Lyrics = The Devil

This is going to be a fairly short post today, as I have limited time. I have a band practice this afternoon, and I’m supposed to be finishing some lyrics right now! Lyrics. Ugh. I love them, but I hate them! They can make or break a song. There’s so much pressure to get them ‘just right’.

Over the last couple of years, I’ve really moved away from writing songs about personal and love relationships. I feel like 3/4 of music is about relationships. I get bored of it being so same-y. Every time I start a song about a relationship, I feel like ‘ehhh, that’s been done before’. But there is a good reason why so many songs are about love. It’s something that touches everyone’s lives, and one of the most important things in the world. Scratch that; THE most important thing in the world. It’s wonderful when it’s going well, and a kick in the fucking nuts (or uterus) when it’s going badly. I feel that so many relationship pop songs these days are just phoned in, though. Feels like you could knock out a simple love or breakup song in 5 minutes flat. Just rhyme some typical words and sprinkle “baby”, “boy” or “girl” in at liberty. There’s a difference between a well-crafted, interesting love-centered pop song like Gotye & Kimbra’s “Somebody I Used to Know” and…say….most Britney Spears songs. You can tell a story and really dig deep to create emotional reactions in your listeners, or you can just…rhyme a bunch of words and throw some references in to your hot body and Mercedes. Lately I’ve been more exploring my relationship with myself in lyrics – eg, I wrote a song called “Thespian”, about the feeling of being an ‘actor’ in this world – that maybe it’s quite hard to be yourself, and we are all living ‘lies’ to some degree, keeping up our ‘personalities’ and fooling people into thinking that’s all we are. Another recent song, “The Sea is Red”, explores my relationship with my family and its sometimes dark history. I am something of a navel gazer, always analyzing myself and working on self-improvement. I sometimes find myself fascinating. Seriously not in a narcissistic “I’m so awesome” way, but just find it interesting to see what has influenced me and what makes me think and feel certain ways. But being a musician, part of the process is about entertaining others. Do people really want to hear songs about this personal stuff? Or is it just shit-boring? The bulk of popular songs are NOT about one’s personal thoughts, but universal themes. I always feel this pull between truly exploring what I’m truly thinking about in lyrics, or writing about some universal thing everyone can relate to. I guess it’s probably important to have a balance of both. I personally find (good) songs about relationships fascinating, but find it difficult to write a ‘good’ one myself!

Anyway, I’m kind of getting off-topic. I wanted to discuss the actual process of lyric-writing itself. How does one start? (If there are any musos reading, please feel free to comment and share your own lyrical process). I would say about 80% of the time that I already have a piece of music/some chords/or a musical vibe before I begin lyric writing. The mood of the music is usually what inspires my lyrics. In that rare 20% of the time, though, I occasionally have a cool turn of phrase or concept come into my mind, and try to turn that into a song. I find that starting with lyrics is when it’s hardest to create a successful song, though, sadly! Wish I could be one of those peeps who turns their poetry into amazing songs, but it’s usually the other way around for me. I am also something of a purist who believes in really writing from experience and not just “making abstract shit up”. But some really awesome musicians (such as David Bowie) apparently swear by the ‘cut-up technique’, which good old Wikipedia describes as:

“..an aleatory literary technique in which a text is cut up and rearranged to create a new text. Most commonly, cut-ups are used to offer a non-linear alternative to traditional reading and writing.”   (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cut-up_technique)

Also, apparently, “From the early 1970s, David Bowie has used cut-ups to create some of his lyrics. This technique influenced Kurt Cobain‘s songwriting.[3] Thom Yorke applied a similar method in Radiohead‘s Kid A (2000) album, writing single lines, putting them into a hat, and drawing them out at random while the band rehearsed the songs.”

Sounds like the cut-up technique has influenced a bunch of amazing artistes! I always found Bowie & Kurt Cobain’s lyrics very evocative, mysterious and interesting. They made me think, imagine and become inspired. So even if they just pulled them out of a hat, I guess they were pretty effective. Maybe there doesn’t have to be as much meaning in lyrics as I think.

Another thing is, can you switch these things up? If I started doing some random hat-pulling, would the rest of my songs that are already done in a different style sound bizarre? Because I know most of Kurt Cobain’s songs  have this abstract quality, and so do many, many Bowie songs. Does this mean you can choose only one style to write in?

I do appreciate a certain abstract quality to lyrics – when things are too expository, I feel like I’m writing childishly. (Eg, “Got up in the morning, took a sip of juice” – isn’t there a cooler way to say this? “Shook off the sheets, swallowed bowls of fruit” – lol – not exactly Shakespeare, but you get the idea).

My boyfriend believes that bold lines and statements are the way to go, to catch people’s attention and make them think. I’ve been trying some of this, but my damn ethics sometimes get in the way and make me not want to say anything “too bold”. I am a fence sitter. I couldn’t write a song with a big chorus line like, “Hate is love”. I’m sure it would make a lot of people think, but I just don’t believe it, and wouldn’t want to sing it. Most of my thoughts go something like, “Such and such is like such and such in this situation, but it depends on the observer. Everything is subjective”. Haha. What AWESOME lyrics that would make.

Anyway, I guess there are no hard and fast rules for lyrics. Write something you are happy with, that you feel is possible for other people to enjoy, and that means something to you. I think that’s going to be my motto.

I’ll leave you with a bunch of tips I find useful for when your hand is palming the shit out of your face and you just can’t seem to find the inspiration to finish your lyrics:

– Go for a walk in nature. Nature calms your mind and allows you to chill out and connect with something bigger than you. I need to remember this more often and force myself to get out of the house!

– Try the cut-up method. Even if you don’t want to use the extremely abstract method of putting random words together, certain words or word combos could trigger some cool inspiration you may not have thought of.

– Take a nap. When you are drifting off, keep a voice recorder near you (I use my iPhone’s voice recorder). Record the thoughts going through your head. When we drift off to sleep, our brainwave patterns change and we start thinking more laterally and can come up with some interesting images & concepts. Also keep the recorder handy for when you wake up; I always find I think differently when I’ve just woken up.

– Visit an art gallery, or make yourself an inspiration board full of interesting pictures and patterns. Sometimes the visual can inspire cool thoughts.

– Draw on whatever dilemmas and problems are going on in your life right now. Pain can inspire!

– Give yourself a random assignment, or ask a friend to give you one. Eg: Write a song in 30 minutes about steak. Sure, it’s probably not going to be your best work, but it may get the ball rolling and help you break through that writer’s block.

Okay, hope y’all have an amazing day! Oh, and we have picked an excellent guitarist to join our band. Very exciting.

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4 Responses to Lyrics = The Devil

  1. Hello:
    First, I’d like to great you for this blog you have really intresting stuff posted up here.
    What you say here is true, It’s really dificult to write something (I’m not a song writer, but I do write stuff). What I do when I try to write, is, to sit on my computer and play some music, that always inspire me. I have a text for example, I was listening vivaldi and all of a sudden, somebody turns a really nosy machine. At that moment, my text abruptly change and finish.
    Anyway, I think you haven’t taken some cases into acount. I don’t know if you have listen “Era – Ameno ( http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6SvxaNQ6d7M )”. The lyrics of that song don’t mean anything, they are just fonetic words. Era, invented a languaje just for it sound, not for it meaning and then made the song. So, don’t be afraid of try something new. Or even a speachless song. You can make the voice with a new instrument, like a flute, a violin, or something.
    If you are writing a lyric, you can write about eveything you want, it don’t have to be about yourself. And it don’t have to be abstract. You can conplain about something or tell your ideas to the world. If I’m not wrong, I think the most known bands have their hits’ lyrics about stuff they think about the world. Pink floyd for example, has many politics songs. Or you can speak your personal stuff but without letting anybody understand anything. Something cryptic that only you can understand. I think many people feels intriged when they listen something personal but they can’t understand it. The problem with that, is that it’s better if you let people have they own intuitions about your song and don’t let them think it’s abstract.

    I have to go, but I hope enjoy my words 😀
    PS: I’m sorry about my english, I’m from Argentina.

    Cya

    • Hey, thanks for commenting! I’m glad you enjoyed reading the blog! Your English is great.

      Mmm, I agree with you, I read back on this post and thought that maybe the view point was a bit narrow. I probably missed out entire genres of music when talking about lyrics here. I was in a rush, and I was thinking more of “pop” music these days rather than alternative music. Then again, there are some pop music examples like “Dear Mr President” by Pink that bust that idea down.

      That’s really interesting about Era inventing a phonetic language just for the sound! There are definitely no rules. A band I really love & enjoy is Sigor Ros, and I believe the singer sings in a mixture of Icelandic, English & made up words. And I have no idea what he’s saying, but I really enjoy it, the music & melodies say so much on their own. Also a lot of Tori Amos, who must write in codes or something, because half the time I have no idea what her lines mean.

  2. Oh, I forgot. I’d love to read some of your stuff or listen any song of you band 😀

    • Thank you! I haven’t got any recordings I think are good enough to share yet (I’m not the best at production). But we will be recording in May, so I will keep you posted! We’re called “The Halls”.

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