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After spending so long in the studio recording my instrumental album "Detrimentals" I was eager to get back to recording regular pop songs, so as soon as that album was released I started recording ten songs I wrote during 2017 - those songs became "Coupling", my second album of home-recorded demos. Like with my previous demo album "Ten Tracks Early", I wrote, arranged, performed, produced and the recorded the whole thing myself, using only a laptop, a microphone, a keyboard, and an acoustic guitar.
The songs on "Coupling" cover a wide range of subjects - below I've described the writing process and the inspiration for each one. The title of the album itself was inspired by the fact that each song has a two-word title (i.e. a couple of words), and each song shares some sort of thematic link with the song before and after it (admittedly some of these links are very tenuous, but it wasn't a strict rule I had when conceiving the album).
(You can download "Coupling" for free by clicking 'download' on the widget on the left, and entering '0' in the amount box. Although bear in mind that I'm a self-funded artist, and any support you can give is greatly appreciated)
1. Movie Love
I wrote this song right after I saw the film "La La Land", which I loved. I wanted to write a song that could be the opening number for a musical, and I came up with the tune for the chorus and middle section pretty much straightaway when I sat down at the piano. The tune for the verse came later when I was trying to write the lyrics, which ended up being full of examples of grand romantic gestures from films such as "La La Land", "Singin' In The Rain", "Ghost", "Say Anything", "Dirty Dancing", "Aladdin", "Beauty And The Beast", "Hercules", and "When Harry Met Sally".
2. Resisting Rhymes
Ages ago I had an idea to write a song that (as the title suggests) resisted using rhymes, but I had no idea until I attempted it how hard it was to write lyrics that take a left turn every time you think you know what the rhyme is going to be! To make it a bit easier on myself, the rule becomes less strict with each section, so by the time you get to the chorus it rhymes like a normal song - although hopefully that makes the contrast with the non-rhyming verse all the more jarring when it happens.
This was by far the most challenging song on the album to write and to record - with each new section (a verse, a chorus and two different bridges) the song changes tempo AND key. The lyrics, as I mentioned, are more of a technical exercise than an expression of anything meaningful, but I'm quite proud of the tune. In my head I picture a studio version having a much more elaborate arrangement with keyboards and electric guitars, but for now the acoustic versions works okay.
3. Casa Petrarca
'Casa Petrarca' is the name of the hotel my wife and I stayed in when we visited Venice in 2017, and the lyrics of this songs were inspired by various things we saw and experienced during our trip. The tune is very simple and I wrote it quite quickly, but when I finished it it ended up being quite a short song, so to pad it out I took a short unused melody idea I already had and turned that into the introduction and middle 8.
Since I'm much more confident strumming than picking I decided to use a keyboard guitar sound for the demo, but I'd love to record it properly someday with a professional classical guitarist.
4. Black Friday
My dad doesn't play an instrument, so occasionally I'll ask him to name three random chords and set myself the challenge of writing a song using them. The verse of this song (A minor, B flat major and F major) and the middle section (F major, C minor, G minor) were written using this method.
The lyrics were inspired by several annoying things that happened to my wife and I on Black Friday (Friday 25th November 2016) - namely, a person at work who kept me from going home on time, and a taxi driver who tried to con us. It was quite cathartic to write this song, and the chorus returning at the end with different chords was a happy accident that happened during recording.
I recently had the idea to write an album of songs with colours in the titles, so if I record a proper studio version of "Coupling" one day, I might substitute 'Black Friday' for another song so it can go on the colour album ('The Yellow Umbrella' and 'Gold Rush' from "Ten Tracks Early" may also end up on there)
5. Weak Day
I’m very rarely ill, but once a year or so I have a day where I feel totally knocked out and have absolutely no energy. This happened last year during a week where our neighbours were fighting, a building in town burned down, and everyone at work seemed generally miserable. I was determined not to let all this get me down, so I turned it into this song, the appropriately-titled ‘Weak Day’.
Towards the end of this song I used a technique that I’ve used before on ‘Grumpy Old Man’, where I’ve taken the chords from an earlier section of the song (in this case the bridge) and transposed them into another key for the solo, so it feels both familiar and different. I never pictured this song having trumpets when I was writing it, but I stumbled across them when I was looking for a keyboard backing track and now I can’t imagine the song without them - I think they give it a jaunty, almost military feel.
When I write songs I usually start with chords and a melody, but with this one I wanted to start with a catchy guitar riff. In terms of both arrangement and structure, the clear inspiration for this song was 'Day Tripper' by The Beatles - in fact, not being an expert on creating drum patterns from scratch, I used MIDI drum sequence from 'Day Tripper' on this song, and it worked very well (particularly at the end when the brass comes in and the tension builds).
This song isn't about anything deep or complicated - it's about sleep (ironically, perhaps more so than my song 'Sleep'!) The title, as well as being a play on the name of the convinience store '7-Eleven', also refers to the hours I prefer to spend sleeping, and so in the chorus I'm declaring proudly that I get my eight hours every night - do you get yours? You really should.
7. 90s Kid
Even though I was born in the late 80s, I was a 90s kid in the sense that that was the decade I remember growing up in, and I'm so glad I grew up back then rather than now. It could just be me looking through nostalgia goggles but it really did seem like a simpler, better time, and the lyrics of this song list some of the reasons why I believe that.
This track was very tricky to arrange and mix because of all the different instrument and vocal parts (there are twelve layers of vocals at the end when the 'Far out' chant is sung over the regular chorus), but I love the way they all sound together.
8. Silly Boys
I think the lyrics for this song are pretty self-explanatory - it was inspired by two guys I know who are really good friends but who occasionally fall out, which can sometimes put their mutual friends (like me) in an awkward position.
Since I was limited by what I could play and program at home, I couldn’t give this song the epic electric guitars or the bombastic drum sound I imagined it having, but the organ and the string pad are atmospheric in their own way, and work just fine for the demo version.
9. Cool Ladies
This song is about three very cool ladies I’ve had the good fortune of knowing - my wife, my mum and an old family friend who passed away in 2017, and in each verse I’ve attempted to describe what it is that makes them so special to me, including quirks they have and fun times that we’ve spent together.
10. Posted Script
Both my wife and I work day jobs to pay the bills, but in an ideal world we would both love to earn a living by writing. With this song I’ve tried to capture the melancholy feeling of sending a finished project out into the world hoping it will be successful and embraced, but knowing in your heart that the odds of that happening are very slim - I know, kind of a sad note to end the album on, but since the title of the song is a play on P.S. (post script), it couldn’t really go anywhere else. Plus the tune is pretty!
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