Here’s something I’ve been thinking about lately: songwriting and True Will.
Or maybe that’s not the right way to put it. Let me back up a bit. I’ve started pre-production on what I’m hoping will become a new collection of recordings from The Contrarian. Basically, this means sorting through four track snippets, beaming them over to the Pro Tools rig, examining them up close and making some judgment calls about which bits could work in full-fledged songs. It’s also a time to reassess my gear and make improvements/upgrades. (My last release, Northern Lights, suffered from unconvincing drum sounds and a too-crisp master; I’ve solved the first part of that equation.)
So the tools and appliances are there. The songs, not so much.
Let me describe a bit about my process. Typically, I’m a “dive in” kind-of-guy — I pick a thread and start following it, and the next thing I know, there’s an honest-to-goodness song. Not to compare myself to the great artists of antiquity, but it’s a bit like Michelangelo and his marble. There’s a statue under there, you just gotta know where to chisel.
I’ve never been much of a self-contained songwriter. Meaning, unlike some of my talented peers, I rarely sit down with the acoustic or in front of the keyboard and compose from start to finish. Instead, I work in a more modular fashion, letting parts “speak to me.” If I don’t get in my own way (the real difficulty), this allows me to respond with appropriate tweaks and additions. I also tend to arrange as I go, but often the most appealing structures have their own logic, which which doesn’t always reveal itself immediately. In this way, it’s a bit like painting.
The process can be time-consuming and occasionally frustrating, but it plays to my strengths — namely, instrumental competence, melodic/harmonic sense and decent arrangement perception. That is, unless I’m feeling lazy and/or my ideas suck.
Which brings me to the real point of this post.
I’ve started tracking a song based on an acoustic figure in DADGAD tuning. It sounds pretty cool on its own, and I’ve ghosted out a vocal melody that fits well enough. Unfortunately, in the process of fleshing it out, it’s becoming a bit, um, cheesy. You know, like those abhorrent mid-tempo acoustic rock cuts? Now, I’m clever enough to weight things so that what might feel like a fucking Staind song could end up more in T. Rex territory. But wouldn’t I be denying the composition the fulfillment of its True Will? If the music WANTS to be elementary or generic, should I see that through or abandon it to quietly die of neglect?
It’s been said that an individual has a superficial will that isn’t always in accordance with their True Will. The latter can remain obscured unless one undertakes certain methods to make it manifest in one’s activities. The lack of awareness (or unconscious defiance) of one’s True Will can lead to neurosis. Of course, my acting as an artist/producer might be in defiance of my own True Will, making the likelihood of failure much greater. (Maybe I should be a garbageman.) Then again, what constitutes success versus failure in art?
In music, I’d say that success means the piece is complete unto itself, with its various aspects in harmony with one another (even if this harmony is actually cacophony). Just because the song I’m working seems to be pulling itself into aesthetic areas that offend my sensibilities, doesn’t mean it’s not correct in terms of fulfilling its own Nature.
I guess I’m asking for your advice and perspectives. What say you, smart creative people?