I don’t know what it’s like for anyone else, but there is definitely a point where a bunch of songs start to feel album-y. I like the idea of writing albums – they are like writing a play. When you have enough scenes and moments that you start to get a sense of the story.
There are two main things for me that separate an album from a collection of ten songs.
1) thematic consistency in the story.
For the last couple of years I’ve been writing songs that fit into various themes. There are some political songs. Lots of songs about death. Alcohol. Usually one or two ideas win out – some just end up with better songs.
The two that won out this time, and jostling to win, were the Inner West and the idea of writing just third person character studies of women. It’s feeling like the album is a mix of the two – it’s not a hard and fast rule. But I’m excluding songs based on theme.
I’m also excluding songs based on intent. There were a couple of angrier, more mean spirited songs. And as the album develops, those songs are going away. I’ve made one very angry record before. This one will be quite intimate.
We are over halfway through the record making process and I am tossing between two titles – both reflect the two themes. They are:
Do You Think We’ll Live Here Forever?
2) musical consistency
This is sort of the easy one. At any given time, in probably writing songs to solve a puzzle. Trying to figure out how a particular genre of song works. Or how to make certain chord patterns fit.
More so than the last album, I’ve wanted to use more chords again. I feel like I’ve done the simple country songs for now. I was also fascinated by getting from a minor chord to the same major chord (Am to A for example) and what keys and ways to make that work. The other big one, that appears in almost every song, a major chord that descends a half step and then a minor (C to Bm for example).
It really helps with songwriting, these ideas. If you need variation, or if you’re stuck, you have a way out. They key is to repeat the trick in different ways.
By nature of the recoding process this time, the record will slow and hopefully soulful. That third Velvets album has loomed large in my mind. Soul music, the sound of Memphis, and how they do things, is a constant touchstone. A definite process when it comes to production or instrumentation.
These are all high falootin’ ideas that may never come off. There’s at least one song that won’t be about the Inner West or a girl and it’s looking like track 2.
But, developing both those steps is crucial, for me anyway, in sort of feeling like there’s an album here.
But it’s the spine that makes up an album. And once we had that – I could start the painful process of selecting songs. Which I will write about next.