Why Do I Write? – Part 1

When I first sat down to write this I was planning it to be a reflection on the things I love about music, primarily it’s power to move people and bring them together, as well as its uniqueness as the only art-form I can think of in which the work of art is recreated every time it is performed, with the audience able to participate in that recreation by singing along. But as I was writing down notes I arrived at a more personal and in my opinion, more important question. Why do I write songs?

The most simple answer is because I love doing it. The process of painting pictures with words and setting them to music satisfies many of the creative desires I have in me, but there is more to it than that. Do I write songs because I like the attention that comes with it? Because I like performing? Because I one day want to be a popular musician? Because I have a message I want to communicate?

I’ve always loved creating; trying my hand at drawing, story writing, film-making, song writing & music. I first started trying to write songs when I was 12, around 10 years ago. Those early songs were inspired by the pop music I’d hear on the radio or CDs. They were for the most part love songs and breakup songs which had nothing to do with my own experiences as a 12 year old just starting high school, but that was what most of the music I’d heard was about so that was what I was imitating. At that stage I had dreams of being a famous singer like some of the people I’d seen on shows like Australian Idol, and if someone had asked me back then why I was writing songs the answer would’ve probably had something to do with that. But that’s not how I’d answer the question today, in fact I don’t find the idea of standing on stage solo and singing and dancing for thousands of adoring fans particularly appealing at all.

When I was writing those early songs I didn’t have much experience with any instruments and so they never got any further than acapella voice recordings, which was definitely for the best! I had piano lessons for a while but have never had much success writing songs on the piano. For some reason I struggle to come up with anything which is less than mildly dramatic, which is not the style I’m going for.

My lyrical inspiration gained a different source when I discovered a band called Switchfoot a bit later that first year of writing. I had heard one of their songs Dare You To Move previously, but the first album I bought was their 2009 release Hello Hurricane. This album came with a DVD featuring a half hour documentary about the making of the album. This was my first real exposure to what went into making an album, and the band members seemed like ordinary people just like me: a bunch of friends having fun making music. There’s one part in the documentary where Jon Foreman, the lead singer of Switchfoot is talking about the process of choosing which of the 80+ songs they had written should go on the 12 track album. He says the prerequisite for choosing the songs for Hello Hurricane became: “If you’re not crying, why are you singing it? If you don’t believe it with every ounce of you, then there’s no point singing it.” This approach was not about which songs would do the best on radio and reach number 1 on the charts, but which songs honestly meant the most to the artists performing them. These songs about faith, doubt and hope presented a new avenue of lyrical inspiration and I decided to try and write some personal songs that actually meant something to me.

I remember doing acapella voice recordings of some of the new songs I came up with, or strumming a guitar which was most likely out of tune or missing strings, to try and add some sort of instrumentation, but after a while I gave up and became more interested in film-making. Paradoxically it was while working on one of these movie ideas, around 5 years later, that I found myself flung back into the world of songwriting. My brother Paul and I had put together a script for what we were hoping would be our first attempt at a feature length movie (having only done short films previously), and we wanted to try and get all our friends and family involved, so we asked around to see who would be interested in acting, helping with props, or even the soundtrack. Our cousin Liam said he would be interested in helping with the soundtrack, and as he had been learning guitar for a while we thought he might be able to come up with some cool instrumental music to back some of the scenes. We didn’t expect to hear back from him about it for a while and continued trying to plan out the movie. Unexpectedly, not long after, he sent an email saying he’d written an original song for the movie. I listened to the recording and was very impressed and surprised…here was an original song created by someone I knew, and a pretty catchy one at that. This changed my whole perspective on the soundtrack for the film and I decided to try and write some more songs for it, with the idea in the back of my mind that maybe we could turn it into an album of original music.

We ended up abandoning the movie idea as it was a bit too ambitious, and we were unhappy with how the story was working, but it was not a waste of time because out of it, in a completely unforeseen way the band All Related was born. We tried our hand at recording some of the songs we had written for the movie, and while those didn’t work out too well we discovered the joy of creating and playing songs together.

Over the past few years we’ve had an awesome time writing new songs, refining them and playing them together, and it is this friendship-building, collaborative aspect of the whole process that I enjoy the most.

to be continued…