Described by Bob Harris on BBC Radio 2 as "one of our finest singer-songwriters", Lisa has been making waves with her acclaimed releases 'Slipstream', 'Lost Again', 'Clouds with Silver' and 'Reminders'. A compelling live performer, Lisa has shared the stage with respected artists such as Kathryn Williams, Jess Klein and Laura Veirs and has been a regular feature on the festival circuit. Lisa is also a regular columnist for 'Songwriting Magazine' so she is no stranger to sharing her songwriting tips:
- Do you have a daily songwriting routine or do you wait for inspiration to strike? I don’t have a daily routine but I always keep my trusty note book with me in case inspiration strikes and so I can jot down words and ideas. There’s been random moments when I get really inspired and often this has come when I’ve been doing something else unrelated to music. I love those times when you’re really in the zone and song ideas are just flowing.
- Do you have any tricks to get the creative juices flowing? If I’m feeling stuck with my writing, taking a break from a song, letting in breathe and revisiting it later fresh is definitely a good thing for me. I also try going for a walk, being open to inspiration all around me. Really observing and absorbing my surroundings really helps. Switching instruments like moving to the ukulele can also provide some new melodic ideas.
- Do you find you normally start with a melody or lyrics? When I write, it’s usually the melody or phrase that comes first. I often play around with a chord progression then find a melody that works within that. Once I've got a melody that I'm happy with, I then start to develop the theme and play my guitar while getting a rhythm and singing the melody over it. Sometimes it differs but the lyrics usually come last. If a phrase is interesting and evocative to me, I will use that as inspiration for the theme and include it within the song. Some of my tracks seem to have written themselves once I’ve gotten the title. My songs ‘Never Was A Yesterday’ and ‘Makes Your Heart Sing’ arose while having a conversation with friends. There might be something people say that triggers my imagination and it turns into a song. Another song, ‘Slipstream’ started with the title, it felt like an interesting metaphor for striving forward with my career and not getting left behind.
- Do you think that melody is the most important aspect of a song? Personally I’m a huge fan of melody and most of my all-time favourite songs have really strong and memorable melodies. A great melody certainly grabs the attention but I don’t think it’s the only important aspect of a song, it’s the combination of a few things, some songs have a powerful lyrical theme, distinct riff or interesting arrangement that can really lift a track. I try not to record too much on my laptop when I first get something. If I forget all about the melody and remember it later on that’s a great indication that’s it’s memorable. However, lately I’m getting into the habit of singing into my phone or laptop, just in case, would hate the thought of losing something that could’ve had potential!
- How long does it take you to write a song? It can vary from half an hour to a few months on and off. When I feel really inspired and have some words and a theme, sometimes the song can be very quick to finish. It's a dream when the process is fast and instinctive, when you write something you're really excited about and you can't resist playing it over and over. Sometimes a random phrase just comes out, ideas flow and it just feels right. Somedays its easy and words flow, others take some time for me to feel satisfied with them. My song ‘So Many Words’ took awhile as I had the verses but needed something inbetween. Later I came up with a middle section that fitted perfectly into the song. It’s really exciting when you get that feeling you have just written something good.
- Could you explain a little about the writing process behind a few of your songs? There’s definitely a personal strand running through most of my songs and a lot of material comes from my own experiences. ‘New York Song’ came from one of my early stays in New York and reflects a time when I was moving into a new chapter in my life. Like a lot of my songs it’s a really bittersweet song, feeling that mix of sadness about moving on from the past but also hopeful too. I’ve been fortunate to have also been based in New York City and both ‘Summer on the L’ and ‘Dreaming In Crowds’ are inspired by my time living in the Big Apple. ‘Summer on the L’ is about riding the L train between Brooklyn and Manhattan and observing all the life on there. ‘Dreaming in Crowds’ is inspired by moving to a big city, wandering the busy streets and chasing your dreams. ‘Dragonfly’ has a really nostalgic sentiment, it's about friendship and those moments in life when you have this real feeling of peace and happiness. It came about when I was in India on a long car journey with friends, the sun was setting and we’d all shared this magical relaxing day.
- What songs that other people have written do you particularly admire? I’m fascinated by songwriting and love hearing how my favourite writers came up with their songs. Hearing a great song motivates and inspires me to really push myself. There are so many songs I love, here’s some of my all-time favourites that have resonated. Ryan Adams ‘La Cienega Just Smiled’ has such a great feel. Rosie Thomas ‘Wedding Day’ love the lyrics and bittersweet sentiment. Kate Bush ‘This Woman’s Work’ I love a lot of Kate Bush’s music and this is such a moving song. Joni Mitchell ‘River’ another incredibly moving song. Other favourites include Josh Rouse ‘Rise’, Sufjan Stevens ‘Chicago’ , Boo Hewerdine ‘Birds are leaving’ , Nick Drake ‘Northern Sky’,Sandy Denny ‘Who Knows Where the Time Goes’. The Smiths and Morrissey have been a soundtrack to my life ever since I heard ‘The Smiths’ eponymous debut and ‘Hatful of Hollow’. There are so many songs to choose from that have resonated with me but ‘Suedehead’ has always been a big favourite and reminds me of my first trip alone to the US to visit friends who were living in San Francisco. I love Morrissey’s unique and humorous lyrics and especially those early singles with Stephen Street like ‘Everyday is Like Sunday’ and ‘The Last of the Famous International Playboys’.
- Do you think that a technical knowledge of theory is important or does it get in the way? I have certain chord progressions I use and have a fondness for major sevenths and minor sevenths which have a lovely warmth and sweet melancholic quality. I love how on ‘Tapestry’ Carole King combines the minor and major on timeless songs like ‘It’s Too Late’ and ‘You’ve Got a Friend’ which has definitely inspired me. Generally though I don’t think technical knowledge of theory is overly crucial, the more you play music and write usually you get a sense of what sounds and feels right.
- Do you tend to revisit your songs and rewrite them? Only when I play some of the older songs live, I sometimes change the arrangement or play at a different tempo. I’ve also begun playing some of my songs on ukulele and even sing a couple of tracks a capella live.
- Do you write songs with a view to being commercial and following current trends? No, the majority of my songs are in the acoustic folk, Americana style and I just write the style I like without paying too much attention to what is the current trend. I have also written and recorded dance and indie songs and certainly keep up with what is current in those genres but it doesn’t inform my writing. When I've been asked to write top-line melodies on someone's dance track I'm much more likely to see what's popular and be inspired by commercially successful songs.
- Have you done much co-writing, and if so what do you see as the benefits? I wrote the music for the title song in a short film and the lyrics were written by the director. I really enjoyed the challenge of putting music to another person's lyrics and would love to have the opportunity to collaborate and co-write with others, particular those whose work I admire. I do think there can be great benefits to have someone else's ideas especially if you're struggling with a particular lyric or melody.
- Who do you view as great songwriters. Who has inspired you musically/ lyrically? There are certain artists whose wonderful music has really influenced me and moved me. I’m inspired by songwriters such as Ryan Adams, Josh Rouse, Kings of Convenience, Sufjan Stevens, Shawn Colvin and I also love the sound of classic singer/songwriters of the 70's like Neil Young, Carole King, James Taylor, Al Stewart, Cat Stevens and Paul Simon. I’m also a big indie music fan and love many bands especially The Smiths. The combination of Morrissey’s witty, direct and unique lyrics and Johnny Marr’s distinctive melodic guitar are in a league of their own. Kate Bush is also another huge musical inspiration. Her music has such an ethereal and magical quality; it was like nothing I’d ever heard before.
- Do you feel that when there's conflict/struggle in your life that it inspires better songs? Certainly songs tend to come when there’s a lot going on in my life, whether it's a conflict or a change. I find you have a lot to say when you're experiencing something major. I don't think it necessarily produces better songs but songs coming from a real place can show real emotion and I think people really respond when things come from the heart. My album ‘Clouds with Silver’ and EP ‘Reminders’ definitely reflect my experiences and emotions at the time.
- Do you have any idea where your ideas come from? A lot of my ideas for songs are inspired from my own personal experiences. Sometimes I’ll have a specific idea reflecting what I’m going through. I’ll also feel really inspired after certain books and films that have captured my imagination while other songs have had a more general message. ‘Live Your Life’ is about chasing your dreams and not letting things stand in your way despite facing setbacks and pain. I’m fascinated by the music business and the nature of fame, ‘When You Come Home’ looks at the aftermath, someone who has had the adulation and success and lost it.
- Do you have any advice you'd like to share with budding songwriters out there? It is very tough and challenging these days if you’re an independent songwriter so it’s important to be passionate about what you do, be true to yourself and not follow other styles, plus keeping focused and persisting at it. It's also important to try and attain a nice balance between your writing and time promoting your music. It can be frustrating when you’d rather be creative but it’s essential these days to have a strong online presence. Ensure you align yourself with the right publications and radio that are suited to your particular genre so that can also entail some extensive online work and research. Keep a blog and post new music online as people all over the world can potentially see you and get to know your music
Click on the following to find Lisa Redford on the web.
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