May 17th, 2001

full life

the purpose of lyrics.

I just posted this in the Songwriting101 community, but I'm curious to hear if you guys have an answer...

I'm not sure where to begin, but at least let me tell you where I'm coming from...

I've been in about 8 or 9 bands since 1990, when I was 14 and just learning to play guitar. The 2 that matter the most, however, were the last 2 bands I was in. The first one, "Wanna", was a band that desperately wanted to be Radiohead. 3 of the (eventually) 5 of us had been in a band together before that had somehow gotten a development deal with EMI Records, so we seemed relatively confident that we would be rock stars within a matter of months. The main problems in that band were:

1. The drummer didn't think I had enough "star power" to be a successful frontman. I had a great voice, but I wasn't sexy enough, I didn't exude charisma and radiance. Or whatever.

2. In order to make your band successful, you have to do more than just talk about how great it would be to be rock stars, and actually play road gigs and record CDs and promote yourselves and such.

I quit the band after 2 years, mostly because of the whole "losing faith in me as a singer" thing, but also because I knew we were all talk. We were a good band, but hardly revolutionary, which is what we wanted to be. I had other musical interests anyway, and I wanted to have the opportunity to explore them.

About a year later I ended up playing in a completely different band called "The Ferns". It was the first time I'd ever been in a band where we (well, at least I) weren't friends to begin with; it was a strictly musical connection. That band ended up breaking apart about a month ago for a lot of reasons, but the 2 most important were:

1. Way too many personality conflicts.
2. A huge aesthetic rift between the drummer and I. He wanted more dissonance and avant-garde leanings, I wanted more melody. Ne'er the twain shall meet.

So now here I am. Totally independent. With a really great 4-track studio about 3 steps away from my bed, so if I have a dream with a really great song, all I have to do is wake up, turn on a light, press 3 buttons, and I'm ready to start recording. And I've been writing a lot of music over the last month.

The problem? No lyrics.

I'll be the first to admit that the main problem is a lack of confidence. Wanna generally hated my lyrics, and I ended up hating singing them. But there's more to it than that...

Here's a quick rundown of, in my opinion, the singers best able to mix lyrics and vocals. This isn't about best voice (otherwise Jeff Buckley and Stevie Wonder would be included) - this is about the singers who convey something beyond sheer vocal prowess. In no particular order:

1. Thom Yorke. I know, I'm really going out on a limb here. His voice is really expressive, sensitive to a wide range of dynamic influences, and his lyrics aren't ordinary.

2. Stephen Malkmus / Beck. Masters of seemingly stream-of-consciousness delivery, with enough hipster arrogance to affect a tone of irony without trying to be ironic.

3. Bob Dylan.

There's tons more, but those 3 are key. I'd call them influences, but my lyrics and vocal delivery are somewhere totally other than where they are. I wish I could sound like them. Others would be Elvis Costello, David Byrne, Liz Phair's first record, PJ Harvey, Rivers Cuomo has some great moments on the first Weezer record... and of course there's more that aren't leaping into my mind right now...

Musically I'm all over the place. I grew up listening exclusively to classical music (which has no words, or foreign words), and then made the logical progression to Yes, Genesis, and ultimately Phish. I moved onto Sonic Youth and Yo La Tengo, and then there was The Sea and Cake/Tortoise, Pavement, and pretty much everything else that's currently on my userinfo page.

Aside from the lack of confidence, the other thing killing me is that I don't know what I want to say. Which brings me to the whole point of this posting:

What is the purpose of lyrics? Aside from it being the main thing an audience can latch on to? An audience needs something to sing along with - that's why instrumental bands are doomed from the start (even though I love instrumental music). Why are they there? What's the point? The drummer in Wanna once answered this question by saying that they "convey something about the human condition." That didn't help me out. The main reason why the new Weezer record is so disappointing, in my opinion, is that they're all dumb love songs.

I could go on for about another hour or so, but I'm gonna shut up now. Curious to hear what you guys think...
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