Picking Out the Writing Soundtrack

Between the two new projects I’m working on, I’m listening to a lot of newer albums lately. This is quite the change from the older projects I’ve spent tons of time on (such as the trilogy) or ones where I need to focus on a specific time period (such as the 90s and Meet the Lidwells!).  It’s part of returning back to deep immersion with the music.

Mind you, I do give a lot of my purchases a deep listen as it is, or else I wouldn’t be gushing over albums over at Walk in Silence like I have for the past few years. This is about really getting into the meat of the album, and I find I often do that best when I can assign a mnemonic to it.  That way the album will stay with me that much longer.  [This is precisely why albums like Beck’s Sea Change are forever connected not just to the trilogy, but to my writing sessions in the Belfry.]

I’m doing this again with a handful of new albums that have become soundtracks of a sort for the Apartment Complex story and In My Blue World:

Beach House, 7. Unlike their more Cocteau Twins-like previous albums, this one ramps up the noise a little bit and sounds more like Slowdive and a bit of My Bloody Valentine as well. The dreamy atmosphere works really well for the otherworldliness of IMBW.

The Naked and Famous, A Still Heart. I keep coming back to this one for the Apartment Complex. TNaF are a much louder band with walls of guitars and soaring melodies, but this ‘stripped’ album takes out the volume and leaves beautifully delicate reimaginings.

Lucy Dacus, Historian. “Addictions” is one of those tracks you hear on the radio and then get stuck in your head for the rest of the day. The music is laid back and unassuming, but the melodies go in really interesting places. This one’s been getting plays for both projects lately.

Editors, Violence. I think pretty much every project I’ve ever worked on since 2005 has had Editors playing in the background at some point. They’re just an amazing band with a unique and adventurous sound. This one often gets played when I need to write an exciting action sequence.

Pinkshinyultrablast, Miserable Miracles. I gushed over this band on the other blog last week, and I still love them to bits. Russian shoegaze is all I need to say, and it’s all kinds of fun. IMBW has been getting most plays of this one, not to mention the rest of their discography!

GoGo Penguin, A Humdrum Star. Same thing — a recent discovery and now I play all of their releases during sessions, mostly for the Apartment Complex. Intriguing jazz sounds that remind me to keep the setting just a little bit on the odd side.

This is the fun part of my writing sessions…I love listening to music while I write, so connecting to a new album while working on a new project makes the sessions — and the albums — that much better for me.

New Project Tunage

yuri plisetsky tunage
Calm down, Plisetsky.  I’m getting there.

Now that Meet the Lidwells is in post-production revision status, I can now finally move parts of the New Project to the front burner.  Yay!  I’m really looking forward to writing this one.

Which of course means switching up the tunage I’d be listening to during my writing sessions.  Being the music nerd that I am, I’d been thinking about this for the last few months.  What would fit the mood of this next story?  It’s going to be a much lighter story, at least in terms of mood — I’ve been describing this as my Studio Ghibli-inspired project — so I don’t think the epic epicness of alt-metal or prog rock that were my stables during the trilogy would fit all that well.

No, I think this one’s going to go all the way and attract a lot of dreampop and light electronica like M83, BT, Lamb, and my latest find, The Sound of Arrows.  That sort of thing.  And maybe some alt-folk?  We shall see.  I’m keeping my eyes and ears open.

I Write the Songs

I don’t think I’ve written more than a dozen or so songs since I moved out here to San Francisco in 2005.  Probably much less than that.  A few clips of melody, maybe a riff or two, but nothing concrete, not like my last songwriting wave in the early 00s when I was jamming with Bruce and Eric in jeb!.  The latest actual song milling about in my head is an instrumental I created using the sound of London’s District Line clacking down the tracks near Earls Court as percussion (which I recorded to my phone); I have not yet had time to lay it down as a demo, though I did get as far as making a very rough loop of the train as a trial run.

Why do I bring this up?  Well, it seems my next writing project involves songwriting.

What’s this, you say?  Has Jon gone off the deep end in a severely misguided attempt to write a multimedia book?  I mean, he’s a pretty decent writer and makes cool covers, but music?  What the hell is he thinking?

Well, I blame Wesley Stace for this.  Formerly known as John Wesley Harding for you 90s alternative rock people, he wrote a fun novel called Wonderkid about a quirky band that, against all odds, became a huge hit in the 90s, primarily due to having an extremely large preteen audience.  It’s a hell of a fun book and worth checking out.

Sometime later, I was chatting online with a friend about the Osmonds (I forget the context), when I came up with an idea of writing a music-based novel myself.  Thus the family band The Lidwells were born!

That said…

Now that I’m at the point of wanting to do some prep for the Lidwells project, I’m not just thinking about making character sheets and a working discography (yes, I’m going that deep), but may be writing a few of the songs mentioned in the text.  All told I’m hoping to write about a dozen or so songs during the course of writing this book.

Added to that, this story takes place in the 90s during the alt.rock boom, so I’m going to have to write music that sounds like it would have fit then.  Will I record them as demos and post them here?  Yeah, there’s a good chance of that happening.

This should be interesting…

Writing Soundtracks

Most of you out there know that, aside from being a writer, I’m an incurable music fan.  Not a day goes by where I’m not listening to some radio station or some new album I downloaded that week.  I laugh at polls that ask if I listen to music more than a few hours a day–it’s more like all day long.

This includes my writing time.  I’m one of those writers who prefers to have some sort of music going while I’m writing.  What I listen to actually boils down to whatever project I happen to be working on.  I’m currently working on Walk in Silence, so the music of choice has been strictly 80s alternative.  For the most part I’ve been listening to the 1st Wave channel on our Sirius XM setup, where Swedish Egil and Dave Kendall have been providing me with tasty retro goodness for the last few months.  This is perfect for this first draft, as I’m not focusing too much on specific albums and songs at this time.  The second draft will focus more on that, so my soundtrack will focus more on my own mp3 collection.

The evening writing sessions down in the Belfry that produced The Phoenix Effect from 1997 to 1999 and the Bridgetown Trilogy from 2000 to 2004 had their own expanding soundtrack; the former contained a high amount of the free cds I got when I worked at HMV, and the later contained many of the titles I bought during my weekly journeys to Newbury Comics back when it was in Amherst.

Was the writing influenced by the music I bought?  Well, yes and no.  I didn’t go out of my way to look for the perfect song that would fit a specific scene, nor was I writing and editing a scene to a specific song in a Miami Vice-like manner.  I’d grown out of that habit a long time ago.  I merely found myself gravitating towards the moods the music created when I listened to them, and used that as a mental anchor when I needed it.

When I was writing a number of scenes that needed personal and emotional tension, I would often throw on Dishwalla’s And You Think You Know What Life’s About.  If it was an epic action scene, it would be Failure’s Fantastic Planet.  Global Communication’s two albums 76:14 and Pentamerous Metamorphosis fit the bill perfectly when I was writing about the world of Trisanda.  Trip-hop like Massive Attack and Sneaker Pimps worked good when I was writing about the seedier areas of Bridgetown.  I also had certain go-to bands whose entire discography worked, like Porcupine Tree.

I always made a conscious effort never to let the music interfere with the story; I tried not to write scenes that lost their energy when the music wasn’t playing.  If anything, the music served as an anchor, giving  me something to focus on, something to aim for.  Failure’s epic album closer “Daylight” served as the audio anchor for the final scene in A Division of Souls–I needed something desperate and angry and with a hint of fear that would mirror what was going on during those final pages, and I think that it paid off.

Now that I’m working on a project that’s specifically about music, I have every reason to listen to whatever I like.  Whatever my next writing project is, will I have the same listening habits during my writing sessions?  Who knows, but I’m pretty sure something will be playing.