Thursday August 18th, 2011

A Songwriter’s Process

This is only tangentially books-related, but I don’t care, because I’m a big fan of Richard Buckner. In a two-part interview — here and here — he talks about writing songs (and fiction), as well as his listening habits, which are sometimes innovative:

I used to have two stereos, and I would pick minimalist music from the early 60s like John Cale. Pallet-cleansing, droning, atonal music, something without a lot of drama or aggression. I’d put that on one stereo, and on the other I’d put a writer reading their own work. It was amazing to hear how the music affected the perception of the words. And if I did it again, with the same writer and the same music, the timing wouldn’t be the same, and even slight variations would change the tone of what I was hearing from the writer and how the music would manipulate it. It was a really fun experiment. And it’s also a sign that I wasn’t leaving the house as much as I should.

If you don’t know Buckner’s songs, I highly recommend them. His debut, Bloomed, is still among my favorites, though it’s a bit misleading, as he soon began writing much more condensed, highly impressionistic songs. Its two follow-ups, Devotion + Doubt and Since, are both excellent, and he’s released several strong records since. I was also heartened by this part of the interview, when he talks about the impact of recent day jobs, including driving a forklift in a warehouse:

I was touring and working a lot alone. I love being alone, and I can stay in the house for days at a time, just working, without leaving. But I realized after doing that for a while that my social skills had diminished. I ended up doing a film score, and I really didn’t leave the house. I wasn’t doing as much writing, since it was mostly instrumental. And I noticed that my live shows were changing dramatically, from standing onstage talking and playing and having a much more vibrant experience to being completely shut down. It got to the point where I was doing entire sets all as one piece and barely saying a word to the audience. No breaks or interaction.

When it came time to work the day jobs again after a few years of not doing them, I don’t know what [co-workers] thought of me. They probably thought I was some freak who didn’t speak to anyone except to say yes or no. After a while I opened up, because I was forced to interact with people. Slowly the stage shows are opening up for me, largely because of the interaction with people on those jobs.

I’ve seen a few of those “completely shut down” concerts. They were interesting — he would loop guitar parts so that songs bled into each other, and purposely sing and play in a way that disjointed the songs’ original melodies — but I’ve been wishing he would come back around and play a slightly more accessible show. Now he’s got my hopes up.

(via largehearted boy)