My process for writing words:
1. Listen to a loop of part of the song and ask myself, “What is that like?”
2. Draw a picture of exactly what comes to mind. Expand the picture out to the edges of the page. But I’m not drawing what I want - I’m looking inside my head/mind’s eye for what is there.
3. Scribble some words about the picture. If I already have a melody, these words may or may not follow the rhythm of the melody.
4. Write a series of questions enquiring about this picture. Who? What? When? Where? Why? Etc.
5. Think about answers to the questions. Possibly write them down.
6. What are the sections of the song? In this case it was 3 verses, 3 prechoruses, 3 choruses, and a middle eight. I write ‘verse’ ‘chorus’ etc on a clean page, with loads of space around. I think about which section of the song will contain the answer to which question. Sometimes I’ve skipped the question step, and will just jot down what I think will go in each section. E.g. Verse 1 backstory. Prechorus sense of threat. Middle 8 reversal/twist.
7. Then, using some of the words I scribbled on the picture, plus the vocal rhythm, I’ll scribble down answers to the questions as quickly as I can without taking the pen off the page.
8. Edit. Select bits I like. Make a few changes. Transfer lines I want to use onto a clean page. The song takes shape.
9. If I get a bit stuck on a particular section, I’ll ask myself another question like: what is this bit REALLY about? And then I’ll draw a picture, and that should generate some new ideas.
I’ve used this process for a couple of years now. It’s an adaptation of a process designed to get people in touch with their unconscious ways of conceptualising the world, so that they can solve their problems. In that application it’s called Metaphors of Movement, designed by the psychotherapy genius Andrew Austin.
My version helps me to write words for songs pretty quickly. There’s no worry about a blank page, no trying to say something. And I tend to write lots more words for songs.I’m going directly to the place. And I pluck those babies.
Some songwriters I’ve spoken to are skeptical of process. They think it’s too mechanical, too inartistic. Where’s the skill in it? A real writer doesn’t need processes because they can just write! I think that’s based on a mistaken belief.The self-image/ego part of the organism wants to take credit for the writing.
My experience is that working in this way is beautiful. I don’t have a clue what I’ll find before I look. I just trust in it. And I’m free of needing to claim the work as my own.
Try it. Let me know how it works out.
My Quietus review of the ace new Robyn Hitchcock record - “part well-known favorites, part personal discoveries, and part originals.” His takes on ‘The Ghost In You’ (Psych Furs), ‘To Turn You On’ (Roxy Music), and I Was A King’s ‘Ferries’ are superb. And ‘San Francisco Patrol’ & ‘Comme Toujours’ are the two most beautiful songs he’s written in years.
"Robyn Hitchcock’s latest release, The Man Upstairs, stands amongst his all-time best albums. His finest work in years, the opening three songs are stunning, mesmerising even, in their intimate beauty"
My Quietus review of Julian Cope’s excellent fiction debut, One Three One. Both hilarious and a novel of great social importance, I really miss reading this. Always the sign of a good book.
My Quietus review of Trwbador’s ‘Several Wolves’, currently in my Top 10 Albums Of The Year list. Half electro-folky/half sheer great electronic pop, ‘Start Your Car’ and the title track are excellent tunes.
"It’s pure cinematic cool with a seductive pulse, picture Ladytron in an opium-hazed driver’s seat, propelling you around the bends of long urban tunnels, flashing multi-coloured lights as they speed by, all in slick, slow motion. There’s an intelligent, purposeful use of backing vocals throughout the record, and here they’re like night angels materialising and stretching across the ether."
My Quietus interview with Mikey Georgeson, my favourite songwriter. I found this interview incredibly interesting and if you don’t know Mr. Georgeson’s music, do yourself a favour and get on that. I highly recommend the first two David Devant & His Spirit Wife albums, the two Mr. Solo records, or his latest ‘Blood & Brambles’. All excellent introductions to the man’s impressive body of work.
My Quietus review of Martin Newell’s new Cleaners From Venus album. A stunning Pop record, currently my Album Of The Year. Out now on Soft Bodies Records.
Earlier this year I chatted with Afghan Whigs’ frontman Greg Dulli about his 13 favourite albums of all-time.
I had a lovely, interesting chat with the lovely, interesting Viv Albertine about her ‘brutally intimate’ memoir, ‘Clothes Clothes Clothes Music Music Music Boys Boys Boys’.
I interviewed underground comix legend Denis Kitchen & John Lind about their The Best Of Comix Book. Very interesting guys. Talked about comics, Surrealism, music, jukebox collecting…
City Air – Coming home from seeing The Tears play at The Astoria in London, February 2005, I was trying to remember how ‘The Lovers’ went and I came up with this on the guitar. I knew it was special and hung onto it for ages waiting for the right person to write the lyrics and vocal melody. I love Danny Gold’s two synth notes that herald the second chorus.
The Way I Don’t Kiss – I had written this on guitar and then recorded a synthy demo which became the blueprint for the version we did on ‘In Retrospect’. On a whim, we tried it out during a rehearsal for the Birthmark and Mainland sessions with Laurence Owen on bass and Grant Purser on drums. It went so well we knew we had to record it as a full band. The recording is Eric Donohue on bass and Patrick Ahern on drums, basics done in one take at the Boston sessions. The little major key funk riff with the sliding octaves during the last time through the second verse is perhaps my favourite thing I’ve ever put on record.
Awkward Scenes – The demo was entitled FaB Shadows, which was (very) short for ‘F minor and B flat minor’ and the music being darker than my usual songs. When we had the offer to make the album, I would go to rehearsal rooms during the day to get out of the flat and focus on writing. This one was polished off alone with an acoustic at Strummer Studios in Holloway one afternoon. Again, the basics were done in Boston in one take. Really was an amazing feeling.
Your Likely Years – A guitar figure in E flat that I really love. The demo was called ‘Cinnamon Shoppes’ after the Bruno Schulz short story. The first of the acoustic songs we recorded at David’s.
Birthmark – Re-recorded and differing quite a bit from the ‘In Retropsect’ version. On checking the relevant email now, it seems I may have misread a comment by Ryan Labato from the I Am The Programmer podcast that led me to believe the song could use a lot more melody. Anyway here it is. Recording all those extra guitar parts with Simon Nelson was a blast, he’s always up for sonic experiments (as is Danny Gold, who helmed the Boston sessions).
Small Salvage – Another rare minor outing for me. Danny Gold’s low synth strings always make me pause and smile at how expansive it gets there. This was the last song done at the Boston full band sessions and I, being tired, thought I was just going to add my guitar again later. When I announced this, there were shouts from the control room ‘No, no, the guitar is sounding great, you need to nail it now!’
On The Mainland – One of my favourite pieces of music I’ve ever written. April 2011, I was waiting for my companion to come to my flat before the Stay Beautiful reunion and this came out.
Losing My Place – Holds a special place in my heart as it was the first song written for the album. I had sent David some initial demos and I fondly remember him telling me about it at Brumfields (live drummer Steve Brummell’s annual birthday party in Highgate Wood). Brumfields 2006 was actually where I first met David. Having been a huge Luxembourg fan, I slowly met them all that year. I’d met Steve a few weeks before (at Zed One rehearsal space, H Bird were on their way out and Steve on his way in), he told me I ‘must come to Brumfields this year’. Also met Sina there too, who has supplied all the Close-Ups artwork.
Eiscafe – Another of my favourite ever pieces of music I’ve written. Every time I listen to it I’m so thankful this came through my fingers. With Suede’s ‘The Wild Ones’ in mind, Simon suggested recording this with the studio windows open.
Inroads – And again. I think this is just lovely. Something very English about it. David Barnett thinks it is Beatles-y. I’m put in mind of David Devant & His Spirit Wife, particularly its descending chromatic figure reminds me of the way ‘Groover’ ascends.
by Aug Stone
Album is available at our Bandcamp