How I learned to write (good) songs
If you want to perfect your art it takes a certain amount of dedication. And once you’ve got yourself fixed on the idea of it, and you’re determined that nothing else will suffice, getting towards your goal becomes your only priority. You’ll figure out different ways and means of developing your ability, all the while your fondness for your craft grows and grows. And eventually you’ll realise, with a great amount of relief, that you don’t even have to think about it too much; as long as you stay true to yourself, true to your passions and intentions, the journey will unfold naturally before you.
It’s not like I sat down one day and decided to write songs. It just kind of happened. And this was at a very early age, the likes of Edward Lear introducing me to the fun in rhyme. But as I got older I couldn’t help but contemplate that I’d like to do this more seriously, and encourage myself to learn more about it all.
The first obvious step was: Listen to your peers. Indulge yourself wholeheartedly on the works and styles of artists who speak to you; get to know the ins and outs, the rhythms, the patterns, let them overcome your body and mind. It was John Lennon and Bob Dylan for me. I was mesmerized by the songs, completely dumbfounded at the profoundness of the words and imagery which resided inside me for what felt like an eternity. I felt like they were singing to me in words I had written myself. So, it seemed only natural that they should be my first thorough teachers.
I knew that there would be more to come, and that I would have to position myself in such a way so as to meet folk who would introduce me to them. It was handy having an elder brother with a good taste in music, and his suggestions formed the basis of my style. When he introduced me to The Libertines I was completely swept away for months on end, lost in a wondrous daze of lyrics and melody; the energy and construction of the songs serving up great inspiration and encouragement. But it wasn’t until I hit the road that things really got started.
I knew I would need to develop my mind. Growing up in a small town can mentally box you in. And as I’d heard over and over again, the fact that “Travel broadens the mind” made it obvious what I should do. I’d always done a lot of trips, but getting on the road permanently, it was magical. Movement provided an endless supply of adventures and inspiration, as well as new friends and characters; and along with them new artists and sounds. The freedom from routine released me from the bonds of convention, leaving my mind and soul free to roam into realms of pondering without restriction. It freed me from the responsibility of paying rent, giving me more time to read endless amounts of poetry, tangled up in the words of Rimbaud, Baudelaire, Blake & Wilde; it gave me time to practice on the guitar, busking daily with both songs I’d learnt and songs I’d written. I had freedom from the expectations of society, which, unfortunately, can also drag you down. And it brought me closer to nature: the wonder of it, the awe, the magnificence. My connection with it was strengthened, and it taught me so much, showed me the true reality of existence, revealed the essence of life itself, the one-ness of mine and everything else’s soul- the place where all creativity is born.
Learning about the origins of creative energy, the journey of it through me and down to the pen; my cycles, the conditions, the timing, and the food for such thoughts, that’s what taught me most of all. If you’ve got a good grasp on style and content, if you’ve learnt how and what to write about, it’s useless unless you know how to get it out of you. Once I fully understood my creative process: How it works, when to confront it, how to lure it out/release it, then, and ever since, writing songs has been completely effortless.
Another thing that has helped me tremendously is collaboration. Playing with other musicians, developing friendships on a musical and personal level, it does wonders for both confidence and insight. I was lucky enough to meet another like-minded songwriter early on, when I was still in my teens, and begin collaborating with him. We both taught each other a lot, whether it be on purpose, by accident, or reluctantly. And then later, I encountered a whole host of other great musicians too. Whenever you meet someone who genuinely tends to their art with love it rubs off on you. So long as everyone has their own space to flourish, the group on a whole will grow. And if you’re true to your journey you’ll find them, no matter how long it takes. And when you do, the world will shine.
All this isn’t to say that there isn’t room for improvement though, there always is. Being an artist is an on-going process; you are always developing your style and ability, turning through changes. And you’ll go through them gracefully (even if it seems so messy at the time) and keep growing. So long as you avoid the horrid, hollow, deathly, ruining, confining, soul-destroying, self-effacing imprisonment that is, stale-ness…