The prompt for the second issue of Riffs declares that a song can be about anything. I agree. But should the about be clear to the listener?
The younger me would have said yes, no question. As an art-pop songwriter with a lifelong love of narrative forms (literature, cinema, TV drama), my creative process consisted of two distinct stages. Me-as-composer got first say, constructing skewed versions of the verse-chorus song format peppered with unexpected shifts of rhythm and harmony. Me-as-lyricist would then work for days on end, figuring out how to populate these structures with words that told a story: beginning, middle and, preferably, a twist in its tail.
In recent years I have moved away from this way of working, resulting in songs where the subject matter is more elusive. My piece outlines the reasons for this change, focusing in particular on the way narrative expectation can impede the listening process. I will also discuss my increased appreciation for the musicality of language itself, which has led to an approach to songwriting in which words are guided by musical, more than narrative, logic.
These issues are illustrated by sample lyrics from songs I have written at different stopping points along the journey, and the piece is accompanied by links to audio samples, so that readers can experience the heard effect of the words. My aim is to provide an illuminating glimpse into how an aesthetic identity can evolve over time, as well as offering a prompt for songwriters to consider the place of about in their own work.
Read Tom’s full piece HERE