“Music Self-Played Is Happiness Self-Made” and More Thoughts on Songwriting

You’d think in the 13 (or 14?) years I’ve been playing music, I’d have written an entire song by myself. The fact is I hadn’t. I’ve written lyrics here, put together a chord progression there, maybe even came up with a hook. In most cases, I’d come up a chorus vocal line and some chords or a bass & guitar rhythm riddim and then worked with a bandmate to build it out into an entire song. This wasn’t a problem I liked it that way. In fact, I really enjoyed  writing music with other people. I was always happiest with the material that was the result of the most collaboration.

However, I realized that it was something I wanted to do for myself. It actually started with wanting to perform solo, something I’ve still only done maybe twice. Back in 2011, I was a part of a salon group where I had that opportunity. And of course I decided I should be performing a song I wrote myself as well. I pulled together lyrics, a vocal melody, some chord progressions, and arranged it all into a solo acoustic ska song called “I’ll Never Listen.” I performed it once in 2011 and the back to the notebook because it didn’t really fit with either of the bands I was playing with at the time.

In November of 2012, I had gotten settled in Boston and jamming with a former bandmate in the hopes of putting a new band together. We needed material to get the ball rolling so I pulled out “I’ll Never Listen” which I thought fit with the direction we were heading. After the prerequisite jamming and fiddling around, I worked out a horn hook and a final arrangement. We demoed this tune last summer:

Let’s be clear, I could not have done this alone. But, the lyrics were my idea, the vocal melody was my idea, you get the hint. Did I write every single beat and every single note? No. I couldn’t have. And because of my bandmates, the song has grown even more since we recorded this demo. That doesn’t in any way lessen the sense of accomplishment I derive from listening to this song. (Yes, Virginia, it’s okay to listen to your own music.)

Even better was the sense of confidence that came with it. That same salon I mentioned earlier inspired me to write a song after I had left. Similarly, I had some chords and vocals, but once I had The New Limits, I found the creative energy to finish it. The song is called “Bye Happened (How Many Times)” here we are performing it at The Middle East Upstairs in Cambridge (I’m hidden at the other side of the stage):

Like most things in life, a big chunk of the challenge here was just confidence. I’m not out to record a solo record any time soon and I still prefer collaborating on the songwriting process. It’s just nice to know I can do it.

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