Jon Allen is a singer-songwriter who has appeared on Later with Jools Holland, been A-listed on BBC Radio 2 and toured Europe supporting Seal. Q Magazine describes Jon's music as 'breathtaking'. His most recent album Sweet Defeat is full of great tunes, catchy melodies and soulful singing. Here Jon shares his songwriting tips.
- Do you have a daily songwriting routine or do you wait for inspiration to strike? Getting out of bed and picking up a guitar is always a good start. I try not to beat myself up if I don't come up with anything good somedays as long as in that given day I feel I have tried.
- Do you have any tricks to get the creative juices flowing? Reading poetry, listening to music, watching movies, listening to melodic ideas I have recorded on my iphone, going through song ideas I have written down. Walking about, going away from the computer is good. A lot of the time when I am stuck, the walk from my house to the coffee shop I go to every day often helps me solve things.
- Do you find you normally start with a melody or lyrics? Either. The more songs you write the more you realise there are many different ways to get a song going. It could be a melody, a lyric, a drum grove, a guitar sound you're getting from a 12 string you're playing.
- Do you think that melody is the most important aspect of a song? I was thinking about the question trying to answer it and I thought, Well, yes if you want it to get on the radio but then I thought what about rap that has no melody or maybe a little sung chorus bit or some dance music which is more about other things. I think the answer is it depends what the song is. If you take 'Masters Of War' by Bob Dylan it's hard to argue that the lyrics aren't more important that the melody. If you take 'Yesterday' by the Beatles you would have to say the melody is more important than the words although bad words can undermine a good melody for me.
- How long does it take you to write a song? It depends. I normally have a few songs on the go at the same time. Sometimes it can take a days work some times you can be chipping away at an idea for a month or more or come back to a concept you had years ago.
- Could you explain a little about the writing process behind a few of your songs? 'In Your Light' is one of my best known songs. I wrote the whole melody for that before the lyrics. The interesting thing about that song for me is the ambiguity of the lyric, Is the person I am singing about away, dead, what? The truth is I didn't really answer that question in my own mind I didn't nail it down and in a way I think the ambiguity of the lyric and the different meaning people get from it along with the melody is what gives it it's power.
- Do you have favourite keys to write in? Bb is good for my voice
- Do you think that a technical knowledge of theory is important or does it get in the way? I am self taught and can't read music. Theory doesn't get in the way as long as you don't let it and let knowledge become dogma. Sometimes it's good to know the rules in order to break them.
- Do you tend to revisit your songs and rewrite them? I normally have a time when the song is on the operating table and is then done but occasionally I may notice later I have left a surgical clamp inside and have to go back in.
- Do you write songs with a view to being commercial and following current trends? I think that question is a continuing thing an artist asks. Your experience is one continual feedback loop. If you were a person who cared nothing for the opinions of others you would be impossible to live with. On the other hand if you are constantly sucking up to someone that can grate pretty fast too. My ultimate aim is to create music that I would like to listen too. An artist must be true to what they feel and what moves them. I think insincerity is more dangerous than commercialism.
- Have you done much co-writing, and if so what do you see as the benefits? Yes I have co-written. It's all about chemistry. Sometimes is nice to break free of your own particular set of riffs be they melodic, lyric, structural. Sometimes it can feel like an unproductive tug of war where you might just decide to drop the rope and let them win, sometimes it can feel like you are building something unique that you couldn't have done without that other person, like the insight that can sometimes be reached with a really good conversation.
- Who do you view as great songwriters. Who has inspired you musically/ lyrically? Bob Dylan is a towering figure. I'm a big Van Morrison fan. I am also a fan of a lot of old songwriters, Cole Porter, George and Ira Gershwin.
- Do you feel that when there's conflict/struggle in your life that it inspires better songs? I think there is always ambiguity in everyones lives. You can choose to block it out or embrace it. I guess it is the job of the artist to strike that balance, to sit on that fence. It can be an uncomfortable and tiring place to sit but you get the most interesting view. Even if you are 'happy' you can still put the mirror up to that. Everything exists in relief to everything else. There is no true happiness without the knowledge of sadness.
- Do you have any idea where you ideas come from? I steal from other people, I steal from my own life, I tap into the ether if I am feeling transcendental.
- Do you have any advice you'd like to share with budding songwriters out there? Live, think, listen, write.
Click on the following to find Jon on the web.