I’m a great believer in collaboration but I’m absolutely lousy at it. When it comes to writing songs I like to be completely alone, preferably out of earshot of every kind of sentient lifeform. This is not due to any mystical process wherein I lure the secret muse to my aid – I’m just too embarrassed to show my working; the nonsensical place-holders and stand-in lyrics can be deeply cringe-inducing.
Felix Hagan also tends to work in private. Indeed, he takes it to a further extreme. While I write a song and then persuade my band colleagues to play it using a confusing substitute for musical theory that typically manifests itself via something akin to interpretive dance and references to old westerns, Felix will record a guide demo in which he plays every single instrument exactly the way he wants it played in the final version. I would probably do this if I could – unfortunately I can barely play one single instrument satisfactorily, let alone six (also I rarely have a clear idea of what I want a finished song to sound like until it sounds like it).
So the idea of the two of us collaborating on a single piece from scratch is a deeply peculiar proposition. We have an overlapping audience that probably assumes such an activity would be complete child’s play to us, but we are of two very different states of mind when it comes to the delivery of music. Felix likes to build up a state of exuberance that all can cathartically share in; I prefer to pool the combined hatred/fear/frustration of a room and then encourage people to kick the bejeezus out of it. To all intents and purposes the results are the same but the philosophy behind each method differs significantly.
What it basically boils down to is this: Felix likes ecstatically triumphant major keys, I like murderously crooked minor ones.
The song we have written has become something of a tug-of-war between light and dark. That’s no bad thing, however, because this direction conveniently echoes the source material. We’re writing a song that commemorates the publication anniversary of Virginia Woolf’s “Mrs Dalloway”, the titular character of which spends most of the narrative wondering whether or not she regrets the choices she has made in her life. The book gives as much attention to flower arranging as it does to suicide. It’s an amazing work that I’ve read twice now – once when I was nineteen, then again a couple of weeks ago when I was writing the first draft of lyrics. Both times have left me drawing completely different conclusions about the people in the book and life in general.
Whether or not the fruits of this unnatural union will showcase the best of both parents (or merely turn out as a grumbling compromise sulking in the corner of the nursery grinding plasticine into the carpet) remains to be seen, but it was certainly a fascinating process and I’m very glad we did it.
Come watch the Central Library All-Star Band record the song as part of Manchester After Hours on Thursday 14th May (and join in on the bizarrely upbeat chorus!).