When I last spoke to Denys about his participation in FAWM 2008, we were hours away from its start. Now we’re a week in and songs have been written, which gave me the chance to talk a little about his writing process and what being a part of an event like FAWM feels like. Read the full interview below.
One week down. How are you feeling?
you’re leading with a biggie. ok… well in terms of my own writing, i’m feeling mostly-still-good … the panic hasn’t set in, although i haven’t completed a song since tuesday night.
as far as the whole event goes, i’ve got that euphoria i remember from last year, from the plentiful interactions with other participants, and especially from taking in all the great music being written by folks from all over.
big picture: i’m fine, thanks…
How about the small picture? Are the doubts starting to creep in yet?
indeed they are… but they haven’t reached that intolerable point yet.
Tuesday night i posted a song without being completely happy with it…. the intent was to move on, as i’d been working on that song for 4 days straight and i knew i would obsess over it forever if i didn’t force myself to call it a “done demo” for february and turn my attentions to new ideas.
the nasty surprise that followed was a drought of ideas. or rather, tons of things to say but no inclination to say them musically, hahah!
i took an intentional break from writing on wednesday, sat at the piano all evening thursday, played guitar all night friday… and nothing to show for those three days’ work, really.
i have a couple more songs in progress, but they’re very far from done.
How’s the caffeine ban holding up? Had any more mochas?
that first weekend i blasted my body with three straight nights of caffeine, and was up until 3:30am on saturday.
haven’t touched caffeine since then, which — hmmmm — also happens to be the period of dried up musical output
i think you’re onto something, eric… the mochas might hold the key.
Well, well all know that drug induced states are the key to creativity, right?
what does it say about me (or my music) that i garner creative bursts from a maxwell house tin?
I think that puts you in the same boat as me, for whatever that’s worth. What are you working on right now?
one of the songs i have in progress is a piano dirge which i sing in french… that one was inspired by a challenge you made earlier this week. you had essentially dared me to record something completely naked. i.e. take off the layers and layers of instruments and production i usually drench my songs with, and make something bare.
well that one’s just me and a reverbed piano… although i might not be able to resist putting a wind sound effect behind it.
a couple other ideas i’m working on are sort of on hold while grant partridge records some bass parts for me. i can’t play the bass or the drums, so he records parts based on demo clips i send him, and then i use his performances to build the tracks i end up completing.
Let’s talk about your work so far. You’ve gotten 3 songs done . Tell me a little about them.
sure, i’ll go in chronological order.
the first song — which veritably burst out of me like pent up ejaculate — was a bit of an eccentric slow-building piece built on repeated phrases, polyrhythmic guitars, claps and tambourine. it starts out a circular folk song with acoustic power chords, and by the end it’s almost a live drum ‘n bass track (around 160bpm with chirping synths). i started off strong, i think. the response to that song has been quite positive!
next i took my first dip in the “novelty/humor” category of the site’s offerings, something i never would have done last year. i wrote a sunny beach-pop tune about finding a severed leg in the snow and needing to call CSI Winnipeg to come investigate. it is what it is, i guess. it made people laugh, and i had fun recording it. can’t deny that recording anything tagged as “novelty” does feel a little bit hollow.
lastly, the song i spent four whole days on… it’s called “hoop of fire” and it basically turns the concept of johnny cash’s “ring of fire” on its ass, using the titular metaphor instead to represent the shoddiness of sexual hookups… and it examines the aftermath of such a hookup from a few years’ hindsight vantage point. musically, i’m really proud of where this one went, although i could still tool with it at length i’m sure. it’s a bouncy, jazzy pop number, sort of explodes from the speakers with organ slides and spiky guitars, and grant on the drums.
Do you have a favorite among the 3?
definitely “hoop of fire,” which incidentally is the demo i’m least satisfied with. but i never even knew i had a song like that in me. it’s basically…. grown up isaac quatorze, if that makes any sense. i feel like it’s musically more mature than i have made in the past.
Tell me a little bit about the anatomy of writing a single song. When do you name it? Where does it start? What lets you know you’re onto a good idea and not a dead end?
generally, i don’t name a song until it’s almost done. most of my ideas start either with a phrase, or a pair of chords that sound real nice together. occasionally i’ll start with a melody, too. i’m very fortunate to be able to leap off from various starting points, so if i find i’m getting stuck with one idea, i can move to another instrument (or another language, apparently) and build another idea from scratch.
as for good ideas vs. dead ends, i can’t say i’ve mastered that distinction yet. as vague as this sounds, when something doesn’t work you just KNOW. it’s like putting your shoe on the wrong foot.
each of the 3 completed songs this year developed in a different way. “showered in nisku” assembled itself sonically without much help from me. “csi winnipeg” kind of grew out of those two words, and the song bloomed in my head before i even sat at the synth. “hoop of fire” came about from hours of toying with a capo and fucked up chord fingering.
Is this year feeling different than last year?
yes, in a number of ways…. i feel less pressured. all my moaning above about writer’s block notwithstanding, i really don’t mind if the month ends and i only have these 3 songs, as i’m enjoying myself and hearing lots of great music.
on another level, my interaction on the site is very different from last year. i was new blood in fawm 2007, kinda shy and didn’t really know what to say or how to draw attention to my songs. well this year, after having one of my songs featured on the FAWMpilation cd, and having my album up for free download since last year’s event, i almost feel like a mini-celebrity on the FAWM site.
two songs so far have been written that reference my own songs, and one of my 2008 songs has already been covered! go to youtube and search for “showered in nisku”… a really rad girl named elaine covered it with a live looper.
so the differences from last year are not in the writing, but in the community. i’m really enjoying that.
Your work seems more whimsical this year. Is that intentional?
i haven’t really been in a serious place this month… but just you wait, i got 11 more up my sleeve….. (knock on wood)
How has the reaction to your work been so far?
surprisingly positive, actually… i did actually worry that people who enjoyed the “sin of the summer” album would be scared off by some of the directions i’ve gone in, but so far everyone seems to be coming along for the ride. most of the constructive criticism i’ve received (both on and off the site) are production- or performance-related, rather than songwriting-related.
it can be hard not to obsess over the feedback. they have the site set up so you have a “my fawm” page, almost like a dashboard you start out from, and it updates instantly whenever you get a new comment.
you almost get to the point where you go all OCD on that “my fawm” page, checking and rechecking, even if only a few minutes have passed, because the feeling of positive feedback is so uplifting.
What about the nonconstructive criticism? Are you getting much of that?
no, i haven’t myself. there have been a few incidents on the site with one participant in particular being rather harsh in his reviews of other people’s work (including rating them 1/10 and 2/10, or telling them they have “no business doing this”)… people like that are usually chastised politely.
in this one person’s case, it led to a big debate about why people sign up for an event like fawm if they don’t want to make their music more marketable, which then led to a debate about the music industry, and whether it should bend to accomodate creativity, or songwriters should adapt to pop “rules”
You said you won’t mind having only the 3 songs at the end of the month. Do you have something you want to accomplish before this FAWM is over? Or have you already done it?
i still have that 14 song goal in my mind, don’t get me wrong… but no, i have no other accomplishments or targets in mind. in a way, that was the whole point for me this year. i’ll do what i can do, and not push any harder than that. erm, perhaps that makes me a boring interview subject!!
Take comfort in the fact that you’re more interesting than the interviewer, at least. Good luck, and we’ll talk again mid-month.
good luck with your own challenges, friend.