Over the years I’ve heard a lot of songwriters refer to their songs as babies. “Oh no, of course I don’t have a favourite, they’re ALL my babies!”
Though I’m as protective over my back catalog as the next writer I don’t think of my compositions in those terms. To me they feel more like foundlings and strays, lost dogs that I’ve given a bath and haircut to. I certainly don’t think I’ve birthed any of them, the raw ideas drift in from who-knows-where and then I scrub them up with a few fruity metaphors, the musical equivalent of teaching an orphan table manners in a Victorian novel before it turns out they’re actually the long lost heir of a viscount.
In the end, refer to these little creations how you will, it all amounts to the same thing. Despite the dubious sense of misplaced ownership one has over any artistic product derived from myriad social factors, there is an inevitable sense of pride and protectiveness over anything one has composed. For me the greatest sense of achievement is when a song goes off on its own path. When they are adopted by other performers, in whatever style, it’s such a thrill to witness a song filtered through another person’s outlook. I don’t think I’ll ever get used to it.
This emotion has a nervous and unpredictable twin though. One that accompanies a burgeoning desire to will these covers into existence rather than simply letting them surface unbidden. More and more I feel compelled to write for others as I become increasingly frustrated with my own limitations, boxed in by gloomy premonitions of how certain species of song might develop under my sole guardianship. So I picture another artist and write with them in mind. Sometimes this sense of distance perversely brings a song even closer (for instance I wrote “Tonight” for Liz Green but rarely omit it from my own live performances, indeed it’s The Bedlam Six’s regular soundcheck tune).
But terror comes with the reveal. Approaching a band or artist with a song you’ve written for them evokes the same emotions I used to feel as an adolescent asking a girl to go out with me. One feels decidedly prone. What if they don’t like it? What if they think you’re a creep for doing that? What if the whole wretched ordeal is something you can never get past, always skulking in the background of any future projects, the embarrassing rejected song – irreversible and unwelcome.
I decided I wanted to write a song for Dutch band Snowapple, a group famed for their amazing vocal harmonies who joined the Debt Records roster last year. My own vocal style naturally lends itself to rapid consonants so I was particularly keen to incorporate more lingering vowels and a sort of tidal urgency pushing at an overall slowness.
The song is called Widow. Widow is a beautiful word if one dissociates it with the morbid connotations. If you can. (I can’t)
I was overjoyed when they told me they liked it (the blushing teenage version of me nervously proffering a bunch of flowers mercifully unspurned!). They decided to record it with Becca Williams (another singer I’m immensely fond of) and the result is an absolute dream come true for me.
Here is the result: