Keeping it fresh:
I started playing guitar at age 12, and I will turn 50 this year, putting me at about 38 years of experience on that instrument.
When I started playing, I started composing almost immediately. After having an acoustic for 6 months I wrote and recorded my first original song, “You Are What You Are.” I was so excited, pumped, jacked to be writing songs! The heroes that I was enamored with at the time (Bowie, Neil Young, Lou Reed) seemed so much closer. I could understand the writing process better, and in turn could imagine myself creating works like them. Well, not like them, but my version of what they were doing.
This was a different sensation to being able to play the same riff or solos that my guitar heroes could. That was more like learning a language.
This was a process where you made something happen that didn’t exist before. I made sure to try and keep my stuff fresh and not copy the same chords and motifs of my influences. I would purposefully avoid the common chord changes. I found my own set of harmonies that made me happy.
Along the way my sensibilities have changed, and the sound of my originals have changed. To an outsider, maybe it seems radical. To my close friends and observant fans maybe not so much. It’s hard for me to really know how others perceive my music. I write songs that pass my own tests of originality and quality. (Not everything passes…)
Sometimes the muse is strong. Sometimes I am on a roll, and everything I come up with gets made into songs and recorded. On my first solo CD, Left For Dead, I used every song I wrote for the album. There were no other tracks. My second effort, Deep Deep Blue was much the same. I self-edited early in the process and didn’t allow and sub-standard material to be recorded. Screaming In The Wind had one song that I recorded that didn’t cut the mustard at the end of the day.
When I started working on my latest album, Skin and Bones, I was growing tired of working out all the songs beforehand. So I collected a bunch of raw ideas, all of which were recorded on my iPhone’s Voice Memo app, and brought in my bassist and drummer to work out the new songs on the fly. Things changed drastically: we recorded 20 songs and ended up using only 11.
This change in the process was really quite refreshing. Not only did the songs feel more inspired and raw, but the tempos were faster and more of them have been added to my live set list as a result. I think that was the consequence of trying to not only satisfy my own criteria for good material, but also to keep my rhythm section interested and engaged. It gives the CD a different feel than the previous ones. Not necessarily better, but different. That makes me happy. I need to keep moving forward to keep things fresh.
I just listened to David Bowie’s new album Blackstar. You can tell he wants to keep things fresh for himself, changing the way he writes and delivers his songs. One may criticize him for not writing more accessible material. “Hey man! Why don’t you write something like Ziggy Stardust again?” But for him that would be stale. I get it. I like the production on the new album; there are less overdubs and effects than the last few albums. The song Lazarus is excellent!
(Note: I wrote this blog on Friday, January 15th the night before we all learned of David Bowie’s death)