Q – I would like to ask you whether you have changed how you go about creating songs now, compared to what you would do when you were just starting to write songs. Are you still aiming for, or experiencing, the same type of ambition and satisfaction? Do you hope to achieve something different now?
Do you approach things any differently from a practical or technical point of view? I’m not sure how to explain what I mean by that, except by giving you a not very good example, such as, maybe you always wrote a melody as a starting point, but now it would be lyrics first. Basically, I just wondered if you have changed anything over the years.
Is the kind of fulfillment, or the amount of satisfaction you get now, different from when you were just starting out?
Also, do you get more satisfaction from writing a song which you love, or which your long-term fans love, or which attracts new fans, or which goes to number one for ten weeks? Or do you hope for different things from different songs? Or do you just write what you feel and wait to see what happens?
When do you tend to write songs? For example, is it when you wake up in the middle of the night with a great idea? Or generally, when you feel inspired, and the ideas just come into your head? Or do you sit down with nothing in particular in mind, and think, I’m going to work on writing a song now?
A – Gosh! Where to start? I think my career as a songwriter can be broken down into distinct periods which begin or end with key moments. Let’s see what we get
Before ‘Are you ready to be Heartbroken?’ I was a wannabe looking for a voice. I believe that I found it with that song and that is still my voice.
1983-84 I was just so excited to be able to do the thing I’d dreamed of doing that any novelty in my life was inspiring. I’d never been on a aeroplane before, I loved flying – I finished 2cv, and I think, Down on Mission Street, in the sky. The most important thing at this time was that I believed I could do it and so did the people around me. I was completely doubt free. I didn’t second guess myself once, which may explain the fact that the same lyric is in Forest Fire and Down on Mission Street… I really didn’t notice. I was too busy with the next song.
Easy Pieces I wrote similarly, but I began to consider my ability and what I might do with it and think I tried to put too much into the songs, and somehow what was fresh a year before sounds mannered at times on these songs.
Mainstream I consciously tried to simplify and I think it works on a few songs, but what was driving me to write at this time? I’m not sure.
Mainstream is best explained juxtaposed with my first years as a solo artist. I wrote more songs in the first year than I’d written in the previous three. There were so many things I wanted to try. It was very much like starting over. I liked the idea of being a rock singer as opposed to a pop singer and I wrote accordingly. In retrospect some of the lyrics seem a little sloppy, or lazily thrown together. I think I was reacting to my image at the bookworm writer ‘Baby you’re too well read.’.
I need to go to bed now. I’ll finish this asap.
Bad Vibes was the only period when I think I overthought things completely – I think I was trying not to write ‘Lloyd Cole’ songs, which was foolish. I blame David Bowie and his constant self reinvention – I think many of my generation felt that his model was the most legitimate, but in retrospect I think it is just the one which appeals most to adolescent boys and maybe we forget to re-evaluate as we get older. I was forced to do this making Love Story, and thanks mainly to Chris Hughes, who was sure that if I just sat down at the piano and played, all would be OK. It seemed too simple, at first, but I think he was right.
Since then I haven’t really changed that much, at least I don’t feel that I have. There have been issues with the whole concept of songwriting and art for art’s sake. In the mid to late ’90’s I felt that my motivations for songwriting were all wrong – basically, I had to write songs to be able to make records which was how I made a living. I decided that this was back to front and surely I should be making records because I had written songs… so I went on strike, or at least I never sat down with the guitar or the piano with a mind to write a song. I just waited to see if I would feel like it, or be ‘inspired’, and eventually I was and so the songs for Music in a Foreign LAnguage were written. I let them come, sometimes they were very slow – I think Late NIght, Early Town took about three years to finish, but I’m happy with all the songs and I’m happy with this process.
On Antidepressant I had a whole bag full of unfinished song ideas, all of which I liked, so I decided to just take them into the studio, so to speak, for a couple of months and see what I could make with them. 18 months later had a record, that is too long. Frankly, I can’t afford to take that much time to make a product that doesn’t generate that much income… but what was I to do? Put it out when I knew it could be better? The problem was a multitasking one – I was able to be an engineer, or a drummer or a guitarist or string arranger – it was just not easy to move quickly form one role to another and so if I had been recording drums all day but had a few hours left, I would try to work on some lyrics – inevitably getting nothing done. I hate the word, but my ‘mindset’ was wrong, I was still in a drumming mindset. I wasn’t able to finish the lyrics until I went on tour in Germany and Austria. Being away from the studio and only thinking about my shows and the songs I was writing I was able, quite easily, to finish the them. When I returned, completing the record was a much simpler prospect with the lyrics in place. I will not work that way again.
The songs I’m working on now are a mixed bunch and I’m trying to just let them come and evolve as they will. They are not coming quickly, but steadily, I think. Some of them seem inappropriate for an older dude, so I may see if my son William wants to have a shot at these…
When do I tend to write songs? No particular time. I keep a notebook with me at pretty much all times and a dictaphone in my briefcase.
Do I always write a melody as a starting point? No, sometimes a phrase, sometimes a chord progression, occasionally melody and then I’ll have to find chords which work with it. No routine, no one way being better than another.
I think that’s enough for now.