Posts Tagged ‘paul hawkins’

Mass Interview: Question 5 – Golden Rules

April 27, 2009

5) Do you think there are any Golden Rules for what makes a good song? To what extent do you feel your own music results from a reaction to music you don’t like?

Hannah Miller: I was crestfallen to discover that there exists a pop machine monster that calibrates data of what works commercially and has the broadest appeal etc and then simply shits out an amalgamation of this data, the perfect pop song. However, I do think it is fascinating to observe what people respond to- certain keys, note patterns- and also, for example that a vast amount of western music is at walking pace, in 4/4…I dont know about golden rules though. Hooks, memorable melodies, repetions are important.

The bad thing about music is how market-centric it has become, and how, so very often, people think music is good simply because they have been told that its good, and the emphasis is frequently on image and a ‘sound’ rather than content or songwriting.

The good thing about music is that it brings very different people together to have a good time, and basically, we just want to play and have a nice time. One aim of making a record is to enjoy the music you have engendered, so it will probably have elements of the music you really enjoy within it. We use our time and our money to make music so we are not going to bother making something we dont believe in.

Paul Hawkins: It’s not exactly that my music comes from a reaction to music I don’t like so much as I just feel there aren’t enough people making the kind of songs I do like. I mean there’s a lot of bands around that are good at what they do but I feel like I go to gigs or listen to bands and it seems like I know how the songs are gonna go before I’ve heard them and it’s very rare I feel genuinely surprised by a band. In terms of golden rules for what makes a good song the only ones I can think of is to be interesting and to avoid being too predictable. Everything else comes down to individual preference.

Jeremy Warmsley: Second part of the question first: yes, it used to. I was specifically trying not to sound like other singer-songwriters. (This is back in the heady days of 2004/5 before every singer-songwriter worth his salt had a copy of Fruity Loops and “Digital Ash In A Digital Urn”.) At least in terms of production. Now I don’t give a damn. I just make music that feels good when I listen to it. Less preconceptions, that’s the key.

Napoleon IIIrd: Sometimes my music will remind me of other songs, songs that I don’t like, generally this amuses me so I embrace it. I like to challenge myself in these small ways. I certainly don’t think that there are any rules to song writing, I ignore music theory and use my ears, if it works then it works as far as I am concerned.

Capitol K: Rhythm.. melody… emotion ..

Ill Ease: There isn’t a lot of music I don’t like or can’t appreciate on some level. I think when I was a teenager, there was more music that I thought I didn’t like – like pop music in general. But in retrospect I think that that was more of a reaction to how it was presented and packaged and marketed than to the music itself.

I don’t personally think there are any golden rules for making a good song but I do think there are definitely rules and conventions that most listeners will recognize and immediately feel comfortable with. People like songs that they can sing along to the second time they hear it. Music that follow certain rules and conventions that have been established over the last 50 years (3 minutes and 30 seconds long; verse/chorus/verse/chorus/middle 8/verse/chorus) is what people feel comfortable with and because they feel comfortable with it and it’s predictable, they’re more likely to react positively to it.

I personally find a lot of those conventions boring… After 50 years of that formula, I feel like its pretty played out…. And, yeah, I think my music is largely a reaction to them…. I think that, historically, the modernist reaction was to work against them, to defy conventions and expectations in very clear and obvious ways. I personally am more drawn to what I think is more of a post-modern reaction which tries to create music that is aware of those conventions — their historical importance and their cultural weight — and uses them in interesting ways – ways that are recognizable to the listener as familiar — but uses them in an unfamiliar way which ultimately, I think, creates more of an awareness of what those conventions are and, I think, creates more of an openness for an appreciation of music outside of those conventions. To me, that’s what makes a good song. And maybe still being able to sing along to it the second time you hear it.

Mat Riviere: I don’t know if there’s golden rules for what makes a good song. There’s a fairly broad range of songs which I feel are successful. I think my own music is more a reaction to music I do like. At one point in the writing/recording there has to be a moment where I get excited by the idea and possibilities of the song. If this doesn’t happen I normally give up.

Spencer McGarry: I would say that in order to have a successful pop song the most important thing to do is to work within your idiom but change something slightly so it is both familiar and exciting.

Off the top of my head-

Repetition, especially of an unusual vocal tic or noise is helpful too. Think of ‘Believe’ by Cher, an utterly average song to the ears until the extreme auto-tune section which is constantly repeated and thereafter anticipation by the listener, both in enjoyment and as a source of ridicule. Most recently we have the Blackout Crew’s ‘Put a Donk on it’ which is the classic compound case of a song about a song/movement that also contains the noise being sung about. It is about it’s movement but is also of its movement, like the ‘Let’s Twist Again’ , La Bambe etc. Sparks have a great technique involving a humorous phrase repeated ad nauseum until it becomes unforgettable, this is effective when coupled with a pun e.g- “Baby Can I Invade Your Country?” with the emphasis on the first five letters of ‘Country’.

Other recent unusual vocal tics have been heard in the massively popular song “Umbrella” with it’s refrain of “ella, ella” which is a good example of an unusual element within a familiar modern song structure including the obligatory rapular introduction from Jay Z, providing immeasurable introductory credibility to the artist. Crucially with this, it is the unusual effect which made the song a hit rather than the performance or the strength of melody etc. An attempt at what I like to called ‘The ella effect’ was repeated by Flo Rida and Timbaland last year with his now forgotten ‘Elevator’ which featured the repeat of the same delivery of ‘ella’ perhaps in cheeky reference. This song was not a hit and demonstrates the need in pop for the shock of the new.

Extreme vocal limits has traditionally been very popular, currently Falsetto in male vocals is the vogue in much of the Prince influenced R’N’B but in the fifties, pop music had allot of time of the deep voice- and later the Beach Boys combined both and were very successful in terms of pop music sales and are consistently so (think of the chorus to ‘Help me Rhonda’ and the excitement and merriment it generates when sung, particularly by one individual attempting all the parts). Other popular hit songs including what sounds like a full range include ‘I’m a lonely Boy’, ‘Monster Mash’, and ‘The Lion Sleeps Tonight’

Lyrical tactics are of course the inclusion of a girls name, demonstrated to its ironic conclusion by Beautiful South’s ‘Song For Whoever’ and the current trend in pop for songs of un-conditional love from the female perspective which are perceived to be popular both amongst females (who it is supposed, crave the ideal) and males (who it is supposed are free to carry on however they please with whomever during this ‘un-conditional’ surrender by the female). A timely mention of current events- The Beatles ‘Revolution’, Catatonia’s ‘Road Rage’, ‘Mulder and Skully’, allot of early Beach Boys songs, Marvin Gaye’s ‘What’s Going On’ is also a feature of an admittedly smaller branch of hit songs, occasionally this can be purely accidental.

An unusual noise can be helpful- Gary Newman’s ‘Cars’ and ‘Are Friends Electric?’ and Soft Cell’s cover of ‘Tainted Love’.

A reworking or feature of an obvious sample Kanye West’s ‘Touch The Sky’ Madonnna’s ‘Caught Up’ and MC Hammer’s ‘You Can’t Touch This’ can often guarantee a hit.

There are probably more examples and more rules but I think I should stop there. As for myself I no longer seem to have taste in music. As I get older I am fascinated and interested in almost everything I come into contact with. Last year for example I was mainly excited about Madonna and ABBA (who’s hit single success ratio has been attributed to a canny insight into the harmonically commercial relationship between minor verses and major choruses see my favourite example ‘SOS’). I am also interested in songs I would describe as’ all-chorus’ examples being ‘Reet Petit’, ‘Mixed Bizness’ by Beck and the divine ‘Biology’ by Girls Allowed. I now find myself influenced by everything I hear on the radio and can perhaps no longer say (for good or ill) that I dislike a genre with the current possible exception of Dub and House- but experience has told me that may change.

Laura Wolf: If I am to like a song then it either has to be crazily rhythmic and fun (this explains the noisier/more avant end of my musical taste), or, essentially, a fairly regularly structured pop song with a great chorus and interesting/heartfelt lyrics. I have to try really hard if I am to like anything that falls outside of these categories.

From writing songs in Internet Forever I have determined the following Golden Rules:

1. Go out with people you know are wrong for you just so you’ll have emo shit to write about when you inevitably break up
2. Only use the chords D, C, F and A (and rearrange/omit as necessary)
3. If you use the word “we” in a chorus it’ll instantly become anthemic

The following structures are the only ones you need (always end with a repeat chorus!):

1. Verse, Chorus, Verse, Chorus, Chorus
2. Verse, Verse, Chorus, Verse, Chorus, Chorus
3. Verse, Chorus, Verse, Verse, Chorus, Chorus

Jeremy Warmsley: First half: I have a few little rules that I try to stick to unless it seems necessary to break them. It’s all freakin’ obvious but sometimes it helps to have this stuff written down. Actually looking at it most of it is arrangement stuff rather than songwriting stuff.

I like stuff to be well-played, sung, in time, in tune, sonically appealing, unless there’s a really good reason not to be (like capturing the rawness of a performance, which of course has its place). I like it when singers mess around with the phrasing of a vocal.

I like it when the melody rises in the chorus, and for the music to get louder. (Sometimes you want the melody to go lower and/or the music to get quieter. The point is, some kind of dynamic shift).

In arrangements, it’s really nice to have a second part that weaves in and out of the vocal, filling in the bits when there’s no singing. Sometimes this can be a written part, sometimes improvised “comping”, but it’s good.

It’s really nice to have a cool thing that only happens once in the song. (Or several different cool things). Like on Rebellion (lies) by Arcade Fire, there’s a handclap before the last chorus that literally just happens once. Every time I hear it it makes me grin.

That’s all I can think of offhand. Oh, one other thing. Probably the key to a good song is a good idea, well executed. Actually that’s probably the key to most good things everywhere. Oh, except for happy accidents. Well, that’s it…

What’s this all about?
links to other questions in this conversation are here


Mass Interview: Question 4 – Innovation

April 26, 2009

[Sorry there hasn’t been a video this week, been v. busy with other exciting things]

Question 4 – Do you think there’s any scope left in pop music for something genuinely original of the magnitude of say… hip hop or electronics? Or are we doomed merely to reference prior modes from now on? (Do you even agree with the premise of the question?)

Spencer McGarry: I’ve always maintained that all we need for an innovative new music that would be considered original, is a new drug and a few new instruments, or a few old instruments used in a different way.

Speaking broadly of just a few genres- the taming of computer technology and rise of ecstasy predicated dance music, which then grew in tandem with its respective fashion and culture etc. I think similarly hipular hop arose from the utilization of an old technology (the humble turn table and Jimmy Saville) for a new purpose and the combination (as stated above) of this with disparate influences most immediately from the world of funk and later encompassing many different genres, along with a love of marijuana and cocaine.

Stadium rock was directly related to the advances in amplification in the mid sixties and increased popularity of cocaine amongst the working and middle classes. Rock and Roll came in part from the electrification of the guitar and the subsequent possibilities that entailed along with initially amphetamines, ‘pep pills’ and later also the omni-present marijuana in white society. Jazz arose from brothels and heroin culture utilizing old instruments in innovative combinations which produced new tonal sensibilities. Advancements in amplification meant that singers no longer had to project their voices as they had been forced to previously thus the ‘crooner’ replaced the operatic singer.

Capitol K: It’s the ‘original’ thing again. I think to even contemplate the idea that the road ahead will not be as interesting as the road already travelled is short sighted..

What I see are more micro scenes not bound by physical barriers as they communicate globally with the net. So soon all these old fashioned journalistic cultural cliches will dissipate under their own weight of fictionalised nostalgia for something that was probably never really there in the first place.

Napoleon IIIrd: To create something truly original would require a composer who is entirely uninfluenced. All music, like art or cookery or building or anything even vaguely creative is progressive. I see no reason why we shouldn’t continue to progress, develop and occasionally leap forward creatively, pop music is just a tiny blip in the history of music after all.

Jeremy Warmsley: Good question. A possible answer: maybe sometime in the future something original will come along and we won’t recognise it as original. Its originality will consist in something that we can’t even conceive of at the moment – maybe instead of SOUNDING different it’ll be a difference in the way we experience it (e.g. Brian Eno & generative music).

But that’s not what you wanted to know. Are there any genuinely new sounds coming along? There must be. There’s an infinite number of different ways a speaker can wobble. There’s an infinite array of sounds out there, an infinity of different waveforms stretching out forever. They’re going to sound pretty whacked out.

But then. Is it enough for stuff to sound different, to be original, or does it have to come from an original point of view? Were those early electronic records of Bach played on synths original? Dunno.

Paul Hawkins: Definitely. But it might not happen within the current generation of musicians. I think at the moment we live in a time where as a whole we’re reflecting back on the last century rather than considering the future and as a result the majority of the books, music and films made seem to be attempts to recapture something from the past rather than attempts to imagine the possibilities of the future and I think as a generation our brains are trained to reference and draw influence from the past.

Plus both electronica and hip-hop were hugely influenced by major technological advances in synthesisers, samplers and home recording technology. These allowed records that simply could not have been made before that time. But in a few years time there’ll be a generation of people who are looking to the future again that will rise to the fore and maybe some new technology will completely change how music can sound. And as a result of those there’ll once again be people who look at music in a completely different way to what’s gone before. So what I’m probably saying is that we as a generation are naturally disposed towards referencing prior modes but that doesn’t mean every generation that follows us will be the same.

Hannah Miller: I think the word ‘doomed’ is a trifle too dramatic. If we are going to discuss doom, perhaps we should consider that the impending fuel crisis carries certain implications for an industry that relies so heavily on electricity and travel? However I like the idea of a return to making noises with whatever you can find, banging things and singing round a fire. [in my vision, we’re allowed a fire.] In terms of a new, totally radical type of music emerging, i cannot really predict. I would think not, but technology is forever advancing. Subliminal sound, now thats a field i’d like to get in to.

Ill Ease: Society and culture are always evolving, the same way that we as human beings are always evolving in the natural, physical world. To say there’s no scope left is to say that our society has come to an end.

So, in a certain way, I’d say I don’t agree with the premise of the question…. but at the same time I think it is probably THE question of our time — because we live in a ‘post-modern’ society, one that defines itself and sees itself in terms of history and is incredibly self-conscious about how we will be perceived historically. I think that our generation in particular is highly aware of ourselves in comparison to previous generations (partially due to the lucrative marketing of the nostalgia industries but also partially due to this increased awareness of ourselves in comparison to other generations and eras). I see sampling and other kinds of historical referencing in art and music as a reflection of that historical self-consciousness.

But I don’t see sampling or referencing as being any less ‘new’ or creative than previous forms of music: I think it’s a creative expression of your awareness of yourself in history. And even when it’s a celebration of that music, it is still a type of deconstruction of the tradition and of the music – both figuratively and literally (ie, scratching, sampling, looping, etc.)

Mat Riviere: I feel like hip hop and electronics are now so much a part of pop music. Part of me feels that pop music shouldn’t even try to be original, like it’s not really in its nature. What it’s all about is a decent melody and stealing bits from more obscure forms of music.

I think there are lots of people currently making fantastic, inventive pop music that could only really be made now and I think this is important, I’m just not sure about originality.

Laura Wolf: I didn’t think I had an opinion on this and so I spoke about it with a few people and we got caught up in ideas about the democratization of music and how advancing technology has impacted upon the potential for originality. But then I remembered DONK. A force so unique and truly of a magnitude greater than hip hop or electronics.

What’s this all about?
links to other questions in this conversation are here

Mass Interview: Question 3 – Background

April 23, 2009

3) How do you feel that your background, where you grew up, your family & childhood have impacted on your music?

Laura Wolf: I don’t think my family and childhood have influenced my music much, but it was typical suburban disillusionment and boredom that drove me to begin ‘seriously’ making music when I was about 15 or 16. If I had grown up somewhere culturally rich and left wing I mightn’t have felt the need to express myself in this way quite as much. All my songs back then were overtly political and were a reaction to values and ideals I encountered growing up in a small, conservative town in Cambridgeshire. Obviously now I don’t write so politically but I still feel like writing songs is a way of communicating and expressing stuff that you can’t really talk to people about.

Paul Hawkins: I think probably the key thing that drives what I do is that I grew up with a disability in what was a very homogenous set of villages just north of Bristol. Pretty much everybody I knew came from a similar background, class, racial background etc. and it wasn’t an easy place to be different to everyone else. Which I obviously was on account of my disability. And that had a big effect on me, along with the fact that I was very aware I’d been written off by people quite early on.

The headteacher at my primary school wanted me to go to a “special” school instead, then up to the age of ten problems with my handwriting made people assume I was a really slow learner. Which wasn’t the case at all but I couldn’t write anything down. And I am aware that this sense of the need to prove yourself in spite of others reactions, and this sense of feeling different and alienated from everybody else, and both very much ideas that are quite central to the music I write. So, yes, I feel that the circumstances of my upbringing have had a huge influence on my music.

Spencer McGarry: What a deeply Freudian question! I feel a third party would be more qualified to comment, but lets give it a shot. Firstly I do not feel Welsh and I don’t feel that the landscape has affected me at all- if the commonality of Welsh bands can be surmised by a pastoral regard, bound to a folk idiom with a vocally harmonic American west coast influence, I don’t think I’ve done any of that yet. Similarly I am not enamoured with the rock end of the spectrum- be that with the emotional metal of the valleys or the punk aesthetic. I suppose thus far I have most in common with the blues based rock popular in Swansea where I grew up and the songs on our first album have followed that formula, broadly speaking.

I would have to attribute the most influence to my parents. As a boy, I was not really allowed far from our house, not allowed to play in streets, go to the shops and this extended to my teen hood in relation to school trips abroad, time I was allowed out at night etc. If Freud is right and the most important personality forming traits are developed before the age of around eight, then I believe my parents’ strictness, coupled with the fact that until eleven, I was an only child, may have made me slightly eccentric in my dealings with others as well as giving me a fertile imagination. Although I am keen to point out here (as is currently the British vogue for self depreciation), I was less Jane Eyre in her Red Room and more a young Andy Kaufman in the opening scenes of ‘Man on the Moon’. A (possibly) hyperactive child in his room inventing games, television programmes and songs.

Ill Ease: I think that everything about my background and experiences make up who I am, and directly impacts my music — both in ways I’m aware of and in ways I’m probably not aware of…. I think that the music I was surrounded by growing up, from my family and friends and where I grew up (DC), are the basic building blocks for the music I write now. They’re the horizon within which your vision of the world is created and realized. So much so that I think it’s really kind of impossible to completely see outside of it….

I see it as being like different accents –you can be in 2 towns in the same state or county (or, over there, say, Liverpool and Manchester) and hear really different accents. I think it’s the same way with music and it’s interesting that those differences are still so strong in the face of such globalized mass media and communication.

Capitol K: I grew up in a variety of scenarios, in different parts of the world among different cultures, religions in many different schools, my roots aren’t very tangible.

That probably explains a lot the general waywardness of my music and the fact that it jumps all over the place… I really don’t know where I’m from… or where I’m going…

Napoleon IIIrd: Everything that I have ever experienced has affected and influenced me in some way and I have a wonderful family who exposed me to a massively varied range of music from a very young age. It is however, difficult to say exactly what impact my upbringing had on me musically, I have no other upbringing to compare it to and would not be the person I am were it not for the upbringing that I received. So I guess really, my background, family and childhood are what make my music

Mat Riviere: I think I got played I’m Your Man era Leonard Cohen far too much when I was an infant. Also there wasn’t much to do in the countryside and music relieved a lot of the boredom. The plus side of living in the middle of nowhere was that we could make a lot of noise.

Hannah Miller: Within the Moulettes, and Modernaire, there is a range of different disciplines and musical preferences, we have all traveled about and dwell in different places. I think the Moulettes particularly have an Englishness about them. It is also fair to say that we were all encouraged from a young age to play, and supported by our families.

Personally, I think my family were of paramount importance to my way of playing- my father is an avid old folkie who plays bagpipes, passes on all sorts of incredible folk music from all over the place, and is also a luthier, so he’s made loads of lush instruments to play with. My Ma is immersed in classical music and has a vast fountain of theoretical knowledge that I struggle to understand, but i was lucky to grow up in a house where there was always some kind of music going on somewhere. Also I grew up near Glastonbury so there were always strange characters hanging about telling tall stories and embroidered tales. Its also riddled with good bookshops, full of the kind of occult tomes that you think must surely be forbidden for their excesses.

Jeremy Warmsley: Well, who I am determines what my music is. I think of the music I make under my own name as being an expression of my personality, or at least as being an attempt at the expression of my personality, or maybe the personality of someone I’d like to be. My personality is/was determined (in part) by background, hometown, family, childhood. Ergo QED etc: a huge massive fuckload.

What’s this all about?
links to other questions in this conversation are here

Mass Interview: Question 2 – Lyrics

April 22, 2009

Question 2 – How important is it to you to communicate something specific with your lyrics or are they just a vehicle for a lovely voice?

Jeremy Warmsley: Utterly, utterly important. Words carry meaning. I think artists actually have a moral fucking reponsibility to their audience to spend as much effort investing their words with meaning as they’d hope their most rabid fan would spend deciphering them. Otherwise it’s just a waste of everyone’s time. (Caveat: sometimes effortless is better and effort is a waste of time). Now, sometimes, a song is about a vague kind of expression. If that’s the point, then great. But if you’re just stringing a bunch of words together ‘cos you can’t be arsed, you don’t deserve to waggle your vocal chords.

Mat Riviere: It’s not important for me to communicate anything specific. What I’m interested in lyrically is ambiguity. I like it when you can’t really tell what a song is about but you are still left with an idea or a feeling from it. I like the idea of there being a story in there somewhere or a snippet of a story you don’t really understand.

Hannah Miller: I have a great love of words, and the complexity and subtlety of meaning, as well as the sounds of words in themselves as rhythmic, percussive and melodic tools. I also think that lyrics, as opposed to, for example, poetry in a book, have a distinct advantage in the great battle of communication since you are able to put stress where you will, choose the tone, pitch and emphases and so shape the meaning more fully. Despite their expressive quality though, since they are condensed, they have their limitations. I think it is impossible to communicate exactly what you mean since everyone interprets according to their particular set of convictions, beliefs etc.

Also, sometimes I simply decide that a word sounds to me like it means something other than its definition and use it accordingly. But I really relish a degree of ambiguity and mystery, and tend to put forth any agenda or comment though some veiled analogous story. Also, I find that I tend to add meaning in degrees after the writing if that makes sense. Quite apart from all this chat, it is a pleasure to sing, especially in harmony, and it is a fine thing to sing a lovely melody, and for me, the melody often sculpts the words, they take their shape from it.

Spencer McGarry: I think within a pop song the sound is often more important- if the chord of ‘A’ means nothing then why should the vowels and consonants that go over it mean anything either? That said I can’t seem to bring myself to write about nothing, I usually find it more interesting for me to write about something, although what I have found is the constraints of a 2/3 minute song work against total meaning being conveyed, there’s not that much room for lyrics that both sound good and can illustrate what you’re trying to say, especially if you keep having to go back to a chorus. This doesn’t really mater if the song does not have to function in a meaningful setting e.g- as part of a musical/song cycle, and when we consider that most pop lyrics are banal, (one can almost write/sing anything as long as it has that elusive quality of sounding ‘good’ next to the music), it maters not.

Paul Hawkins: I think it’s probably a compulsion with me. I’ve no idea what’s gone wrong where and when but I think at some point in my teens I realised I found it a damn sight easier to communicate my emotions in songs than it was to actually apply them to genuinely real world situations. As a result of that whenever anything dramatic happens to me pretty much my first thought is “how’s the song about this gonna go?” It’s not something I’m proud of, and Christ knows it’s not in a practical way to live your life, but it makes me a damn prolific songwriter!

As to whether I’m trying to communicate anything specific, I’m probably trying to figure myself out as much as anything. A while back I was talking to a clinical psychologist about his work and he described his job as “trying to help people find a narrative that helps them to understand their lives and their emotions”. That’s basically what songwriting does for me.

Ill Ease: Communicating something specific and expressing a specific view or just a momentary vision or revelation about the world is very important to me. I think what is being communicated goes hand in hand with how it is communicated: how something is sung I think is an essential part of how the listener understands what is being said.

I think that’s part of what keeps sampling and dj-ing, mash-ups and cover songs interesting…. I don’t think performing or sampling a song that was written by someone else is any less original than performing your own composition because every new performance is a new interpretation. It’s a pretty recent change in our culture that so many people both write and perform their own music – it used to be either you were a writer or a performer, but hardly ever both. I remember trying to explain to my grandfather, who was a musician, that I both wrote and performed my own music and he was really surprised and actually a little confused by it.

I think the fact that now that the expectation is so much more that musicians both write and perform their own music has confused the issue — and the fact that (I think partially due to the interests of the recording industry) over the past 50 years, the perceived importance of recordings and music as a recorded, final product has obscured the fact that, up until the 1940s or 50s, an essential part of what music was was the performance of it, and that a new interpretation, a cover, a live performance or even a sampling of a ‘standard’ was just as creative as a new composition.

Napoleon IIIrd: No matter if I discuss issues of social importance or I am simply trying to make someone smile, if I am to create something then I must try my hardest. For me lyrics are as important as the music that surrounds them, there are many songs that I can not stand.

Capitol K: I can’t force lyrics out, i read a lot and follow a line of interest, develop some concepts and then when it’s right i have moment of clarity and i can write lots in my note book – which i then plunder good moments from. I became a singer accidently and then just accepted what my voice would do and started writing around that..

I was uncomfortable with heart on the sleeve type lyrics for myself and now think of writing more like working on a fiction, a story, a film… It dosn’t have to be about your own kitchen sink it can be total fantasy.. If you can however write a brilliant lyric with your closest friend or lover as the subject matter, and watch their jaw drop when you sing it to a crowded room then great.

Laura Wolf: As long as I have been listening to music I have been more interested in lyrics than any other part of a song; I have to consciously make myself pay attention to other things in order to have a more ‘musical’ experience. When I write a song the lyrics are definitely the most important part to me. I don’t always take ages writing them or agonise over them but they normally come first and will be what I am most proud of when a song is finished. I like lyrics that are honest and emotional or ones that tell a story. Almost all of my songs are based on real events or feelings.

Spencer McGarry: Most lyrics however seem impossibly cumbersome and have a detrimental effect on the music. Coldplay for example have lyrics that seem to come from house music- they would be fine within that genre, acting as just a sentence here and there to punctuate the music “I will fix you” “singing ohh” they don’t seem to work quite as well within the torch ballad especially within an album of mid paced rock, it this intentionally subversive?

Overall it seems a lot of pop music is illiterate to an alarming degree- I’ve lost track of the amount of interviews I’ve read and of conversations I’ve had, where an individual can’t seem to find anything to write about, not even in a sense of providing vocal sounds that would suit the music. I’ve almost given up listening to lyrics in new music after a lifetime of disappointment.

It can be annoying though if you find (as I often do) that there’s not enough room for the listener to understand what one is trying to say- although I’m also aware that this perceived ‘listener’ probably doesn’t care or just like me, is not listening either.

What’s this all about?
links to other questions in this conversation are here

Mass Interview: Question 1 – Originality

April 21, 2009

How important is it to you to be original in what you do? And is it something you think should be important generally?

Napoleon IIIrd: For me the ultimate goal is to create something truly original, whether or not this is actually possible is another question entirely. I feel if I am not at least striving to create something original then there is little point in even bothering.

Laura Wolf: Originality is honestly not something I’ve thought much about. I’ve always been quite obsessed with people getting my points of reference and using ideas I like from other people’s music in what I do. Hopefully, despite this, most of the music I’ve made or collaborated on has not been particularly derivative. Perhaps if you steal ideas from enough places their original locations become untraceable and therefore what you create is original? Or it at least makes the concept of original vs unoriginal null and void because everything is made up of other borrowed things rather than a discrete thing that can be owned anyway. How postmodern.

Jeremy Warmsley: It used to be terribly important to me to have original production. Production that purposefully didn’t sound like what anyone else was doing. I used to have this maxim: everyone worth listening to has incredible lyrics & melodies. That’s the bare minimum. So really once you’re in the world of people-who-are-worth-listening-to all that really matters is production. So I worked really hard on lyrics & melodies, and then I worked just as hard at making my production & arrangements unusual and different.

What a tool! Over the years that will has been completely eroded as I’ve realised how dumb and reductive it was: of course it’s much more complicated than that. Firstly, some songs shine with less crazy production [why am I assuming that original production will necessarily be busy + exciting?] Secondly, what about originality in the song itself? Etc etc.

Hannah Miller: It depends what exactly you mean by original. I think it is important to write and play in an independant and creative manner, but I consider the Moulettes to be folk music essentially, and within this referential framework it is difficult to claim the notes as your own. The music we play is made of patterns. Bassoon, cello and drums are infrequent bedfellows, and so, perhaps writing with these instruments can bring about unusual happenings. We are also intrigued by the manipulation of sound to create unexpected occurences, and I have recently been having a lovely time with a disembowelled piano, in lieu of the hammer dulcimer that I would dearly love.

Paul Hawkins: I think originality’s important but I don’t think it’s a healthy thing to try to force it. but I also don’t think it’s a good idea to make a conscious choice to do – I think the more you try to force originality the more contrived and laboured something becomes and the less probable it becomes that you’ll do something original.

I think all that you can do is try to make sure what you write genuinely reflects you as a person and ultimately, if you really capture a sense of yourself in your songwriting, then it will be original ‘cos it’ll be something nobody else could possibly have written. And certainly what I love about most of the songwriters I love is that they’ve found a way of writing which is very unique to them and that would be very hard to imitate (at least without sounding like a parody or pastiche).

Capitol K: I don’t feel that originality should necessarily be a prime focus for music making, more focus on refining your art, your expression – developing the way you get your ideas accross, and really on a personal level to stay in love with your instrument, what ever that may be. Most people who stay true to themselves will quite naturally find they do something “original” if you like.. In essence being your self is the most original you can get..

Ill Ease: It is very important to me, probably second in importance only to writing music that I like.

Yes, I think its something that should be very important generally. I think it’s what makes creative pursuits worthwhile and interesting and fun. Breaking new ground, creating new landscapes and different ways of seeing the world — I see it as being like a spiritual pursuit, reaching out into the unknown.

Spencer McGarry: If we take originality to be the novel combining of disparate influences or the combining of obvious influences in an interesting way, I don’t think currently I could say that I am original. What I am in the process of doing though may be original in hindsight depending on the individual looking at the project in its totality. A musical career encompassing a rock album and an album influenced by musicals and orchestral pop for example, does not sound too outré to me and certainly has been done by a few of my favourite artists; but quite a few have unfortunately seen these as mutually antagonising bedfellows.

So by doing exactly what I think is normal, I am being seen by some as being schizophrenic, and unfocussed and by others as perhaps doing nothing outside of the boundaries of popular music, maybe even repeating history. I think it is more important to just do whatever it is you want to do and not worry about what others are up to, and in some quarters one will be seen as being ‘original’ and in others just run of the mill.

Mat Riviere: I don’t think the music I make is very original. I’m very influenced by what I’ve been listening to and the songs are representative of this. I think what’s interesting is that even if I’m really into a particular artist and I’m trying to emulate them in my music it basically just ends up sounding like me. I’d struggle to call this original, it’s more like a bad photocopy with an interesting pattern in it. Or something…

Capitol K: As music is one of the best communicators of ideas then lots of people with ideas get involved in music in many ways, be it as an instigator or a player or a producer or a curator of events… they all help make things different, keep it fresh and it all evolves naturally..

In the right context anything can seem refreshing…

Jeremy Warmsley: Is originality important? Good fucking question. I did a module on philosophy of art at uni and I can exclusively reveal here for your benefit that, no it isn’t. It’s a side note. File it alongside “the lead singer used to go out with Madonna” and “they recorded the whole thing on 19th century photographic plates!” It might be a reason to get excited by/interested in the music but it’s not the reason the music is good.

That said, if something is a total rip, that’s just boring. It gets in the way of listening to the music. I can’t listen to the tune without thinking about how much of a rip it is.

Mind you. What the hell is originality anyway? Is it just sounding different? Or is it the way you go about things? Can you make original music without trying to?

Spencer McGarry: I think it’s more important to be aware of the past not so much in that we won’t repeat it, more in the way that we can utilize it to create something else. I was reticent about starting a venture full of just my own songs for years because I was stifled by the notion that everything I did had been done and I was not doing anything interesting, after I stopped worrying about that, I could start making albums etc.

I don’t think of art in terms of originality, more of in terms of what order an artist has combined influences in order to make something. Occasionally we see massive jumps in creativity that appear to be original such as Kraftwerk or the Beatles, but nothing comes form a vacuum we only have to go back to their sources to ascertain their origin, be that Stockhausen, Tangerine Dream and the industrial sounds of their environment in the former and Motown, country and Western, Music hall, skiffle and rock and roll in the later.

Being aware of the influences of so-called ‘original’ artists can help in 2 ways-
– It can help one understand the music of the artist in greater depth
– It can free up the mysticism and intimidation surrounding a body of work allowing others to be inspired by it and not intimidated into inactivity.

Hannah Miller: So far, in terms of recordings, The Moulettes have two live E.P.s and a studio album in progress, and it has been interesting to discover the advantages and constraints of both. A musician such as Laijko Felix, a serbian-born violinist, zither player and composer, has made live, mostly improvised records that are enthralling and compelling for their seemingly accidental quality and the sense that a moment has been visited that would never happen the same again. To be a really good studio band is a different discipline, one that allows scope for the creation of other-worldly soundscapes.The Knife is a good example of a band who have collected and created a really unusual bag of sounds.

Songs are born out of improvisation and experimentation, and where there is a beauty and purity to those that spontaneously and quickly come in to being, there is also a place for the song that is periodically revised, added to and crafted. It is easy to thrive and to develop your craft when you are amongst a musical community where there are many splendid players to bounce ideas off, and opportunities to learn from those with different styles or approaches.

In short, it is important to look back at the origins of things as well as to be original and innovative.

Paul Hawkins: I think a lot of people are scared of actually revealing themselves through their work so they instead try to be original by being “random” and what they’re doing descends into quirkiness and, in the worst case scenarios, wackiness. But ultimately any competent musician can sit with an instrument and make a series of random noises that have never been made before and any competent songwriter can write songs about subject matter never covered before if he or she wants to be deliberately obscure. And that kind of originality quickly stops sounding so original at all as it’s basically a set of tics that are easy to replicate So certainly to me the best way to go about things is to work on creating a way of writing songs that comes from your own personality and is very much your own.
What’s this all about?
links to other questions in this conversation are here

Mass Interview

April 21, 2009

Question 1: Originality
Question 2: Lyrics
Question 3: Background
Question 4: Innovation
Question 5: Golden Rules

The contributors:

Capitol K is Kristian Robinson, a london-based songwriter and producer.
Paul Hawkins is an anti-folk singer/songwriter from London. He performs live with his band Thee Awkward Silences.
Ill Ease is a one-woman punk band consisting of Elizabeth Sharp. She lives in Brooklyn, New York.
Spencer McGarry is a songwriter and band leader from Cardiff. His band is named Spencer McGarry Season, after him.
Hannah Miller is the main songwriter, singer and cellist in The Moulettes, she is also one half of Modernaire.
Napoleon IIIrd creates self-produced, perfectly imperfect pop music in Holmfirth near Leeds.
Mat Riviere is a songwriter and producer from Norwich. He recently signed to Brainlove Records.
Jeremy Warmsley is a 26-year old singer/songwriter/producer from London, England.
Laura Wolf is a singer songwriter from London. She records solo and also sings in Internet Forever

The explanation:

I think I’ve identified a niche in the music journalism market. No one talks about ideas any more. Too many magazines and websites are filled with the regurgitating of press releases and sleepwalked-through dull interviews to pad the space between photo shoots and advertising.

So I had an idea – how about getting in touch with a few friends and fellow musicians who I know to be interesting, thoughtful people and getting them to talk about a single idea? Strip the music interview of its ‘promotional’ role and get an interesting discussion going.

My brief was simple. I asked five questions and asked people to write 50-100 words in reply (some wrote more). The diversity of opinion and depth of thought was exciting to read. Even if you don’t know who these people are you will hopefully still find something thought-provoking in what they say.