I’ve been teaching music composition for over 20 years and one of the things I like the most is hearing from others how their own musical creation came to be, and how the many decisions, mistakes, and gifts from the cosmos came together to shape their work. So, I decided to do a blog about the creative process in case others out there share my curiosity. I’ll be sharing everything from the ugly early stuff to the spit and polished final mixes so sit back and enjoy the ride or get out now while you can.
This is an album that allows me to say some things that are on my mind about respect for the planet on which we live and the people that inhabit it. It also treads into the traditional territory of love songs and the not so traditional territory of debilitation, elephants and ghosts. Some of the songs are truly personal and others view topics at a distance. My hope is that the lyrics and music offer as much to the casual listener as to those who dig beneath the surface.
Over the next month or so this blog will focus on a song or two each week. Short demos of the songs will be released along with the lyrics and a brief discussion about the inspiration and creation of each song.
The musicians on this album are too many to name so please see their credits on the album page of the website. Without their incredible musicianship and creative energy this album would have found a home in a large dumpster many moons ago.
Mixing – John Tucker – wow. Maybe I’ll share some of my mixes on this blog. My mixes are like day old porridge compared to his scrumptious delicacy of a mix.
I wrote most of these songs at the piano and early on did a few jam sessions with two good friends and amazing musicians, Dylan Ferris (mandolin) and Mark Spielman (bass). Pride set aside I mostly improvised the lyrics in these recording sessions and they contain a lot of phrases that make no sense and words that are completely made up. It’s a bit like Dr. Seuss meets bad beat poetry but it was immensely helpful in sketching out the rough outlines of the songs.
Here are 2 sketches and a final version of Sweet Embrace (at one time called Crystal Clear). The song came full circle from version 1 lyrics to a slight variation in version 2 to a complete rewrite of the melody and lyrics in version 3 to finally land where most things do back at the start. The lesson continues to be learned “trust your instincts”.
Sweet Embrace Version 2 (early sketch – lyrics tell a slightly different story)
Sweet Embrace Version 3 (later – with new lyrics and new melody)
Sweet Embrace Final Version (Full circle back to the first lyrics and melody)
Lyrics are hard work.
I’ve been writing music since my late teens but lyric writing is fairly new to me. I’ve written some lyrics for choral works but never for an entire album so I knew from the outset that this was going to be a challenge. Some songs on the album went through 3 or 4 lyrical versions taking up to a year to arrive at their present state while others were written in an afternoon. I have a love/hate relationship with lyrics.
Igor Stravinsky, one of the 20th Century’s finest composers stated “My freedom will be so much the greater and more meaningful the more narrowly I limit my field of action…..”
I knew from the onset, as I do with every project, that I needed a musical template and restrictions that would steer the album in one coherent direction. When I’m thinking about Stravinsky’s quote I often think of this scenario. Two make-believe art classes – 1 where the students are given all the colours to use and told to do whatever they like and the other class where the students are only given one colour and one shape to explore. The 2nd class will no doubt be frustrated with their limited options but when all the art work is placed side by side on the wall the result will be one coherent theme. I wanted all my songs to feel like they belonged on the same wall.
Here’s the recipe for the album
- folk instruments are paired with synth textures
- a big focus on background harmonies
- very few solos – most breaks are composed ideas
- subject matter is mainly introspective, on the dark side, and often contains some social commentary beneath the surface
- initially I didn’t want to write any love songs – oh well…
- I love funky music – this album is not funky
- no song shall be danced to..
And for those that know something about musical theory..
- the songs are mainly made of triads with occasional 7ths.
- major songs borrow from minor tonalities and minor songs borrow from major tonalities
- background harmonies and strings parts use lots of non chord tones a cluster voicings.
See the next post to listen to the demo of the first track on the album “What a Change“