21 March 2011

Rainy Day Lover

Here's a new song. I wrote it one rainy day this last Winter, and recorded it, and sent it to my lover to share the feeling of being away from her in the drip of Berkeley. Since then, I've worked on the verses and lyrics and turned it into a full song, but this first recording was done in a few hours just to capture that mood.

Rainy Day Lover (partial demo)

Here are the lyrics for the full song form:

And I hear
music for a rainy day
music for a rainy day
a rainy day love

and I hear music
in the street
in the tyres
in the rain
in the low flying airplanes
I hear

music for a rainy day
music for a rainy day

and I hear music
in the sky
in the trees
in the birds
in the leaves
on the ground
in the rain
in the arms of an oak tree
with you
my rainy day love

music for a rainy day
music for a rainy day

rainy day love
a rainy day lover

music for a rainy day
music for a rainy day

Naked: The Songwriting Process

I thought it would be interesting to share the steps of creating a new song. I have many different ways I approach a new song. Described below is my process for a new song, "It's Time."

But first, a bit more about process. Some songs are lyric-driven; some are melody-driven; some by harmony. On another level, some come from a musical perspective (e.g. I'm interested in a groove, harmony, or melody working together), and some from an emotional place. Songwriting for me seems to be the most effective way to express emotions, both for getting them up and out of my body, and for sharing them with people. So even though I may be working with sounds, many times those sounds come from an emotion or feeling. I think this is what makes songwriting and singing so much more effective for me than cartooning, writing, or talking.

Melody-driven songs for me come from singing a line and playing with it. I like melodies that weave around and surprise, so I will modify my lines with intervalic jumps and mode changes until a nice melody emerges, usually while walking around.

Harmony-driven songs will come from two sources: 1) finding some nice changes on the guitar or piano, and then freestyle singing over the changes; 2) singing harmonies to melodies, before the changes are implied.

If the vocal has emerged as driving, the fun begins when I try to fit chords to the harmonies using Jazz harmony theory, and a bit of prankiness.

And, of course, the groove has to be there. For me, it comes while working the chords or bass lines, and is part and parcel of the noodling and playing. Workshopping the song with other players, or rolling out an unfinished song at a jam is my favorite process for refining the groove.

The lyric driven ones can come from an idea or emotional state, and I put myself into a trance and start pouring out lyrics either into a recorder, or pen-and-paper. O Youth [listen] was written with a broken hand while on Oxycodone--the whole lyric came out in one stream, in as fast as I could write it with my gimpy hand.

Mary [listen] was written from both directions. I was driving back and forth between Vermont and Brooklyn, and I kept tossing the lyrics around in my head. During the same time, I was working on two different guitar bits, in different keys. Guitar parts tend to sound right in only one spot on the neck, based on how the open strings sound for each chord voicing. So there was this spanish bit, with a gypsy change in open Em, Am, C, and B7, and then another bit, this pop song going between Gmaj7 and E. Normally, that is not a traditional change, because if you want to stay modal, Em is the relative minor to G, so to change you go to some other key. But E to Gmaj7 sounds great, and I didn't know what I'd do with it, but I'd sit there for half an hour just playing the changes and looking for more chords in the sequence. Then one day, fresh back in Vermont, fresh from bustle-y New York, alone with my guitar in the cavernous living room, coming up with fresh lyrics for the E/Gmaj7 part, I realized that the two musical sections matched the two word pieces--one angry, one hopeful--and I tried to glue the two sections together, even though the modes were weird together. Then I flushed out the lyrics by walking around the house and gardens, guitar strapped on, playing the song about fifty times, running back into the house to find the pencil and paper lying on the kitchen counter to scribble down the latest lyric. Somehow it worked.

Here, now, is an unpublished, unfinished song, in the very first stages. Song titles usually come last, but for now this one is named for its hook: "It's Time." I now have the luxury of an Android X, with the wonderful apps Rehearsal Assistant and FourTracks Lite, which let me record while walking down the street, siting in the kitchen, whatever. So I've uploaded the first takes of coming up with a new song.

These are in the order that I recorded them, all within about half an hour of each other, so you can hear, plainly, the raw process.

The next step I took with this song was to walk around and sing the hook over and over, looking for more lyrics to pop into my head. Then I fired up FourTracks Lite on the phone, and did a freestyle recording, trying some harmonies.

The next step will be to write more lyrics. This song is heavily based in an emotion, an idea, a hope of transitioning from a stuck place in life to another place, with a feeling of waking up from a dream, somehow hoping that the waking life will be as joyful as the dream life, without nightmares, and relying on something greater than myself for strength, through some kind of faith. Though ultimately, faith must be in ourselves.

This will involve, if past songs are any indication, sitting down in my yard or kitchen, and recording or writing freestyle until some tasty words come out, and riff on those. If I'm stuck or coming up with something trite, I use word association to break out and get into some kind of flow. Then I'll work those with the music some more, guitar in hand. Then, I'll fire up ProTools and start laying down tracks and harmonies and see what else happens.

Eventually, this song is going to need some kind of change, transition, or bridge. Hopefully that will come out of monkeying around. I tend not to use any kind of classical, Tin Pan Alley, Nashville, or any other process, because I don't like to write songs that sound like they followed a formula. My only real trick here is to play around with different keys on the guitar, or piano, or vocal freestyle until something fresh-sounding pops out. To help in this process, I try to transition to the most "out" mode I can go to from the current mode and see what works while being distinctive. On the guitar or piano, this can sometimes sound like random jumps, which is what they are, until I hear something fun.

Stay tuned for later posts on this song as it develops.