It’s not rare to often find myself analyzing and re-analyzing my own creative process. Why do I write the words I write? Why do I write them that way? Have I developed a clear and consistent style or am I still making my way towards that goal?
Almost endless questions pop up in my mind when I decide to look at my own creative work with a microscope. So, it’s no wonder that I struggle with the topic of subtleness regarding songwriting.
I put a lot of work into my songs, just ask anyone who’s had any kind of talk about songwriting with me for the past year. I revise every measure and melody almost endlessly, there’s absolutely no “ah fuck it!, I’ll just do whatever sounds ok here" moments in my music. I want every second of my music to be exactly what I want it to be, the perfect expression of me as a human and musician. Are the lyrics dealing with wishful thinking and nostalgia? Well, I want my music to tell you that before the lyrics even begin being belched out.
So this makes me run into a crossroad. Where does one draw the line between being obviously meticulous and subtly detail-oriented?
Before I go on, I feel the need to explain what I consider complex music when it comes to songwriting. Complex music is not music that is hard to play due to fast tempos, odd time signatures and agonizingly long solos. The complexity in music comes from the way the melodies and beats complement each other. Nothing excites me more when a song manages to change its key or time signature seamlessly, making it obvious that the song was meant to be that way and it’s not an excuse to show musical prowess. Songs containing many different melodies that perfectly compliment each other without it feeling polluted by sound is complex music. No wonder why I have been enjoying Los Campesinos! so much lately. On the other hand, no matter how hard to play the lead melody of a song is, if you are only complementing that melody with a simple beat and a back up rhythm melody then you are writing simple music.
And that’s ok. I love playing with the spectrum between complex and simple when it comes to songwriting. Out of many of my song ideas two of them come to mind when thinking about this topic, “Walls” and “Here You Go”.
"Walls" is an orchestrated and heavily acoustic indie song. Since the first second you are greeted by a string section which later gets minimized to a single violin when a full band comes in with a fast paced rock beat. The song goes through many phases, it has verses that are all different from each other and one even changes the key of the song. Regarding lyrics, the song is all about a manufactured scenario which challenges me to improve my story-telling abilities. I consider it the most complex song out of all of the ones I have written so far.
"Here You Go" might be the total opposite of "Walls". The song starts straight into the verse, no intros, no riffs; just a single guitar and vocal melody. Then the band kicks in and it turns into a classic pop-punk song, always keeping one lead melody and a rhythm one. "Here You Go" is simple, giving room to the intense lyrics about teenage pessimism resulting from a failed relationship. Does its extreme simplicity makes it a bad song? Not at all. In fact, this might be one of my catchiest songs, and it only lasts 2 minutes at most.
Then I come to the crossroad.
While writing these songs I struggled with the fact that in “Walls” it’s extremely obvious that I took care of every single detail in the song. “Wow, I like it a lot. You can tell you worked your ass off writing that one" a close friend said to me when I showed him the song. That single moment initiated this long string of thoughts which have been cluttering my mind lately. I came to the conclusion that being subtly meticulous is extremely hard when writing complex music, it is definitely a skill to envy.
I went through my music library analyzing complex song after complex song and only a few artists managed to be subtle with their musicianship. These were musicians that have been making music for years after years, these were not amateurs. Which led me to the conclusion that, like most things in music, this skill only comes with practice and more importantly, growth.
The more complex a song is, the harder it is to be subtle about your craft.