I had intended one post about my writing process, but I hadn’t realized I had such a variety of writing processes. My two metal bands, Endearing Perversion and Molt are writing partnerships, and naturally I go about things differently when working with others.
I suggest handing me my flying V before reading this post.
With the exception of two songs, I never write lyrics for Endearing Perversion, only music. (FYI, Spermatophores was written entirely at Tim’s in the wee hours.) Generally what happens there, (and I hope she won’t mind me telling the world) is that The Diva writes some incredible lyrics, usually in the form of a country song or a poem, and sends them to me with license to do as I please. This is always fun for me. I come up with some riffs, change the melody and rhythm if needed. Sometimes I cut the words up to add choruses and breaks, and insert solos. I record my part, and then do a silly voice over and send them back to the Diva who then has to relearn her own songs. When we lived in the same city, we did quite a bit of this in a room together, or in a room with a rhythm section, which added another dimension to our writing, but now we write via the magic of the internet. I actually don’t think this has changed our process too much, just now we write less often. With End Perv we keep things a little more simple. The Diva has a pretty broad vocal range, but she sounds most evil in E, so we keep the songs in various modes of E, and mostly 4/4.
Molt on the other hand… In all my other projects I write songs as they come. In Molt, we write albums. Ideas for concept albums manifest frequently, and we now have a long list. We’re currently working on music for two of those concepts. We are both always coming up with riffs, chord progressions and rhythms, which we bring to the table to jam on. We record those jams and listen back to pull out more ideas. About half those recordings have Julian on bass, the other half he’s on drums. Once we have a handful of musical snippets we like, we start on ideas for the album structure. Before we have any songs, we have a pretty clear idea of how many songs the album will have, and what the songs will be about. We have an idea of song length, which keys and time signatures the songs will contain, and most importantly, which keys each song will begin and end in, so we can modulate between songs smoothly.
When we start working on lyrics, or at least lyrical theme, we get notions about the types of solos we’ll play and where in the song we’ll play them, the kinds of riffs we want, the emotions each section should convey etc. When we sit down to seriously write, we basically have a long list of rules to work from. Those rules morph and grow as ideas flow, but a person ends up being much more creative when handed something such as: 9/4, f#m, guitar solo, moth discovers wings (awe) gets used to wings (awkward) than instinct to breed kicks in,(desperation, racing to beat time) modulates to 9/8 Em. As opposed to, write a solo for our song about the life-cycle of a moth.
Lyrics for Molt are another story again. For one thing, once we have our structure we have a general idea of where lyrics will go, and what their subject matter will be. By this point we also have a pretty good idea whether they will be clean or growled, and what manner of clean and growled vocals they will be, but everything is always subject to change as the songs get fleshed out. We both write lyrics. As per my MO, I take my notes and go somewhere far away from any musical instrument. Molt lyrics tend to require research, so you might see me at a bar with a pile of books and papers, scribbling in my notebook. (Last spotted sitting with a pint and a copy of Aeschylus’ Agamemnon and Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring.) Lyrics for our upcoming album are still mostly in the brainstorming stage, but at this point we have a pretty good idea of where they will occur, and what they’ll be about.
When we wrote the music for the album “Molt”, we had some lyrics right off the bat, and others weren’t finalized till much later. Of the four songs on the album with lyrics, one was written before we started the band, I called one song I wanted to write, and Julian called another. The other song we both wrote lyrics for on our own and then put them together, which is more or less how we wrote the music.
Very early on we realized that we’d have to write down our songs on manuscript paper if we were going to remember them at the next jam. There’s a lot of jamming together, and then dispersing to different corners of the house/yard/woods/ditch to scribble separately on the section we called. (Now that we live in Montreal, that’s apartment/park/café/metro) Often I’ll write my guitar part on one section, Julian will write his bass part for another section, and then we hand off to fill in our own parts, but there are also times where one of us has a clear idea and writes both parts of a section. Lilypond is a vital part of our writing process. Not only does it help us collate our scores, it’s midi play-back is an essential part of making sure what we’re writing sounds the way we think it does. Julian also does quite a bit of writing, and verifying using Renoise.
For the album we’re currently working on we have a thematic structure, and a whole lot of bits, pieces and jam recordings. We’re going through all our riffs and tagging them for which part of the album we think they’d be a good fit, then we’ll jam on them to get the next crop of ideas. Since we have two skeletons we’re working with at the moment, some riffs are getting set aside for a third album. And as we have a number of concepts for future albums, there is always a riff here and there that gets pegged for use at a much later date.
The drums are Julian’s domain, and I’m not sure how we’re going to go about them for this album since we vacated our jam space. Lots of our riffs begin as drum patterns, but the bulk of the drums get written via endless jamming. Renoise will probably play a bigger role in the writing of drums this time round, but we’re gonna have to head to one of those pay by the hour rehearsal studios to really work them out.