- October 2020
- September 2020
- February 2020
- June 2019
- November 2018
- August 2018
- November 2017
- October 2017
- August 2017
- June 2017
- May 2017
- December 2016
- November 2016
- June 2016
- May 2016
- February 2016
- January 2016
- December 2015
- November 2015
- October 2015
- September 2015
- August 2015
- June 2015
- January 2015
- December 2014
- November 2014
- October 2014
- September 2014
- August 2014
The albums keep coming, because I keep writing songs. 2020 Vision is a ‘concept’ album about living in the year 2020. I made a somewhat silly video for “Keep on Running”, the opening track, because I thought, “If I make a video, it can’t be serious. Me, make a video? Come off it!” So, here it is:
And here is Episode 2
In spring 2020, I released Alternative Reality Show episodes 1 and 2. Have a listen to Espisode 1 here!
In #Canada they are trying to ram through a gas pipeline over the objections of #Wet‘suwt’en chiefs, despite the fact that legally (by treaty, which has been at least theoretically recognized by the courts as legally binding on the Canadian state) they are custodians of the land to be traversed. After the RCMP moved in to force the pipeline through, Mohawk in eastern Canada blockaded a major rail line, and other #solidarity actions are taking place as well. Meanwhile, politicians claim to still be all for #reconciliation with #Firstnations– but apparently this cannot extend to anything that might impede natural resource extraction.
Like any form of songwriting, political songwriting is actually pretty easy to do but much harder to get quite right. The jury’s still out on this particular song, but remember, a song is not a treatise or an argument. It may capture a set of thoughts and feelings around an issue. Or it might tell a story that brings the issue to life in some way. If anyone wants to know more about this issue there are many good sources out there (as well as some very bad ones), but one book that very much informed the lyrics here was The Inconvenient Indian by Thomas King.
Songwriters tend to shy away from songs that directly take a political position for a number of reasons. One is that such songs tend to be divisive, and so songwriters who are trying to reach a broad audience can end up shooting themselves in the foot if they alienate too much of their audience. Also, as I mentioned, songs don’t lend themselves to in-depth examination of the issues. So the songs can end up becoming little more than slogans in service of a cause. Which is fine- that’s serving a purpose- but as art it can be very limiting. On the other hand, be too subtle and poetic and you’re not necessarily taking a clear or direct stand anymore.
So why write political songs? Because we write about what matters to ourselves and to others. After all, people still write religious songs even though that’s very much a niche market as well. If you feel something inside and you’re an artist, your art will probably end up communicating that in some way.
Songwriting is a craft, but it is one that allows for some intense self-expression. You can learn the tricks of the trade just by keeping your hand in over years and years and by listening carefully to what others do. So, you twiddle the knobs and manipulate words and music. Sometimes you end up with a bland load of blah. But sometimes, you get a whole lot more than you bargained for. Something like the terrifying truth, in some form, comes roaring out from your subconscious. What do you do then, when it seems like you maybe revealed a bit too much or tapped into something that’s too hot to handle?
You try to assess the songs as songs, not as therapy or prophecy. We’ll see how that goes.
In this sequel to my post about the March 2019 5 in 5 challenge, I won’t go over the same things again. Instead I’ll provide a little background and then review each song.
I wasn’t expecting to participate in the 5 in 5 challenge in the first week of June. I thought I’d be busy. Plus, I’d been sick with the flu. I was still unwell when the first prompt arrived. But somehow, I was driven to complete all five songs in five days.
My theory is that my illness lowered my inhibitions to such an extent that I didn’t really think about what I was writing and performing beyond what I needed to do to complete and record each song. My voice was not in good shape, and so I had trouble hitting some notes. But (serendipity!) the rawness of the vocals added a gritty desperate edge that suited the songs. My not feeling well, and the mood I was in as a result, also made for a cranky set of songs overall.
It was good that, in addition to the usual prompts, optional musical prompts such as “use only three chords” were provided. Are you kidding? Me only use three chords? Maybe I’ll manage it someday… But I did use some of the other optional prompts.
Okay, let’s review the songs themselves:
Never Mind– I like the lyrics, and I like my phrasing of them- although it’s a bit tricky and I slipped up once or twice. Interesting rhythm in the way I sang, “Even on tiptoes, it’s a stretch I suppose”, for example. The chorus (which I’d already had lying around for a couple of years) may be a tad passive aggressive. The melody maybe sounds a bit too much like previous minor-key verse/ major-key chorus songs I’ve done. I’ll give it a 70/100.
Heavy Heart of Stone– Wow, this is heavy stuff. We’re getting into emo-goth territory here! Interestingly, this bleak howl of a song was the one that got by far the biggest response from the 5 in 5 community. I’m not always depressed, I assure you! I was a bit embarrassed by this, to be honest, but it isn’t bland, I’ll give you that much. I took the “heart of stone” prompt and made into a symbol of depression masked as indifference. I sang it pretty well, I’d say, and while the recording quality is lo-fi it has an atmosphere that suits the subject matter. I’ll give it a 75.
Pressure– As with “Never Mind,” I took words from the list provided and spun lines out of them, and the theme that quickly emerged was “pressure”. But I this case I came up with the music first, based on the optional musical prompt (I don’t remember what it was- probably a set of chords), recorded a backing track and then composed the lyrics over that. Another minor-key melody. Nice melodica solos. The singing’s pretty good; could be better in places. The intro, featuring wordless chanting, gets things moving nicely. And I like the harmonized ending. I’ll give it a 75.
Still Life– Superficially, at least, this is lighter than the previous songs on this list. It’s a pretty melody but I can’t help but think of it as a bit schmaltzy. But maybe I’m just a bit embarrassed by the emotions coming out here. I’ll give it a 60.
Clarity– This doesn’t seem quite finished. In response to the prompt of having a two-line chorus AND being the prompt of being cleansed of something, I made the chorus into a mantra. I’ve done that before: I did that on “Stop Thinking About You’ on my “Words and Things” album.
It doesn’t seem to work so well here. Maybe the trouble is that the music I came up with for the chorus isn’t quite right. I do like my singing on this one. I especially like how I sang the line, “I mean well, but well, what does that mean?” It’s a good line: I came up with it some years ago and have been waiting for the right thing to put it in. I’m not sure this is it, though. The pacing of the recording is sloppy. I’ll give it a 55, with room for improvement.
After recording these songs I developed a throat infection, which only goes to show that perseverance in the pursuit of creation isn’t always wise.
Now available on Bandcamp:
NOTE: The June 2019 challenge did include additional, optional musical prompts. More on that in an upcoming post.
Sometimes ideas for songs just come to me. Mostly that’s what happens. But sometimes it’s good to seek them out.
I’ve done that every now and then- last year one time I went through the free local newspaper in a cafe, jotting down choice phrases. Out of some of those
came a song called “Shooting Stars”, which is on my new album “Points of View”.
In March I participated in Songfancy’s 5 in 5 Songwriting challenge (https://www.facebook.com/groups/5in5songchallenge/) based on
lyrical prompts provided. Doing that, I wrote four songs (and one co-write) that I otherwise wouldn’t have written, so it was a worthwhile
exercise for that reason alone.
During the week of the challenge, our internet provider at home went AWOL. This made it hard to get the prompts and impossible to post anything in a timely manner. So no, I didn’t write five songs in five days, nor did I even write them in the order in which the prompts appeared.
The first song I wrote was based on a list of words including “graceful”, “glass”, “coast”, and “refract”. It became “Some Kind of Escape Plan.” ( I will re-post this song a bit later.)
Another word list, including “delicate”, “linen”, “misty”, “leaf” and “leaning” resulted in the words for “Leaves in Waves”. Setting these
words to music took a couple of tries each and some finessing- I’m nowhere near as melodically gifted as Elton John, who’s reputed to set all the lyrics
given to him to music in 15 minutes or less. But the recordings came out nice, at least.
The prompt “how did we not get caught?” led to one of my very few story songs, about an old man who had an affair many years ago, whose wife has since passed on
and who now sometimes meets his old mistress for tea. It’s called, of course, ‘How Did We Never Get Caught?”
I was already playing around with words for a song about not giving up in the face of harsh difficulties when I got the prompt “staying in”, so I
came up with “Stay in the Game”. I’m still working on that one.
But another participant in the challenge came up with lyrics on the theme of ‘staying in’ called “Love is Staying in (Me)”, which I set to music.
It’s one of those pretty, sad, wistful songs.
None of these songs would have emerged in the form in they did without the Challenge. And it was good to actually collaborate on a song with someone.
If I have a criticism to make of 5 in 5, it’s that all the prompts were lyrical. Sarah Spencer, the songwriter behind the challenge, added optional musical cues for the June Challenge, of which more later…
This is now available on Bandcamp.
It’s an acoustic album featuring me on guitar and ukulele. I also play melodica and some percussion here and there. Most of all, I sing the songs. One track, “Words”, is a capella. That’s the oldest song of the bunch; one of my very first songs, in fact. The newer songs tend to be the ones where I play the uke. Here’s the track listing:
- Open Mind
- Let’s Be Friends
- The Reason Why
- Revealed or Unraveled
- Keep on Keepin’ On
- To Lose a Friend
- That Song
- Impressions of Impressions
- Got to Be Joking
- Waiting Song
- Stop Thinking About You
- But a Dream
- It’s Time
Here’s a rough mix of the opening track, “Open Mind”
And here’s a performance of “But a Dream”
The EP includes two new tracks. The really new song is “Man of Mystery”, a sort of spy movie spoof, while the EP ends with a new version of “A Song (Summer Heat)” with revised lyrics. The lyrical revisions are my only reason for re-recording it, really, but the arrangement also came out differently which makes for a neat contrast. And then there are tracks from recent albums Imaginary World Tour 2017, Interesting Times and Now the Robots are Dancing… in Summer Heat.