Earlier in the week, I invited myself over to my friend Rob’s place to go on a recording binge. Rob has helped in some way on every single song I’ve written for the Write-a-Thon this year. Naturally, since he’s also a multitalented local musician (who I happen to work with), it made perfect sense to go on a music-writing binge this weekend, especially considering the next two weekends are booked solid with family vacation-related things.
We were supposed to start at 10, but I woke up late and he woke up late and needed extra time to clean up his house, so I wound up sitting in a coffeeshop writing the lyrics for the first song (which only had a very basic chord structure at that point). I got to his place at 12 and we spent the next seven hours writing and recording three songs.
The first song was for another coworker (who lives in New York state). It’s currently having another track laid down on top of it by one of my former partners in musical crime, Stephan (who some of you may remember as being part of the Basic Milk Hotel project, where we did a few street performances of all of Neutral Milk Hotel’s In the Aeroplane Over the Sea with guitar, mandolin, accordion and trumpet back in 2007). I’m not gonna write more about this song, since it’s unfinished and its story will come when I can post it.
After we finished that one, there was nothing else that was done. There was one cover song, so the lyrics were already done, but we had to write the chords and the melody. This one was requested by Eric who wanted a ukulele cover of MC Luscious’ Boom I Got Your Boyfriend:
I wandered around the backyard, singing to myself until I found a melody that would work, then fiddled around with the uke for a bit before I found a chord progression I liked, then laid down the chords and the vocals in one take (fuck yeah). Rob cheesed it up a bit by adding some sounds from the hip hop drum kit in GarageBand and some ridiculous backing vocals and BOOM. It was done.
Boom I Got Your Boyfriend (permalink here):
We were fucking dancing on the final playback. So much fun, I can’t even tell you.
It was maybe 4 o’clock by now and we were both kind of tired and hungry, but we wanted to do one more, but none of the others had lyrics or chords yet – they were still just ideas. I had never written a song from scratch with someone else before. We wound up picking the song requested by my friend Kendra, who wanted a song on the banjo about her dog Ginger and a platypus (because she friggin’ loves platypuses (Kendra, not Ginger)), and oh, by the way, Ginger has a secret dream of becoming an astronaut.
While Rob was laying down the percussion track on BOOM I grabbed my pen and started writing. I knew I wanted to have Ginger crash land on an alien planet that’s populated by Marsupials and, after making a quick list of marsupials to draw puns from later and writing the first two versus, I got stuck. So I picked up the banjo and started picking out a chord progression I liked to see if I could find a melody and rhythm for the lyrics that would at least give the rest of the song some structure I could write around. The song was in G. Note to self: sometimes it’s not the best idea to start a chord progression with the V chord, since you run into a LOT of chord progression problems down the line.
Once Rob was done, we set to work on this one. Rob started doing triage on the chord progression and we found a rhythm that worked, and what the pre-chorus would be and the heart of the fucking song came out when Rob mis-spoke and said, “platypee”, which is where platypeople came from and it made the song so simple to finish since now it had a plot (albeit a borrowed one). He wrote a neat chord progression on the guitar for the pre-chorus and chorus, so we laid that one down first, then the vocals and the banjo track. Rob added some drums and a bassline and we were fucking done for the day.
Planet of the Platypeople (permalink here):
Seven hours later, we had written three songs and I couldn’t help be reminded of the lessons I learned from watching 8 in 8. Songwriting doesn’t have to be difficult and collaboration helps cut through the bullshit in your head. And the more you do it, like any art, the easier it gets. And if you’re not good enough at certain aspects of your art, practice until you are, whether it’s forcing your fingers to make an unfamiliar chord until you can do it in your sleep, or writing millions of words until your voice comes through loud and strong.
I’m on a songwriting break for the next week or so to focus on some writing/revising. But I’ve written five songs in the past three weeks, two new short stories, and I’ve send two out to publications.
All in all not a bad Write-a-Thon this year.
And if you’re on the fence about donating, there are only three weeks left. I strongly urge you to consider, even if it’s only $5. I really want to make this album happen – as I’ve discovered it’s one of those things on my bucket list that I didn’t even know was on there. And I only have $100 to go. On top of that, you’d be donating to an awesome cause (ensuring that you’re gonna get some really kick ass fiction by some really kick ass writers in the future). As always, you can donate here.
And as always, give yourself permission to make something today. And remember, even if you think it’s awful, finish it. Because when you’re done, you’ll be one step closer to making something you love.