Q – Have you ever had to record up against a strict and looming deadline? And if so how did you react – were you inspired or traumatised? Are there any songs that you’ve cranked out at the eleventh hour to make up the numbers??
A – Well, it certainly isn’t fun writing to a deadline, but sometimes it seems that it is the only way to get a song finished. I see absolutely no correlation in my work between methodology in the writing and the finished item. Verse two of Are You Ready To Be Heartbroken? was written in the studio. And I may have used this example before, but when I was making the album which didn’t come out in 1996 (much of which became Etc) I just couldn’t get the lyric to what I thought was the strongest tune written. I had a strong idea of what I wanted to do with the song and I didn’t complete the lyric until very late in the mixing process at MasterRock in Kilburn. When the album was finished I couldn’t listen to the song – Another Lover. I felt like a jingle writer. When Etc finally came together, almost four years later I realised that it was one of my very best lyrics (I don’t really like to judge my own work but it is certainly my favourite from those sessions).
Regarding making up the numbers, a song can always be left off an album, and I have given up on many, many ideas… but there are occasions when a song, or a song idea seems integral to the album, or would be album. Another Lover was certainly one of those, and this year Writers Retreat! was another. I don’t know if I’ll make another album that this tune would fit on, so I felt like I had to finish it. Plus, the balance of the album would have been shifted further toward the mellow without it… so I did the same thing – I worked at it for hundreds of hours and only completed, what must have been draft twenty, on the eighth day of mixing. Obviously this wasn’t enjoyable, but by now I know myself well enough to know that this means nothing pertaining to the quality of the song. I sent the album to some folk who’s opinion I respect and Writers Retreat! was singled out as a favourite by more than a few…
Having said all that – never again! The experience with Another Lover, and the feeling that I was writing songs to make albums, rather than making albums BECAUSE I write songs, certainly contributed to my decision in the early 00’s to basically give up writing songs. Which, clearly I didn’t do, but I did go for a few years working only on the ideas which wouldn’t leave my head. Never sitting down at the piano hoping for some magic to fly out of who knows where. The songs on Music in a Foreign Language were all written this way, more or less, and maybe that’s why I’m overly fond of it.