Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Song Writing Sessions and Lessons Learned

I knew I was going to get lost. I scribbled down directions to Tim's house on one of the last pages in a fluffy chick-lit book I'm reading. The other day Nick chastised me about my literature choice, "You used to read all these great novels like The Fountainhead and 100 Years of Solitude on tour, and now you listen to Dr. Laura instead of music and read this junk instead of Ayn Rand. What happened?!" Well, I really can't explain how the substance of my choice in entertainment has dramatically dropped. I blame it on the heat and the Texas drought. When I see rain in Texas, then I'll pick up a book that is too mentally challenging for me to sneak paragraphs from and drive at the same time.

Dia asked if Tim (Plain White Tee's guitarist) and I would submit a song for her new record. Tim arranged for two other song-writers/musicians to be in on the fun. I had never been as far west in Austin until yesterday, driving out to Tim's house. I live in the south west area where there are a lot of apartments. The only other places in Austin I frequent are "downtown"= bars, bbq, condos, and South Congress = bars, bbq, really old houses. So, I've always wondered where the "suburbs" are, or where the really rich people live. 

I found out yesterday. 

Driving into the area was just insane. All of a sudden I found myself driving down a street in which these ginormous grandfather trees spread their spindly fingers and arms over my car from both sides. I later told Tim, I felt like I was driving straight into one of those old rich towns in Southern Georgia. Then I actually saw front yards with lawns in them. Imagine that! Huge colonials next to sleek modern mansions. The real mind -blowing part came when I actually found Tim's house and saw his view. His house is parked directly in front of a lake. He can just throw his kayak over his shoulder and start moseying down the river with his guitar and a six pack. Trade me please!

He showed me around his charming and immaculately clean bachelor pad. He would try to say things like, "And this is the kitchen. This is where my roommates stay…" But it was difficult to hear his voice through my constant squealing, "Don't you just get so inspired to write out here! If I lived here my songs would sound incredible! Ah!" And so on and so forth.

The writing session went quite well considering. I started out the session saying things like, "No, Dia wouldn't like lyrics like that. That sounds way too bitchy. Don't you guys remember her from the show? How sweet she looked and everything?" They would murmur and nod, until finally the veteran of the group said, "Now look. I've found that if you try to write a song for somebody and write from their perspective it won't turn out good. You have to write the best song you can, and then give it to them, and that's all you can do." He shrugged his shoulders, and I had to silently agree with him.

From there, things went splendid. We came up with an extremely catchy chorus, a pretty awesome pre-chorus, chorus lyrics that I was happy with. Over all I'd say it was a pretty decent experience. Much more productive then these sessions normally are. 

But I couldn't help thinking that really good songs and music don't happen like this. During our dinner conversation, Arcade Fire's "Neon Bible" kept being touted as one of the greatest records out there at the moment. I haven't listened to the whole thing honestly. But I know that that record wasn't written with a group of four different song writers collaborating and going in four separate directions and yet trying to arrive at the same place.

 I always think of Michelangelo and how differently the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel would have looked if there were 6 or 7 collaborators scattered underneath him, shouting up at him and guffawing while the work was in progress. "No Michelangelo, I just don't think that color matches the robe of Aphrodite on that 2nd panel!" and then the next person exclaiming, "Well, in my opinion I think it really demonstrates what the artist was trying to portray with that scenery with those blue clouds over on the east side". So then Michelangolo timidly paints a thin line and then tentatively winces and peeks over his shoulder to hear the opinions of yet another dude. 

I'm no Michelangelo, I am most clearly a Meg. There is a time and place for collaboration, like when I'm trying on a new dress and I want to know if it makes my butt look fat. In that situation, yes please, bring out my gang of girlfriends so we can squabble over our opinions on that point. But when it comes to art, just let the man work in peace.


  1. I've always loved how collaborating with professional songwriters has never been your band's thing. The "real" and "genuine" aspects of your music are better able to shine through with that sort of philosophy. We M&D fans also appreciate it a lot. And I completely agree that the best and most heartfelt songs just don't happen that way.

  2. Hi, I'm a Kenny and this blog post makes me happy.

  3. That reminds me of a phrase that my mom says a lot:

    "Trop de cuisiniers dans la cuisine ruinent la sauce."

    My mom's French. It means "too many cooks in the kitchen ruins the sauce." I think that applies well to your collaboration situation ha ha.