Just a Few Musical Ruminations…


Escape Artist

About music mondays, songwriting

This song throws back to a couple of my previous blog posts: I think I mentioned during the summer that I was working on a song called “Escape Artist.” Well, at long last, I decided to finish it! Music Mondays are really starting to put me through my paces in terms of how much a write, which is a good, if slightly exhausting thing. I had written the verse and the chorus over the summer but never had the wherewithal to finish it until now. But I’m pretty happy with it.

I guess I can call this Stealing Someone Else’s Words: Edition 2, as this is the second time in the past few weeks where I posted a song I wrote based on something someone said to me. I suppose it’s lazy, but sometimes people say things that just make my jaw drop. And at least I’m honest about it–whenever it happens, I say, “I’m going to write that down and put it in a song. Is that OK?” And for some weird reason, people always say yes. Maybe it’s the novelty of being included in a song. I have friends who will beg to be put in a song, and I suppose they don’t quite realize that I generally put people in songs who frustrate or confuse me. It’s a form of therapy, as the song is just my analysis and hopefully resolution of a situation that’s troubling me. Anyway, in this one, I think the metaphor is pretty obvious, and the first verse is basically verbatim.

Anyway, I hope you like it. And feedback is always appreciated!


About music mondays, songwriting

So this song I wrote after I’d moved back to Gloucester and decided to do a series of sea songs. Most of my lyric writing when I first moved to Gloucester in the fall of 2010 occurred on my walks to Brace Cove. I’d slap on my iPod, walk down to Brace Cove, walk through the retreat center’s woods (No Trespassing? Yeah, right.) and emerge via wooden steps to the crazy rocks on the ocean that make Gloucester so interesting. The combination of visual and aural stimuli was exactly what I needed to let my mind just sort of free associate.

I was pretty determined to write about the ocean–this was just after I wrote “High Tide,” and the tongue-twister “She sells sea shells by the sea shore” struck me as something I could work with. The saying is entirely stupid: why would you sell sea shells at the beach? There’s already a million shells there… people can just go pick them up. I felt like I was in a similarly questionable part of my life, having no sense of direction at the time. So the song evolved into a story about a girl who tries to find meaning in a sort of senseless situation. She’s doing this thing, that she doesn’t necessarily want or understand, while waiting for something else. And what she winds up finding important is the happiness brought to her by the other people in her life.

Obviously it’s about me. Isn’t everything? In any case, enjoy.


About music mondays, songwriting

So over the past year or so I’ve been paying a lot more attention to what other people say to me as inspiration for words. There are some turns of phrase or concepts that I just don’t think I would have come up with on my own, or at least give me a previously unexplored perspective on something in my life. When I heard this phrase, which ultimately became the chorus of the song, I knew immediately that I had to write it down–not only was it one of the nicer things ever said to me, but it had a ring and a sweetness to it that I would never be able to conjure up on my own. That being said, it is interesting that a song based off of someone else’s words winds up being totally about me.


About music mondays, recording, songwriting

A couple weeks ago, I was giving an impromptu concert to a few friends (it’s just something I do, sorry) and they suggest I write a happy song, and played me a youtube video of Colbie Caillat. No offense, but I find her to be the epitome of those gross acoustic girl songs–in general, I’m not interested in how some dude makes you crinkle your nose or feel bubbly or whatever.

Anyway, this song is more of an examination of all the things I don’t feel are worth putting in a song: getting crunk, for example. I think the references to recent hits are pretty obvious, and unfortunately, slightly hypocritical (which is partially intentional–this is obviously produced as a full-out pop song with literally no instruments involved.) It’s not like my songs address anything particularly deep, but at least I try to offer a clever or introspective insight on it. In any case, the content of my writing is something I’ve been thinking about a lot more, and hoping to improve. Suggestions welcome, although I don’t promise not to write a snide song in response (sorry Becca and Shan, you know I love you.)


Kill Your Darlings

About music mondays, songwriting

“Whenever you feel an impulse to perpetrate a piece of exceptionally fine writing, obey it–wholeheartedly–and delete it before sending your manuscript to press. Murder your darlings.” -Arthur Quiller-Couch

“In writing, you must kill all your darlings.” -William Faulkner

The above quotes, or some varying versions of this, were always discussed as a piece of writing advice in college. It makes sense–just because you love something you wrote, doesn’t mean it works. That being said, I’ve found a couple of blog posts (here and here) that dispute this piece of advice, taking it entirely literally. Of course, this is subject to interpretation, and I do not know either figure well enough to glean their true meaning. But to me–and I do get to cheat, as a songwriter rather than a literary writer–this is what it means.

It is not: If you love it, get rid of it. It is: If you love it, you shouldn’t necessarily indulge it. And this is something I certainly agree with, both in writing and relationships. I’ve written a lot of shitty songs (as we discussed in my last post) but I wrote them because I feel them, and I needed to write them, and I certainly have a fair amount of fondness for them, even acknowledging they’re not my best work. Similarly, I’ve stopped seeing people because, even though their company may be enjoyable and my desire to be near them desperate, it’s just not good for me.

There’s no need to force something that’s not going to work, I guess is my bottom line. Attachments and feelings aside, you can’t turn an indulgent song into a pop hit. And you can’t turn a fundamentally flawed relationship into a real one. The trick is to see which one is which.

Sooner or Later

About music mondays, songwriting

So this is a song I wrote about 3 years ago as a Valentine’s day present. The four years I spent in college, I had a pretty significant case of writer’s block, and this is probably one of only 5 or 6 songs I continue to play from that period of time. Writer’s block is a devious thing: the more you want to write something good, the more critical you become of all your attempts, thereby dashing any real paths to something creative. In writing, like everything else, you have to do lots of to get any good results from. I’ve written a lot of shitty songs, and a couple good ones–and those good ones could never have existed if I didn’t power through the shitty ones. Even doing Music Mondays, I’m aware that I can’t necessarily post all of my best work, and I’m OK with that. The so-so songs are important too, if only for feedback and being able to see my own progress and threads throughout my work. Once I’ve been doing this for a while, I will have a large body of work online and people (and myself) will be able to filter through them and pick ones they like, or see what works and what doesn’t. That’s the point.

Back to writer’s block. There were 2 main things that kept me quiet in college: the city and my college relationship. I am not really a city person, and I found New York incredibly stifling. It didn’t help that I lived with a lot of other people and lived entirely in dorms. I become fairly reclusive when writing, and the feeling that I was never alone was pervasive through my college years, and has subsequently made my transition into self-reliance a little difficult (I have a tendency to follow people home).

The other main thing was the fact that I was in a steady relationship for most of my college career. Being in a healthy, communicative relationship doesn’t quite jive with my method of writing, which namely draws on my stifled internal narratives. I’ve said it before, I write what I feel I can’t say out loud. “My songs are letters to people who I don’t know their addresses.” I haven’t really been in a healthy relationship since this one ended, and needless to say, it’s been an extremely prolific period of my life. I worry about the next time I find myself happy with another person, which has (I hate to say) become a more pressing goal for my future.

The point is, this is the only kind of song I could really write in this time period–something silly and cute, meaningful to me, but slightly lacking in depth. Don’t be too grossed out; it is Valentine’s Day after all.

too much music to even make a music monday

About songwriting

so i spent the weekend working on a film score for my friend and serious collaborator, clea. her work is always really inspiring to me and it was very exciting to write more music for her. but between that and a serious a cappella arrangement cram session happening right now (more on that later), i didn’t not have a chance to sit in my attic and record myself singing to myself. so sad.

in lieu of sad pop song music monday, here is the final piece of the score i finished yesterday. obviously it is not complete out of context like this… but consider it a teaser! i will post the movie, called Skinned, whenever I get my tired little hands on it.

skinned section 5

Lost In Time (Get a Boyfriend)

About music mondays, songwriting

So I wrote this song 3 days ago… It’s a bit of a departure from my usual technique, both in content and structure. I actually wrote the intro part a few months ago, just bored and playing random things, and the lyrics are pretty nonsensical.

But the meat of the song is the “Get a boyfriend, get a job, find a place to live; my reputation’s as solid as a sieve.” The concept of using “sieve” as an insult is actually something I learned from my dad back when I use to play indoor soccer–he jokingly would threaten to yell that at the opposing team’s goalies. What can I say? It stuck.

It may not need to be said, but my songs primarily deal with my, ahem, romantic life. It’s certainly the easiest thing to write about, not because I’m particularly active in the dating world, but because I generally feel like my songs are all the things I wish I could say, but not don’t feel like I CAN. Even more than that, I don’t usually delve into political stuff #1 because I’m not informed enough and #2 I don’t want to sound like an asshole. But the things I’ve been concerned with in my own life lately have dovetailed pretty nicely with the issues the Occupy movement is pre-occupied with as well (har har). Not that this song is political, per se, but I think it shares a certain idea–that the greatest measure of success is how much money one’s made–that has been a point of public contention lately. And as far as I can tell, Occupy hasn’t really seen any music yet, has it? Aside from, hilariously, Miley Cyrus? Guess I’ll have to dig around on the interwebs a bit more…

Ironically, my new office job starts tomorrow.

mercy kill

About music mondays, songwriting

So this is my newest song… I wrote it after I played the Brew Pub last week. I hadn’t played in a while, and it was definitely nice to get back out there. It was a quickie, just a 7 song set, but I played some of my new originals, like Guts, and then some of the old ones that the band used to play, like Weakest Force with some of the guys. Plus some Regina Spektor and St. Vincent. Gotta love those female singer-songwriters. And then I had a beer, of course.

I got home and was all warmed up, plus I’d been kicking around the lyrical idea of having to “put down” a relationship for a couple days, hence impromptu late night writing session. It was sort of a weird one, in that I had already thought of most of the lyrical material, not really knowing what the hook would be, and then the “don’t you know what being let go feels like?” just came out of my mouth. Sometimes I just don’t know where this stuff comes from.

I’m thinking the next song I tape should be a cover, since you guys loved that Toxic shit. Any ideas? I’d like to do another random one, maybe rap? Ha.

fix you

About music mondays, songwriting

So, this was one of the main songs that we used to play in the Cougarbait. It’s funny to play and listen to it now, without the band… I think it works solo, but I’m definitely missing the full sound to back me up. And I definitely don’t scream it like I used to!

I think what makes this song work, or at least what makes it catchy, is how stupid/desperate the rhyming pattern is. In general, I don’t make perfect rhymes a priority in my writing–I prefer to give the ends of lines a certain ring to them, but meaning definitely takes precedence. “Fix you” absolutely breaks away from that guideline and plays into what I normally try to avoid, writing the lyrics around the corny rhymes. I came up with the hook first when writing this (“I don’t want to fix you, I’m not one to remove your balls”–I’d been throwing around that idea since my dog got, you know, fixed) and then the rest of the song is just a pretty silly sing-songy follow up to it. But I think that’s what makes it memorable. Breaking your own rules can definitely be a good writing exercise, as long as it’s deliberate.