There was this one gig that never happened, in the spring of 2020...
Actually, there were a whole buncha gigs that didn't happen, thanks to a pandemic that pretty much shut the world down and created some awkward new social norms and fashion trends. So, what's a Bodark to do?
Well, make more music, of course! We've been digging into the kitty to come up with new material, bouncing some recordings back and forth, making good use of Apple's Garage Band app, and such.
Like this here - the bedding tracks of a song we're calling "The Fiddler's Bride," awaiting fiddle, bass, and harmonies to be added.
All this got me thinking about our songwriting process. How does a tune make it from seed to song? How does a few scribbles on a napkin, or an iPhone recording of a banjo riff, become a drunken sing-along with a whole bar full of folks slurring the wrong lyrics?
Well, first off, we're not gonna lie. There's a whole bunch of crap that gets written before a single song ever makes it to the stage or studio. A ton of reeeeally awful songwriting. It's kinda like fertilizer. Funny thing is, the more crap that's churned out, the more likely a good tune turns up. And well, we're full of crap, so hopefully something worthy comes of it!
In addition to fertilizer, a seed's gotta have a bit of sunlight, earth, and water - other elements that spring it to life. Well, I find it's the same for a tune.
Me personally - I keep a notebook of free-writing and lyrical phrases, even gibberish, that might have a catchy ring to it. On the audio side, I keep a file full of my recordings of random riffs or free-form noodling that may have potential. And here's a little confession - I also have a file of songs I've collected from other artists that catch my ear, where I'm like, "Whoa! I'm totally gonna steal that!"
So, when I sit down to "write a song," I've already got the raw scraps of inspiration with these three elements - the lyrical scribbles, the audio clips, and the rip-off tunes.
Here's a guitar riff I found among my old recordings that I decided to use as the basic melody for what would become "The Fiddler's Bride."
Now, about the rip-off tunes. Before you get up on your high-horse about a fella pulling an Elvis and taking cred for the work of others - I'm just borrowing the basic DNA code from these tunes. Even if I start making up something in the manner of someone else's song, it always evolves into an entirely different creature in the end that sounds only slightly like the song that inspired it, if at all. And besides, you know what that Picasso fellow said: "Good artists borrow. Great artists steal." I'm no Picasso, but I'd thumb a nickel for his thoughts on creativity any day.
In the case of "The Fiddler's Bride," here are two of the songs I had in my file that planted the inspirational seed for it and to which I sometimes referred during the writing process:
So, there ya have the seed of it all: Some lyrical scribbles of mine about a mysterious traveling fiddler who controls the rain, a guitar riff with a sort of gypsy lurch, and some model tunes from two of my favorite artists that provide the roots. Now comes the time to sprout some branches.
I start fleshing out stanzas, somewhat guided by rhyme. Often I'll bounce back and forth between writing lyrics and noodling on an instrument, since each can inspire the other. I also do some free-writing to experiment with different directions. My goal here is to branch out - NOT to prune. Diverge in a variety of ways without editing yet, or committing to a particular direction.
And then I do this very essential next step: I QUIT!
I'm a big believer in the old adage, "Let's sleep on it." I gotta leave it in the dark for awhile, distance myself from what I've been banging my head against. Get that fresh perspective back on what it may sound like to new ears. But also, I find this allows the unconscious parts of my noggin to incubate the sounds and words, maybe combining them with some other random stuff, while the conscious part considers less important matters, like what's for dinner, or why my dog seems obsessed with her hind quarters lately.
Speaking of combining random stuff, George Carlin once said, "If you nail two boards together that have never been nailed together before, some schmuck is gonna buy it." That pretty much sums up the essence of creativity.
Oh! And did you know that Einstein liked to play his fiddle on a row boat in the middle of a lake whenever he wanted to take a break from the math and let something stew for awhile? He also once said the same thing as George Carlin - that the essence of creativity is playing around with combinations that have no business being in the same bed together.
So anyway, when I turn my attention back to the song after an incubation break, there's often an "Aha!" lightbulb kinda moment that pushes it forward.
At this point, it's time to bloom. I try to write waaaayyy more than is necessary. Too much is better than not enough. I know there will be a whole bunch of lines that may go to rot. But the more there are, the more there is available to work with when I get to the pruning phase.
And I've learned not to prune too early. Letting that critic in before he's invited is a sure way to kill the life of a project before it's had proper time to take root.
Finally, when it feels ripe for the picking, I harvest the best parts and arrange them, and prune other parts. Knowing what to cut and what to keep is sometimes like trying to figure which gal to take to the dance. But I've learned that sometimes you gotta let a real dazzler go, for the sake of the overall song.
If this all sounds like a lot - Oh, we're just getting started. Next, I do a rough recording and send it to the other band members. And they're like the weather - a whirlwind of criticism, or a draught of silence, or a flood of new ideas as fiddle and bass get added, percussion and mandolin, and maybe accordion. We may have ourselves an entirely different song than I originally had in mind. Or no song left at all.
It's this phase we're currently in with "The Fiddler's Bride," especially while in quarantine, as we've been ping-ponging variations of it back and forth, waiting impatiently for the day we can safely take it out there to the stage.
Then it'll be time for the last phase, and that involves you!
Want free music & an adventure in hootenanny? Sign-up for Bodarks exclusives at:
Because "Maps ain't made by those who stay behind."