Tuesday, 3 November 2015

Water Lilies Bloom

A few years ago, I wrote a song called 'Water Lilies Bloom' and recently stuck it at the end of my EP as a hidden track. It was meant as a demo and doesn't have the same production values as the other tracks. It's also the last track and isn't even listed on the CD sleeve, so it generally gets the least attention. But I really like it, and felt it deserved its own spotlight. This is a blog post about 'Water Lilies Bloom'.

There's a magnetic poetry board in Neal's Yard, a little cluster of shops and cafes in London's Covent Garden. You can arrange the words to say something profound. Or something silly. When we went there in 2013, I was listening to lots of early R.E.M...

Allow me to 'go off on one' about R.E.M. before we come back to that magnetic poetry board. They'd split a few years earlier, but we'd just seen a great tribute band in Glasgow called 'It Crawled From The South'. Not only that, another of my favourite bands, Editors, were recording an album ('The Weight of Your Love') and frontman Tom Smith kept citing R.E.M. as a big influence. This got me on an obsessive hunt through R.E.M.'s earliest (and best) material.

I don't mean to go all Patrick Bateman here, but there's something magical about R.E.M.s early music that they seemed to lose when they signed to a major label. I realise that's a real music snob thing to say, but there's a hazy, ghostly quality to those first few albums. The half-spoken words, driving rhythms and guitars that seem to really rock, despite being influenced by folk and country music, conjure images for me: dusky back roads, tumbledown buildings, spindly trees and lonely hives of activity, where motels, half-empty bars and petrol stations (or maybe I should say gas stations) exist in tiny, isolated clusters of prosperity, thriving on their unique location, but very far away from other people. I half-wrote another song all about this called 'Haunted America'. I hope it'll see the light of day at some point.

But back to 'Water Lilies Bloom' and that magnetic poetry board. I was playing about with words, looking for something a bit Michael Stipe; something that 'felt like' that bit of London. The words got rearranged into the phrase 'under which the water lilies bloom'. I thought that sounded suitably enigmatic, like the sort of thing that could have been on 'Murmur'. The rest of the lyrics - sparse though they are (and that was important too) - fell into place from there. It's a simple song really. It basically repeats the same section, building each time, with a middle 8 and picked guitar bit halfway through to break it up. I was going for something that seemed like a mantra, although feel free to substitute 'straightforward, repetitive song' for 'mantra' if it isn't to your taste.

I recorded what I thought was the demo (but which actually became the finished version) with Guy Pople at St. Annes Music, a lovely shop, studio and teaching space down the road from where I used to live. The simplicity of the lyric encouraged me to write counter-vocals and harmony parts. I love harmonies, but I usually struggle with them. This was one of the few times I didn't. Everything just fit. When I was recording the other songs for the EP, any ideas in that direction came from my producer, Rod Futrille. My partner, Roisin Brennan, will be taking more of a lead on the vocals in future, so I'm hoping she'll have some tasty harmony ideas. I reckon she will. She's good like that. My Mum also has a bit of a knack for them. I hope she'll chip some contributions in too.

I thought there'd be more to this song. It was never going to be a big, rock track, but I'd planned electric guitar parts, a bass, percussion, and a Hammond organ swell. But then I started working up some of my other ideas, and it was obvious that 'Water Lilies Bloom' didn't fit. Having a mood, or vibe, for an album is important to me with other people's work. But I've always liked hidden tracks, and it seems that they're allowed to be different... The black sheep, as it were. I remembered 'Water Lilies Bloom' right at the eleventh hour. I mastered it myself quickly, and it was added at the very last minute. A few years down the line from when I wrote it, I still have a lot of affection for this song. I'm sure most songwriters come up with something that they think's great for a while and then suddenly go 'what was I thinking?!' I know I do. So it's a real gift when something stands the test of time. To me, it captures that hazy R.E.M. sound I was going for and it brings to mind one of my favourite parts of London. I hope writing this means that a few more people will hear it.

You can hear the full 'Chasing Ghosts' EP on Soundcloud. There's also a free download, and the option to buy the CD version (with lovely artwork and lyrics) on Bandcamp.

Short and Sweet

I've decided to start using this blog again. I apologise, to its avid readers*, about the lack of content for the last 3 years. It's going to be a bit of a vanity project, but I really like making music and sometimes writing stuff too, and I wanted somewhere to document it.

*Yeah, sorry Dexter