It starts by not thinking. If I sat down and tried to think up a lyric, I’d look like a dog being shown a card trick. Blankest of blank expressions.
My approach to lyrics is just to capture enough stillness of mind that whatever words are there (and they’re always there) can come into focus. It’s an exercise in listening to your subconscious, and it starts with a quiet mind.
Around the age of 14 I discover R.E.M. and my ideas of songwriting were twisted around. This surreal language that Michael Stipe sang in, personal yet distant, felt like a puzzle of the heart. I wanted to unravel the stories, and I learned more of who I was as I did so. This is long before the internet was reliably a thing, but I did manage to find lyric sheets via the school’s library computer, and slowly complied a songbook of lyrics. I poured over them, and they informed my approach.
I read somewhere that Stipe saw sleep deprivation as a technique, so of course, I explored that. Not a healthy place to go when your dealing with a lot of mental health issues, but I went there and found the sweet spot. In that weird fog of tiredness, I could pour lyrics for days.
As I matured I realised that I didn’t need to push myself so far to the edges of my wellbeing. Quietening the noise of the conscious mind’s endless narrative was enough. I dabbled in Buddhist meditation on my spiritual cherry picking journeys (another post, another time) and I got a vague grasp of my mind.
I’ve let it slip many times, but when I’m writing lyrics, that’s the space I need to be in. Quiet enough, still enough. Then, I write. I don’t analyse anything. I don’t question it; whatever flows, flows. No, it’s not all good.
There’s normally a lot of it. There’s loads of clunky lines. Maybe I’ll come up with one interesting line in 50. Making a conscious decision to focus on a subject a little definitely yields more robust results. I have books and books of stuff that doesn’t read as if it’s about anything. Gentle direction is useful, the trick is not to steer it. I just listen.
I plucked one out of the archive to share here. I wrote this in the lat couple of weeks; subject matter is obvious enough. There’s a few nice images, maybe it’ll grow up to be a song. Maybe it won’t.
Shaping them into songs is a whole other process. I’ll follow up on that soon. Tl;DR – it’s slow work.
What excites me about this still is that imagination is always bubbling, always ready. There’s always something to be said. You just have to be quiet enough to hear it.