise that in context and practice that verse is about outward actions, not inner motivation.

Read the rest here

Great writing on writing

There are quite a few songwriting blogs out there that dispense really helpful advice. There are others that are so beautifully put together that reading them is a pleasure to be savoured. There’s only one that I can think of that ticks both boxes and that’s Nicholas Tozier‘s The Halted Clock. Check out his post Life Cycle of a Summer Song, Part 4: An Attempt at Self-Criticism for example.

Tozier wakes up in the morning, stretches, scratches at his unseemly body hair, and sits on the edge of the bed…He walks to the sink, where he definitely does not waste half a can of Barbasol by using the foam to make a giant Santa beard…Having accomplished a smooth jawline with only a reasonable amount of bleeding and crying, Tozier embarks upon the day’s errands.He …buys two beverages: Lady Grey tea, because he is a sensitive poet; and coffee, without cream or sugar, because he is a total badass.
…At exactly 8:30pm he hits the stage. The audience is hushed, perhaps intimidated by his awesome punctuality.

Visit Tozier’s site to see what this has to do with songwriting.

Lastly, and still on the Tozier tip, I got to round out the series of posts (44 and rising) which I’ve done about the Abbey Road album with a light hearted chat with Nicholas over at Beatles Songwriting Academy.

Free download: Never Be Silent
Other free songs by Matt Blick



Categories
Songwriting

Building A Fence

Nicholas Tozier flagged up a phrase I’d used in a recent post where I’d said I needed to build a fence around my songwriting during 50/90 to stop it taking over the rest of my life. He asked if I’d say a but more about how I plan to do that in practice. Though I’m sure to fail in some degree, here goes…

The trouble with open ended work (which is what a lot of us are engaged in) there is no clear finish line, or pass grade.

For instance, working for a church, building a website, caring for a child or writing a song is not like building a wall – which, when it’s done, it’s done. How do we ever know when we have truly finished, or made it as good as it could be?

“This church has been fully led!”
“I have achieved an 80% pass rate in childrearing!”

Tim Ferriss, author of The 4-Hour Work Week, says we need to forget work/life balance and pursue work/life separation. And the only two things you can do to put boundaries around this open ended work are to limit tasks or limit time.

In songwriting that simply translates as “I’m going to write X number of songs and stop” or “I’m going to write for X amount of time and stop”.

The tricky part is filling in that X. For me on 50/90 it’s

Write for 1 hour a day and network/post for 1 hour per day max.

and

Write 20 songs max.

20 might sound ambitious but my problem during FAWM wasn’t getting to 14 songs, it was stopping. To be honest I went a bit mental.

So if I do hit 20 and going to turn straight around and start improving the rushed demos.

Download my new song: Faithful & True for free!!!
Other free songs by Matt Blick

Categories
Songwriting

GTD For Songwriters (pt 3)

I’m taking a bunch of posts to look at applying the ‘next action’ principal of GTD to songwriting. If you missed them, here’s the intro, part one and part two.

Say No To Moleskines

Not moleskin! Mol – eh – skeen – ah!

So you’re gathering things according what you need to do with them next. That means all the drafts of your current song need to be together. All your potential songs need to be together. All your rejected and finished songs need to be together – out of your sight! Tozier won me over. If you’re going to jot ideas down in a note book it needs to be one you’re not afraid to rip up and file the pages away (so don’t write a different song on the back!).

Speaking of which…

Everything Digital?

Why not keep everything digital as word docs or even something fancier and shmancier than that? Because sometimes you need to flick through all you ideas quickly (like pages in a book) and sometimes you need to lay out a million ideas where you can see ‘em and move em around (like pages ripped out of a book) but mostly because you need to not see a whole lot of other ideas (like pages that have been stored away in a totally different book).
“But I’ve got a billion terabytes on my laptop and I can store everything I’ve ever written!” you cry. But your brain can’t – that’s the point. The reason songwriters get into this mess is too much raw data. It needs sorting.

That said I do type things up and have digital copies of most drafts. These live in files marked current (songs in some stage of development), finished and old. Old contains a sub folder for each song. The others don’t need sub folders as they should only contain one version of any song.

Next time – filing and hording

Related Posts: Writing songs with Joseph Pulitzer
Download all my 2011 songs for free!!!
Other free songs by Matt Blick

target=”_blank”
target=”_blank”

Categories
Songwriting

What I Learned About Songwriting From A Crazy Guy In Liverpool

When a crazy guy start ranting about war during a family holiday I never expected to learn a lesson about songwriting. But sometimes life hands you valuable insights in weird packages.

Read all about what the guy taught me and how he reminded me of Jeremiah the Prophet in my guest post for American singer/songwriter and blogger Nicholas Tozier in What I learned about songwriting from a crazy guy in Liverpool.

A while back I did a guest post for Al Metcalfe which feels timely with the recent debate about what worship leaders can do to help (or hinder) Charismatic Worship. It’s called Charismatic Flavoured Worship. Check it out.

Related Posts: Songwriting with Stephen King
Does the Holy Spirit thrive on chaos?

My latest song: You Spoke The Stars
Other free songs by Matt Blick