Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Ease your worried mind

Lately, I've been having this really bizarre feeling of insignificance and self-consciousness about songwriting. I was explaining it to Jimmy when I was in Texas, but whereas once upon a time (during my time is Duffer), I'd produce dozens of songs a week, now I have a slow trickle of tunes, most of which I scrap without a second thought.

I feel like since college began, I've been more protective of my songs for some reason. For awhile I called this phenomenon writer's block (or blamed it on being ridiculously busy most of the time). It's true, I do feel less inspired in Boston than in Texas; this I readily admit, mostly because Texas gives me a lot more space to think. Driving around in a car and collecting my thoughts was always my favorite source of inspiration. Or sitting by Lake Lewisville. But when I was in Duffer, I was producing boatloads of material, some of which I was so-so on, some of which I liked, and some of which I really liked. I'm still proud of some of those songs, even for how young we were. So, why do I feel so detached from my most recent songs?

The lyrics are better than ever, the songs carry more emotion, and yet, they just don't feel like they're mine. The sound becomes something else, something alien, and sometimes it works while other times it just makes me want to call it all off, to be perfectly honest. The songs seem to have drifted away from me, due to the heavy expectation I put on each one and the overthinking that is the natural result of that line of thought. Yesterday in practice, I was being so dramatic that I was disgusted by the mere thought of playing one of my "approved" (meaning, a song that made it onto one of our two albums) songs, and thus played Mike's standards and new tunes until I finally gave in and played "Whitewashed" and a couple less heinous offenders of my own pen. This put me in a spaced out, bad mood which Matt observed, though I was doing my best to recover from it.

I think the best thing about the best-ever songs is the spontaneous flow of the tune, where it really reaches its natural element -- in my own life, songs like the original version of "Set Free," MK and I's tune "Like Secrets Beneath," and, the grandaddy of all live recordings, the recorded-as-it-was-written closing track to my first EP are the closest to capturing that vibe. Dylan (whose "Nashville Skyline" I'm writing a paper on, and thus I am completely immersed in) is famous for doing live cuts in the studio, something I wish we could do. But in order to pull that off with a band, you have to have a band that has that natural feel for one another that the song is magic the first time it's played and laid down. They really have to connect to and feel the groove, then deliver the song through sound. This group of musicians, and myself, by no fault of our own, just doesn't have that. In order to nail a song, we need to practice and learn (even then, we rarely deliver a song perfectly, due to what I perceive still as the lingering notion to play for ourselves, rather than the song: a nonsensically-placed drum fill, a guitar lead that somehow overpowers the rest of the song, etc. While this has improved, often in the heat of performance, one of us will try to pull something off that just doesn't work, rather than steadily keeping the song flowing. Sometimes I fear dropping out of a tune because it loses so much of its punch with even one sound lost, which isn't the way it should be. So, that's still something that needs to improve and be worked on). Then maybe we can do that spontaneous stuff. However, when you practice a song hundreds of times, you start to lose the emotion of the song, the magic, and it becomes dull and overwrought (and maybe the ensuing boredom is what causes those nonsensical live moves that end up smearing a song). Either way, due to this process, I'm now experiencing this bizarre self-doubt, something I never have before.

I hate to seek approval for my songs. In theory, I should be writing for myself and the listener (I feel I am), and to hell with the rest. But with so much emphasis placed on getting to the next level, I'm constantly evaluating and re-evaluating my songs, Mike's songs, etc. So, I repeat, overthinking a song is drowning me.

All of which makes me wonder: Why, then, did I never experience this emotion with Duffer? My guess is that since Duffer was an irregularly-practicing, once-in-a-blue-moon-gigging band that was built for the studio, and as such, I just let the bulk of the songs remain in my mind until I could fill them out with the sound I wanted in the recording sessions. This worked beautifully for a control-freak like myself, who is still grappling with the idea of a band with equal amounts of input (there, I said it). As I told Jimmy, he was much more the session-type of guitarist, a workhorse who asked for nothing but his credit for guitar parts, which allowed me to be the main creative force, with no uneasiness over pleasing everyone. But Cassavettes is four strong-minded songwriters pushing and pulling, which can sometimes amount to amazing results (we've made tremendous strides learning to play and sing together, but we've still got a long, long way to go). But it can also be really frustrating (see: last night's discussion over Mike's new song, on which I couldn't disagree with him and Scott more on the direction of the tune, but which I won't push as an issue because, hell, it's Mike's creation and I want him to be happy with it. On another strange aside, Mike mentioned during the debate that he was primarily concerned about the song getting scrapped, a bizarre feeling for the first time we played it, but something of an understandable feeling considering the track record for B-sides on "It's Gonna Change," which makes me feel like crap).

So, as I continue to try to adjust to songs that don't sound like mine, and learn songs that aren't mine and don't sound like mine, I'm just thinking too much. I want to get back to doing stuff on the fly, to making songs that sound both well-crafted and not too wooden from over-practice. It will take time, and for now, I just need to focus on writing. Maybe I'm burnt out on playing songs from the record, because every time we take a break from one and then come back to it, it usually sounds better and is played better. However, I'm not sure what to play in the interim, though I would like to take a break from the loads of gigging we're doing lately to start focusing more on new sounds, ideas, and, of course, songs. Yeah, maybe that's the answer. Or maybe this is all just SXSW run-off, where the whole week has a tendency to make you feel like a minnow in an ocean of far bigger sharks and whales.

But writing this down actually helps. Seriously, I've needed to say some of these things for awhile now, even just about myself and my insecurities.

On a less dramatic note, apparently, we've been in the Boston Metro the past two days and I've missed it both times. I think Caitlin is hooking me up with both copies though, so I'll post ASAP.

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

make it three times in one week - today your great scott show was in the events section!


23 March, 2007 10:42  

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