Blogging has been a little slow the last 48 hours. As well as other things I’ve been focusing on songwriting. There are songwriters that can write something almost every time they sit down and then there are guys like Leonard Cohen whose process is really slow. I’m somewhere in the middle. Once I find inspiration I will complete a series of things rather quickly. However in between those bursts of inspiration I may lie dormant for a month or two, sometimes even longer.
I’m always attempting to write, but if I’m not inspired much of what I write is garbage. I would say that 80% of the things that I write I toss out. Another 10% roughly falls through the cracks. Only maybe 10% of the things I have written ever see the stage or the recording studio. Even after that, except for our last record where I believe in every song, I feel like only a percentage of those things have reached some kind of definitive form. Basically it is tons and tons of song writing to achieve those moments that I feel are perfect.
Even if you write something great there are so many ways it can go wrong. The arrangement can be subpar. You could have a great arrangement and the performance is lacking. You could even have a great song with a great performance and the mix just somehow sucks the life out of it. As in life, so much is out of your control. You not only need to write great material, but you need to have the right musicians, the right producer, and the right energy at the time of recording.
The thing that was so beautiful about our new record, A Manual for Defeat, was that the process itself cut out a lot of the bullshit that can go wrong from point A to point B. I love creating in the studio. It drives some people nuts, but it’s actually total fun for me. It’s also a way for things to go horribly wrong. You might stumble upon something completely new, but when you don’t have a lot of money especially, you can just as easily over-think things and lose the initial passion of a piece. So many musicians will tell you that they love their demos more than their actual records. Until we did this new record my favorite No Show Ponies recordings that we ever did were Ben and I fucking about on Garage Band on my brother’s Mac. The demos the two of us made sounded thin and cheap sounding, but there was a certain magic captured on those things that we never replicated anywhere else.
With A Manual for Defeat we made the simplest record possible, which with a low budget worked out better than I could have imagined. We just rehearsed a lot and then cut things basically live to tape with as little overdubbing as we could get away with. The beauty of analog tape is that you instantly can tell on playback if you got something or not. I’m not really a tape or digital guy as it really depends on the project and who is helming the technical side of things. But for me the problem with digital is that you often don’t know what you have got until much later in the process. If you don’t have a lot of money there is no time to start over if you realize something wasn’t quite where it needs to be. Also just as a side note, dear God in heaven stay away from digital reverb.
I’m always afraid of making something middle of the road, although there have definitely been times when my best intentions have gone astray. I feel like you should either be trying to make Sgt. Pepper or The Misfit’s Static Age. By that I mean you should either be as ambitious as possible or you should just try to capture something raw and real. The universe will give you hints as to what route to take if you can get your ego out of the way. Often limitations, if shepherded down the right alley, will force you to be creative. It’s when you force things that aren’t meant to be that you get into trouble.
I’m working on my 7th record right now, as well as having worked on a whole host of other things such as soundtracks, demos, singles, EP’s, etc. I feel like only in the last two years have I got to a place where I sort of know what I’m doing, where I trust my instincts to be right more often than not. Although as I’m fond of saying: Time makes monkeys of us all.