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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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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I think that you would love Austen Earp's music . He is wonderful!ReplyDelete