Friday, May 12, 2017

River Matthews



River Matthews has been described by Jo Whiley on BBC Radio 2 as 'our new favourite thing' and by Clash Magazine as 'Uniquely Therapeutic'. He has also supported Rag 'n' Bone Man on tour. His new EP 'Sunshine' is out in May. Here he discusses his songwriting tips.




  1. Do you have a daily songwriting routine or do you wait for inspiration to strike? If I know I’m gonna be sitting down and writing the next day then I’ll try and get some good sleep the night before, wake up fresh, not drink too much coffee, eat some good food, have a run… that’s usually a good start! Sometimes though, especially when I’m in the middle of song, and specifically with lyrics, good ideas come up when you least expect them to. For example, a lot of the lyrics for the song ‘Sunshine’ came when I was in the bath! As long as my phone’s near me I can write the idea down to try when I’m next to the guitar or piano. A lot of times when I’m writing lyrics I’ll take a melody as a voice note and go for a walk, writing down ideas if they come to me. Most of the songs I’ve written develop from a feeling about something, so whatever it takes to be centred in that feeling, even if you’re not sure exactly what it is yet.
  2. Do you have any tricks to get the creative juices flowing? A run, a shower or cold bath can work pretty well to get you in a good state for writing. But I just end up singing a lot over a chord sequence and trying not to think too much about it. I usually just sing random words and sounds until a feeling develops, writing down interesting lines or words as I go. The more my mind enters the picture, or I put expectations on myself, the more difficult the process tend to be.
  3. Do you find you normally start with a melody or lyrics? Melody always. I might write down ideas for a lyric or title now and again but at the start of a new song melody comes first 99% of the time, then the feeling, then the lyric.
  4. Do you think that melody is the most important aspect of a song? I used to listen to the melody of a song first when I was younger but now it’s the feeling/lyric that I listen to above anything else. But these two things without a melody is like a train without a track.
  5. How long does it take you to write a song? Ah, this depends on so much. It can take a few hours to write a melody but lyrics always take me much longer. Anything from a week to a month in some cases. If I rush something it pretty much ain’t gonna be a strong thing.
  6. Could you explain a little about the writing process behind a few of your songs?  So, the song ‘Stars was a concept I had years ago. I was staying somewhere out in Scotland, miles from anywhere and I went for a walk one night. There were millions of stars in the sky but three stars were the brightest. And it hit me right then that they were the most important people in my life, my Mum, my Dad and my Sister. Years later I was playing some chords on the guitar when I starting singing ‘Count all the stars…’ and that idea came back in my head, so I knew quite early on what the song was going to be about. I also realized there was another most important person in my life who wasn’t there before, my niece Imogen. So, I decided to write the song like I was talking to Imogen, telling her to count her own stars. The idea behind the song Feels Like Morning’ kinda came from no-where. I had a melody which felt good and I just kept singing over the melody with random words and sounds until lines and words came out which felt good. I wrote everything down and started to get a feeling about what the song was about, although I still wasn’t 100% until it was finished. It sounded like a love song but it turned out to be about new beginnings, which was perfect for that time and place. The song Sunshine was much more obvious. I started writing it on the first real sunny day of the year last year, and knew it was gonna be a song about the sun from the beginning. But I had no idea how I was gonna write it. Most of my favourite lyrics in that song popped out when during time away from the song.
  7. What songs that other people have written do you particularly admire? I love most of Bob Dylan’s songs from the 60’s; Desolation Row, It’s Alright, Ma (I’m only bleeding) still kill me years and years after first hearing them. John Lennon’s Across the Universe is just perfect too. There’s so many. Van Morrison’s first album Astral Weeks is incredible. There’s nothing else like that album. I was listening to Pink Floyd’s Wish You Were Here album the other night for the first time in a long time. It still blows me away.
  8. Do you think that a technical knowledge of theory is important or does it get in the way? I think you need some theory, even if you don’t realise it’s theory. I mean, I know certain chords go together and that helps me write something without thinking about what I’m playing. Above that just listening to music has been the most important thing for me I think, and letting go / not thinking about it. The thinking comes later when I’m trying to make sense of things as a story.
  9. Do you tend to revisit your songs and rewrite them? Yeah. I sing through a finished song lots and leave a few days before revisiting them to change a line or word here and there. Again, it’s a feeling you get whether it’s finished or not. Someone said once that a song’s never finished, it’s a snapshot of where you are at that time. I think you could always rework something, but that doesn’t always mean it would be better for it.
  10. Do you write songs with a view to being commercial and following current trends? The moment I start thinking about that is the moment where I can’t write. The commercial aspect is at the back of my mind a lot more now, but so far it’s never made for an idea or a song I feel good about.
  11. Have you done much co-writing, and if so what do you see as the benefits? Yeah, I’ve written with a few people, and enjoy collaborating over melodies. I don’t really enjoy writing lyrics with other people though. There’s loads of benefits from writing with others. If there’s a good feeling in the room it can really flow and the song can end up absorbing the best of everyone. 
  12. Who do you view as great songwriters. Who has inspired you musically/ lyrically?There’s so many; Bob Dylan, The Beatles, The Stones. I love Nina Simone and her versions of songs which came before her. The feeling which comes out of that lady is something else. I really love some of The Arctic Monkey’s lyrics too, and Amy Winehouse was an incredible songwriter.
  13. Do you feel that when there's conflict/struggle in your life that it inspires better songs?Sometimes. I don’t enjoy writing when things are feeling heavy, but when that feeling settles and I can view it from some place else I think it can make a strong catalyst for a song.
  14. Do you have any idea where your ideas come from? I have no idea… probably from some experience or another somewhere in my life, which turns into some kind of daydream when I’m singing over some chords.
  15. Do you have any advice you'd like to share with budding songwriters out there? Don’t be scared. Or rather be scared and just do it. I went years feeling scared to write something because I didn’t want to be judged. Also, patience. Everyone’s in a hurry to be something as quickly as possible. We grow up now with the message you can be anything you want / have everything you want, and you don’t need to wait or work for it. And that’s just bullshit.
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This interview was by Ben Williams. Find Ben on TWITTERFACEBOOK







Monday, February 6, 2017

Anna Pancaldi



Anna Pancaldi is an international songstress who has received heavyweight support from BBC Radio 2 and BBC 6 Music. Following a string of sold out London shows, appearances at Glastonbury festival and a debut TV appearance in the US, Anna is set to release her third EP 'Sweet Charity' in March. Anna has also penned a song for a Levis commercial. Here Anna shares her thoughts on songwriting. 


  1. Do you have a daily songwriting routine or do you wait for inspiration to strike? Not really, writing is so personal and delicate and I can't force it by making it too scheduled, but we're all different.
  2. Do you have any tricks to get the creative juices flowing? I like to be in a still, peaceful and intimate setting so it almost feels like a show.
  3. Do you find you normally start with a melody or lyrics? It's probably equal as to which I start with, depending on where I am. Sometimes I'm on the road (not driving haha) and start writing lyrics, other times I am sat with my guitar and start there.
  4. Do you think that melody is the most important aspect of a song? I think lyrics and melody are equally vital, what are you trying to say, convey and make people hear and resonate with? You can't have an unforgettable song without the two married together.
  5. How long does it take you to write a song? Wow, so varied haha. Sometimes I have written one start to finish in 10 minutes, like my latest single 'Brother' and others take months! 
  6. Could you explain a little about the writing process behind a few of your songs?  'Brother', I think I am most proud of, I wrote it back in the summer in the studio preparing for my EP 'Sweet Charity' coming out March 20th. I sat there one evening at the piano (which I haven't ever finished a song on before due to lack experience on) and it fell out in under 9 minutes, a rare moment for me, but a special one. 'Stay Right Here' I began writing many years ago when I used to nanny and then went onto complete it years later when I went travelling around the world for nine months in 2011. I went to see more of the world and focus on composing, have more time and less routine was pivotal for me to relax into writing more and I finished it in my dorm room in Wellington, New Zealand. haha, my poor room mates! 'Promise We'll Never Grow Old' I began writing alone and has been my most favourite co-write to date, I finished it with the wonderful songwriter Carassius Gold who truly brought the best out of me. I vividly remember walking home that day to Bethnal Green with the widest smile and such joy in my heart for composing a song I am so proud of and still am to this day. 
  7. What songs that other people have written do you particularly admire? 'Home Again' by Carole King, 'The Man That Got Away' from a Star is Born sung by Judy Garland, 'Hallelujah' by Leonard Cohen and so many more. A few songs I can't help but go back to. 
  8. Do you think that a technical knowledge of theory is important or does it get in the wayI dropped out of studying music at uni because I wanted to focus specifically on the craft of writing, performing and the business, so I learnt some of that on my diploma before I left, but for me it wasn't what I wanted to spend 3 years doing within a degree. However, it does not get in the way and it can transform the way you write music having studied it, it just isn't for everyone. Laura Mvula is a wonderful example of someone who has studied music at a conservatoire, has brilliant musicianship skills, knows the theory behind it and the stunning music to prove it.
  9. Do you tend to revisit your songs and rewrite them? Not really to re-write, but to listen yes, it's funny listening to earlier recordings and hearing how you voice develops and grows! Fascinating!
  10. Do you write songs with a view to being commercial and following current trends? No, not now. It's something I have really struggled with over the years and many others too, I know. But and it's a big but, it's so imperative that you know who you are as an artist. One, because what is the point of building your life around music you don't care about? It holds no worth at all. Secondly, everyone has an opinion and you can end up being blown about in the wind if you don't know who you are and stand strong in that. I am my worst critic and I trust that, but I also have people around me who are honest and who's opinions I respect too. it's taken me a long time to be comfortable in who I am and the music I am putting out into the world.
  11. Have you done much co-writing, and if so what do you see as the benefits? I have started doing quite a few recently and see how co-writes can bring out the best in songwriters, take you to places that you wouldn't usually go as I think we tend to have habits within writing, but for me, it has been a challenge and learning curve. What I write is so personal, it can be hard to share that with others.
  12. Who do you view as great songwriters. Who has inspired you musically/ lyrically? Jeff Buckley, Carole King, Bob Dylan, Stevie Wonder, Joni Mitchell and so many more. Such integrity, honesty, timelessness, truth and some of the artists who I can relate to, who truly make me feel something, transformative. 
  13. Do you feel that when there's conflict/struggle in your life that it inspires better songs? No one goes through life unscathed and we all experience that on many different levels, so I think yes, these struggles are things that bring real music. Experiences that evoke a powerful emotion in you can't help but make the best music.
  14. Do you have any idea where you ideas come from? All my songs have come from my walk through life so far, the things that have impacted and transformed my life which I cannot ignore.
  15. Do you have any advice you'd like to share with budding songwriters out there? Listen to the greats and soak up their lyrics, their melodies and write write write. Draw on the things that affect you the most and use those experiences to bring out your strongest, deepest emotions. Always pay attention to the turn of phrase, another songwriter told me that once and it made me look at lyrics so differently, but in a beautiful way.
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This interview was by Ben Williams. Find Ben on TWITTERFACEBOOK


Saturday, January 28, 2017

Robbie Cavanagh


Robbie Cavanagh is a  Manchester based singer-songwriter who performs beautifully crafted songs with powerful lyrics and haunting melodies. He has already played several sold out shows this year and his song 'Godsend' , recorded for the Mahogany sessions, has been viewed more than 100,000 times on Youtube. Here Robbie shares his thoughts on songwriting. 
  1. Do you have a daily songwriting routine or do you wait for inspiration to strike? For me songwriting is quite a natural thing. It's a thing I do because it feels right to do it. So I don't have a routine at all. Mainly because I don't have to write. I choose to. So there is no methodical way of doing it. Things happen, and then they are songs. 
  2. Do you have any tricks to get the creative juices flowing? Unless you're tied into a contract with deadlines, my recommendation is always if you can't write, don't. Just wait it out. Sometimes things happen in your life that you know you need to get down into a song, but you can't rush those things. It will happen when it's ready to happen. Some people have some cool techniques. Ryan Adams uses a technique where he plucks sentences from books and builds a story, but for me it's important that it happens naturally, or I just cant buy into it. 
  3. Do you find you normally start with a melody or lyrics? I like to write both at the same time. I'll always pick up a guitar and start to sing and find chords as I go. Again, it's all just a really natural process for me. The lyrics inspire the music and the melody, and the melody and chords inspire the direction of the lyrics.
  4. Do you think that melody is the most important aspect of a song? Sometimes, yes. But great melodies and terrible lyrics is a crime. Just like great lyrics and poor melody is. It has to have the right level of everything. Of course it varies, song by song, but for me, there is no most or least important part. Everything has to fit together or it's not going to work. 
  5. How long does it take you to write a song? Some songs are an idea for months. years even. Returned to and finally finished. Some songs are completed in a couple of hours in an evening. The important thing for me is that it feels like it was supposed to happen. If I force an ending, or try and make something fit that doesn't, I'll fall out of love with the song. It takes as long as it takes I guess. I've written songs in a night. Some I'm very proud of. Sometimes the longer it takes the more you over think it and it starts to feel forced. But thats why it takes the time. You know when its right. That might take years. 
  6. Could you explain a little about the writing process behind a few of your songs? GodsendMy girlfriend had put me onto this tuning that I'd never worked with before, so I'd spend a few days messing around with it and late one night, having returned from her house, feeling completely in love, I picked up my guitar, which happened to still be in that tuning. And Godsend sort of happened. Again, I said what I was feeling, a mixture of love, frustration and unfaltering adoration. The ending just sort of happened on the first voice note I made of it, where I was just repeating the chorus line and getting quite passionate with it, and it sort of stuck from there. It was a very natural process of just reliving the night I'd just had, and how in love I felt. Let You DownWhen I'm pensive I like to lie down and play my guitar quite slowly. Whilst I think about things. The pace of this song is so spaced and chilled, cause it was basically written that way. I didnt want to think about a rhythm or anything. The only important thing was to have time to breath so i could gather my thoughts and perform them. It just remained that way. No rhythm, no real timing to it. Choked UpI was thinking alot about a long distance relationship I was in, and this song was meant almost as a joke really. The silly threat of 'what If im entertaining more of a local girl' seemed funny to me. The song was sort of built around that. I'd been listening to alot of country music, so that kind of shuffle rhythm was in my head and it kinda flooded out. 
  7. What songs that other people have written do you particularly admire? Everybody Hurts - REM, Sound Of Silence -Simon and Garfunkel, Perfect Day - Lou Reed, Life On Mars - Bowie, Gold - Prince. All perfectly crafted songs that feel like they were just honest, not over thought and just written and performed straight from the heart. 
  8. Do you think that a technical knowledge of theory is important or does it get in the way? I think theory knowledge is something that should come in the production side of a track. Writing the bones of a good song should be more about feel and vibe. Theory can get in the way of just playing what feels right. But once you are producing a fully written song, then theory can be really useful to help make chords and melodies more interesting and unpredictable. 
  9. Do you tend to revisit your songs and rewrite them? I tend not to. I like to think, once I've declared it finished, its a piece of work that shouldn't be messed with. If I made a mistake, then I can not make that mistake next song. There are so many songs. Why keep changing one when you could write another? 
  10. Do you write songs with a view to being commercial and following current trends? I think natural songwriters have a style. The way they write without really thinking too much about it. You can't change that without it becoming forced. Becoming work, not art. Formulaic. The production is where a song can start to follow a current trend. A really great song can be produced in whatever style and feel you choose. So long as the song is strong, anything is possible. But commercial success of style is not something I ever think about when I'm writing. Only ever once I've written it. 
  11. Have you done much co-writing, and if so what do you see as the benefits? Co-writing is something I do quite often for other peoples material. I think its an important part of experience as a songwriter. Every time you get into a room with someone else and start to write, your influence and your ideas are altered and directed by who you are with and what you are doing and what you are talking about. So you'll write songs you never would have written alone, or in a different room with a different person thinking a different thing. Experience is so important, so to experience writing with other people in other environments is a very healthy thing. Even if nothing comes from the session. 
  12. Who do you view as great songwriters. Who has inspired you musically/ lyrically? I've always been inspired by Randy Newman, Michael Stipe and James Taylor. More recently Foy Vance and Counting Crowes. They all write with a seeming disregard and a natural feel. It never feels forced. It feels like they got in a studio, recorded what was on their mind, got it all off their chest and then left. Thats what I love. Nothing was over thought. Nothing was forced and created for the sake of it. They had to get something off their chest, so they recorded music instead of writing a diary. 
  13. Do you feel that when there's conflict/struggle in your life that it inspires better songs?Not better songs necessarily. But maybe just songs that mean more to me. Writing a song about a conflict or a struggle in your life is a real therapy. Performing a song each night thats about something that was a real struggle is a really healthy way to revisit and rethink things. So those songs are maybe the most important, but that doesn't make them better. 
  14. Do you have any idea where you ideas come from? My ideas come from my life. People I meet and care about. People I love. My songs are almost always about my relationships with other people, whether good or bad.
  15. Do you have any advice you'd like to share with budding songwriters out there? Don't try too hard. Don't try to copy, or replicate. Don't try and make a hit single. Write what feels natural. Write what you don't have to think too hard about. The rest will come after.

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Thursday, March 31, 2016

Andy Platts (Mamas Gun)


Andy Platts is a songwriter and vocalist best known for his work with the band Mamas Gun, a ferociously funky live act, whose sound bridges classic melodic pop songwriting with retro and contemporary soul/groove sensibilities.  The song 'Red Cassette' from Mamas Guns third album recently made the BBC Radio 2 playlist, as well as being playlisted on major radio stations across Europe and Asia. 'House on a Hill', a song from the bands debut album, was the most played song on Japanese radio in 2009. As well as his work with Mamas Gun, Andy has also enjoyed chart success working with other artists, including several number one singles in Korea, number one albums in Japan and top 20 successes in Europe. Most recently Andy has been working with Dutch singer Steffen Morrison and Korean Superstar Park Hyo Shin. Here, Andy discusses his songwriting tips. 
  1. Do you have a daily songwriting routine or do you wait for inspiration to strike? It really does depend on what else is happening at the time. Historically I'm at my most active in between albums (which is logical!). During this time I'm inspired to want to implement a daily routine. Typically during this type of period I will get up very early, sometimes as early 6am. I find this time of the day especially conducive to writing lyrics or following streams of consciousness with a certain level of clarity. I tend to try and use a day to pursue an idea as far as I can take it, as opposed to flitting between unfinished ideas but sometimes a song won't let you do that and you have to walk away.
  2. Do you have any tricks to get the creative juices flowing? No, no tricks. You just have to remain constantly interested in the process and retain a certain amount of romance (and even naivety) and be prepared to take full advantage when the really special lighting bolts strike. I used to smoke a lot of weed (not to write, specifically, just all day every day…) which certainly puts your mind into a different sphere, and I know quite a few people who won’t play a note without it, but I wouldn’t say is necessarily better for getting things started or being creative. On a basic level, you can of course foster good conditions for songwriting. Obviously listening to music can be very inspirational, but I am also a big reader. Engaging with words/language and the infinite ways it can be used to communicate or 'paint', I think is crucial. At the moment I’m bingeing on the prose of Thomas Hardy, the style of which forces you to engage with words and sentence construction in a different way.
  3. Do you find you normally start with a melody or lyrics? Ah this old chestnut. I don't ‘normally’ start with either. If you characterise yourself as 'someone who starts with xxxx ' then you are conditioning yourself to perceive and create in a certain way. You have to be open for any kind of stimuli to inform what may come next, be it lyrics, melody, chords, a lick, or simply a feeling.
  4. Do you think that melody is the most important aspect of a song? Oh absolutely crucial but not necessarily the most important aspect. The 'recipe’ of every song is different and the appeal of a song lies in how its constituent parts are balanced. And this is where the subjective nature of music and taste comes in. Yes often the melody will be the thing which sells the lyric - I always liked what Paul Mc Cartney said about songwriting. I'm paraphrasing here but it was something like 'melody is like the eye catching gift wrapping on a present that ultimately leads you to the thing at the centre of it, the lyric.' Melody and lyric are just as important as each other and to me, finding that perfect balance between the two, and it saying what I really want it to say, is the holy grail. It also depends on what kind of song(s) you are looking to write.
  5. How long does it take you to write a song? Looking back at the songs I've written - anywhere from 30 minutes to 10 years. Some ideas need to be captured, bottled and written on the spot, regardless of time, place or circumstance. But some ideas, which are best left and not forced, can develop a different context and become more meaningful over the passage of time.
  6. Could you explain a little about the writing process behind a few of your songs? Red Cassette: I found an old red cassette in a shoe box in the loft at my parents house on a visit a few years ago. The song tells the story of when I was eight years old and wanted to be a radio DJ. I’d wired up all my turntables and hi-fis into a scientist’s laboratory and I’d stay up late to make my own radio shows writing my own jingles and songs, recording it on a four-track player on a red cassette tape. But it’s also a love letter to nostalgia. It’s the notion of looking back in order to move forward and create in the present, whether it’s creating music or art or just life experience. The chorus refrain ‘Take me back, take me back to when it all began’, speaks to the tangible element in the song - the red cassette itself, which aside from being a great visual physical device, is also a great metaphor for nostalgia and also a cool song title. The style of the song was influenced by stuff like The Isley Brothers 'Harvest for the World', with all those nice slash chords and insistent driving 8 beat. I guess I wrote this one in about 30 mins. Pots of Gold: I’d been listening to a lot of doo-wop and vocal groups like the Ink Spots and also people like The Delphonics and The Stylistics. I wanted to write something optimistic and summery so I wandered down that maj7, dom7 progression as a starting point, and then found myself thinking about the sun, the sky, then onto rainbows and then the elusive pot of gold. I immediately thought this had legs as a visual image as well as a great metaphor. The song kind of wrote itself after that and is basically about chasing your dreams at the expense of the things which are most important in life. To me, those things are family and the close personal connections we form with friends, lovers etc, without whom life would be utterly meaningless. In other words: re-define the notion of success and put your happiness first. Long Way Back: I'm proud of this one. This is a song I wrote from the perspective of my Grandfather at his wife’s bedside just before she passed away. The tempo, space, harmony, melody and lyric all combine powerfully to create a feeling of reflection and nostalgia, but in a way that is not obviously hammy or cheesy. (I hope….).
  7. What songs that other people have written do you particularly admire? Just a few of my favourite songs (not necessarily recordings)… Lennon/McCartney - She's Leaving Home , Lennon/McCartney - If I Fell, Lewis Taylor - Damn, Queen - You're My Best Friend, Andrew Gold - Lonely Boy, Kate Bush - Mother Stands For Comfort, Prince - When You Were Mine, Joni Mitchell - Free Man In Paris, Irving Berlin - They Say It's wonderful , Elton John - In Neon, Jeff Lynne - Strange Magic
  8. Do you think that a technical knowledge of theory is important or does it get in the way? I don’t think it’s important at all. Look at people like Bob Dylan. 3 chord tricks with exquisitely crafted lyrics and just the right amount of melody to carry them. Same with someone like Noel Gallagher who wrote simple working class anthems that resonated with a whole generation. As long as you are being yourself and being true to yourself, you should (with a bit of luck and elbow grease) find your voice regardless of your level of music theory.
  9. Do you tend to revisit your songs and rewrite them? Absolutely. Especially ones that you know have something special about them but haven’t been elevated to where they could be. You have to draw a line at some point, (otherwise you’ll go mad) but songs can always be better, in a number of respects, but just as important is knowing when to draw that line to not do any more work on them.
  10. Do you write songs with a view to being commercial and following current trends? I find that I naturally write with one ear towards being commercial or accessible. It’s what I like, I grew up listening to the radio after all! I find that I don’t care about trends. I make myself aware of them but it certainly doesn’t dictate how or what I write. If I’m writing for another singer (a Japanese balladeer, for example) I may take into account the hallmarks of the genre ( certain chord types and progressions ) but I will still tend to write something which I like and from which I get something back.
  11. Have you done much co-writing, and if so what do you see as the benefits? Yes done plenty, with people all over the world. There’s def something to be said for co-writing. If you have a synergy with someone then you can really hone in on something quickly and ensure the quality level is kept high. Creative tennis if you like. Someone else will almost have a slightly different take on a lyrical theme or chord progression, which can be invaluable. I’ve also I’ve found that one person tends to (has to?) ‘lead’ in these sessions otherwise things can lose focus. Nowadays I'm more selective about with whom I co-write. If a writer is suggested to me by my publisher, I will do all I can to research the writer's body of work, their style etc.
  12. Who do you view as great songwriters. Who has inspired you musically / lyrically? Paul McCartney, John Lennon, Freddie Mercury, Sylvester Stewart (Sly Stone), Prince, Joni Mitchell, Scott Walker, Andy Sturmer, Kate Bush, Brian Wilson, Jeff Lynne, Elton John / Bernie Taupin, Andrew Gold, Stevie Wonder, Rod Temperton, Cole Porter, Irving Berlin….
  13. Do you feel that when there's conflict/struggle in your life that it inspires better songs? Ok getting personal! Yeah I’m sure conflict is at the heart of the creative condition. I’m pretty sure that I became a writer not just because I love music. I would offer that creating art, music, paintings, sculpture, drama…whatever….goes some way to exploring what’s at the heart of that conflict. On a deeper, more permanent level, the fact that we are all a genetic product of two different sources means that a certain conflict exists within us all, as a starting point. Personally - being of mixed race with parents from opposite sides of the Earth has definitely left me with irreconcilable issues of identity which I’m convinced feed into the music I write. It’s not like I’m sitting in a shower crying screaming ‘who am I?’ everyday - it’s more subtle than that. But indeed writing songs, for me, is a form of self-therapy and crucial in providing some kind of stability and an outlet through which I can process and make sense of things.
  14. Do you have any idea where your ideas come from? If I knew that then I probably wouldn’t be doing it!
  15. Do you have any advice you'd like to share with budding songwriters out there? Just keep writing, keep writing, keep writing. Writing songs is about developing a knack for knowing what’s good, what could be good and just as importantly knowing which ideas aren’t worth pursuing - the red herrings! And don’t settle for okay. Remember that you’re going up against the very best songwriters who have ever lived. You will become part of that body of work and that musical conversation so try to make what you do as special and memorable as possible.

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Monday, October 12, 2015

John Bramwell (I Am Kloot)


John Bramwell is the frontman and songwriter from I Am Kloot, a band who have six studio albums under their belt. They have been nominated for a Mercury Music Prize, achieved top ten albums and even written the soundtrack for a BBC One series. Bramwell has also released albums under his own name, such as 'You Me and The Alarm Clock' which was described by The Guardian newspaper as 'one of the greatest albums you've never heard'. I managed to catch up with John before he heads out on his latest tour, to ask him a few questions about songwriting. 


  1. Do you have a daily songwriting routine or do you wait for inspiration to strike? Both. I sit and play guitar for enjoyment, and I don’t think of it as ‘trying to write’. Whenever I try to write it doesn’t really happen. I prefer to call it ‘making things up’ because you get a much more playful attitude that way. It’s all in the frame of mind. I play every day, and I have done since I was 5 or 6.
  2. Do you have any tricks to get the creative juices flowing? A lot of songs come to me when I’m out walking. Driving around is another good way, not necessarily going anywhere in particular. I just keep singing away and a melody will pop in. I don't think about it too much and just let 'stream of consciousness' come out. Then at some point everything starts to gel and I get a theme. The next day if I can remember it then I carry on with it. I have a mobile phone, in the old days I had a Walkman. But I don’t record every single thing, or you just end up having to wade through them all. It’s got to pass the whistle test. If it sticks with me, then I stick with it. Also, I’ve taken a chord change from someone else’s song, and just played it for enjoyment. Sometimes something comes. An early song of mine ‘Titanic’ is the same chords as ‘Lay Lady Lay’ by Bob Dylan. I also like to jam over BBC Radio 3. It gets you away from everything that’s happened since 1955 and gives you a fresh approach. 
  3. Do you find you normally start with a melody or lyrics? Because I’ve been playing for such a long time an idea tends to pop into my head, then I work out what it is on the guitar. So usually melody and words come together. But they’re not always the final words. I might spend some more time on the words and completely change them. But the best stuff normally just comes to you. 
  4. Do you think that melody is the most important aspect of a song? I think for me it’s the power that the melody gives the lyric. I think that’s my strong point. It’s not everyone’s strong point and it’s not necessarily what makes a good song. I am probably a bit more poetic than most. That’s why I’m always waiting for a strong melody. Once you’ve got a strong melody then lyrics can come quite easily. 
  5. How long does it take you to write a song? If it’s a really good one it won’t take long at all. Having said that, I’ve had songs hang around for years because the lyric just won’t come. There’s a song called 'Masquerade' on our last album. The opening of that song is a scale. When I was a kid my mate was teaching me scales, which I never really paid that much attention to. But I started singing the scale and then developed that into the rest of the melody. And I’ve had that kicking around with me since I was about 12. We were recording something else one day and I was driving in, about an hours drive. I’d pretty much written it by the time I got to the studio. We put it down that day. So in one way in took an hour to write that, but in another way it took 32 years.
  6. What songs that other people have written do you particularly admire? When you’re between 5 and 11, before you start thinking about what’s cool, you ingest music unconsciously. If you’re going to be honest as a writer that’s the biggest influence. Not because you want it to be, but because it is. Growing up I had The Beatles, Bowie, T-Rex. My mum had Sinatra on. My mum and dad had all the musicals on. None of my family could play instruments, but music was a big deal. On long journeys my dad would put music on the stereo and we’d all sing and learn the song. 
  7. Do you think that a technical knowledge of theory is important or does it get in the way? If you’re self taught like I am, it helps you have your own sound. I form some of the chords in a different way, so sometimes when I change from one chord to another, especially when I’m playing fingerstyle, I get different accidentals than I would if I'd learnt formally. I hurt my finger about 5 years ago so I’ve had to relearn shapes with different fingers. Just the basic ones like C and E. It was a pain at first but now it’s second nature. And now as a result of this I get different accidentals, and this gives me a recognisable style.
  8. Have you done much co-writing, and if so what do you see as the benefits? I never have, no. I like to have a glass of wine and sit with my guitar and put a good film on. I watched 'La Vie En Rose' about three or four times over the course of a couple of months, and that really inspired a lot of the writing on ‘Sky at Night’. It’s got that late night ‘glass of wine’ feel. I think films are really inspiring. And if you want to write lyrically, then read a lot. Reading is the best thing you can do if you want to write. 
  9. Do you feel that when there's conflict/struggle in your life that it inspires better songs? It can be a solace. I wrote a song on our last EP called ‘Forgive Me These Reminders’. I was feeling pretty bleak. I think I wrote it as a song to myself, not to be too hard on myself. I’d run myself a bit ragged, not had enough sleep over a couple of months, been gigging and going out, and was feeling like I needed to pull myself together. I was pissed off with myself, so I wrote that…. The emotions that come out in a song when you’re writing it aren’t necessarily the emotions that you’re living in at the time, they often can be from the past , or in fact can be a kind of weird fiction. 
  10. Do you have any advice you'd like to share with budding songwriters out there? Get lost in it and enjoy it. Let other people hear your stuff. Someone that you trust. A career is a different thing. I’ve always had part time jobs until about 10 years ago. You need to step away from being a writer. It does your head in to do it all the time. The worst thing is you get fed up with your own stuff because you have to spend so much time with it. It’s good to have some stuff you actually have to do. I had a delivery van driving job, I just picked up the stuff from the depot in the morning then I’d have to deliver it. Basically I’d have all day to myself. It took my mind away from ‘I’ve got to write’, so I enjoyed the writing when I got back to it. And I also could write while I was doing the job; just taking your eye of the ball is pretty good. Staring at a piece of paper is hard. You have to do that as well. But you need to get away from it too. Also, the song that you think is a bit daft, the one where you think ‘this is just too obvious’, often that’s the one.
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This interview was by Ben Williams. Find Ben on TWITTERFACEBOOK
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