“Have I used that line before? I’m sure it’s in another track. Hang on, have I ripped it off Bruce Springsteen? Those chords don’t work! Perhaps I should use a banjo for that part? Would this whole thing sound better if I slowed it down . . . ”
All valid questions for any songwriter and definitely always part of the process when putting together new tunes – it’s very rare that a song will just land on the page in front of you, at least in my experience.
When asked how I write songs, I always reply with “absolutely no idea!”. You see, it happens in a number of ways, sometimes I have the chords all worked out then add words and other times a lyric idea will hit me in the face when I’m nipping to the shop for a pint of milk.
Inspiration for lyrics can come from anywhere – I’m a huge fan of little phrases that are seen in everyday life being made in to something a little more magical once in a song. Elvis Costello’s album “This Year’s Model” was inspired by a maintenance sign left on a broken electric generator he spotted whilst on tour.
I love listening to discussions on buses and overhearing phone conversations whilst waiting at tube stops. Little snippets seem to sneak in to the music and I’ve lost count of how many posters/signs and public notices have found their way in to my songs along with the odd cool quote or movie influence.
As I said, it’s super rare, but very cool when a track does just “fall from the sky”.
It’s like magic – one minute there’s nothing but silence and then in no time the whole can just unfold in front of me . . . I’ll be honest though it almost ALWAYS takes longer to craft a track from start to finish.
I regularly take a break from songwriting by erm . . . writing songs! Ridiculous I know, but you’d be surprised how good it feels to forget writing the next EJ Mann song by having a bash at a country banger or imagining I’ve been asked to record a track for the next Blockbuster movie . . .
Fats Domino’s Blueberry Hill is a favourite to fiddle at on the piano and you can’t stop me crashing through some old Doo Wop classics when the mood takes me. It’s a totally different type of writing/playing, but it all adds fuel to the fire and you’d be surprised which parts of songs can be recycled and reworked to sit perfectly in to another track.
There are loads of ways to write songs, but I definitely prefer sitting with the acoustic and “doodling around” there’s always something to come out of it. It’s important to let it happen naturally – as soon as I feel like the session is being forced I call it a day or pick up another instrument and see if there are any surprises lurking in there.
A few things inspiring me at the mo if you wanna check them out are:
Charles Bukowski – The Pleasures of the Damned
Leonard Cohen – Everyman’s Library Pocket Poems
Harry Baker – Grand Slam Poetry Champion
John Cooper Clark – Selected Poems
The Rubix Cube – Completed it ONCE!
I’m writing this blog post in a break actually – I was going great guns with a new track until the middle 8 stumped me.
It’s on the tip of my tongue I can just feel it, but the dragon is still hiding in its cave. I’m sure a round of Yorkshire tea and a bash at “Be My Baby” for half an hour will dislodge something useful.
EJ Mann x