My Own Wee Mission is over! I have three demos recorded, I’m about to send them off (And maybe put them up on here so it’s officially complete on my blog as well!) For the sake of closure and to bring the project to an end, I’d like to give a project overview and some final reflections.
Concepts and Styles
I did not begin this project with a clear idea of what I wanted to write about – for me it was more important to explore songwriting as a whole rather than examine specific ideas or concepts through creating music. This may come across as an unconventional approach, and I will admit it made the process quite difficult at times, but I’m glad I gave myself a lot of scope to explore.
The ideas for the songs I wrote came from media I was interested in at the time of writing – with the exception of The Cold, which I wrote while I had a cold and felt grumpy about it. (It could be worse – I was watching a horror movie called Twisted Nerve at the time, and that would have been a much weirder song!)
Odie came from the Channel 4 show Humans. The show takes place in an alternate modern-day Britain where people buy and interact with ‘synths’, or ‘synthetic humans’. One of the subplots of the show involves an old man named George and his synth companion Odie. George has dementia and requires constant care, which Odie is supposed to provide. However, the synth is an old model and continually breaks down, meaning George has to repair and look after him – the two are a dysfunctional but endearing pair, and one serves as a metaphor for the other. Though Odie is a synth, the pair have a very close, familial relationship; George acts like Odies father, even sometimes referring to him as ‘son’. When Odie is threatened with being scrapped and replaced, George begins to hide him when people visit. When the local authority do eventually replace Odie, George drives away with him, saying that the pair will be safe together.
I was interested in writing a song about the two from Georges point of view – throughout the show George shows great affection for Odie, but he rarely says anything to that effect (This is both because it wouldn’t gel well with the pace of the story of the show, and because it would be taboo for George to feel affection for what everyone around him sees as his machine). I was careful to write the song as, no pun intended, an ode to Odie.
When structuring the song, I decided the song should have an open end – at the end of the song, the pair are leaving together and it is unknown how they will fare, but the tone is positive and light. George also reassures Odie that he won’t let him go and that he loves him.
In this song I added a bridge after the second chorus as opposed to a final verse. This was to increase the urgency in the tone of the song as well as to symbolise the freedom felt when the two run away together. I intentionally ended the song on the bridge rather than conclude with a final chorus or outro because I wanted the fate of the pair to be ambiguous rather than lead the listener to a predictable ending. It is not the future circumstances that the pair face that are important. The song is about their relationship, the oppression they face in their surroundings and the hope George has as they leave their oppressive environment and head for a new life together.
Dead By Dawn
Dead By Dawn is a song based on the Evil Dead franchise. The horror series centres around Ash, an average young man who stumbles across a tape recorder in the basement of an abandoned cabin. When he plays the tape, which contains readings from an ancient book called the Necronomicon, he unknowingly summons a horde of Kandarian demons, malicious creatures that wreak havoc wherever they go. Said demons taunt and terrorise Ash, and he must do everything he can to keep himself – and often his companions – safe and alive. The song itself is not from Ashs point of view – he has a very specific set of mannerisms and speech patterns that I think would sound parodic or over the top and wouldn’t fit my intentions for the song. Instead, I chose to write from the point of view of an unknown protagonist – though the use of the word ‘wee’ assumes that the protagonist is Scottish.
The song itself is a loose tribute to the series – no specific terminology from the series is used, with the exception of the songs title ‘Dead By Dawn’ which is a recurring line. I wanted to take some key factors of the series – the cabin and the feeling of unclear but imminent threat – to create a darker, more horrific feel to the song. In order to do this I was very careful about word choice. I made sure to make the protagonist feel vulnerable, using words such as ‘helpless’ and ‘defenceless’ and the fact that the protagonist is hiding ‘under the bed’. I intentionally left the circumstances that lead to the events of the song vague – this was to allow the imagination of the audience to fill in the blanks, and also to prevent the song from becoming a cheap gore-fest. The atmosphere and the emotions of the protagonist felt more important while I wrote it. It also did not feel important to contain any specific references to the series that inspired the song; I did not set out to write an out and out tribute, instead looking for inspiration from the series. For this song I followed a very traditional verse-chorus structure, with two verses and two choruses. This structure felt like a solid foundation for the tense, claustrophobic feel of the story.
‘The Cold’ came about at a point where I had a lot of time to work on the project. It was born out of frustration – the day before I wrote The Cold I felt very motivated and was looking forward to getting some ideas started and playing with melody and music. Then I woke up with a cold and was very much not fit to work on melody. Instead, I decided to use my frustration to create a new song. It was an attempt at humour, and I think it’s kind of an acquired taste.
I will admit this is the song that has the least amount of thought behind it – it is a very straightforward song about having a cold and feeling terrible about it. The performance and recording took a little more thought – I didn’t have a cold anymore by the time I recorded it, but I didn’t want to sound well. There’s no point in singing about having a cold if you sound totally fine. However, I didn’t want to sound like I was totally dying either – that would just be a horrible sounding thing. So I aimed for a happy medium, staying in tune but adding a bit of a gruff, scratchy quality to my voice – this made the ‘oh-oh-oh’ part of the chorus less cheesy. I also kept this song at a slightly slower tempo than my other songs to give it a sluggish feel.
Before the writing process began, I cited two influences – They Might Be Giants and Oingo Boingo are both bands that I love, and when I listened to them I wanted to make music. In retrospect, these two are less actual musical influences than just groups that got me into writing music in the first place. I don’t sound anything like them and I don’t write in the same way. While I was writing and trying to think of some ideas, I found a number of different influences that honestly surprised me, and some of them I didn’t even notice were influences until I listened back to my work.
I ended up exploring a genre in Dead By Dawn that I’ve never attempted to write in – emo. When I was in high school I used to be really interested in the dark tones of the genre, and I do occasionally listen to emo music, but this was not something I consciously set out to emulate during this project. However, Dead By Dawn is arguably an emo song. It contains a lot of the tropes that I associate with the genre – dark settings, paranormal activity, the exploration of a negative emotion (In this case fear) and a minor key. It’s interesting, because when I set out to write the song I was thinking about much grander genres of music, like metal, which has similar tones running through it but overall is much more powerful and musically intricate.
Odie could not have had a more opposite influence to Dead by Dawn – while I was writing it I thought of a song from the show Adventure Time called ‘Remember You’. This song also centres around a relationship between two characters, but is much more bittersweet and is in minor rather than major. However, the way the relationship is held in the song inspired me to do the same thing with Odie and George.
The Cold doesn’t have a clear or direct musical influence, but when I was writing it I thought about writing a fun, humorous song. I thought about comedy musicians that I have listened to such as Weird Al Yankovic and Flight of the Conchords – the latter performers are probably closer influences as Weird Al is very specific about his intent when he writes his songs and they tend to be structured incredibly carefully. Flight of the Conchords give a much more relaxed, almost improvised feel to their songs and I think the casual feel to their music is closer to mine.
I listen to a lot of rock music and nerdcore, and I think that this may have affected my style to some extent. The subject matter of my music feels very congruent to these forms – rock music is often either very dark or silly and humerous, and nerdcore is inherently based on other media because of its nerdy nature. This was not something I had consciously considered at all during the process but it seems obvious on reflection that the music you listen to will affect your personal style.
The recordings I have submitted are demo tracks recorded by myself with an acoustic ukulele. This gives my music a relaxed feel that I think works for the nature of this project – though if I were to create full tracks of these songs I think I would consider using other instruments, particularly with Dead By Dawn which could warrant a full band with guitars and a drum kit.
The part that I feel came most naturally to me is the lyrics. I am very comfortable with writing text and it is a large part of my performance practice. I feel that I took care when writing my lyrics to capture the concept in my head as best I could, and I played with different structures to suit different songs.
It was very difficult for me to find chord structures and melodies for each song – I based much of my chord patterns on songs that contained chords I was interested in working with – I found the main chord I wanted to work with (C# for Odie, Bm for Dead…) and then played around with the other chords, changing one or two chords in the structure to make it more my own song. The exception to this was The Cold, in which I used a common C-G-Am-F structure.
The part that I feel I could have improved on was working on the melody. I took a fairly slap-dash approach to this, playing the chord and then singing around the notes until I found a melody that I felt worked with the song and didn’t sound like anything I could instantly recognise. The problem with this is that I feel the melodies are not as carefully considered as the lyrics or the chord structure, and I think that can come across while listening to the songs. I also ran the risk of creating songs that sound like other songs that I either haven’t heard or haven’t remembered, which can be tricky when you’re trying to write original music.
Overall I think that the project was a success. Though I still have to develop a more effective method for creating original and exciting melodies, I think that my practice as a musician has developed over the year. I have learned new techniques for creating songs – both in terms of writing lyrics and finding the chord structure for the song. I learned that it is ok to draw from songs you already know as long as you use them as a starting point and not a complete template for your work.
When I began this process I had no idea how to create music. I had never written a full song and was unsure how to approach the process. It was by no means an easy process, but I feel that I have developed as a musician over the project – I wrote lyrics carefully, I considered the chord structures that would best match the themes and the structure of the words and I found a melody based on these chords. This is a method I developed that I feel works well for me, and I look forward to continuing my songwriting practice and improving my skills further in the future.