Friday, June 4, 2010

Ivy Lies on songwriting

Talking about writing can be tough and many people struggle to put the process into words. Writing can be a truly personal process, and this is especially true of songwriting. It's something that's done in secrecy, in dark rooms, as quietly as possible. Songs are polished like gems until all the embarassing edges are smoothed off and it's ready to see the light of day.

That's why it's so refreshing to hit the Auckland Writers and Readers Festival and hear the writing process exposed before packed rooms. I caught Ivy Lies talking about songwriting during a schools session, and their willingness to open up about what can be quite a mysterious process was a rare privilege.

Singer Emla Palmer, bassist Lisa Blatchford, drummer Rosie O'Connell and guitarist Mihka Chee were really forthcoming about what they do to bring a song to life, and pretty blunt about what they write about. When asked what the new single 'Never Enough' was about, Blatchford simply stated "it's about my boyfriend." It's a break-up song, and Blatchford joked "you're not allowed to tell anyone this," but it was completely in step with what the girls said again and again: write about what you know. If you write from real experience, they said, the song can ring true, can feel genuine.

Blatchford and Chee took credit for doing the bulk of the songwriting, working out parts and lyrics in a haphazard fashion which always ended up being reined into solid pop structures. The question was raised over whether Ivy Lies found pop song structures limiting, and the answer was surprising: they seemed to welcome the structure as giving them a path to travel. For Ivy Lies the fun is in what they do within that structure.

One thing the group all seem to really love is arranging vocal harmonies. With three of them singing they take the time to layer backing vocals on harmonies into the songs, making for fuller choruses and some strong singalong moments. The four girls got pretty nerdy in their enthusiam for this and for writing generally, which was a pretty good message for anyone interested in taking up the craft.

If you're keen to look into the craft yourself there are some excellent books available on the subject. As I mentioned earlier, Jimmy Smith's Tunesmith is an excellent resource with some pretty good tips for channeling good ideas. Jason Blume has written an extensive book on how to write hit songs in most genres, called 6 steps to songwriting success. Closer to home, Flip Grater gave some advice to Rockquest participants on how to write songs collaboratively.

Speaking of the Smokefree Rockquest, I saw Ivy Lies' Lisa Blatchford judging the Auckland Regional Finals a couple weeks back. Congratulations to Kriston Batistich from Kings College, Massad Barakat-Devine from Sacred Heart College and Servn8 from One Tree Hill College, who all have a shot at playing the National Finals in Hamilton on 11 September.

- Ashley


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