Lyrics

Yesterday I got an email from a fan in Germany asking for lyrics to one of our songs. He said that the song completely fit what he was going through. I get these emails occasionally and it's always very flattering. But it also makes me think about song lyrics in general. For me personally, I've always connected to songs because of the actual melody first and foremost. Secondarily I connect with the sound of the words. After becoming a fan of a song, then I might start reflecting on the lyrics and what they could mean. But until I started writing songs myself, I would just sing along to the words without any thought about what they could possibly be saying. Unless the meaning was completely obvious OR I was a hardcore fan of the artist and would dig deeper.

Take Bob Dylan vs a guy like Beck (early Beck). I have a ton of respect for Dylan and I actually like a few of his songs a lot. But I guess I never completely connected with him because it sounds like the lyrics dictate the song. A lot of folk music is this way, and there is definitely a place for it. We're even covering a Dylan song live right now - however we do the Van Morrison version because it sounds cooler ;) Dylan has written some of the most creative and poetic lyrics ever but a lot of the music to me sounds the same. 

Then you've got a guy like (early) Beck. He has definitely grown big time as a lyricist over the years, but check out a few lines from "Loser":  "In the time of chimpanzees I was a monkey, Butane in my veins so I'm out to cut the junkie, With the plastic eyeballs - spraypaint the vegetables, Dog food stalls with the beefcake pantyhose." I never even thought about these words other than the fact that they sound ridiculous. I was too busy grooving to the song. "Man, that's so f'n cool," young Daniel would say. The song is catchy as hell and the SOUND of the words is what stuck with me. Beck's voice was cool. Didn't matter that the lyrics were complete gibberish.

I've written a ton of songs over the years, and I think I can count on one hand the number of times where lyrics came first. I almost always hear a melody in my head or come up with it on guitar, and then the lyrics seep out as stream-of-consciousness thoughts (which are then shaped into real lyrics/themes). The funny part is that people generally compliment me on my lyrics, sometimes before the music (if they can decipher the words). I think this has to do with the fact that I listen to bands like Radiohead, Jeff Buckley, Pink Floyd who write metaphorically. Nothing is straightforward and therefore the songs bear repeat listens. And this has kind of shaped my writing. I don't intentionally write in a cryptic way, it's just what comes out when I sit down to work on a song. I don't think I could write in a straightforward way if I tried. 

Recently I've been thinking about the importance of lyrics again in songwriting, and there was a huge focus on them for our latest album, Reactor. I was a writer before I was a songwriter, be it short stories/poetry/advertising whatever. When we were recording Reactor, our producer Craig Levy said that you should be able to stand by every word you write. Nothing should be arbitrary or a "throw away" lyric. And I've really tried to adhere to that. Along with working on the enunciation of the words, placing more importance on them. I've always thought about every line and what it meant to me, but I was way more concerned with how the music and words sounded. I guess I still have that question in the back of my head though - how important are lyrics to a song? Does it depend on the artist/type of music? What lyrics stand out to you? -dan




1 comment

  • Damon

    Damon

    great post man. i really love ambiguous lyrics. i think songs with lyrics you can understand can distract from the music for me... the voice is an instrument too and the sound is crucial to the song as much (if not more than) the other instruments. Words are very suggestive and can make or break a good song in my opinion. Really dig your lyrics. One of my favorites is from the song The Underground: "The rocket from down the hall never made a sound. But look at what’s bubbling up from the underground." Awesome!!!! Keep writing how you write... it rocks my socks!

    great post man. i really love ambiguous lyrics. i think songs with lyrics you can understand can distract from the music for me... the voice is an instrument too and the sound is crucial to the song as much (if not more than) the other instruments. Words are very suggestive and can make or break a good song in my opinion.

    Really dig your lyrics. One of my favorites is from the song The Underground: "The rocket from down the hall never made a sound. But look at what’s bubbling up from the underground."

    Awesome!!!! Keep writing how you write... it rocks my socks!

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