What a bunch of nerds we are

Behind the music.

Been writing songs with my buddy Jon for a few weeks now. Our songwriting sessions keep reminding me of the money laundering scene from Office Space:

I can’t believe what a bunch of nerds we are. We’re looking up money laundering in a dictionary.

As you can see in the above photo, I resorted to sketching out a song structure on my notepad during the last session. I also marked out the rhyme scheme (AABB for the verses, ABAB for the chorus) and circled the words that rhymed to make sure it was all connecting. I imagine these things will get internalized more as we gain experience, but for now I’m trying to stick to the basics. One of my top tips in Writing for Designers is to create structure to guide your writing – such as an outline – and I’m finding that helps me with songwriting, too.

Things I’ve wondered out loud during our songwriting sessions include:

  • Wait, how do songs work?
  • Where is a bridge is supposed to go?
  • Three verses makes it a song, right?

It’s been refreshing and enlightening to have: a creative constraint (from weekly challenges issued at the open mic night), a deadline (one week until the next open mic), and a partner (Jon). I’ve gone whole years without actually finishing a song, and in the last five weeks we’ve written three. So here’s to being nerds, I suppose.

A joyful capacity

Brian, one of the organizers of the open mic I attend now, issued a songwriting challenge last week. The input/theme was “stand up”. I started scratching out lyrics in Drafts on my iPad right away that same night, and finished them up on Saturday afternoon. Jon, my music partner, came over Sunday and we hashed out the music in about an hour. I went with the vocational interpretation, and wrote about a standup comedian who did a few gigs back in the day, let a decade slip by, and is thinking of getting back out there again. I told Jon I had a Mountain Goats vibe in my head for it, and we listened to a few tracks to get the pacing right and borrow some strumming patterns. Picked a chord to start with and just went for it, and got the whole thing done in under an hour.

The song went over okay last night; I’m actually pretty proud of it, but I think it might work better after a few listens. Or else it’s not as good as I think it is. 🤷🏻‍♂️ Anyway, I’m on a reading-about-John-Darnielle kick again and was struck by this quote in an AMA he did on Reddit:

Suffering is seldom joyful, but expressing one’s capacity for survival almost always is. I think what I mainly sing about is survival, tenacity, practice[, and] patience.

John Darnielle

Expressing a capacity for survival…spitting the bullet back out and asking the world “Is that all you’ve got?”…that’s an emotional space that’s always interesting to me, and the kind of thing I’m drawn to sing about, too.

Give me back my man

I’ve never really dug into the B-52s catalog, despite having done Love Shack at karaoke at least a dozen times now. I love how unapologetically weird they are. I’ve got Whammy! on vinyl, but this isn’t on it:

The songs where only Cindy sings don’t seem to get as much airtime, which is too bad because she is great and this song is great. I’ve been listening to a new cover of it on repeat, which is how I found it. The Apple Music algorithms correctly deduced that I would love this new Sleater-Kinney-esque cover of it by Ohmme:

Good shit right there. Ohmme has proved to be an enlightening musical rabbithole. Two-piece from Chicago that’s probably worked on something you’ve heard, even if, like me, you’d never heard of them.

My 2018 Playlist

A rock band performing on stage as viewed from the crowd.
Naked Giants opening for Car Seat Headrest at First Avenue

Early in the year I started an iTunes playlist called 2018. I added songs to it as it occurred to me. I didn’t really have a plan, but it ended up creating a portrait of my year.

Many tracks are new music that resonated with me. A few are old favorites that had particular relevance this year. I did just a bit of light editing (paring down to one track from any given album) and rearranging to taste.

Hope you find something new that ya like. Here’s the tracklisting:

  • Fly As I Dare – Shredders
  • How Did This Happen!? – Bodega
  • Stand By Me – Ki:Theory
  • Nont For Sale – Sudan Archives
  • We’re Alone – Naked Giants
  • Yr Throat – Jeff Rosenstock (favorite new song of the year)
  • Noid – Yves Tumor
  • What a Time to Be Alive – Superchunk
  • Sour Cherries – Kitten Forever
  • I Feel Energy (feat. Amber Mark) – Dirty Projectors
  • Barcelona City Tour – Mourn (favorite new band I saw live)
  • Aquarius – Starry Nights
  • Unbelievers – Ezra Furman
  • Depreston – Courtney Barnett
  • 22 (OVER S∞∞N) [Bob Moose Extended Cab Version] – Bon Iver
  • Gold Rush – Death Cab for Cutie
  • Heaven – Charly Bliss
  • Sun In an Empty Room – The Weakerthans (theme song for the excellent Heavyweight podcast I discovered this year)
  • Everybody’s Coming to My House – David Byrne
  • Annihilation (feat. Sims) – Four Fists, P.O.S & Astronautalis

Thanks to Neil for the Google Play version!

Franz Ferdinand and Priests at First Avenue

Hit this show a few weeks back. So glad I got to go. Franz Ferdinand was a bucket list band. Just as fun and dance-y as I expected. They have a hell of a catalog. You think you’ve heard all the hits and then they go right into another one.

Franz Ferdinand knows how to work their stage lighting.
Franz Ferdinand knows how to work their stage lighting.

The opener, Priests, had some interesting things going on, and room to grow. I can’t imagine it’s an easy gig on your first night opening for Franz Ferdinand in front of a sold out First Avenue Mainroom crowd.

Priests opening for Franz Ferdinand. Foreground: the guy who sells beer from a box he carries on his head.
Priests opening for Franz Ferdinand. Foreground: the guy who sells beer from a box he carries on his head.

Links of late | 2018-04-17