Sunday, 25 March 2012

Words With Friends Cup - The Aftermath - Part 2

I hope you all enjoyed the irrelevant fun of the Scottish Fiction Words With Friends Cup.  A hearty congratulations to our winner Boab Canavan from Campfires In Winter, and thanks to all our able bodied competitors.

In what I am retrospectively calling 'songwriting' month here on Scottish Fiction, there is a slightly serious side behind the Words With Friends Cup, and that is to put the spotlight on the art of songwriting.  So I've asked our competitors if they would be kind enough to answer a few questions about their own experiences and opinions, and what is after all a hugely important part of music.

We all have our favourite lyrics, a line we wish we'd written.  Music full of pulsating beats, jaw busting riffs, bone shattering bass lines and soaring vocals is great, but it's words that make us connect with a song, make us laugh, cry, cheer or grimace as the story being told unfolds. 

So with that in mind, we spoke to Stewart Allan from Black International.

As a musician, how do you balance the music with the words?

Lyrics are very important to me, and I do spend a lot of time mulling over the words for our songs, but I suppose it really depends on the piece of music in question.  Occasionally lyrics can just be a vehicle for a vocal melody, other times the words and music are completely co-dependent.  I have no idea if anyone pays attention to the lyrics I write, so most of the time I feel like I’m just doing it for my own amusement.

What is your approach to songwriting?

If I’m being honest, the mechanics of songwriting isn't something I analyse too much.  I try to just let things happen when they're ready to happen.  Occasionally songs just appear from nowhere, and as the clichĂ© goes, it’s like you’re a lightning rod channelling energy from the ether.  Other times it’s a complete grind, perhaps you get so far then put it away for a year or two until it’s ready to be birthed.  Songs are just an assemblage of different things; music can be chopped up, stretched, mixed, partially erased, juxtaposed in unexpected ways, and most of the words on our album were treated in a similar fashion.  I’d work from my notebooks; cut and paste lines from different scribblings, collage them together, edit and reshape them over time.  These days I tend not to sit down on my own and write a song from beginning to end, I prefer to work things up in the rehearsal room, that way we’re not tied down to preconceived structures so much and we can bounce things off each other quickly.  I try to work faster now, more spontaneously, trying to nail the essence of something in the first sitting.

Is there a particular lyric that you wish you'd written?

There are hundreds and hundreds of things I wish I’d written!  I like things that combine the mundane with the slightly fantastic, even if it’s in what they leave out rather than put in.  If I had to pick something specific, Morrissey gets me every time:

It was dark as I drove the point home
And on cold leather seats
Well, it suddenly struck me
I just might die with a smile on my face after all

Or maybe Mark E Smith, I never fail to be amazed by the way he can suggest all sorts of things with complete economy of language:

I’ve been sharpening a knife in the bathroom
On a brick I got from the garden
No-one will fuck with me again

If I ever write something as good as either of those I could retire my pen quite happily!

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