In the studio today with Dare, working on new Noctorum songs. A couple of years ago Dare bought a lovely Gibson ES 345 from the early sixties. That is to say he purchased a time machine on eBay (one lady user, low mileage), then transported himself back to the early sixties to buy the guitar brand new. So the last couple of studio sessions I have been mainly playing bass and concentrating on the words. Our original plan was to make a rhythm track, I’d write a bass line and then we’d both play guitar to find the song. It hasn’t quite worked out like that, it rarely does. But with me luxuriating on the studio couch pen in hand, book in lap, imagining other worlds, dark secrets and mind-blowing concepts, Dare has been quietly (or noisily) engaging his really quite special guitar and coming up with chords and guitar parts.
I love the magic process of writing songs, sometimes you build them in sections, other times the whole idea falls out of you, the chords, the melody, the words. In a collaboration it’s like-minded souls piecing it all together. One of the great things about writing together (musically) is that sometimes one person has the vision and the other follows that train of thought and at other times it’s the other way around. The main thing is that you really have to trust each other, even if sometimes you lead each other down a dead end. Ha ha, I have to say we usually don’t.
It seems a little odd to be talking about the songs we are writing for the new Noctorum album when the new MOAT album Poison Stream is sitting on the runway, ready to go (the coming campaign notwithstanding). But writing songs or any type of regular creating has this rather annoying habit of moving onto the next thing, leaving behind what’s finished as soon as it’s done. Live we play our songs from all eras and that is a different process and has other levels of excitement and enthusiasm that comes from a different place. Wielding a guitar on stage through a whole lot of effects through a big amp and in turn through a powerful PA to a lot of willing listeners is a rather different thrill to sitting in a cosy room near a soft glowing lamp with a cup of tea, finding the perfect couplet for your poignant lyric.
The other fascinating thing about writing songs is that the muse appears at the oddest moments, sometimes when you are least equipped to receive. Waking up from a dream, hazy, confused, watching the idea slip backwards suddenly out of reach or sitting on a bus or anytime you have no pen or no recording device. You also know that you are not going to remember this flash of inspiration if you don’t capture it in the next 5 minutes. Some examples of flashes of ideas that I have had are when I wrote the Reptile riff, I just played it, the band looked up, I remember someone saying “What’s that?”, I said “I don’t know, I just made it up”. One thing led to another and the song was born. On Hanging Out In Heaven I wrote I Don’t Think So, words, chords, melody and arrangement as an improvisation straight to cassette. I think there’s many stories of classic, meaningful and famous songs written quickly.
Another thing I was thinking about today was how lyrics can either be deep and meaningful and appropriate or simple and apparently meaningless. Superstar by The Carpenters comes to mind, written by Leon Russell and Bonnie Bramlett (mainly) with the immortal chorus line “Don’t you remember you told me you loved me baby – baby, baby, baby, baby, Oh baby, I love you, I really do”. A song about a groupie, actually rather meaningful and lyrically appropriate. For all the stick the Blues gets, it is actually supposed to be the most heartachingly real expression of the tortured human soul. But you can say anything and not mean it, it doesn’t mean that someone else hadn’t bared his soul simply and DID mean it. Imagine if The Archies’ Sugar Sugar had been called Sartre Sartre (the first girl I kissed this song was playing, a more profound lyric may have changed the circumstances completely). One wonders if John Lennon had felt that the lyrics he wrote for Help! were a truer expression than say lyrics like I Am The Walrus and where would we all be if he hadn’t experimented with words (thanks Bob for that). I really admire those sixties teams like Bacharach and David and the lyricists and composers in the forties and fifties, working together whether it be for Sinatra or for the classic musicals.
I talked about Patti Smith the other day and how I love that she didn’t abandon her hero (Bob) when he was out of favour with the new wave that she was riding on. How many younger people that heard Patti Smith as a new artist, immediately went to investigate Dylan as a consequence? Morrissey might have been the other most important lyricist of the next era, that is Post Punk. But also running around Manchester way before him was the greatest Punk Poet of all, John Cooper-Clark, who let’s face it was not only literate like Dylan but also stole his wardrobe. Mark E. Smith anybody? I met him once but that’s another story. Back down in London Peter Perrett ticked all the boxes for me. I played with him once (that’s also another story). The Only Ones were my favourite band (Mike Kellie RIP). Then there’s those early Butler Rep words. Hm, I can feel a list coming on. Perhaps I should go back and listen to some of these records that heralded a new era in the seventies, Wire, John Foxx’s Ultravox, Magazine, and specifically listen to the words whilst being glad that with the help of the musicians, the collaborators that the lyricists had the vehicle for the great songs that you and I know and love.