I've been fortunate to interview songwriters who achieved considerable success in the 1980s and beyond: Chris Difford (Squeeze), Neil Finn (Crowded House), Cy Curnin (The Fixx), Andy McCluskey (OMD). I figure all are worth listening to when they discuss the work ethic of the songwriter. That's the one common element of their songwriting process: they write all the time. The idea of waiting for the muse is a foreign concept, because writing is something you have to work at.Read More
Sometimes when I transcribe these interviews, one of the artist’s songs constantly loops through my head. That’s a testament, of course, to the powerful melody the songwriter has crafted. This happened as I transcribed my conversation with Cy Curnin of The Fixx, but it wasn’t just one song. It was several: songs like “Red Skies,” “Stand or Fall,” “Secret Separation,” Are We Ourselves,” and of course “One Thing Leads to Another,” with their infectious choruses and bass riffs, never stopped playing in my head.
Curnin knows about writing a well-crafted song. The band formed in 1979 and had four hits in the US top twenty. I’ve interviewed other artists from that time period—people like Colin Newman (Wire), Chris Difford (Squeeze), Neil Finn (Crowded House), and Andy McCluskey (OMD)—and they all have one thing in common: discipline. Sure, they are artists, but they work at their craft. There’s no waiting for the muse. They write every day and they actively seek inspiration. There’s a reason these songwriters have been around so long: at some point, they accepted that what they do takes work. With his methodical songwriting process, Curnin is no exception. While some songwriters tell me that the songs just happen, Curnin knows how, when, where, and why they happen. His words are decidedly self-assured, but with his catalog, it's no surprise.Read More
With an empty house and some much deserved peace and quiet, what's an empty-nester to do after the kids are no longer running around the house? Some want to travel the world. Others want to just enjoy the domestic tranquility.
This is not what Neil and Sharon Finn did. In fact, they did the opposite.
Instead of globetrotting or listening to the sounds of silence, they made more noise. To be sure: when it comes from the voice or the pen of Neil Finn, it's never noise. You can dispute the talents of many people in music, but of this fact there is no arguing: Finn is one of the most talented songwriters ever (listen to any Crowded House album and you'll see what I mean). The Finns' new project, Pajama Club, is the result of red wine and lots of time. With the kids gone, Neil and Sharon needed something to do. Maybe the house was too quiet. So Neil picked up the drums and Sharon the bass--instruments out of their comfort zone--and began jamming. Playing the rhythm section is an odd way to start an album, but if anyone can pull that off, it's Finn.Read More
It's a tribute to Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark that the sound they helped create, the shimmering synth pop that was so innovative when the band started three decades ago, is now de rigueur in music. OMD is out with a new album called History of Modern; it's their first in fourteen years and their first in over twenty with the 1980s "If You Leave" lineup. It comes at an appropriate time, given the popularity of synth pop and the band's influence on groups like The xx and LCD Soundsytem. And the public has responded: OMD were conservative when booking venues on this tour, but now they are having to book second shows in some cities and move shows to bigger venues in others.
When it came to making History of Modern, Andy McCluskey, the band's singer and co-songwriter with Paul Humphreys, told me, "We analyzed our history and realized that we had created our own musical voice with the first four albums, and we wanted to go back to expressing ourselves in the language we invented ourselves. We had to strike that balance between something that was OMD but also not some nostalgia trip."Read More
When Chris Difford of Squeeze sits down to write a song, there's actually two Chris Diffords in the room: the one at the desk penning the lyrics, and the one on the couch in the corner telling the one at the desk how he feels. It's those feelings that form the basis for Difford's songs; for him, the songwriting process is "cathartic. . .like keeping a diary."
There's not much I can say in this introduction about the songwriting duo of Difford and Glenn Tilbrook that hasn't been said somewhere else. For over 35 years, they've adhered to the same routine: Difford writes the lyrics and Tilbrook writes the music. The result has been some of the most well-crafted and memorable pop songs: "Tempted," "Cool for Cats," "Black Coffee in Bed," "Pulling Mussels from a Shell," "Is That Love," "Hourglass,". . . the list goes on. They are certainly one of the most legendary (and I will also say strongest) songwriting duos in rock history. If you know music, there is no need for me to extol their excellence. But if you need proof, there's this: Difford wrote the lyrics to "Tempted" in about two and a half minutes in the back of a cab. And that first draft was the only draft: he didn't change a word from what he wrote in that back seat.Read More
How can I not promote a songwriter who reads Shakespeare to prepare to write for his band's latest album? That's what Jesper Anderberg, keyboardist and songwriter for The Sounds, did. The band hails from Sweden, so English is not their native language. Anderberg read some Shakespeare, a man whose writing he admired for its lyrical quality; Midsummer Night's Dream was his favorite. According to Anderberg, you can almost sing the lines from that play.
The Sounds' newest effort, Something to Die For, will be out the end of March on SideOneDummy Records. It's the band's debut release for the label. (photo credit: Markku Anttila)Read More