In the fifth instalment of Andy P’s blog, he’s delving deeper into how his influences have affected his songwriting – and whether it’s a good or a bad thing to be ‘too influenced’…
‘To steal or not to steal?’
My album-crafting has been knocked of course this week somewhat but I’m back on it in force over the next few days. The tracks I loosely recorded last week have been a tad neglected while I’ve been thinking up new ideas, but mainly I’ve been doing that classic teenage thing of sticking on some of my favourite albums and playing along with my new Telecaster. Improvising new lead and rhythm parts.
I find this method of practicing probably the best way to flex both my natural guitar playing ability and also to trigger spontaneous creativity. Originally this was how I approached songwriting – using other people’s tracks as a template and finding new ways to arrange their chords or tweak their melodies. As I got more confident with my own abilities I began writing my material based solely on my own ideas, and gradually dropped using other people’s music as a reference point, being slightly embarrassed by this semi-plagiaristic approach. I was surprised then to find last year as part of my songwriting masters that one of our ‘daily challenges’ was to take a favourite song and re-arrange or alter the chords into something new.
The Arsenal! Each I use differently – Songs are generally intially formed on one of my two Tanglewood acoustics, The Epiphone 335 is great for big fat chords, while the blue Wilson Bros Ventures VM-65 is perfect for surfy lead riffery. The Fender Tele is a great all-rounder I’m finding – and a wonderfully flexible composition tool
I took one of my favourite songs ‘The Wild Ones’ by Suede and essentially used the same simple but effective chord progression, replacing a few minors with majors and adding a brand new melody – sprinkled with some duelling lead guitar lines. When talking to one of my tutors about this approach he confirmed that it was commonplace amongst professional songwriters for sparking creativity and I should definitely take this approach occasionally to direct me down paths I wouldn’t otherwise take, as songwriters often get comfortable with the same formulaic approach to new material.
Of course blatantly stealing a song is not what we’re referring to here, but using the track as a template for you to musically paint around can result in some interesting combinations, which in turn could inspire you to start a song afresh with a similar idea in mind or to hack apart the original template-song and re-arrange it, a bit like Lego really…
When making my album ‘The Fall’ last year I didn’t particularly use this approach, but now I’m thinking back on my tutor’s words and am seeing my (occasionally aimless) rocking out to my favourite records as quite an integral part of my songwriting-triggering for the new album. As I said before, I used to shy away from directly ‘copying’ or deliberately replicating my heroes note-for-note but the more my songwriting develops the more I feel that a bit of light thievery is not necessarily a bad thing.
A similar technique I have used is that of listing songs that I want my new material to sound like and submerging myself in those records. For example, here’s my album closer ‘The Light Of The World’ which I wanted to sound big, joyous and uplifting. – Influenced by synth-led indie pop, religious devotional music and a Robert Fripp-like expressive guitar approach
[soundcloud url=”http://api.soundcloud.com/tracks/63746266″ params=”” width=” 100%” height=”166″ iframe=”true” /]
It’s difficult to really write a song without subconsciously injecting your influences into your compositions, so I think a more conscious awareness of what influences I’m drawing on and even directly taking and altering tracks that I wish to emulate may lead to even better music and songwriting going forward with the new record.
So after I return from this weekend’s BPM show I’ll be back on it, re-carving some golden oldies into brand new creations… more next week!