Tom Skerlj of Dead Letter Circus: Trimming the Fat

Hey guys, Tom here from Dead Letter Circus to share further about my understanding of song writing. This week I’ll look at my song writing in a little more detail and start to get into the meat and bones of my writing style. The focus here will be on the early stages of writing and what I call "trimming the fat."

What do I mean by "trimming the fat"? All musicians do this, consciously or not. This is the skill of being able to separate what material is A-grade -- and what isn’t.

My first piece of advice to all songwriters is to record everything you play. Whether you’re just picking up your guitar, or laying down the final tracks for a song – always hit that little red button. Knowing that I’m recording encourages that “judgement free” environment previously mentioned in my first article.

The reason why I record everything is so I can remain completely free and remove the need to judge my own playing, while trying to create. It’s usually in these moments of musical experimentation that I stumble across an idea that I feel is worth pursuing.

The next phase is to listen back to the recording objectively, and start trimming the fat. I like to ‘mark’ the moments in my recording that I resonate with. I literally set markers on my recording as reference points to go back to, and then create loops of the ideas that I connect with.

I’ll create a loop of an idea and jam over it for hours, days, weeks and sometimes even months. This process can be brutal and draining. As a songwriter, just remember that finding that first idea to connect with can sometimes be the most difficult part of song writing.

Tom Skerlj plays guitar, keyboards and percussion for Dead Letter Circus, whose debut album, This Is the Warning, is out now in the US via Sumerian Records. You can catch the band on tour with Fair To Midland across North America from December 1 to 21. Check out their full list of tour dates at their official Facebook page.

In the early stages of song writing, I don’t really follow a set path. The final idea that I may run with could be a drum loop, chord progression, a guitar lead or sample. This really depends on what you resonate with, but will affect the way you approach song writing.

Next week, I’ll be touching on my philosophies of song writing and what I do to turn a sketch into a demo.

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