Tales From The Songwriting Frontline
Three weeks ago I heard a rumour from a neighbour, of a Japanese Garden a bicycle ride away from me. Knowing that I had some songs to write (and thus some subject matter or at least a pleasing environment to find) I filed the rumour in my back pocket.
In a phone call the following evening I mentioned the idea to my friend Jimmy and he suggested I take my passport, I then talked to my friend Sonja the following morning and she suggested a ziplock bag with toothpaste and deodorant, a plan began to form…
To write this week’s song I would take a pretend holiday. All these little accoutrements: the passport, the ziplock bag with toothpaste and deodorant would help ease my mind into a vacation state. I made the boarding pass for myself with a strict departure time of 10:45am and by 11 I was on my bike and on a bon voyage.
The idea of a holiday in my mind ended up forming both the subject matter and the environment for the song A Holiday From Nothing. I landed at about 11.20am and wandered round the gardens ‘til I found a nice spot to pitch up, in a clearing in front of a huge tree. I had my guitar, pen, paper, coffee (of course), and a drum sample that I’d been wanting to use. I played the loop on repeat and played around with chord sequences to it. The (capo’d) C to Bb to Dm was originally something I played around for the chorus which seemed like a good place to start seeing as I already had the title of the song.
Various holiday based phrases found their way onto the page postcards and souvenirs… wish you were heres, ways of saying goodbye. I toyed with the idea of alliteration between farewells and various things I wanted to escape – ta ta to tension, goodbye to grief, but the advice of a (very wise) new friend warned me that this might be too negative a path to take for postive nature of what this song what supposed to be. I kept some of that (postcards to panic and pain) but started to focus more on what I wanted to head towards rather than what I wanted to escape from.
The tree’s size meant that the sunlight was dappled and only fell on the circular spot I’d chosen to sit. The sun moving across the sky meant that this spot moved around the tree rather like the hours of a clockface. I moved with the sun, dragging my setup with me each time. This action made it into the third verse of the song.
After writing and re-writing across three pages I had the draft of the song before me. The chorus chords became the verse chords, forcing me to follow where the melody wanted to go as the verse jumped into the chorus. The lyrics were edited and it was taking shape. I was ready to record the song as a demo on my phone to take home and begin recording properly in my studio. I’m still over the moon with the demo… there’s a moment between the last verse and last chorus when I am interrupted by an elderly couple lost in the park asking me for directions. It’s a perfect moment captured on the demo that feels so natural and lovely… I manage not to miss a beat from playing to conversing, back to playing again… and with the birdsong and the atmosphere of it, I wish I’d not had to change the key so I could have it transition in and out of the middle of the song (I often have to change key between writing and recording… my writing singing voice is different from my recording one). I’ve settled on leaving the conversation in its entirety on the end of the studio version and the original demo recording is also available for all to hear.
Enjoy the song. Treat yourself to a holiday in your brain. So it goes…