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November, 2008:

Richey Edwards Songwriting from Beyond

The Welsh Rock Band, Manic Street Preachers, will be recording a new album of songs based on the lyrics of their now-declared-dead guitarist and songwriter, Richey Edwards. The story of the declaration of death hit the newspapers today:

Richey Edwards has been declared as presumed dead, 13 years after he disappeared, a spokesman for the band said yesterday. “There has been a change in his legal status,” said the spokesman for the Welsh rock band, adding that his parents had been granted a court order to that effect. Edwards disappeared in February, 1995, when the 27-year-old musician’s car was found abandoned near the Severn Bridge linking England and Wales. Despite alleged sightings of the guitarist since his disappearance, he is widely believed to have taken his own life.

The band’s website (see link above) comments as follows:

All the songs we are recording are lyrics left to us by Richey. Finally it feels like the right time to use them… It’s a record that celebrates the genius of his words, full of love, anger, intelligence and respect. We have to make this great. Wish us luck.

That’s quite a task to take on… to bring your former bandmate’s words to life when he is no longer around… May the Muse be with them…

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Songwriting Sheikh Suing Michael Jackson

It says something that the second son of the King of Bahrain, Sheikh Abdulla bin Hamad Al Khalifa (left side of picture), basically became involved with Michael Jackson in 2005 because he wanted to have the self-described King of Pop sing/perform the songs he had written. Now the shiekh is suing Michael Jackson for £4.7m and he claims he set up the singer with a studio in his ranch so he could record the sheikh’s own songs. The full article is here.

Jackson is contesting the claim, insisting there was no valid agreement of repayment and arguing that the sheikh’s case is based on “mistake, misrepresentation and undue influence”. Bankim Thanki QC, representing the sheikh, told the court that his client set up a recording studio at the singer’s Neverland ranch and sent him compositions he had written himself.

Jackson recorded one of the sheikh’s songs the day after the pop star’s criminal trial ended over child molestation charges in California, Thanki said. The song, which was to have been released as a charity single to help victims of the Boxing Day tsunami, will be played in court during the trial. “It shows the quality of Sheikh Abdulla’s songwriting skills and that of Mr Jackson’s voice,” Thanki told the judge, Mr Justice Sweeney.

I can’t wait to hear this song (can’t find it anywhere)… and also, not to judge Shiekh Abdulla too harshly, ‘cos if I had that kind of money, I’d be “buying” my songs into posterity… May the Muse be with us all… even shiekhs…

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Sir Tom Jones on Songwriting

Sir Tom Jones just released a new album, 24 Hours, earlier this week in the UK. The new thing for Sir Tom (one of my wife’s favourite singers, btw) is that he wrote/co-wrote songs for the first time…

You can find the article here, but I’ve quoted a few essentials below:

What difference has it made being so involved in the songwriting?

I think it will make a big difference because the songs come from me, rather than somebody else writing them and then me trying to put them into my own style.

When I started this CD off, songs were coming which were not very good, I didn’t think. So then it was suggested, well, why don’t you do it yourself? So that’s what happened.

I needed a songwriter to put them into words, but the ideas came from me.

Are you trying to recapture a classic sound?

I liked what I did on Decca in the ’60s and I wanted to get that same feeling again, sound-wise especially. There’s a retro sound, but I feel that it’s still modern though. You know it’s not an old ’60s record, but the feel of it is.

Is that style of music ripe for a return?

Yeah I think so, with the Amy Winehouse record. I’ve been wanting to do this for quite some time. And then I saw the video for the first [Amy Winehouse] track, I thought ‘that’s good’. So I got the CD and listened to it, and I thought ‘yes it can be done’.

It’s great to see somebody like Amy Winehouse doing it with those arrangements and with the sound. It’s refreshing and it gives you confidence to go ahead and do it. It’s working.

Bono wrote a song for Sir Tom too… Anywho, it’s Tom being Tom and being a songwriter for the first time, which makes the album a winner in reviews… Now the Muse is with him…

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Stellula Music In Schools Program

Click the banner above to learn about this interesting program available in Simcoe County. As per the website:

The Stellula Music in Schools Program helps children and youth create music and art through writing, photography, and making CDs/DVDs and movies. Students learn about creating music from professional musicians, filmmakers, animators and sound production people.

The Program encourages students to express themselves through songwriting in a safe and supportive environment while building meaningful relationships with other students, teachers and professionals in the music business.

Best of luck to this program and other similar programs (see the School Alliance of Student Songwriters site too)… the Muse is truly with them…

Chrissie Hynde on Songwriting

Musicradar.com interviewed Chrissie Hynde of The Pretenders on a variety of issues, including the new rockabilly-themed album (Break Up The Concrete), the early Pretenders aura and, of course, songwriting. From the interview, here’s some quotes on the latter topic:

On songwriting

Let’s talk about your songwriting. Does it come easily to you? Do you have a process?

“I can go months or even a year without thinking about songwriting. I’m not very ambitious. Songwriting isn’t my life; it’s just something I do. It was a way for me not to be a waitress. [laughs] So when I know I have to make an album, I sit down and see what’s in my head. That’s it, really. No process. I’m not a tortured artist. I’m not even an artist.”

When you do write, how do you demo material? I imagine you’re kind of old school, just a tape recorder and you singing and playing.

“I don’t even do that. I just remember the songs and play them to the guys live when we’re in a rehearsal room. I have my lyrics sheet and chords written down and that’s it. I don’t know how people work all these computer programs and whatnot for songwriting. If it helps them, great. But for me, I go by memory.”

That’s very interesting… so many different “methods” (or lack thereof) to songwriting… Chrissie certainly turns all the “hit-making” song crafting philosophies on their head with that simple “No process” statement… But hey, one method isn’t “better” than another… I think… so long as the Muse is with you I guess…

Of All The Things

A documentary to look out for as set out in IMDB:

The most unlikely comeback of the year. Dennis Lambert was one of the most successful and diverse songwriter/producers of the ’70s and ’80s, with hits like “Ain’t No Woman Like The One I’ve Got”, “Rhinestone Cowboy”, “Don’t Pull Your Love”, “Baby Come Back” and “Nightshift”. He had chart-toppers in almost every genre of music, and at one point four of his songs were simultaneously on the Billboard Hot 100 chart, a feat previously accomplished only by The Beatles. That was then. Today, he’s a 60-year-old family man selling real estate in Florida. But it turns out his obscure 1972 solo album is still huge… in the Philippines. A Filipino concert promoter has been begging Dennis to tour for decades, and in 2007 – thirty-five years after the release of his album – he finally agreed. “Of All The Things” is a hilarious and touching pop/rock/country/R&B documentary that follows Dennis on his whirlwind tour as he rediscovers his passion for music — a two-week adventure that takes him from the comforts of Boca Raton, through the remote outer islands of the Philippines, to a sold-out show at Manila’s famous Araneta Coliseum for thousands of fans he never knew he had. Some lives deserve an encore.

Well, this I have to see and I’ll be looking for it in the theatre or on DVD… Let me know if you see this somewhere…

Of Montreal on Songwriting

Just some thoughts from Kevin Barnes of Of Montreal on songwriting from a recent Toronto Star article:

“For some reason, laziness is celebrated in music where it’s not really celebrated in other art forms. Most pop songs are just riddled with laziness.”

Some might bristle at Kevin Barnes’s reductionist assessment of pop songwriting’s verse/chorus/verse template, but at least the Of Montreal front man and increasingly proficient professional provocateur is backing those words up with the wildest musical ride he’s ever put to tape on his latest disc, Skeletal Lamping.

I’m not so sure I agree… It takes creativity, even within “lazy confines”, to compose a pop song that people can enjoy… A “formula” does not negate the creativity, and knowing the “rules” just makes it easier to break them… it takes a Muse…

USC Offers Pop Music Degree

The Los Angeles Times recently ran an article detailing the introduction of a Popular Music Degree at the Thornton School of Music at the University of Southern California. As described on the school’s website: “ USC Thornton is proud to announce a new bachelor of music degree in pop music performance, the first of its kind at a major university. The program, which will begin in the 2009-10 academic year, will provide a place for instrumentalists or vocalists whose passion is popular music — be it rock, R&B, folk, blues or country.”

And a quote from the LA Times article follows:

Students still will be required to study music theory, history and songwriting, but they’ll also learn about entertainment law, record promotion, marketing, publicity and other fields pop musicians need to understand to succeed in the evolving music business.

“We built this program recognizing that the nature of the music business is changing,” [Associate Dean Chris] Sampson said in a separate interview. “We’re looking to create a broader number of opportunities for our students to successfully make careers in music. Turning out records that end up making the charts, that’s the top of a broad pyramid. I expect other students might find their way into becoming music directors, arrangers and a variety of different roles.

“The whole idea is that we’ll be bring it all together under one umbrella. . . . We are building a network of people in different disciplines, whether in technology, business or law . . . and within a college atmosphere, students will have some room to experiment.”
May the Muse be with you…

Chris Martin Gets Songwriting Advice From Ian McCulloch

Chris Martin of Coldplay gets help writing his songs from Echo + The Bunnymen’s frontman Ian McCulloch, and the pair are often texting each other with ideas.

“I think Chris is great,” says McCulloch. “We text each other, like, ‘Hello Mac-o! How do you write lyrics that are good?’ I say, ‘Either you’ve got it or you haven’t. Do some crosswords, watch pornography.'”

McCulloch also revealed his input into the band’s music: “When Coldplay was doing their second album I walked into the studio in Liverpool, where they recorded it.”

“Chris said, ‘Hey Mac! We’re sampling The Cutter intro, but we’re having some difficulty making it not sound like the Bunnymen. I said, ‘Just f***ing use it.'”

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U2 – Stuck In A Songwriting Block Moment…

Even the best go through it… On U2’s website, you can catch this video which shows the band, and producer Daniel Lanois, deep in concentration in their songwriting process… staring at blank pieces of paper and clicking their laptops… man, that sounds familiar…

Oh well… something tells me that these guys eventually break the block and write something worthy… it would be nice if they showed us that part in the video, but it may just come down to the fact that the Muse is with them…

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