We’ve been quiet recently. At least, that’s how it must seem. We haven’t released any new music, we haven’t played any gigs, and we haven’t done anything all that social-media-friendly.
Life has been anything but quiet. The past few months have been a wonderful period of variety, intensity and often insanity. And it all feeds back in the bit you might be interested in - the music.
There’s a pattern in music at the moment. Fixated on scavenging some success within a current trend, many bands or artists are simply rehashing or recreating something already out there. The problem is that by the time a trend is doing well, it’s too late to start, and even if you catch the wave as it starts to rise, it creates watered-down music, boring and quickly forgotten.
We’re more interested in doing something a little interesting, so we’ve been taking in a wider range of music, hoping that it stops ourselves from returning to the same comfortable favourites, exploring something new whenever possible.
Kier had his first pop festival experience at Wireless, and he loved it. I spent two weeks surrounding myself with techno and deep house in Berlin, including a festival just across the border in Poland. In a forest, by a lake, the setting alone made the experience magical, but it was also an education in a style that is doing a lot to push the boundaries of music production.
Then comes the actual “writing” part. One way is to lock yourselves in a room, refusing to leave until you’ve written a load of music. It’s not an approach that works for me, or for Kier. Our attention spans are too short. But it’s been normal practice for most straight-up commercial pop acts for a long time, putting professional writers a room to bash out twenty tracks a week, then choosing one or two to make the album, or pitch the rest to other artists.
If it sounds like I’m being negative, I’m not. The Tamla Motown Hit Factory produced some of the best songs ever written (think My Girl, Heard It Through the Grapevine, Baby Love, Signed, Sealed, Delivered I'm Yours, Ain't No Mountain High Enough). But it’s worth mentioning two things the Motown writers had that are often taken for granted.
The first was The Funk Brothers as a house band, making even simple parts sound spectacular. The second is that the Motown writers like Norman Whitfield, William Stevenson or the Holland–Dozier–Holland team channeled the raw reality of their lives into everything they produced. The resulting songs tell stories with real depth.
Stories. That’s what we’re really interested in. Drawing on real experience to include the little details that make them feel real. For a while I was obsessed with Sometime Around Midnight by the Airborne Toxic Event (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UYPoMjR6-Ao). Combing the sweet of melodrama with pinpoint accuracy sends me right back to being a heartbroken, irresponsible mess. You don’t doubt for a second that the writer felt it, so I feel it too.
It’s summed up neatly in a podcast I love called The Moth, a series of funny, heartbreaking, fascinating and varied stories from international events (https://themoth.org/podcast). But what makes them so special is that they come from the lives of ordinary people and are filled with the little details necessary to make them feel real. Every episode, the host asks us all to “have a story-worthy week”, and that’s exactly what we’ve been doing. It takes time, but it’s worth it.
This is all a long-winded way of saying sorry it’s taking so long. We’re lucky in that we have the luxury of time to do all this living, time to experiment with new sounds, new experiences, then turn what we hear, see, touch, smell and taste into stories that we hope to feel a little real.