Question #6: My creative process.
Hello -- I thought it would be nice to answer some of your questions as we countdown the final six days of the Kickstarter for Black Tape For A Blue Girl's To touch the milky way. Right now as I write this, there are 170 backers and we're 70% to the $12,000 goal. Kickstarter is an all or nothing crowdfunding platform. Your support is what's going to make this album possible. Please contribute if you can.
Today's question is from Carlos, in Mexico City:
Sam, how does your creative process works? Do you start from a solid concept or abstraction (life, death, love, etc.) and start developing music and lyrics from there? Or is the other way around: you find ‘clues’ in your daily life and these clues take form into a cohesive album as you write and compose? Or is something completely different...
Hi Carlos. I start with the music. Generally I go into to the studio without an idea of what I’m going to work on, or maybe there’s a little bit of an idea like, “try something with the piano sound” or “try something with a sequencer.” Then I start putting together whatever comes to me, whatever sound interesting at the moment. Once I’m back in the swing of making music for an album, I am fortunate that I can start an interesting song almost every time I go into my studio. [ That leads to the question of why I don’t go into the studio more often? Why do I procrastinate so much? Why don’t I make more music? But that’s a different question, isn't it? ]
Sometimes when I'm in the studio and a song is coming together, it’s immediately clear what it should be about, such as a new one like “In my memories,” on To touch the milky way (a bit of this song is in the video on the main Kickstarter page from 1:25 - 2:00, when you see Mercy in the pool.) The ideas were spinning in my thoughts as I finished the music, and I immediately started improvising lyrics and recording guide vocals. I think my musical idea, when starting that song, was "Make something like 'Love will tear us together,'" (a mashup that Malcolm McClaren made of "Love will tear us apart" by Joy Division, and the Captain & Tennille's "Love will keep us together." A lot of the music seems to be McClaren.) My song is nothing like this, but it was the idea that went through my head as I began working.
Sometimes I come up with interesting music that doesn't really have an obvious emotion or lyrical theme, and it takes me quite a while to figure out what the song might be about. In this process, there are some songs that I just cannot figure out, they get moved into a folder to check back in on later, to see if they are something I might be able to finish. That’s what happened with “Knock three times,” which was begun during The Scavenger Bride but ended up getting completed for Halo Star. I also have a number of songs from the 10 Neurotics era that are all ready, except for lyrics and a melodic instrument. Someday I'll figure out what they are saying to me. "The cabin" was another one that got started, and then waited around for years, until the words finally came to me.
As more songs are in the “keeper” folder, and there is more coherence to what I think will become “the album,” I get an idea of the concept. In so far as I start to look at what connects the songs together. I listen to them, and try out different track orders, and that helps me see where the holes are, and what other songs I want to write to flesh out the ideas I’m working on.
I think this means "these clues take form into a cohesive album as you write and compose" is probably the more accurate answer, from your suggestions.
Now that I think about it, the creative process changes over the course of the album. In the beginning, it’s a process of unknown discovery, and in the end it’s a mix of unknown with trying to achieve certain goals. Trying to reach certain marks for where I’d like the album to flow.
Usually, there’s one song that doesn’t want to be written, and I struggle with lyrics for ages. “Does anything remain?” had around 30 different attempts to write the lyrics. Slowly, I figured out what it was about. I am really happy with the end result, and Dani's performance. Generally, the vocalists come into the process near the end, when I’ve had time to live with the lyrics and melodies, and I've made sure what I give them to record is my final version. I don’t want to waste their time, recording things that I don’t think will be used. Michael lives in Phoenix, and Dani lives in Miami. It’s not like they can just pop by any given afternoon and lay down a song. Shadow is here in Portland, which does make it easier to get them involved along the way. It would be very cool to have all of the band members in town. But unfortunately, that’s not the case. Someday, we'll all be in the same place at the same time.
Thanks for asking, Carlos.