The Safety Fire's Derya "Dez" Nagle: Advice on Songwriting... Kinda
Since my last entry, a number of people have been keen to hear how I go about the writing process. I have to admit, when I first thought about this, I didn't really know what to say because so much of the writing process "just happens."
In terms of writing prog metal or stuff in odd time signatures, it's never something I intentionally set out to do. It kind of just happens. I remember watching a documentary on a Mudvayne album where for certain sections they would sit down with a calculator and work out the required amount of notes needed in a missing bar based on the expected time signature change. Despite being decent at math, my brain just doesn't work like that! For me, it just happens. There was obviously a point when it wasn't like that, but it's hard to remember what that was like. All I know is that writing lots of songs got me to the point I'm at now. I had to write a lot of shit (that will never see the light of day), but perseverance and belief in what you are doing definitely goes a long way.
I would compare songwriting to making a cake. You have to get good ingredients, the right measurements and mix them together accordingly in a loving manner. Too much butter and you've fucked it up before you've even baked it. Don't try to change what cake you are making half-way through. If it's a chocolate cake, don't go trying to change it into a carrot cake -- although feel free to experiment with flavors. Double choruses and whip cream always work but can end up making the final product a little cheap. Wait, actually, songwriting is nothing like making a cake. The sense of accomplishment and achievement of making a cake is incomparable... In all seriousness, it's hard to explain how I go about songwriting.
One of the things that I feel has helped to inform me of what I want to hear in my songs is having a wide variety of musical inspirations. If you only listen to one particular style of music, your own writing will always be colored by that one dimension. That's not to say that I have always been open to lots of different styles of music. A lot of it happened without my say! Growing up with my parents and brother exposed me to a lot of different types of music, and now when I write songs, sometimes I notice that I take an element of something I heard on a Prince album, a Peter Gabriel album, or a Suzanne Vega album. In fact, I think listening to a lot of conventional pop has really helped me to know what I want and don't want from my songs.
So how do I start writing a song? The answer is I probably don't-- at least, not intentionally. The intention comes much later. Ideas just pop into your head. Maybe a riff or a melody, or whatever it happens to be. Inspiration can come from the oddest things and at the most inconvenient times, but you have to roll with it! I know from that moment I need to get it down, written (in tab) or recorded. I've gotten into the habit recently of filming myself playing the idea -- it is really quick and helps with more complicated phrases. This can happen a lot and you end up with pool of ideas. How a song develops from there is a different experience every time and that’s the exciting part. It can be a thoroughly enjoyable experience, effortless and completely free-flowing. However, that isn't always the case, and you may find yourself struggling to make transitions work between sections. Patience and experimentation are key!
A lot of people ask me about how I transition to quiet parts in songs. To me, it just seems like such a natural songwriting tool to have a quieter refrain before or after a section that kicks you in the gut. It was the classic thing grunge bands like Pearl Jam and Alice in Chains did when they went from quieter verses to heavier chorus sections. You should never try to force a quiet bit into a song or idea that you have written. If it works, it will just happen. It has to be natural and emotively part of the same feeling you get from the other idea. Great ideas are again inspired by great music. A big influence during my formative years was the instrumental work of Kaki King. I remember seeing Kaki play her first show in London back in 2006 and being so amazed by her compositions and how she employed the techniques she uses. After listening to her music for some time, it started to creep into my writing-- not only in the clean refrains.
So, as you can see, the elements come together almost of their own doing. But after that, you need a hell of a lot of faith. Your ideas at this stage will still sound like nothing until you get them arranged with other instruments. Of course, this is also a great time to reflect on those ideas and decide whether they actually work or not, making little changes where necessary. But this is still the point of faith. It's not really there yet until it's recorded.
If you have any questions, or if you want to get in touch, feel free to tweet me @parkadez. Safe!
Derya "Dez" Nagle plays guitar in The Safety Fire, whose debut album, Grind the Ocean, is due out next year. Keep an eye out for the latest news from the band at their Facebook page.
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