Tuesday, April 12, 2011
Sunday, April 10, 2011
When I asked lead vocalist, Justin Suitor, to sit down with his band members of Railroad to Alaska, and discuss their songwriting process and philosophy, he chose to bypass the standard Q&A setup. Was he being difficult? Perhaps. But I think the choice involved an idea bigger than that. In the end, Suitor wanted the music to speak for itself, instead of attempting to explain it. And if you watched the songwriting procedure belonging to Railroad to Alaska firsthand, you would understand exactly how difficult that process is to put into words.
Each song takes on a life of it’s own. The style stays similar, but the intricate structure is so lengthy and diverse, no song ends up being alike. Imagine two fingerprints side by side. They may look similar from afar, but put them under a microscope, and the differences become apparent in every detail. Recent pop hits tend to be carbon copies, that focus on simple structure and a catchy melody. Let’s say those songs would be the equivalent of having a coffee table mass-produced in a factory in China. Railroad’s music is like having the finest wood-worker make a table from the finest materials, taking months at a time to perfect each and every corner with his own two hands and expertise, until at last, there is perfection.
“Think Jimmy, think Pinkly Smooth,” Suitor relays to the band, as a reminder that, no matter how far they reach into the metal realm, it is important to keep making the music strange, and with no real constraints. That way, the mood of the music isn’t forced, it’s organically developed with honesty and passion. Somehow, Railroad is able to constrain themselves, wrestling every section of every composition until it is technically sound down to the last minute detail. With the help of band artist, Ryan Williams, the band eventually finds their footing for the intro, then the next step might be a prechorus, or chorus, depending what specific structure fits the particular mood of that distinct song. The chorus may flow smoothly, until reaching a dropping point, that then flows into a time change and a completely different direction of guitar riffs that never seemed possible to merge together seamlessly until now.
Slowly, like a funnel, the song is beaten and adjusted from beginning to end right there in the studio. If a correction needs to be made, these musicians are so technically tight, it’s sometimes only a few seconds of inner speculation, and the rhythm necessary is achieved. This allows the band to move past each part, and begin to pillage the next tricky section, until it too is clean and precise. Occasionally, Lyman or Morales will step up and call for a change, an addition, or a harmony here and there. But most times, it is Suitor that has the full sheet music in his head, constantly manipulating and directing the other three to do his bidding. When the collaboration is harmonious, the music produced is heart-wrenching and honest. But the moment Suitor steps too far in his leadership, the room fills with more testosterone and frustration towards each other, and it shows in a brief moment where the musical tightness between members suddenly becomes a little more lax. It is then that Suitor knows to pull back and regroup the guys with a few positive words.
Blocking the doorway, surrounded by stacks of journals, a small dictionary, and a thesaurus, is Ryan Williams, band artist and lyricist. This poet has attended every practice thus far, and is always helping the lyrical development, as well as the overall mood and band philosophy. While he is not a technical musician like each of the Railroad members, he does have a keen sense and understanding of musical structure and sound. This, in turn, helps Suitor keep the lyrics and melodies fresh, instead of falling into the safe vocal patterns that he tends to spout out during the early stages of construction. The timing and notes of his melody are not set in stone, but by testing out the vocal waters as he plays, it allows him and Williams to create a clear map of the proper scales for each song. From there, it is easier for Williams to find a rhyme scheme that will fit within the fast-paced tempo. Most times, Railroad will stay within a 4/4 timing, but enjoys throwing in a quick 5/4 riff here and there to unbalance the listener and keep them anxious. But no matter how people categorize the band’s musical genre, Railroad to Alaska definitely is deciding to keep it eerie.
As the clock rolls over into the new day, Railroad decides to call it a night. More than four hours of straight practice, and it’s time to let the fingers rest. This is only the second of three practices this week, and another show is right around the corner. Recording will be happening in the next few months, so the songs must be perfected by then in order to cleanly capture the designated sound. Until then, the four guys are headed home, and will continue to keep rehearsing their parts by themselves so they are prepared for the next practice.
Saturday, April 9, 2011
How long have you guys been playing music?
Jon Mauerhan: Since I was 12, so 23 years, with little breaks in between.
Brandon Seger: I’ve played since I was 15. Started on bass, and in my first band played bass. Played keyboards and guitar in other bands.
Ben Brown: I’ve been playing maybe 14 or 15 years.
And you guys played in other bands before I take it?
Brown: We all played in bands together at some point or another.
Maybe not all three together, but…
Mauerhan: Yeah, in different reincarnations.
So why is three the magic number for you guys when it comes to band members?
Mauerhan: I don’t think there’s any reason for it, we just knew it. We didn’t really explore adding a fourth member. I think the fact is that we’re tight-knit friends and have been for so long.
Seger: It’s easier, there’s less people.
Brown: It’s either option one, two, or three.
Seger: And there’s good two-on-ones, when you hit a stopping point. With a four-piece, you can get a two-on-two situation going, which could put a stalemate on the process. But with a three-piece, you have that dynamic of two people outweighing the one, so decisions get made quicker which is good. And then the communication of our group is pretty high.
When I watch you guys, there is a definite beat going, but you each seem to be in your own world, within that beat. Is that what you’re focusing on when you’re writing? And what instrument is starting the writing process most of the time?
Mauerhan: Yeah, and I think if you add a fourth layer, you might lose an element of that.
Seger: A lot of times, Ben comes in with a riff. We develop it and shape it as far as how long sections go. With a three piece dynamic, you have interesting options, where, if one member drops out, that just leaves two people playing, and it’s fun to mix that up a little bit. That’s another way how the trio actually does creates these options that bigger bands don’t have as much.
Brown: Yeah, and we’re kind of forced to push the limits in terms of dynamics because we only have three instruments to work with. Some bands with two guitarists, they can really develop that dynamic between the two, and add the layering.
And you are playing both. It’s nice that Brandon keeps that bassline, and lets you venture out into both realms.
Seger: Yeah, he gets to play rhythm and solo. You see a lot of taking turns in bands, but with ours, it’s always been his turn as guitarist (laughs).
When you’re putting a song together, you have these epic, intricate songs that you’re playing. You go into writing them with a certain riff usually and build off of that? Do you have an idea of what the structure is going to look like as a whole?
Mauerhan: I think it would be various levels of that. There’s times where we would come in with something, and Ben’s come in with a lot of ideas, verses, choruses, and other things. Other times, just a simple riff will blossom into something that we never expected. Songs always end up taking on a life of their own, off to places you never planned.
What do you think determines that? Vocals come later for you guys, right? So do you have a certain image or feeling you’re attempting to provoke?
Brown: We’re always considering where vocals are going to fit in to these pieces throughout the whole process. And then it’s just a matter of fine-tuning and layering the vocals in there, and then adjusting accordingly.
Mauerhan: I’d say there are almost always changes once the vocals come into play. The minute Brandon sinks his teeth into it, a lot of times he’ll come back and say, ‘I’ve got a great idea, but we’ve gotta change this to make it work.’
Seger: We learned a lot about that in the recording process. About how we create songs, how we work with the lyrics, and just being able to hear it, without playing it, over and over for that many times. It’s been very helpful for me.
With your playing bass and singing the melody, are you doing two different things rhythmically, or do you write with intention of synching it up to the bass?
Seger: It goes back and forth, but most of the time, the vocals don’t have a lot to do with the basslines, per se, but then there are other times when they do lock in together. That goes both ways. It’s always tricky to synch them up, but once you got it, you got it. So I enjoy that aspect of the band, and the fact that it’s constantly challenging me. I’ve improved a lot since starting to play with these guys again. Really kind of exciting process, and nerve-racking.
Seeing how far you can push it?
Seger: Yeah. I suppose seeing how far you can push it.
Do you guys all read music?
All three: No, not really.
So you just “hear it” when you’re writing and playing? Do you rely on mathematics at all when you write?
Mauerhan: Sometimes there will be mathematical concepts in there. If Ben is playing in 3/4, and I might have some rhythm that might have like a 5/4 feel, it’s fun to kind of switch it up and things like that.
Seger: We work in those off-beats quite a bit. It’s usually a little off-balance and precarious. I always feel like you’re almost on the edge, you’ve got that weird feeling like you wanna lean over it. A lot of the riffs and rhythms that we end up doing give me that sensation, like we’re just a little off-balance. You’ll see people kind of going with it in the crowd, they kind of lose it for a second, then they come back to it. That’s how I am when I first hear the riff.
Mauerhan: It’s kind of a struggle to make something that off-time, but still feel like you’re flowing in something continuous.
Let’s look into band philosophy, like what you stand for, and what you’re trying to express through your music. How does being on the edge depict what Omaha represents as an idea?
Seger: We set out to write dark, heavy music, and there’s any angry edge to it. I think the reason we gravitated towards it, partially, is that we’ve all listened to that type of music and gone to those types of shows together for a long time. But we’ve never done a band like this together. So when we were getting together, if we had a philosophy about the feel of the band, it was dark, angry, aggressive, and as heavy as we can make it. Then lyrically, it just channeled right into the way the lyrics come out, where they are often describing frustrating situations from a certain point of view; either the person who is creating the frustrating situation, or whether it’s from the point of view of the person who is being oppressed.
Mauerhan: Playing angry music is a good outlet. It limits how much you have to experience those emotions in normal life. Sometimes I’ll come here from work, feeling all tense, and afterwards, I can feel the blood flowing through and I’m relaxed.
So do you think that is something people need to tap into on a regular basis? They need a way to get that emotion out?
Mauerhan: It doesn’t necessarily have to be music.
Seger: A healthy way to vent is definitely a good thing.
Mauerhan: I listen to heavy music less and less as the years go by, but as a drummer, it’s really the only music I want to play.
Well it’s always more fun when you’re having a good time and it’s a shared experience. It’s hard when band’s put specific restraints and expectations on themselves.
Seger: I’ve been in bands that felt like work for me over the years. This is just fun. Practice is fun. Recording is fun. Playing live is great.
Mauerhan: You asked about the point of Omaha, I think that’s a big one. The biggest reason we first started is because it’s fun to do this and have the camaraderie.
Friday, April 8, 2011
Tim Willis (guitar, vocals): Well…it was more of an anti-start then anything else… It was more of a lack of a beginning…
Robin San Jose (bass): Ok, Darby Crash… (laughs)
Willis: I’m just making Kevin Yoches laugh…
San Jose: They played for awhile, but not that long. Couple months, huh?
Kevin Yoches (drums): We started as a two-piece.
Willis: I had a broken, borrowed acoustic, and I was playing a horrible song, and Kevin was drumming on a counter at a party.
San Jose: It was the best gig you guys ever had, huh?
Willis: It was a song about a Tijuana sloo, that turned into our “hate” song. So then I hit him up on Myspace, and he was in San Francisco with Hello Evening on a trip, and he said he’d get back to me for sure, which he did, and he was very prompt, very on time. We had a couple practices, we fuckin’ shredded, and we found Robin and it was over with.
San Jose: I answered an ad in the recycler. Or was it Craigslist? I don’t know, it was some ad, and all of a sudden it was “Want a Bass Player.” I was just looking for something to do.
Yoches: I remember standing there talking, and I was like, ‘So, I don’t know how you feel about this, but I think we should probably do this like two days from now.’
Willis: And we were die-hard. We went three practices a week, no matter what, even when it was just the two of us, just fucking around.
Yoches: We’d film them, and then we’d get wasted and go back to the studio and watch them.
Willis: So we had this trippy sound that was probably way too fast to be listenable, and then Robin comes along with his weird off-beats that finish it off.
San Jose: I never really planned on playing fast, ‘cause I bought an upright bass to learn old Hawaiian music, and rock-a-billy. I said, ‘You’re never gonna see me playing no punk rock.’ The first time I played ‘C.U.N.T.,’ I was slapping as fast as my shoulder could possibly go for a frickin’ old man, and I was thinking, ‘What the hell am I doing here!?’
You already had songs written before Robin came?
Willis: A few songs. I didn’t even know how to play guitar until I was in the Coast Guards, stuck on a boat with nothing to do with a bunch of people from the Appalachian Mountains, and people from all over who were forcing me to learn chords. Age 15 to 25, I spent ten years on straight up gutter punk, skate punk, and that’s it. I thought it was the only way to go. So yeah, I had a few, and then Kevin hears them and goes, ‘Ok, well let’s do this and this.’ And when he’s doing some quadruple-double-handed-train-beat, I guess I’m gonna listen to your suggestions. If I have a place to put my fingers, which is called ‘G’ in some songs, he’ll be like, ‘Actually, that doesn’t make any sense. You should probably put your fingers here where the chord makes sense,’ and I’ll be like, ‘ahh, yeah.’ I get some crazy ideas, and then he’s like the ‘producer,’ and Mister-make-shit-musically-sound.
San Jose: Well Kevin knows music too. He knows it very well. It’s lucky to have a guy in the band who knows music.
Willis: Music is like his crazy uncle that showed him how to party. But he also showed his crazy uncle a thing or two, ‘cause he’s like a young Jedi.
Tim, I have to say, you give the best analogies. It’s pretty amazing. Robin, you had mentioned that you also know about music too?
San Jose: I know it, but I don’t know that I know it, because Kevin will tell me that I know it.
Why do you know it?
San Jose: Because I hear it.
Yoches: He’s just played enough music to where he knows the scales without knowing them.
San Jose: But I can’t name what I’m playing.
Yoches: He’ll say, ‘Well that’s a run in G.’ And I’ll say, ‘Well actually, that’s the entire G Major scale from top to bottom.’ He’ll be like, ‘Ok, cool…right over my head bro. Let’s keep going on the song.’
Willis: Robin’s standard quote is, ‘I’ll find you.’ Normally, you’d be like, ‘No, you’re dismissing what I just said and you’re full of shit, but when he says it, he will find you, so just go. It’s not even a problem.
Must make it easy to keep playing while you’re at a show, and it’s sounds like you can jam together pretty easily.
Willis: Kevin has a solid drum beat, and then Robin ties it together.
San Jose: Our first practices weren’t awkward at all, it was just fun jamming, cold beers, their friend Sage cooking on the bar-b-que. Those early days, they made it really fun.
How did you start writing?
Willis: I pitched them creepy poems, and then figured out which kind of music made sense with them. I had a bunch of songs, but it was just me and an acoustic guitar. I got an ‘F’ on essays, and an ‘A+’ on poems forever. I usually have a poem or idea, and then I’ll show Kevin with an acoustic guitar, and he’ll be like, ‘Sounds good. Okay, what we can do here is change this or bring this chord up…’
Yoches: Or it needs a B part…
Willis: ‘Or it needs this.’ So then I just fill in a gap or two from the weird poems I write, ‘cause I’m crazy.
So it stems from the lyrics?
Willis: Totally. Lyrics come, and it’s just a capture of a moment in time.
Why do you think certain people able to capture those moments, and others don’t get it?
Yoches: Some people are just like that. Tim is fucking hilarious. I don’t know, something about his personality is charismatic. I think there’s a certain characteristic in a person that is able to do it. ‘Cause for me, the music writing capabilities that I’ve gotten are from studying music, and almost learning it like it’s a math equation.
So you’re mathematical, Robin is by ear…
Yoches: And Tim has the charisma. We all trust each other when it comes to that element. Tim will come up with something, like he called me up today and was like, ‘I thought of something while on my break at work today. It’s this poem about how people, when I’m dead, and when they visit my grave--I want them to pat the dirt and keep the flowers nice and stuff.’ I can’t just come up with that image, but if he came up to me with just the words, I could probably write a chord progression to it. Tim writes about common feelings, but not in a common way. He’s got that something.
It so strange, I feel like I’m coming to the end of this Songwriters Collection, with you guys being the last interviewed. I’ve asked everyone about lyrics, are they playing for the audience, or are they playing for themselves? Where do you guys stand?
San Jose: I’m playing for these two guys. Because I can play with these twos guys in front of just a bartender, and I still have a great time. And it’s really fun when his friends come out. They have a good following in Costa Mesa. I’ve been in a million bands, and I’ve played in front of nobody, and the band’s been really good. So when the crowd is into it, and they’ve seen our shows a lot, so they know what we’re gonna play, but they still lose their minds. That’s amazing to me, it’s like brand new to them. So it makes it totally fun, and when you can do that with some of your friends, that’s all better.
Willis: We just try to promote this big excuse for everybody to get shit-faced like it’s your birthday.
Yoches: We’re having good times, and that’s Snakebit. Get Snakebit and travel around for a little while.
San Jose: I think musicians forget to have fun sometimes, I think that’s what it is. You can sit there and be the deepest cat, but why not have some beers, have some laughs, make some music, and have a good time?
Yoches: The minute we take ourselves serious, this whole thing will kind of slow down. Tim’s got a gnarly job, Robin’s got his family and a crazy job. I’ve got a few bands and a job. It’s like Snakebit is our escape. Like a big, safe place to go.
How many songs do you have recorded now?
And how long did it take for you to record them?
Yoches: A few days.
Willis: Me and Kevin were yelling at each other at the end. It was really funny though.
Yoches: He’s like, ‘I know what you want me to do, but my hands hurt.’ And I’m like, ‘We’ll that’s cool. So why don’t you be a bigger pussy and we’ll never get this song recorded.’
San Jose: I remember hearing in the headphones, Kevin goes, ‘Go tell Robin your hands are sore!’ (laughs)
Willis: Or he would start talking and I’d go, like three-year-old style, ‘EEEEEGGGHHHHH! YAAAAHHHHRRR! Huh? Oh, sorry, I couldn’t hear you Kevin.’ Like, I didn’t know what else to do, I was like a monkey throwing shit. I’m tired!
So was that the point when 27 songs were enough?
Willis: No, we played a lot more songs after that (laughs).
Yoches: That’s when our best material came. That’s part of being Snakebit Drifters, you know?
Want to explain Snakebit Drifters?
Yoches: Tim wanted it to be Whiskeydick Dragons, and I was like, ‘Meh, you gotta give me something better than that.’ It would have been acceptable if we sucked, but once we played a couple of days, I knew that we needed to have something with something to it.
Willis: Drifters is a pretty standard, Wild-West, crazy desert, aimlessly going somewhere kind of notion. The definition of Snakebit is having a life characterized by a series of misfortunes, and it’s like you can’t fucking win. Also, alcohol and drugs coursing through your veins is kind of like being bit by some kind of venomous snake I’d imagine.
Yoches: So then Tim was like, ‘How about Snakebit Drifters?’ Ding ding ding.
Thursday, April 7, 2011
When you’re starting new music, where does it stem from?
Nate Lown: It just stems from an idea, I think. Either a musical idea, or a lyrical concept. And then, for me, either I’ll try to write music off of whatever lyrical concept I have, or vice versa. If I have a progression or something that sounds a certain way, I guess I try to write lyrics that fit to it.
So before you even start writing a chord progression, is there a melody in your head? Where is that stemming from?
Kyle Bray: When I sit down to write a song, I don’t purposefully sit down and write a song. I’ll just get the feeling that I want to write a song, and whatever happens just happens. It usually stems off of something that I was messing around with, whether it’s a progression or something. If you sit down, I think it either just happens naturally. But, I mean, every songwriting experience is different.
So sometimes you might have a chord progression that you might have stumbled upon that you like and that tends to sit and brew for a while. So when do the two sides combine to create that musical epiphany?
Bray: Usually there’s like 100 different ideas that you’re doing something with, and then eventually you decide that this one is good enough that you want to develop it and write more parts for it. I think lyrically, it’s just about the thing that comes naturally. Whatever is weighing on your mind the most is usually what you write about, and what usually clicks I guess.
Lown: I usually play a part over and over, and just try to sing whatever is coming to me. If I’m thinking about lyrics, then I just kind of think about how they make me feel, and how I want them to come across musically. It’s over and over, constantly, and just try to find a creative flow that builds off of itself.
Do words fit into place originally, or do you find a melody first, and words fit in afterwards? Is it a give and take?
Bray: In my experience, it either works or it doesn’t. You’ll try three different melodies for the same chord progression and it won’t work. And then, for some reason, something will just come out.
Lown: Sometimes I do lyrics and melody. If I haven’t written lyrics for it yet, I’ll sing a melody, and start saying words to start writing. If I find a line that I like, that I just start singing, I’ll keep that one line, and say, ‘What do I think I could write from this?’
So who is generally writing? Do you guys get together and jam, or maybe someone brings something to practice and you expand from there? Or do you write a complete song structure, then learn it that way?
Lown: Recently it’s been different. It has kind of changed since we started, but I guess recently it’s been, I’ll have a verse or Kyle will have a part, and then we show the other person on guitar. Trevor has come up with a few parts and brought them in on keys. We’ll learn the chords, but we don’t really jam that much. It will be like, one person will bring something in, and then start showing it to everyone. Usually the person who starts it, I feel, is the person who figures out the rest of the parts.
Bray: Yeah, whoever brings it in is basically in charge of the arrangement. Usually that person will get the ok. They’ll ask, ‘What do you think of that here?’ And if the other person is like, ‘Yeah, that will work,’ then we keep it. We’re definitely very fair in songwriting I think.
Lown: And it always seems to come together a little bit differently than you first planned, which is cool. Like, Dan will throw in something, or Noel, or Trevor, and that always changes it up.
That’s what writing as a band is all about for you guys then?
Do you ever think about the audience when you’re writing?
Lown: It definitely enters my mind.
Bray: Yeah, at some point. Usually at a point with a song there is a point where it’s like, I’m going to finish this song. You bring it to the band, and then you start thinking about…
Lown: …How fast, what kind of a beat, will people be able to move, I guess things like that.
How do you guys feel about being more technical versus playing and writing by ear?
Bray: I think we definitely have a mixture of those two. We’re not an experimental jam band, ‘cause we definitely organize our music.
Lown: We don’t really write it out though. But I definitely use theory, and I do think about theory when I writing progressions. You know, like which chord will work in which situation, or where the progression is going. Sometimes I’ll just have something that sounds good, and I don’t really have to think about the theory that much. And then sometimes I feel like, I kind of want to change this, what would work here?
So by knowing those rules and relationships, it gives you the ability to branch out more? I notice in your new music, you’re testing the waters of different genres as well. It’s still Drums and Color, but with a new twist.
Bray: I think that comes from what we’re listening to at the time. We’re not trying to write, necessarily, for a specific sound. We’re writing the kind of music that we’re enjoying.
Lown: I’d agree with that. Each and every day, I was probably listening to Antonio Carlos, which is like Brazilian bossa nova, and Grizzly Bear in the same day. And that’s what came out. And you can kind of hear it, I think.
So a lot of your songwriting comes from the music you listen to then? You guys are obviously very eclectic with your musical taste. How do you fit all that into one sound?
Bray: Well, we’ll see what it does for us. I don’t know how it’s going to turn out in the end, who knows where it will go (laughs).
Lown: I’ve always realized that I listen to, it feels to me, like random stuff. But I guess it’s just really eclectic. I love all that stuff, and I think it gives us options to create a song exactly how we want it to sound.
So how important is having a harmony between members to writing and playing your music?
Bray: In a perfect world, we would all live in harmony and play music together.
Lown: We have own band stresses, but I feel like the only time that stress goes away for me is when we’re actually playing. Sometimes there’s moments during practice, or moments during a show where I just get the best feeling ever. And that’s realizing the agreement. Even if it’s just for that split-second, ‘cause we don’t always get along.
Bray: We’ll be arguing before and after the show, but when we’re on stage, we’re happy.
Wednesday, April 6, 2011
What’s the token way to write a song? Listening to a full range of bands, I’ve realized that the construction aspect is different for everybody. What do you think?
Tyler: If you look at it from an artistic standpoint, there’s no right or wrong way to do it. You’re just trying to define yourself though music I guess. Everybody has their own way to do it, ‘cause everybody learns to do the same things in their own way. I never really thought about it.
It’s apparent that some musicians are writing with the audience member in mind, while others are focused more on self-expression. Either way, how do you keep the music about “the vessel?”
Especially if you’re going for some altruistic way to do it too, it’s like, you’re still only doing for other people. You’re doing too much. In itself, it’s going to be an altruistic thing, and it’s gonna be for other people anyway.
I feel like it’s easy to see through musicians like that, and it’s not as captivating. But people that perform from the soul, that’s a different experience that is inspiring.
Like souls creeping from soundwaves…
Exactly. So before those sounds reach the stage, there has to be the writing stage. How do you try to organize yourself to write?
Sometimes the plans get in the way of actually doing it. It seems to happen to people a lot. I’ve always found that. With the different people I’ve worked with, when they have plans to make albums and music, nothing meets their expectations of the plans. It’s different with everybody, and I’ve only worked with a select few, but with (Dolphin City), our albums being made worked out better when we just created as we went. But then you always want to come back and fix little things too. You’re always gonna want to do that.
So when do you say when on a project?
As far as practicing things, then getting to record them? Or actually songwriting, like starting a song?
On both those levels.
I don’t know, it’s different. I mean, I have some things that I’ve worked on for years, and never wanted to record. Sometimes I don’t even want to record them. But I also think they’re the best thing I’ve written too. But the thing is that, over time, they have changed so much, that I feel like they’re still not ready. With recording for me, if I’m just doing it alone, I just start with a bassline, and just do something simple, and then I just work on it.
So do the vocals stem from that bassline generally?
I don’t make any music with lyrics anymore. For a long time I thought, when I was writing music, that melodies were a backdrop for what I wanted to say, ‘cause I thought what I wanted to say was important. But after some time, I realized I didn’t really believe in any of the stuff I was saying. I think the music has so much more meaning than what I have to say. So I just abandoned ship on the lyrical process. But writing is still a huge part of my creative process. My concept for writing music now is based on themes for short stories that I write. It’s about the only way I write music now. I have these stories, and then try to score them, like a film.
A lot of lyricists tend to think of a story or a moment, try to capture themselves inside of it, and then try to portray the emotions felt within that moment.
When it comes down to it, that’s the rudiment of it. Not to say that I don’t like music with lyrics. There’s some of it I love, and some of it is so potent. I just think, for the most part, I don’t want to write it if it’s not going to be good. Sure, I feel like I have a lot of important things to say in song, but with me, personally, I would much rather make music that can create a mood for anybody, rather than people listening to lyrics that only relate to some people. An emotion of tone can relate to more people.
So what you’re saying is you would really like to score music for movies?
Yeah, definitely. I’ve done it a few times for my friends’ student film projects, and I’ve had so much fun doing it.
So how do you feel when it comes to jamming, versus technical composition writing?
Wingin’ it is where it’s at. I think when you prepare yourself too much, well I don’t even know how to finish that thought. But when you’re not prepared, you go straight for what you feel is right.
When you’re prepared, that’s when it gets too technical, and you start thinking too much about structure, what you want to say, what verse is going here, and how long it’s going to be in a way?
Just go with it. It’s a much better way. A lot of times, bands I would play with, we would just jam and record it for hours. That would then yield three or four really great things that we would work on from there. That was a fun way to do it, because it gets everyone involved, instead of just one person directing and dictating everything. Like playing with Dolphin City, I would just go in and play what the song is. It’s already formulated. They know their vision and they want it to be a particular way, and I can help produce that. As far as me writing songs, I like to do my thing and I will always write. I’m not trying to pursue it professionally or anything, but it is something I’ll always do.
I’d like to talk you about your looping pedals, and what you like about the process of piecing together the looping samples to make full compositions.
I like the looping pedals because it keeps it simple, and that’s what you kind of have to do with loops. It also helps generate legit songs too; whether it’s going to be commercial-type songs, or choruses with harmonies, or stuff like that. But I’m more of a “crescendo-type.” I just keep building off one particular idea, and it’s resolved eventually.
So you either drop out all the loops, and finish off with one note you play, or it’s a resounding crescendo of all the loops compiled together, fading til the end?
Yeah, just flood everything out. That’s how I like ending my loops. The loops I generate are psychedelic, so you gotta flood everything out (laughs).