Bullets And Guns

A very early band song that I suspect came earlier than this list suggests, and was probably overlooked initially because god it is quite boring. Bullets And Guns is, however, notable for a few things:

  1.  The lyrics are one of the shiniest shining examples of the let’s-just-throw-words-together-in-a-row tradition of songwriting in my catalogue of music. I’m going to have to write them out in full to illustrate this:

“Wait until I’m done, don’t you know it’s fun?
Not today, it’s a yes by the way
I came undone with the bullets and guns
But now I can’t see what’s left of me

Don’t feel you have to agree
You will not fly down easily
When it’s hard you talk to me
Don’t keep on pedalling down

Experiments for the ones who have the laws
You want it, not today, but do you have your way?
Can they see? it seems unlikely
That they have dreams with black and white themes.

CHORUS

And when you feel like you’re standing on the edge
Don’t fall down
And when you feel like you’re standing on the edge
Don’t keep on pedalling down”

Now clearly there is a theme here. The choruses and the bridge seem to be offering pearls of wisdom (if you feel depressed, don’t) to someone else. But the verses are just completely inexplicable. The first verse reads like schizophrenia and the second is some sort of anti-system riff. I really can’t comprehend why I didn’t hesitate before writing lyrics like this, unless it was simply that I knew the vocals were the weakest part of the songs and so I didn’t put as much effort into their creation.

 

2. The bridge is by far the best bit of the song. I liked it so much at the time that I stole it and recycled it in a later band song, which also turned out to be quite bad.

 

3. I actually have a specific memory about the recording of this song. A clash of egos occurred between me and one of my bandmates. He complained that he didn’t get to sing enough. Now this was tricky because he was, without doubt, technically a better singer than me. But when I thought about other people singing MY SONGS I got really angry and defensive (especially because I knew I would be seriously under threat, given how shit I was), so I sulkily said ‘ok we’ll do two versions then, one with me singing and one with you, and then we’ll decide which one is better’. Of course, this put a huge amount of pressure on him – pressure which he was not able to overcome. His version is second on the playlist, and given the mistakes he makes with the lyrics, I probably only gave him one attempt. It all feels very Machiavellian. There’s no doubt that my version was better, probably because I had practised it more, had written it myself, and stood there glaring at him while he recorded his own. He ended up making do with a few harmonies. But the truth is that despite his superior technique, I probably was a better fit for our music, and after this little skirmish I was able to hold onto my seat of power for a few more years, even after the band expanded to include yet another person who could probably sing more skilfully than me.

The key to my getting my own way, as demonstrated by this blog, was in the sheer number of songs that I was producing. Knowledge of music theory, ability to play instruments or sing, all these things were secondary when every week or two I had another song to bring to the table. And so we trundled on, kind of without problems.

 

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Gettin’ Out Of This Cave

Let’s be straight. Gettin’ Out Of This Cave isn’t the best song of all time. But many of those who have heard my music over the years would argue passionately that it is the best song I have ever written.

Which I can react to in two ways: the first is to stop writing, turn around, smash up all my instruments, delete every music file on my computer, apologise to anyone I’ve ever sent music to in the past, and begin to rebrand myself completely – perhaps I’ll be a juggler! Or a jockey! Or a pastry chef! Or, I can join the chorus of praise: Gettin’ Out Of This Cave is a masterpiece. Gettin’ Out Of This Cave is the sum of my worth.

So, here we go…

What is there not to like about this song? Ok, apart from the guitar chords that come in at the second chorus, yes if we’re being pedantic, they are about a quarter tone out of tune, and this does unhinge the song a tiny bit. But this is all part of its charm. Originally conceived on a hotel toilet in Belgium, sung out to a friend sitting in the next room, the verse and chorus were improvised, inspired by immediate context, and sung without accompaniment. When I decided to preserve it in a recording a week later, I sung the vocals before playing any chords, and so the the G# key I later assigned to them could only ever be an approximation. Could I have just tuned the guitar to suit the vocals? I’m going to say no I couldn’t have.

This is the purest creative output of a 14 year old mind, with a melody that can’t be forgotten, words that can’t be unspoken, harmonies that almost work, most of the time, and a theme that never strays from its central point. The song was, at least at the time, the best song I had written, although I didn’t know it then/ would never admit it.

And, looking back on it, I know why. I’ve realised over the years that I’m at my best when I work with a quick rush of inspiration (however ‘shit’ it is), constrained by time, motivated by a joke. Gettin’ Out Of This Cave probably took a third of the amount of time to record as some of those that came before it. And in much later recording sessions, with the same motivation I have made a dance track in two hours, created eleven minutes worth of joke poetry set to music, written an entire album of short funny songs, all for birthday presents. They always turn out pretty good. Because they don’t need to be that good. I’m not a natural perfectionist (which is what I am now attempting to become – more on that in several blogyears’ time). But I am a natural bullshitter. And that’s what Gettin’ Out Of This Cave is all about – improvisation, and shitting.

 

 

 

Open The Door

The difference in quality between Open the Door and the previous number, of which no more will be spoken, is so pronounced that I assume either some attempts have gone missing, or the dating has gone wrong here. However, this song does have three telltale signs of my early music: lyrics that don’t make sense, a huge mistake in the playing towards the end, and that genuine mark of early Trying Artist authenticity – the computer mouse scrape-and-click.

What is clear is that at around this time I started improving. The general sound of the production sounds instantly crisper, the instruments are played a bit less badly, there are harmonies(!!!), there are fewer mistakes.

Musically, the song is significant in two key ways. The first is that the bass playing is quite good. The chorus features perhaps my most complex bass line, recorded inconveniently quietly so that it’s extremely difficult to hear unless you remember how it goes. Do you? This may mark the highpoint of my relationship to bass, when I considered it to be as integral as the drums, and had weekly lessons with a certain Mike who would make me play the same groove for 15 minutes straight while he went off into a jazz solo dreamland, which could be inspiring, intimidating, and quite long. Maybe a year after this song was made he went off to be (apparently) a successful double bass player, and I gradually began to only play the bass when recording.

The second is the use of the E major open chord shape, moved up and down the neck of the guitar. This was a very easy way of playing chords with complex names that I didn’t understand, except that they sounded good, and I may have used it to write five or six songs over the years. In fact, it’s still usually the first thing I play when I pick up a guitar. It’s built into my muscle memory.

Ultimately though, I feel nothing for Open The Door. It’s a bit insipid, don’t you think? I remember being proud of it, especially the chord sequence, which is longer than any I had written previously, and the drums, which certainly sound planned in the sense that there’s a different groove for each section of the song and I don’t just start solo-masturbating at the end. But the lyrics annoy me – as in a few other songs, I seem to have had an idea (something about opening up, speaking your mind, not being preoccupied with your own thoughts) and mixed it with other things (a breakup song, and, paradoxically, the sort of love-affirming lyrics you find in shit dance music: ‘Now we’re here and it’s my life. It’s what I want and I’ll show you now. Can you feel it, it’s coming near. Will you stay don’t try and disappear.’) It’s insipid.

Anyway, we’re placed somewhere in 2007, and we’re moving onwards and upwards.   

 

Pain Keeps The Pleasure Fresh

I have genuinely been dreading this moment. As soon as the idea to create the Trying Artist archive crossed my mind, I remembered this song and wondered whether I should skip out a few really dodgy ones, just to keep the pride somewhat intact. But, as the title truthfully suggests, pain keeps the pleasure fresh, so here it is: My Least Favourite Song By Me.

The whole song seems designed to prove its central point – by the time you have suffered through it, doing almost anything else will doubtless bring you waves of euphoria. Simply going through each aspect of Pain Keeps The Pleasure Fresh and disparaging it wouldn’t tell you anything you don’t already know, so I’ll keep that part brief:

The lyrics can be summed up by the eponymous line (a ferociously irritating one, especially when sung like that, by someone like me) and one towards the end: ‘I know ow’ll know how you must feel’. Yes that word is spelt correctly – I clearly was either improvising lines or I messed up the take and couldn’t be bothered to go back over it.

There’s some kind of half rappy/shouty bits which are awful.

The rhythm section is a fucking mess.

It gets worse as it goes on.

There you go. What’s more interesting is the question: How serious was I being with this song?

It’s tempting to look back 9 years and go: ‘God! How naive! How stupid! What an untalented pretentious weird arrogant bad musician with terrible ideas and worse execution I was!’ We all have those moments. But when doing that we seriously underestimate our younger self’s ability to understand what isn’t good, to create things that aren’t serious, to create things that are ironic.

Part of what I find interesting about this project is that I have a famously bad memory (ask anyone), and yet I’m presented with huge numbers of concrete records of myself from different times stretching across years. I can no longer remember my motivation for making this song. I can remember the development of my reaction towards it as I got older (sharp distaste by 1 year post-production, downturn to shame soon after) but not that initial buzz of inspiration. Was it another Muse-inspired melodramatic moan? Was it designed as a joke from the outset? Did I lose interest halfway through, thereby turning a bad concept into a worse final composition? I suspect it might be the latter, but I’ll never know for sure.

When I listen to songs like Pain Keeps The Pleasure Fresh – songs that I can’t relate to at all now, it really feels like I’m listening to someone else singing at me.

Well, it would do, if the tight knot of embarrassment in my chest didn’t constantly remind me who made it.

In The Silver Light

 

A love song in disguise, In The Silver Light pays tribute to two years of cinema dates with my first girlfriend. Deliberately picking the worst films around so there would be fewer people in the audience. The beginnings of sex. Fighting, not knowing what to say, the tension surrounding almost anything involved with sexual relationships at that age. And a healthy dose of lyrics that don’t really mean anything.

But it’s also about something else more interesting: the feeling of losing yourself in something larger. Whether it’s watching a film, listening to music, experiencing art in any way. Sometimes you can feel your own life fade for a short while as you become enveloped, and at these moments you are completely relaxed, or excited, or inspired – they are moments of total sensation.

The one line that stands out for me is ‘when it goes black and normal life returns in a daze I stand up and walk to the door’. Something that has always stuck with me is a kind of unease with the moment the film, or gig, or anything else ends, and my life seeps back around me. I’ll be asked what I thought of the experience. I’ll be forced to express myself. Things that normally come naturally seem unnerving after the ego has been subdued temporarily by an exterior effect. I listened to this song today after having spent a couple of hours trying to write lyrics about exactly the same thing, and suddenly I was immersed in memories of the darkness, and the tension, and everything seeming very important.

In The Silver Light was meant to be a good song. It has the first ‘groove’ in any of my compositions, with a bass line so catchy I recycled it years later. It also has an early example of the ‘drone singing’ (staying on one note, fast paced lyrics) I now predominantly use when writing singing parts for myself. The lyrics, when they make sense, are probably a step up from any earlier songs.

Its fatal flaw, however, is that it’s just really quite annoying. Why am I singing too low for my own range? (I can answer that question: obviously because I wrote the bass riff first and couldn’t be bothered to change the key.) The effect of the strain on my voice is that forced attitude thing that makes me cringe so much when I listen back now. And it becomes increasingly messy as it goes on, ending in classic style with a collapse of instruments – drummer moving arms as fast as possible in uncoordinated style, while the rest of the band maybe falls down the stairs, I don’t know.

I can’t help but feel slightly sorrowful at my current reaction to a song once enshrined in my mind as a ‘golden oldie’. Proof of its enduring reputation is attached: a newer version, recorded a few years later (probably more than I’d like to admit), which manages to be perhaps more charmless in its new sleeker clothes. You sort of think: ‘shouldn’t you know better now?’

At least I tidied up the ending – at some point I must have learned the skill.