Tag Archives: songwriting

Crucial albums #1: Cocteau Twins ‘Heaven or Las Vegas’

21 Apr The Cocteau Twins' Heaven or Las Vegas

Inspired by that facebook game where you list 10 important albums, I realised that many of my favourite albums are not the ones that shaped my music or songwriting directly.

I want to explore the albums that changed how I thought about my practice as a singer and songwriter, and that are direct influences on Mitropa, the Wasp Summer album I’m currently making.

Number 1 must be the Cocteau Twins masterpiece ‘Heaven or Las Vegas’.

Oh, this album, beginning to end, blows my mind. In 1994, I escaped an increasingly dangerous relationship and was relieved to move into a sharehouse in Lismore with 4 other women, located above a veterinary surgery. Collectively and consciously, we explored ritual paganism, argued theology with the Mormons that came each week to save us, and smoked more weed than was strictly necessary. I saw some weird shit.

I started off living behind a makeshift curtain in the kitchen until a room became available. Then I moved into the least psychedelically-wallpapered of the rooms, affectionately known as the Triffid Room.

A lot of music that is important to me (Pink Floyd, PJ Harvey, the Clouds) came out of this room and this year, as did my first attempts at songwriting. Rachel the Cone Queen stole this record from her sister, but it lived for the entire year in my room where I attempted to rationalise its immense harmony while drifting off into its etheric spheres.

This album remains an act of divinity to me. The Cocteaus’ perfect pop moment. The post-punk textures they had been developing all the way along, Liz Fraser’s astonishing vocal style, the pulsing bass and drum machines, liquified into a weird, dreamy and pleasurable set of songs that blew open my expectations of what I could do, what the human voice could do, what guitars could sound like.

It was the precursor chemical to so much of the music that made my music sound the way it does. At least, most of what I did with The Mime Set and Wasp Summer was me aiming for this kind of freedom.

Upon reflection, Annie Lennox and Liz Fraser are largely responsible for the beautiful oddness of my sense of harmony.

 

April Wasp: strange little girls

9 Apr

I’ve got a bunch of gigs coming up with Wasp Summer! They’re all listed on the Concerts page. Have a look!

But this Thursday, I’m playing at Kugelbahn in Wedding with Salon Band, great Berlin musical guns-for-hire. Salon Band host a monthly event where they invite and accompany guest singers. They picked three songs from my album – Dancehall at Louse Point, I Hope You’ll Mend and No Time For Compliments Now and asked me to pick three more cover songs. I chose Randy Crawford’s jazz-pop classic One Day I’ll Fly Away (you’ll be hypnotised by Ms. Crawford’s teeth), The Motels’ simmering Total Control (a hit only in France and Australia) and 60’s stomper Tobacco Road (which I’m approaching in a Tina Turner/Small Faces kind of way).

I’ve worked on “owning” these three songs – interpreting them, rather than just singing the melody and phrasings I know so well. In singing them carefully alone and with the band, I realised they’re actually weirdly structured. I had an epiphany about my songwriting – since I was a kid, I’ve always been drawn to songs where the form is dictated by the lyrics and melody, rather than creating a perfect chord progression and constructing/cramming the story into it. Perhaps, other people’s favourites amongst the songs I have written are the classically formed ones – even rhyming patterns, even line lengths, symmetrical structure. But my favourites are the bent and winding songs, the one-eyed songs, the crooked and eccentric songs with two verses at the top, one refrain and a long outro for a tail – my strange little girls.

The three songs I chose sound straight on the surface, but have a kooky, emotional view of their subject (getting over lost love, desire, and what the Germans might call Heimathassleibe), and structures – the length of verses, where and what the bridge sections do, etc. – designed (consciously or unconsciously) to emphasise the emotion/story the writer wants to tell.

I’ve often had bandmembers and arrangers ask, “Did you know there’s half a bar of 3/4 there?” or “What a weird keychange. Did you mean to do that?” or “Did you want 10 beats in that section?” or “Can we straighten this bit out?”. To which the answers are really?, yes, yes and no.  It just sounds normal to me because I “count” the song by lyrics and phrasing, not chord structure or bar numbers. Writing my charts isn’t straightforward. And the songs go how they go because that’s how they go. I don’t try to be dumb about it and I do edit my work, but if a song has an intrinsically strong melody or lyric, or keychange or structure, the only criteria are “Does it feel authentic to me?” and “Does it sound good to me?” If I play it in public, the answer is yes.

If you have any questions or comments, feel free to email me back at waspsummer@gmail.com.

Cheers,

Sam