You know what they say: “A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush.” Wait, hold on, that’s not the old adage we were thinking of. What we meant to say was: “All good things must come to an end.” And unfortunately, it’s as true of weekly blog features as it is of depressing Nelly Furtado songs and Brett Favre’s football career (probably). That’s right folks”this is the last week your computer screen will be graced with the fine stylings of Get Lyrical. We’ve had some laughs, we’ve shed some tears, we’ve dispelled some myths and we’ve celebrated some pretty obscure holidays, but before we go our separate ways you should check out these OurStage artists and their musings on goodbyes. There’s no denying that parting is such sweet sorrow, but hopefully these tracks will help ease the suffering.
Stockholm “ “Goodbye Tomorrow”
Stockholm frontman Chris Arter says that the group’s song “Goodbye Tomorrow” was inspired by the conflicts in Iraq and Sudan. “It was basically created with the message that if we just simply slaughter each other, turn our backs on our neighbors and friends or those less fortunate than us, that we essentially are saying goodbye to anything we could ever be, other than killers.” But while “Goodbye Tomorrow” references these conflicts, Arter is careful to point out that it isn’t an anti-war or anti-US song. Instead, the track is aimed at all those who commit violent acts “simply because they think they live in a part of the world that no one pays any attention to.”
Stockholm makes a powerful case for peace with the song’s bleak imagery. “Let’s get to know the eyes of a terrified girl/Let’s get to know the price of a terrified world/Let’s get to know the hand that draws lines in the sand/Man away from man, terror to the land.” But despite featuring ideas that are occasionally discouraging, like being “swallowed by the sea,” Arter’s lyrics also display some cautious optimism. “I wanted to balance a sense of despair with a reminder that while we are capable of such destruction, we are capable of immense good, and that our ‘tomorrow’ isn’t gone quite yet,” he says.
Arter also has some interesting thoughts on what it is that makes songs about goodbyes so common. “Though our song isn’t really saying goodbye to a person, or a love, but rather to ourselves and our potential, the finality of the word goodbye holds a lot of power,” he says. “Goodbye has a sometimes heartbreaking connotation of forever, making it an irresistible part of life to write about, because everyone has either heard ‘Goodbye,’ or said it.”
Maren Morris “ “Goodbye”
Maren Morris wrote the lyrics to “Goodbye” when she was sixteen, after a close friend was cheated on by her slightly older boyfriend. “She was definitely in a delicate condition and I sympathized with her a great deal,” Morris says. “The song lyrics came to me very organically.” While “Goodbye” has its roots in a sad story, it isn’t all bad because the track’s protagonist is staying song. “You can’t hurt me,” Morris sings, adding that not a single tear has been shed “’cause I’m better than that.” It all leads up to the last line of the song’s anthemic chorus: “Don’t try to get to me, ’cause I’ve already said goodbye.”
Morris’s intended for her lyrics to keep her friend from getting lost in her grief, and help her maintain a positive outlook on a not-so-positive situation. “I wanted to present this song to my friend to empower her, not keep her feeling broken about the situation,” she says. And since goodbyes are such a common theme in songwriting, that theme of empowerment is how Morris sets her song apart. “I suppose what’s different about my interpretation of that experience is that it ends on a positive note rather than wallowing about it.”
There you have it, OurStagers, the end of Get Lyrical. Now take a page out of Morris’ book and don’t dwell on the loss”get back out there and enjoy all the fantastic lyricism available to you on OurStage!
When we spoke with Airborne Toxic Event guitarist Steven Chen a few weeks ago, he remarked that a good song is a good song in any genre, and that a truly great song should sound great no matter which style it’s played in”be it punk, folk or country. Alkaline Trio must subscribe to the same school of thought, because the group is re-imagining old favorites on their upcoming release Damnesia. (Apparently Good Mourning and From Here to Infirmary weren’t the only dark puns the Illinois natives had up their sleeves.) But puns aside, hearing the excellent lyrics of classics like “Mercy Me” and “Calling All Skeletons” in a semi-unplugged state is a great reminder of why this band ruled so hard in the first place.
The first single from Damnesia is “Clavicle””one of the most joyous songs about unrequited love that we’ve ever heard. Originally found on Alkaline Trio’s 1998 debut Goddamnit, “Clavicle” is probably the closest the three have ever come to writing a love song. And even though their subject matter generally leans towards the macabre, they do a damn good job with sappier fare as well. The song is infused with cheer from the unbridled joy of its opening line, “Been on top of the world since about six months ago/Marking the first time I laid eyes on you.” And it’s totally endearing how unabashedly straightforward frontman Matt Skiba is when he relays his desires in the song’s chorus: “I want to wake up naked next to you/kissing the curve of your clavicle.” Alas, “I’ve called you twice /It’s been a hellish fight/To not think about you all the time/Sitting around waiting for your call.” Girl must be blind, deaf or just heartless…why else wouldn’t she call him back? Our heart goes out you to, Matt Skiba. Still, isn’t it nice to hear Alkaline Trio singing about feelings instead of cannibalism?
You can give the revamped version of Clavicle a listen below to hear for yourself how well it translates from riotous, uptempo punk jam to melodic, acoustic love song. (Don’t worry, it hasn’t been slowed down that much.) And if the stripped down versions of the Alkaline Trio you’ve grown to love aren’t enough to convince you to pick up Damnesia, keep in mind that there are two new tracks on the album”Olde English 800 and I Remember A Rooftop”as well a cover of I Held Her In My Arms by eighties indie rock trio Violent Femmes. See? There’s something here for everyone.
Ever wonder who is responsible for rewarding you your prizes, writing the OurStage blog posts and putting in all the extra elbow grease to keep the Web site running smoothly? Well, that’s us”interns hand picked by OurStage’s greatest to help run the community. But as the summer months quickly approach, it is almost the end of our stories here at OurStage. Others will replace us and the show will go on. Before we go, we wanted to give OurStage a little present. We picked songs that we thought deserved some recognition. From rock to hip hop and electronica, we love it all. Whether these tracks have won contests or flown under the radar, they all deserve a good listen. So here we are, the keepers of the community room dishing out some of our favorite OurStage tunes.
[Editor’s Note: While they referred to themselves as “interns”, our co-op students are very much full time employees during their time here. They are valued and knowledgable members of OurStage’s community team and will be sorely missed.]
Brian here”that’s right, the guy who’s been bringing you Rapper’s Delight and Kickstart OurHeart for the past few months. I picked out a few sleepers from deep within the OurStage reservoir that I think deserve a little consideration. A hip hop song, of course, from a Brooklyn cat named Ahptimus Prime; an instrumental rock journey, by Shane Scheib, that will take you through a few generations of rock in under five minutes and a killer Chicago-style track from blues connoisseur Chris Dair. Enjoy!
Hey all! Emily here”I’m the blogger behind Get Lyrical and the weekly national artist Q&A’s on OurStage. Are you a fan of plucky guitar and warm harmonies? What about jangly, upbeat male-female duos? Gang vocals paired with breakdowns that’ll knock your socks off? I sure hope so, because you’ll find all the above and more in my playlist selections of Statue of Liberty, Madison Violet and Hands on the Stereo. Enjoy!
If any of you know me (Dayton) from The Beat Generation, you know I have a handle on most things electronic and awesome. But did you know I have great taste in all other forms of music as well? It’s true! Here are a couple of OurStagers I wanted to make sure get some extra special attention. Sarah Aument is a singer-songwriter based out of Syracuse, NY whose soothing coo and gentle instrumentation are perfect for rainy summer days and quiet fall afternoons. LONGSHOT is a little bit harder; a Boston hardcore band that reminds me of my younger days with their gang vocals and intensity. Light Alive has been tearing it up in the Electronica Channel, and they’re about as slick and sweet as all get out. And I saved the best for last with Doctrine (who is CRIMINALLY UNDERRATED in my opinion) bringing dirty, filthy dubstep to OurStage. It’ll make your head nod.
As the monthly prizing girl (aka Chelsea) here at OurStage, I come across a lot of extremely talented musicians every month. Though each winning song is deserving of its success, there are a few artists that always catch my attention. The songs that I chose have all won monthly channels, but in very different genres”rock, singer-songwriter and pop. My playlist has catchy rock piece by Orange Avenue, softer song with influences loosely tied to blues by Derek Stroker and a bubbly and sweet pop tune by Sierra Noble. Although the styles of music are very different, there is one common theme between these three songs”the talent of the musicians.
Hello OurStagers! Marissa here”although I don’t write any blogs, I am sure you guys have seen me in action on Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr and Foursquare. While digging deep into the OurStage vault, I found some songs that I really enjoy. A light-hearted and airy song by Ben Carter, We Are Friends, a pop-punk song you can mosh to by At The Edge and a catchy hip hop tune from by my boy K.i.T. Check them out, I dare you.
There you have it. So sit back, relax and enjoy these sweet, sweet tunes. We can all assure that you won’t be disappointed.
It’s that time of year again”a time for unfurling the flag, firing up the grill and unleashing your inner pyromaniac with a homemade fireworks display. And of course, you’ll need a playlist for all the back porch barbecuing and blowing stuff up you plan on doing. We’re always willing to get you in the holiday spirit, so if you still have space in between Sweet Home Alabama and Courtesy of the Red White and Blue, on your iPod, we’d like to recommend the following tunes from two patriotic OurStagers.
Remember September “ Do You Remember
Remember September manager John Schod says that “Do You Remember” was inspired in 2008, when the group took their first trip to Walter Reed Medical Center in DC to perform at a benefit concert for the soldiers, their families and the hospital staff. Jay [Schod, vocals] said that he was speaking with two young boys that were visiting for the weekend to spend time with their dad, who was rehabilitating at the hospital, Schod says. “The song is a tribute to the children of the fallen.”
Melancholy but hopeful, “Do You Remember” features wistful lyrics like “I miss the sunsets and I miss the moons/ The spring time in May, the summer time in June.” But while the song is a tearjerker, it ultimately has a hopeful message: “All the tears that I’ve cried since the day that you died/ Don’t worry I still believe.”
Bobby Ray “ Fighting My Way Back Home
The treatment that Vietnam and Korean War veterans experienced spurred Bobby Ray to pen the lyrics to “Fighting My Way Back Home” in 2003. “‘Fighting My Way Back Home’ is a song about a soldier whose courage exceeds the call of duty on and beyond the battlefield,” Ray says. “This song is really about how hard it is for a soldier to truly ‘find their way back home’ even after their tour of duty is through, and how perseverance pays off in the end.”
Told from the point of view of a war vet, the oft-repeated phrase of the track is “I keep fighting, Lord I been fighting/ I’m fighting my way back home.” At times, the song sounds pretty bleak, with lyrics like “Then, I headed for the US of A to pick up where I left off/ But the people who once were my friends all they do is just laugh and scoff.” Ultimately though, it has an uplifting conclusion: “Now I look back on the past of my life/ I’m so glad that I stuck things out/ Never gave up or ever gave in/ isn’t that what life’s all about?” “Fighting My Way Back Home” is a powerful reminder of the respect war veterans are owed. “Lest we forget their sacrifices,” Ray says, “We as Americans owe every soldier of every conflict and war a debt we can never repay.”
Hungry for more? (We mean patriotic songs, not hamburgers and hot dogs.) Check out this OurStage playlist for more fitting tunes for the fourth.
Ever notice how every month seems to stand for, like, twenty arbitrary holidays? For example, September is Mold Awareness Month, and March is National Frozen Food month. Well, for those who don’t know, June just so happens to be Adopt A Cat month. (It’s also Antiphospholipid Antibody Syndrome Awareness month and Country Cooking Month, in case you feel like getting festive but aren’t into the whole feline thing.) We love our cats, and we’re pretty sure you OurStagers do too, so this week on Get Lyrical we’re taking a look at the track Black Cat from Angela Perley and the Howlin’ Moons.
Black Cat was inspired by Perley’s first pet, a black cat (duh) named Pewter. The human and feline pair grew up together, and she remembers chasing him around and attempting to pick him up when he was almost bigger than she was. But unfortunately, the Ohio-based singer-songwriter didn’t pen Black Cat after a day filled with running and playing; instead, it was written the night after Pewter died. The lyrics came to me all in a stream of tears and were a way of remembering not only Pewter but a magical, carefree time in my life, she says.
The song opens in melancholy fashion, with Perley crooning,Black cat, lost friend… How you been? It’s heartbreaking when she calls Pewter a human in disguise, because it so often can feel like our pets really understand us. But while it’s clear that Perley misses her pet, lines like We used to play in the dark/lie in the grass underneath the stars make the song more about her fond memories of Pewter than his passing. And she has plenty of fond memories of him: Growing up as an only child I would always incorporate Pewter into my games and plays and make him characters in my fantasy world, she says. This sometimes involved trying to dress him up and make garden flower headbands for him.
Things get a little nostalgic on the song’s wistful chorus” Oh, to go back in time/childhood friend of mine”and that’s probably because Perley is fascinated by generations past, especially the ’20s, ’30s and ’40s. I think that many of the songs I write seem to be written in the past or about the past, she says. I don’t intentionally do it, but I do notice after songs come to me that they often reflect bygone days and memories. But despite her yearnings for the past, the song is more a celebration of Pewter’s life than a lament of his passing. And while the death of a furry companion is never easy, at least Perley has another feline friend keeping her company”her cat Olive is 24 years old!
Check out the sepia-toned, old-timey video for Black Cat below, because we all need songs like this to let us know that we’re not the only ones who really love our pets.
Whether it’s moving into a new apartment, reaching something on a high shelf or passing a difficult class, we all need a little help sometimes. Writing lyrics is no different. Sometimes having a pro with years of experience provide wisdom Mr. Miyagi style can give you the boost you need to write that epic song”or defeat the Cobras on a sprained ankle during the karate championships. (Sorry, I’m not sure why we’re stuck on Karate Kid references.) In order to provide you with a little valuable advice, we caught up with Robin Frederick, author of Shortcuts to Hit Songwriting and Shortcuts to Songwriting for Film and TV, to get her take on some of the things that can give your songs a lift.
OS: First, could you give us a little background info on yourself? How did you get into songwriting?
RF: I think most songwriters start out because they’re drawn to the idea of expressing emotions and ideas with lyrics and music. That was it for me. I just wrote on instinct and picked up song craft by accident in the beginning. Then I got a job writing three to four songs per week for the Disney Channel, and I had to learn a lot of song craft very quickly in order to keep up. I’ve also been a signed recording artist which is a whole different type of songwriting. Eventually, I worked as Director of A&R for Rhino Records so I got to see things from “the other side of the desk.” I learned what the music business needs and how important it is to be able to write good songs”songs you believe in”that also work for the music industry. Currently, I work with TAXI, a music company that helps songwriters and artists move forward with their craft and their careers. It’s been a wonderful experience. There’s so much talent out there. I’ve been lucky enough to make a living at what I love doing”songwriting”and I love being a part of helping others do the same.
RF: I think the hardest part of lyric writing is getting emotions into your lyrics. Basically, songwriters must try to capture in words something that’s indescribable! What is love? Yet, most songs are about love. This is the great task of songwriting. If emotions could easily be put into words, we wouldn’t need songs.
Too often I see writers using cliches to express emotion: Lines like “you’re always there for me” or “love is blind.” Cliches are actually true statements that have lost their emotional impact through overuse. Even though they’re true, listeners simply don’t hear them. Therefore, it’s important to find fresh ways to express emotion, offer new insights to listeners, if lyrics are to be compelling and effective.
To avoid cliches and increase the impact of your lyrics, try using images to create a mental picture of a situation or emotion and personalize it. Instead of “love is blind,” try “I’m stumbling in the dark when I’m with you.” Translate a feeling into a physical sensation: “Your words are jagged nails.” (Check out the lyrics of Bruno Mars’s “Grenade” for a great example of this technique.) Kick up your action words a notch or two; instead of “I look at you,” try “I stare at you.” The word “stare” has more emotional intensity than “look.” A simple change like that can increase the emotional effect of your song on listeners.
OS: What are some of the mistakes that budding songwriters often make, and should be conscious of?
RF: First, I’d like to point out one of the things that we all do right”beginning songwriters and pros”we all put our feelings into our songs. That’s the whole idea of a song. Now… an effective, successful song is one that expresses the songwriter’s emotion in a way that reaches out to listeners and makes them feel it too. When I hear a song by someone who’s just starting out, the problem is usually that the emotion the writer put into the song didn’t reach the listener. I can usually figure out what the songwriter was trying to express but the song doesn’t make me feel it.
This is where song craft really comes in handy! Because song craft exists solely to help you, the songwriter, reach your listener. There’s no other reason. Song craft wasn’t invented just to torture us songwriters. It’s not an arbitrary set of rules. Songwriters have been testing these ideas on listeners ever since the troubadours. We know it works. So… if you use lyric images and details, keep the focus tight, develop your theme, use the kind of structure that helps listeners follow what you’re saying, if you reinforce those lines that express the heart of your message in the chorus”in other words, if you use lyric craft to express your feelings”you’re more likely to hit a home run with the listener!
The biggest mistake I see aspiring songwriters make (and I made it too, at first) is to think that song craft is your enemy, that it will make you write formulaic songs that sound like everyone else’s. That’s a misconception that can really hold you back. Song craft is a challenge to greater creativity and, when you use it right, it provides a pathway straight to the listener’s heart.
OS: Do you have any tips for beating writer’s block?
RF: I honestly don’t think there is any such thing as “writer’s block” in the way people usually think of it: a lack of creativity, inability to keep a piece of work moving forward. Writer’s block is not about a lack of creativity; it’s about identifying and solving a problem so you can get on with things. The thing that stops you from writing is just a problem you don’t know how to solve. So, what you need are ideas for solving it, things to try. If your problem is getting a song started, then find three ways to start a song and try them to see which one works for you. If your problem is fear of failure or fear of not writing a song that’s “good enough,” then try using a hit song you think is great as a guide, or fool your “inner critic” by treating your songwriting as a game. Those are just a couple of suggestions. Always give yourself plenty of solutions to try. Then, when a problem arises, you can plow right on through it.
RF: You can find song titles and lyric lines in the most unexpected places. Eavesdrop on conversations. Use headlines from newspapers. Here’s a good one: Check out some of the over-the-top talk shows where people get really emotional; I once got a whole verse from the Jerry Springer Show.
OS: If you could give just one tip to aspiring songwriters, what would you say? What’s the most important thing to keep in mind?
RF: Always write your emotional truth and keep your listener by your side while you write. What questions will the listener need to have answered? Maybe that ultra-poetic line needs to be followed by a more direct, transparent statement so your listener stays with you. Never “dumb down” your lyric for listeners but don’t treat them like the enemy, either. They want to get inside your world. They want to feel they’re on the inside, listening to honest, revealing, emotional thoughts. It’s all part of being human. Use it! Be human.
Kristen Marlo defines her sound as folk, acoustic or indie pop, which is fitting given the prevalence of plucky guitars and lo-fi ukulele that most often fill her songs. That is, until you get to Is It Real, a driving electropop gem that’s been burning up the Electronica charts on OurStage. But why would a singer-songwriter delve into the electronic realm? There’s no real lyricism there, right? Wrong! In the hands of this capable, Maine-based singer songwriter and collaborator DJ MaRLo, the bloops, blips and simple lyrics of Is It Real take on an ethereal, otherworldly life.
“Is It Real” started life as an acoustic ditty”not unlike most of Marlo’s material. That is, until Australia’s DJ MaRLo came across the track while searching for artists that shared his name and decided to give it his own spin. Plenty of the repetition that makes electronica so enjoyable is here, but Marlo’s song is much more than one chorus repeated over a synthy backdrop. She opens the song by singing, My lungs collapse/I cannot breathe anymore/I cannot breathe. And that’s not the only physical ailment our singer-songwriter is experiencing on her electropop tune, as she also sings, My vision is blurred/I cannot see anymore/I cannot see. Eventually, we learn that Marlo cannot speak anymore, nor can she sleep. Sounds like this girl has quite a few problems.
“When I wrote this song, I was basing my feelings and emotions about being separated from someone you love,” Marlo says. “The very first title for this track was ‘An Exaggerated Love Song’ but I changed it to ‘Separation Anxiety’ after I started playing it out at shows.” You can see why “Separation Anxiety” made a fitting title for the song’s acoustic counterpart, because by the time Marlo gets to the track’s echoing chorus”Is it real (is it real)/What I’m feeling (what I’m feeling)”the song’s infectious beat has already gotten under your skin and you can hear the wavering uncertainty in her voice. Her loneliness echoes throughout the track, causing the song to resonate through your ears long after she repeats the chorus one more time and its last notes fade away. And it’s no surprise that this duo reworked the song so masterfully, given that the themes of “Is It Real” are ones that Marlo frequently works with. “My favorite thing to write about is love. The good, the bad, and the ugly.”
Give “Is It Real” a listen below to hear how the right words can elevate an electronica song from fun and dance to interesting and haunting.
Have an interesting story behind your lyrics? Let us know at firstname.lastname@example.org!
We’ve all heard the old joke: What do you get when you play a country song backwards? You get your dog back, your wife back, your house back, your kids back… Okay, sure. A lot of country songs deal with some pretty similar themes, and they aren’t always the cheeriest. But that’s why we count on bands like Calico Trail to mix things up for us. Their song Sweet Southern Small Town Summertime is anything but depressing. The Nashville-based songwriting collective uses it as a celebration of the joys of, well, being in a small town during the summer.
Calico Trail knows what makes us love the hot summer months, and finds a way to reference all of the things that make the season so universally appealing while rhyming them in a charming fashion. Fishing poles are paired with swimming holes, flip flops are rhymed with bikini tops, and lawn chairs are matched up with county fairs. While there are a few southern summer standards that aren’t too familiar to us (big ol’ tractors driving right through town for example) the song’s lyrics still resonate. They also leave us with a few unanswered questions ” such as, is the South really a place where ice creams cones are fried? Because that sounds right up our alley.
Much like small towns, Calico Trail’s song is enjoyable because they keep it simple. The twangy chorus is only one line, Sweet Southern Small Town Summertime, and its laid-back delivery begs for you to sing along. But don’t let the folksy chorus fool you, the verses of the track are so packed with colorful, sunny imagery that the seven-piece can take a break for a few lines. Can’t you just feel the summer sun shining on your skin as cool lake water laps around your ankles? Sounds pretty relaxing, no? After hearing this bad boy, we just might pack our bags and head for Tennessee. So roll down your windows, hit the highway and give “Sweet Southern Small Town Summertime” a listen below!
Have an interesting story behind your lyrics? Let us know at email@example.com!
We’ve always been pretty jealous of Ben Gibbard; he’s released eight successful albums as the frontman of Death Cab for Cutie, seen success with the Postal Service and his solo material and is married to ultimate indie chick Zooey Deschanel. And it’s hard to fault him for any of that, since he also comes off as sweet, thoughtful and reserved both in his songwriting and during interviews. But on the upcoming Codes and Keys, Gibbard changes things up with Some Boys”the quiet, indie rock equivalent of a diss track.
While he doesn’t explicitly call out anyone in particular, it isn’t hard to imagine some of the bands he could be referring to when he sings that some boys are making a killing at the top of the billing/It’s their role and that’s all that they know. He clarifies his criticisms in the second stanza, calling out a few specific character flaws: “But some boys don’t listen, some boys don’t listen at all/They don’t ask for permission, they lack inhibitions/No walls and they get what they want.” Even cavalier sexual attitudes are brought under fire, as Gibbard points out that they’ll be “singing the blues” after “Joylessly flinging with the girls that they’re bringing to their rooms.”
Sounds kind of like getting reprimanded by your dad, doesn’t it? The whole song oozes with that feeling of, “we’re not mad, we’re just disappointed in you.” (Although now that Gibbard’s a married man who’s no longer allowed to be “flinging,” maybe there’s also a tiny bit of jealousy pervading these lyrics.) But either way, he makes it clear that after a while there’s nothing fun about being an asshole and taking part in empty flings. “Some boys are sleeping alone/Because there’s no one that’s keeping them warm through the evening/And they know that they’re on their own.”
Of course, it’s also possible that Gibbard and co. could be referring to younger versions of themselves. After all, two Death Cabbers”Gibbard and bassist Nick Harmer”got married as the band was working on this release. But with the ominous closing line, They won’t get what they want, we don’t think that’s the case. As the band gears up for one of the most highly-anticipated releases of the year, it would appear that they have almost everything that they want.
Give “Some Boys” a listen below, and be sure to check out Codes and Keys”out on Tuesday (5/31)!
Have an interesting story behind your lyrics? Let us know at firstname.lastname@example.org!