Tuesday, May 31, 2011

How long does it take to write a song? Apparently forever. I was just reading over an old blog post* I wrote more than a year ago about a song I was writing at the time. I'd written a chorus but the verses went a bit haywire so I shelved it. Then recently I started again and so now more than a year later I think it's finished. More than a year for 16 lines of lyrics, 12 chords, two verses and a chorus.

Something so precious
Hurts to even think about it
Something so delicate
You're scared to say it's name
It's your private little shame you carry with you
Like a dead mouse in your pocket

You leave me gifts
Like the dead song birds my cat leaves at my window
You leave them under my pillow

'It could decorate my life'
'It won't satisfy you'
'Oh but I'll wear it like an earring,
Frida Kahlo's delight. Oh so fine'
'It's just a trinket on a line'

*Here's the original blog post from a year ago:

I was writing a song (working title: 'a conversation between two fish watching a spinner go by'...I'll come up with something catchier eventually) and I think I may have inadvertently written something that makes absolutely no sense, probably not that uncommon for singer songwriters. I thought that I'd heard a myth once that pirates wore earrings so that if they died at sea they could pay the god of the sea to allow them into heaven. I assumed the sea god was neptune but I could be a few thousand years off on that one. I've been googling it for a while now and it turns out I must've made that up out of thin air because apparently pirates wore earrings to a)improve their hearing(!?) b) ward off seasickness (!?!) c) pay for their funeral should they die at sea. So here's a nonsensical verse for
'A Conversation Between Two Fish Watching a Spinner Go By':

"It could decorate my life"
"Would that satisfy you? You'd wear it like an earring"
"Oh I'd be Neptune's delight"
"Close to divine, all for a trinket on a line"

Friday, May 20, 2011

I've gotten into reading biographies lately, especially musicians biographies so I thought I'd share a few of my favourites, got any recommendations let me know.

Kate Bush Under the Ivy.
There's a hell of a lot more to Kate Bush than Wuthering Heights but if you didn't already know that then this book might not be for you. A great peek into her recording process and her influences. Read this with your computer open in front of you so that you can look up every song and video as you read about it for the complete Kate Bush experience.

Louis Armstrong An Extraordinary Life
This one was recommended to me by a tutor in college during a lecture but don't let that put you off, even if you couldn't care less about jazz and you've never heard of Louis Armstrong (well that's pretty unlikely to be fair) this is still a great read and a really interesting look at American cultural history and the birth of Network Broadcasting. Also Louis Armstrong is as entertaining to read about as he is to listen to, he's a godam hilarious character.

Tom Waits Innocent When You Dream
Ok technically not a biography this is a collection of interviews with Tom Waits all done by the same reporter* spread out over a few years. I read this forever ago and I can't remember anything about it except that I loved it......sure I should review books for a living with those kinds of amazing reporting skills.

*just updating because I realised I was wrong, the interviews weren't all done by the same reporter. Oops.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Usually when people ask me who my influences are I prattle off a list that goes something like: Joni Mitchell, Ani DiFranco, Tori Amos...etc. and it's not a lie BUT a big part of the reason I list those names is also because I know they are names people will recognise and relate to. The names I don't mention but which probably have just as much influence on my music are my peers. Dublin has a great music scene but it's not exactly huge, we might all like to think we're unique little butterflies but the reality is more like we're a bunch of tightly packed molecules bouncing back and forth off each other (and I'm not just talking musically...I couldn't help it that sentence was too aptly rife with innuendo to ignore).

So today I thought I'd take a break from talking about myself and instead ask someone else some questions for a change. Edel Meade is a Dublin based genre-spanning jazz vocalist and composer who I've had the pleasure of seeing perform a few times with her group the Swoo-Beh Project. She's got absolute stellar song writing and arranging skills and her gigs are literally inspirational (the word literally is often misused to mean the exact opposite, I'm not doing that here, last time I saw her sing I was literally inspired to go home and start writing a new tune). So here we go:

How do you feel about singing very personal lyrics? 'Sideways' is like eavesdropping on a really intimate conversation.

For me, it’s got to be real. With 'Sideways”, I just wanted to capture a beautiful moment and this song kind-of wrote itself. The act of composing is intimate anyway so when I was writing this song, I wasn’t thinking about who would be listening to it.

Similarly with ‘Love Lost’, it comes from a very personal experience but I believe music and real life are intertwined.
For me, music is life. When I’m singing ‘Lush Life’ (by Billy Strayhorn), for example, I might substitute the word “mush” for “shit” because I don’t use the word “mush” ever in conversation.

I guess my lyrics reflect on my life as a twenty-something year old female growing up in Dublin today. I’m aware of the fact that my days are numbered so I don’t have time for dishonesty. The world is saturated with forgettable melodies and uninspired lyrics. It doesn’t need anymore from me or anyone else but there will always be a place for truth and honesty. That’s what will engage a listener and draw someone in.

But not all my lyrics are personal. ‘Blue Fantasia’ is part real, part fantasy. The lyrics for the hook in ‘Eleven Eleven (Dream Machine)’ AKA ‘the radio song’ are deliberately lacking in depth to reflect the vast majority of “hits” on the radio. “Our love is here to stay, it’s gonna last forever. Will never go away”. The next line- “We tell you what to do and you do what we tell you. No matter if it’s true”, is the same catchy melody as before but “we” refers to the mass media telling us what to do, what we should look like, what products we can’t live without, the events we should attend etc etc because I think it’s easy to forget that we have a choice in the matter.

The first time I heard you do 'Eleven Eleven (Dream Machine)', it sounded like the excerpts, or samples, you took from the radio were thematically chosen, but then last time I heard you sing it I realised the excerpts must have been updated that day (because there was mention of the census). So tell us a bit about it? How did you decide which excerpts to use?

At the start of the tune, we’ll hear snippets from what’s on the radio at that particular moment. It could be anything at all from traditional Irish music on Raidió na Gaeltachta, to an ad promoting Plenty kitchen roll to the public service announcements. This is followed by a distorted guitar melody and general chaos inspired by Jimi Hendrix’ rendition of Star Spangled Banner at Woodstock in 1969, to draw your attention to how the mass media, in this case, the radio presents such mixed messages to an impressionable audience. It’s a metaphorical warning!

I update the news bulletins and songs every time we play this tune which means on the day of a performance, I’ll turn on the radio and hear random snippets of news stories, “hits”, jingles etc which I’ll record on Garageband in order to accurately transcribe them later.

We hear serious news bulletins telling us about for example, the death of a 25-year-old who was killed when a bomb exploded under his car but then when you turn the dial, you could hear Travie McCoy singing “I wanna be a billionaire so fricking bad” or Rihanna’s ‘S&M’. Then you might hear some DJ with his phony radio voice telling you to text to win tickets to Westlife’s Croke Part concert with support from Jedward and JLS as if that’s important! And then you turn the dial to hear an ad aimed at women telling them they will wake up feeling young, fresh and fabulous if they use the Daily Energiser range from Clarins... Who is to say that they are not fabulous already and why is youth portrayed as being better than middle-age? While the exact content varies every time we play this song, the overall result is the same. Let the listener beware!

When I heard it first I thought the excerpts were chosen to illustrate a feminist statement because the subtext of it all was so sexist, but I guess the the fact that they're chosen at random just goes to show how prevalent sexism is in the media. I'm completely with you on this one, it really bothers me sometimes when I hear the poison people are fed through radio, like the song you mentioned 'Billionaire' or my other big bugbear is 'Cooler Than Me'. You're bombarded with it constantly to the point where you can find yourself mindlessly singing along with some of the most unethical sentiments. Ok moving from the bad to the good: Who's your favourite lyricist?

I don’t have a singular favourite but I love Bob Dylan, Joni Mitchell, Jill Scott and Erykah Badu.

It’s their honesty. Whether it’s related to matters of the heart or the hypocrisy of the times we live in, these lyricists stand out. Bob Dylan’s ‘Freewheelin’ album is a particular favourite and Joni’s got so many great songs. She just says it like it is. Jill Scott is a poet and her themes are pretty sexually explicit but it’s got to be like that if you’re talking about sex. We’ve come a long way since “I Want To Hold Your Hand”. Erykah Badu’s lyrics on her New Amerykah Part One and Part Two albums are genius. She addresses the current state of Black America, the hypocrisy of “the American dream” and I love how she never shies away from controversy and stays true to her beliefs. I am in awe of this lady as an artist.

I couldn't disagree more about Bob Dylan, I can't stand him but that discussion will take a whole other blog post. You've got me listening to Erykah Badu for the first time in years (my sister bought her first album 'Baduizm' when I was eleven and I was obsessed). Jill Scott's next on my list.

If you'd like to see Edel live, then you're in luck because she will be playing a number of gigs with her Swoo-Beh Project in June:

7th June 8PM LAUNCH NIGHT The Jazz Kitchen at The Grand Social Also playing: ZoiBand! €5 suggested contribution

19th June 5.30PM Zinc Club at Pacino's Cellar Bar €8/6

21st June 8PM The Jazz Kitchen at The Grand Social
Also playing: O.K.O.D.O.M.G. €5 suggested contribution

30th June 8.30PM National Concert Hall (Kevin Barry Room)

Edel Meade - voice/radio/compositions
Chris Guilfoyle - guitar
Darragh O'Kelly - rhodes/piano
Andrew Csibi - double bass
Tommy Gray - drums

Also Edel is running a brand new Jazz night in Dublin starting on 7th June in The Grand Social (formerly Pravda), 35 Lower Liffey Street near the Ha'penny Bridge. It starts at 8pm and will feature the brightest emerging talent on the Irish jazz scene!


In her own words:'The reason I'm doing this is because I see it is an absolute necessity for the jazz community and creative musicians in Ireland to have a designated venue where they can perform their music. We have a gorgeous and spacious room and two fantastic bands every Tuesday night and all for a fiver, so I really hope people will come out and support creative music and get involved. It's gonna be great!'