Friday, April 16, 2010

A little bit about the new songs I've been writing

Tonight at Voltage 2010 -- you're all going, aren't you? Of course you are. That is, the ones that live in Minneapolis, everybody else I will forgive this time -- you will hear three newish songs. They stand out a little bit from the heavy psych guitar crunge on our single, and people have definitely noticed and mentioned 'em to us. There's a reason for that.

See, I've always been entranced by John Hughes films from the 80s. It's not just the films themselves, which of course can be assailed from all kinds of critical perspectives but are, as they say in the Rutles, elevated from beta-potential films to the primary proponents of aeolian cadenzic musical form (ha) by the fact that they were essentially our lives in miniature. That is: they're how we wished our lives were, or a kind of capsule version of 'em with hollywood gloss and wittier dialog and less puking into toilets and hoping your parents wouldn't hear.

But for years and years and years, it has been so damn uncool to admit that you liked the music from that era, and most particularly the music from those films' soundtracks. It has slowly become okay to admit you like, say, Echo and the Bunnymen, but to actually admit their influence into your songwriting is still uncool. Take a look at reviews from some of the bands that do like, say, the Editors or White Lies or Sweden's awesome Mary Onettes: to a one, they're all about "derivative" and "aping the sounds of the 80s" or whatever. Do a record that sounds like it was cut in 1968 and you're FUCKING AWESOME (hello, MGMT!). Do a record that sounds like the self-titled Echo and the Bunnymen record, though, and you're "derivative."

I guess it's 'cause we're not far enough away from that era to think that stuff is "forward-thinking" instead of "backward-thinking," or something, because that's what everybody does -- channel their influences into their songwriting in one way or another. Nobody exists in a vaccuum. It's just down to which influences are cool at the moment.

So what I'm doing is very specific: I'm writing the soundtrack to an imaginary John Hughes film. THE BEST JOHN HUGHES FILM EVER. It exists only in my imagination (and yours, if you want it to!), but it stars everybody from those films that you love doing awesome stuff that you wanted them to do. And it has a prom in it. There is definitely a prom in it. And the soundtrack is all Blue Sky Blackout, but of course it has to have the characteristics of the music of that era which are, in my opinion:

- Overarching romanticism
- Heaping dollops of sexy melancholy
- Either brilliantly post-punk major chords or achingly post-punk minor chords
- Swank, low-sung vocals
- Dance beats, so Molly Ringwald can do the "white-girl sidestep"
- Chiming, soaring guitars and thunking, driving bass.

So far I've written three songs: "Don't It Drag You Down," which traffics in the kind of optimistic psychedelic that Echo and the Bunnymen did in their heyday, "Figurehead" which is a kind of post-punk angular disco song like an aggressive New Order or something, and "Breaking Windows," which sounds like the prom song that the Psychedelic Furs never wrote.

I have more either demoed or coming down the creative tube into my head. But just so you know what you're hearing tonight -- I thought I'd throw my manifesto out there.


Becky said...

Looking forward to hearing these!

CleverTrou said...

I remember in the 90's feeling a certain guilt - and reflexive resentment about that guilt - for not feeling connected to rock-n-roll Roots/Influences. Specifically the Blues, as in U2's Rattle and Hum. It irked me because I really loved Joshua Tree when it came out, and digging back to the post-punk Boy, and I should appreciate the source material U2 synthesized into my favorite albums, right? But I didn't.

I felt like a weight was lifted when I saw Bono and Edge on Elvis Costello's Spectacle a few weeks ago. You'll have to forgive the paraphrasing, but essentially they talked about coming up in the bars and clubs with Echo & the Bunnymen, starting a new kind of music that had no established sound. Not, "we added a sustain pedal to the blues," but, "we came up with music that sounded good to us, even if people had trouble describing it." They seem to respect their predecessors without being dogmatic about their importance to the musical universe.