There are a few items you will always find on my bed. Notebooks, books I am reading (currently there are six) and pens. I am a compulsive note taker. I have stopped people in mid-sentence and asked them to ‘stop talking and hold that thought please’ so I can jot down the words in my books. Very often I leave the notebooks alone until I sit down to write music.
It’s always the melody that finds me first, as soon as I play a progression of chords that feels right. Then a word will emerge from the garbled melody to signal the beginning of my songwriting process. That’s when I reach for my notebooks and all the words I jotted down come in handy. Obviously many smoke breaks are needed and a long discussion and sometimes arguments with myself, of course, where I debate who these characters are I am writing about. Yes, very often I can see these people I just conjured up very clearly. In that second they are startlingly alive and it is my job, no obligation, to share their deepest motivations or the downright fuckery they are about to commit!
This process works very well most of the time. It is fun and time consuming, sure. Also, I am rather incapable of holding on to a serious conversation while I can see these characters and hear a bassline, the drums and feel the atmosphere the band is creating. Just the other day My Mexican went to extraordinary lengths to explain the Spanish civil wars, all of this on a text. I translated his words dutifully, but my head was littered with a tango melody at that exact second. So while I was listening and appreciating the way he swings words together (Spanish is a very lyrical language), I was paying attention to the music within the words he was using more. He explained and all I heard was music, lyrics I can write and a full-blown musical scene unfolding. I did apologize and explain my musical brain was in charge. He laughed and understood. Also, he is deeply aware that I steal his words and fashion them into something other when I write music.
The only other time composing music works differently is when it comes to me like a download. I will instantly know the feel, the lyrics, and melody. This does not happen often but it a lot of fun also. I do my best to replicate what I heard. And very often those songs, and this is where it becomes spooky, give me an indication of what is to happen in my life. Yes, that’s when music becomes a bit dangerous. Teetering on the brink of someplace I only access when I dream.
Speaking of dreams, those give me great ideas for visuals or storylines in the music itself. My dreams have taught me so much! Before I stepped on stage the first time I dreamt I was being taught. I woke up feeling refreshed and so rejuvenated. I just attended a master class filled with vocal coaches all eager to teach me! My dreams also give me clues as to what will unfold in my life. For example, a few months before I even applied for the international cultural exchange program I dreamt I was standing next to someone who spoke French. In the dream, I was so excited to be in a foreign country. ‘I can’t believe I am here,’ I exclaimed. Then he looked at me, pointed to a boat and said, ‘I thought it would look great with your name on it…’ I am dating someone who lives in France and has bombed the walls of Madrid, my name being visible for everyone to see.
I mention this only because it matters paying attention to one’s inner life. The realm of dreams, fantasies; that imaginal realm where the impossible seemingly exists. Not only have my dreams taught me, guided me but it has given me clear directions as to what and who I need to work with. Yes, Ben Harper features prominently in these dreams but usually when I am about to shift in some meaningful way.
About the books, I read, I read for words. I read to understand the motivation. I read for small gems I jot down and mash up. Recently I read the lyrics of a song to my father. ‘Well, that’s rather deep…’ He said. And I could point to various things and say, ‘well, that line refers to an Africa proverb I really liked. I mashed it up. That words or the idea behind how I constructed that sentence came from a conversation I had and this bit comes from a character in a book…’ In other words, I fuse my inner and outer world in order to write music. It matters above all that what I write feels true, or sincere and I can see in my mind’s eye who and why I am writing the song.
It helps that the people in my life know how my brain works. Not only as a songwriter and musical storyteller but as a human being. And it matters even more that I reciprocate accordingly. It just makes everything flow with greater ease. Of course, when someone pisses me off I will find a colorful way to ‘off’ them if you catch my drift. I am a Scorpio after all. Yet I have learned that the best place my very sharp tongue comes in handy is in music. That way I do not carry around or within me excess emotion; things left unexpressed.
After all, that’s one of the things makes people sick and act out. All the words they could not say…