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Bad Dog: Finalist in Great American Songwriting Contest  

My song Bad Dog was named as a finalist in the Rock/Alt category of the 2019 Great American Song Contest. Doesn't seem very 'rock star' but I'm proud of it, and to me being a finalist is better than winning. Winning would be way too much pressure, expectation. Being runner up is better. I know that sounds like a rationalisation but this way I get the best of both worlds - at last some recognition that I can write, but not so much that I have to be that good again, to win everything. I'm not that good - I just write. 

I like the song, but no more than others. I don't sit back and think 'oh what a great song. What a great writer I must be'. It's a good song and expressed what I felt at the time, and still often do. But the best song is always coming - forever the next one, or fixing one that I haven't been able to express enough.

I am glad to be a finalist. It's not my life's dream but it's a notch on the wall. It's not victory but confidence. I'm doing something right, somehow. Out of the chaos and emptiness I was able to produce something that means something to someone else. And I get this nice image I can display here. All those hours, edits, and frustrations for a 200x167 image, but it feels worth it - someone saw me. What a powerful emotion that is.

I'm not getting a big head but I am proud of this. It gives me confidence that I can write to a professional standard - a far cry from where I started. That I am a writer, not just a dreamer.

OK, back to writing...

 

Two New Songs: Idiocracy and Everyone Does Everything Better Than Me  

Idiocracy is about the general level of stupidity of our leaders - Trump, Morrison, Johnson, Modi, Bolsanaro, for example. I'm sure there are many more. But also other idiotic movements - nazism, white supremacy, anti-vaxxers, flat-earthers, etc. We seem to be swarming with anti-science, anti-intellectual, anti-humane groups. They say a fish rots from the head, meaning that the idiocy starts at the top and we sure have a full deck of morons. It would be funny if it wasn't so damn dangerous. These idiots actually have some power to screw things up, the one thing they are good at, and so far they are A+. By being so damn ideological, corrupt, and plain dumb they are validating other lunatics. Perhaps this era will be the great dumbing down of the world. Facing multiple crises, these are precisely the men we do not need in power. If Trump is re-elected this year, many prominent climate scientists believe it's game over for action on climate change. That's the sort of peril these douche bags are putting us in.

Everyone Does Everything Better Than Me is a pretty obvious song about being shit at everything. Especially with the internet and social media, it's easier than ever to find thousands of millions of people capable of doing anything better than ourselves - better holidays, more money, happier families, etc. The song is also about my frustration with writing to an empty room. Does that mean I am no good? If I was good, wouldn't have a fan or two? I suppose most creative people get this from time to time, but it sucks. So I wrote a song about it.

These two songs are the last from the finished queue I had - the others were Fascistate, House Is On Fire, Military Disease. Now time to switch gears back to writing, rather than recording and production.

I've got quite a few in the works - who knows if they'll work out. Here's a taster for you: one I started yesterday. Working title 'Stop My Brain' but I'll probably change it to 'Stop My Mind' for the alliteration. It's about anxiety and trying to escape it. Just the basic guitar track at the moment - intro and possibly first verse. I've got a melody for the chorus and possibly the verse. Now the work begins!

Writing of 3 songs  

One of my favourite things to do once I've "finished" a song (no song is ever finished) is to look back at how it was written, what inspired it, and got it to finished, when so many don't. It's not a wanky "aren't I great" exercise but genuine interest in how a song got started, progressed, and ended up. Most ideas (99.9%) never get anywhere. That's not important. What's important is having them in the first place - not shutting down our creative side, but listening to it, encouraging it, even in the face of hopeless odds. That's what I think, anyway. I was inspired by the book Psycho Cybernetics and think there's a lot to being receptive to our creative side. Ideas aren't "made", they're received. As Chuck Bukowski admonished: 'Don't try'. Wait. And note down. You have to take your creativity seriously for it to produce anything. These are my notes for the songs Fascistate, Military Disease, and House Is On Fire.

This track is mostly comprised of what I call 'snippets' - snatches of melody and lyrics that I always record. They're short: 10-15 seconds at most. I work off those and somehow, sometimes, a song comes out. For these three songs, there were many. many more that didn't make it. Who knows what made these ones special, but I'm glad they did make it.

The first snippets are for Fascistate. There are 8! Originally it was 'control and power'. It's not until the third snippet that the title suggested itself - Fascistate, but the melody is still not formed. By the fourth snippet (0:18) I started to get an idea of the melody - chanty, but still not the final. Snippets 5-7 were dead ends. I don't remember them but it seems I had worked out the title and was now looking for a melody. It's not until snippet 8 (0:54) that a melody emerged. And that became the final.

Military Disease starts at 1:16. The first snippet has 'military' but not disease. That came later. Snippet 2 at 1:25 gets the verse melody.The next snippet went nowhere, till I'm back in the groove with 4. Snippet 5 at 1:54 gets the pre-chorus. The rest was worked out once I had composed the track. It's often the way it goes: a snippet gets something going. After that it's repetitive construction, going over and over the song until an idea stands out. Usually I don't record those snippets - ideas either live or die, and eventually a melody and title become clear.

House Is On Fire starts at 2:24. It's pretty strong - got the title already, and the general beat of the title, if not the final melody. In snippet 2 at 2:32 I'm singing over the track I'm constructing.You can hear the bleed from the headphones. I must've heard something I liked, although it didn't make the cut. By snippet 3 at 2:40 the chorus becomes clear. Again I'm going over the track I'm building. This is part music, part lyrics. I'm looking for a sound I like, and then building a lyric over it. In snippet 4 at 2:49 I got a piece that eventually became the bridge, although it sounds like it was composed as part of the chorus. The last snippet at 2:55 didn't end up anywhere but reinforced the 'put the fire out' line. Then the final mix, with sound FX etc. 

Here are the full finished songs:

Maybe I'm doing it wrong, but writing is an unpredictable, non-linear activity. A day of "work" can produce nothing. A minute can write the structure of a whole song. Thing is to be ready for that minute - to get the idea down, catch it as it floats past. We're not really writing, just catching ideas. Once the concept is settled, then there's a bunch of new work to do to explain, create, and engage. I don't know how anyone does it, let alone me!

New song: Military Disease  

"Kablooey" became something of a meme for newscasters in the early days of the illegal and ill-founded invasion of Iraq. Part of the so-called "shock and awe" tactics of the COWs (Coalition of the Willing), live broadcasts showed the massive bombs being dropped on Iraqis - military and civilian. 

The song was inspired by the unsanctioned and illegal US invasion of Iraq which Li'l Bush apparently was told by god to do, but it's dedicated to the enormous waste of life, energy, and resources we dedicate to killing each other - it's like a virus, a disease, much more devastating than any physical disease. It's like we have a mental illness, fascinated by death, uniforms, and power. I suspect it's strongly related to patriarchy.

The Military Industrial Complex is alive and well, even more entrenched than Big Oil. They need war for profit, so people die - almost all innocent civilians, lives are torn apart - collateral damage for a ghastly profit making industry. The corporatism of modern war is clear comparing current events with WW2, which was truly a fight against a brutal, fascist regime intent on killing as many innocent people as it could. Presidents and generals clothe themselves in those robes, imagining themselves new great leaders, and committing the lives of others to the fight.

If two leaders can't agree and want war, they should get in a cage in a fight to death. Whoever lives, wins. Seems fair. Why kill so many others when the problem is them?

I used a loop from Splice for the bridge and happy with how it worked out. Creates a nice difference, slowing down to prepare for the last chorus. Some of the loops are re-introduced in the last chorus to crash out the song.

At 170 beats per minute it's a fast song and took a bit of work to get the vocal right. I love the re-entry from the bridge: 123 war!

I hope you like the song, and hate war, and will keep standing up for peace. War is almost always not the answer.

New Song: House Is On Fire  

A song about climate change and our (non) response to it. The inspiration for the song was a quote from Greta Thunberg, then I noticed this meme going round and it seemed a great metaphor. This is from a cartoon by K.C. Green. The last frame shows the dog character melting in the heat and that seems to be what we need to treat this like the emergency it is: an immediate crisis, as recently in Australia.

Lines from the song are inspired by the record fires in Australia: tar sticking to my tyres. I saw a news report where the road was so hot it was literally melting and trapping cars. City lost in the smoke haze - Sydney choked in smoke for many days. The smoke even blew across the Tasman to NZ and has affected glaciers here, probably speeding up their melt. Here in Auckland we had several brown days from the smoke blowing over. We are one world. What happens in one place has an impact on the others.

The key line for me is in the bridge: "we've got to put the fire out." Sounds so obvious in the context of the song, but it's just as obvious for our world and our lives. We can't keep emitting carbon - 'business as usual' is killing us, faster and faster. If we wait, it may be too late. We have to act now.

I wanted urgency in the song - the house is on FIRE! Fire! Fire! That's how we need to respond to climate change, like the house we're in is on fire. How would we react then? Sit back and watch TV and wait for someone to rescue us - or get the hell out and find a hose?

We are in an emergency. We have to act like it, or we'll go down with it.

 

New song: Fascistate  

Finally got some time to lay down vocals. This is the first of three ready to go and I am thinking about it as the first song on the new album Bangerz and Smash because I like how it opens up with a hook and gets straight down to business.

The song is about the global slide into fascism and other extreme politics. I was inspired by politics in Australia and Trump in the USA, and the list below I found on the internet somewhere. It seems to me we see many examples around the world of the warning signs of fascism and need to be vigilant and fight back. What happened in Germany in the 1930s was not peculiar to that country - it could conceivably happen anywhere. The song is a warning.

My favourite lines are in the second verse: "a silent people/watch and wait" which is what we are doing - waiting, and hoping it will go away, even as it grows. It doesn't seem conceivable that liberal parliamentary democracy can be overthrown, but that's what happened to the Weimar Republic in Germany. It can happen but depends on good people remaining silent.  

"crushing dissent/you will repent/or you'll be next." Fascism requires total loyalty (fealty) to the leader and those who don't are portrayed as evil and dissidents and typically punished, or worse. Making the point that no one is safe from fascism. They come after groups one by one, isolating them, and demonising them. As fascist power grows so does their list of 'undesirables'. Unless we act to stop it, before long we'll be on that list.

On the track I used virtual instruments from UJam and features Trav Bryant on background vocals. I intended doing the lead vocal and wanted a different sound on the backing and Trav did a great job.The song is mosty 140 bpm (beats per minute) but I tried something different on this song and increased to 150bpm for the last chorus.

It's a little short at 2:44 but as it's pretty frenetic I thought that suited the song. It feels longer. I could've added a lead guitar break but like the way the sections blend and transition.

I hope you like it. Let me know any questions or comments. The thumbnail photo is by Katie Moum on Unsplash.

 

 

 

Gotta get these songs out. They're killing me 

So, I've got most of these songs written, just waiting to do vocals:

https://soundcloud.com/si_jackson/bangerz-writing-medley?in=si_jackson/sets/dirty-green

I know when they're done when I get tired of listening to them. And I am. Lyrics almost done for most of them. I just need space and time for the vocals. With a day job and a full house I have to take my chances when they come - vocals are LOUD. VERY FKNG LOUD!!! And I go over and over and over the same bits to get it right. As you can imagine, that tends to drive other members of my family completely berserk - and not in a good way.

Trav's been helping out on a few tracks - backing vocals for Facistate and lead for Idiocracy, and one new song I'm working on, working title NaNaNaNa. Creative, huh? Once I've heard the lead I'll work out the song.

Vocals are hard. By far the most complex part of a track - especially with my voice. Getting a good take, tuning it without sounding artificial, adding effects, getting it into the mix. Sigh. I wonder why sometimes.

I've decided to put everything into BandZoogle because it's such a good platform and has everything I need - tracks, sales, blog, site, etc. Not sure about SoundCloud. Feels like I've moved on from that. We'll see. Life is change.