I’m writing the lyrics for Tyrone and Lesley’s fifth album OPTIMISM. Unpressured by timelines, genre constraints or commercial concerns, as a lyricist I can simply write and see what emerges. While ukulele and double bass are our main sonic palette, I collaborate with Sam Vincent (AKA Lesley) and sometimes Kellee Green of The Pockets to turn them into all kinds of music, as well as composing for the words myself.
I’m always looking for that moment when a song can start telling me how it needs to be written, rather than the other way around.
Patterns in songwriting
Having gathered all the working drafts of the last year or two into a selection of small books capturing each phase of writing, as well as making a performance around the images in our songs, I can see some patterns emerging. Sometimes the lyrics are reaching for a classic kind of structure, a sunny lane off Tin Pan Alley. I’ve no interest in being contrived or derivative as a lyricist, but there’s a craft to some of the old songs that it’s hard not to fall in love with. Or to.
In this season of songwriting, playful experimentation with language is sometimes captured in strange, or absurdist compositions. Sometimes found text is used, such as a lyric composed only of computer error messages. Sometimes I’ll deliberately set out to write something fun about an unexpected topic. I would call these novelty songs, but novelty wears off, and I’m writing away from that possibility. Sometimes literature or poetry have a role to play as sources of inspiration, or sometimes it’s simple and silly creative play with words.
At the earliest stages, I’m not concerned if it’s ‘any good’ or not; more that it’s surprising or unpredictable in some way. I trust that words can themselves be generative through rhyme, rhythm or repetition: seemingly self-structuring their shape as well as ideas or feelings.
Writing and Refining
The redrafting process loops between handwriting, typing, printing out and annotation: effectively rinsing and repeating, which means these little collections of lyrics are often marked by crossings-out, re-orderings, sticky-tapings and scrawled additions. Sometimes they’re dated so I have a sense of how they’ve developed over time and don’t get confused as the various versions proliferate.
Sometimes I’ll doodle pictures in the margins or facing page which mirror the emerging lyric.
There are potential songs here that ‘Tyrone and Lesley’ (as flexible an idea as those personae may be) would probably never perform. But it doesn’t help to consider those factors on the way in – to needlessly censor one’s self in the early stage of writing – to focus solely on outcomes can mean that nothing comes out.
Why write ‘an Album’?
If I survey what’s written, and discard incomplete fragments or abandoned ideas, there are around fifty workable lyrics of various kinds, spread over four little books that we’ve both carried around the world in bags or instrument cases. An album will only use 10-15 of these.
As I write, edit, illustrate and collect these lyrics I can see themes emerging, and feel that some songs belong with each other more than others. There’s a kind of meta-composition taking place as the separate songs come into focus and begin to relate to one another. This process is about arranging existing ideas, but can also demand the creation of new ones.
We take these precious bundles of lyrical and musical ideas into the next phase of collaboration, in which Sam and I select and agree upon which ideas we’re going to pursue into arrangement, further composition, demoing, live performance and recording.
Before the logic and determination of production, and the labour of finding the cash to realise the project, this stage of development allows associative and imaginative flights, and it seems like a lot of the songs capture a kind of optimism.
Once it comes along, the music speaks back to the lyrics – a bridge becomes a chorus, a line becomes a refrain, or its syllabic structure shifts. Sometimes the music tells us a line’s too long, or too short. We write and demo double the number of songs that we’ll record and release. There’ll be a shadow album. These many fragments of that flutter behind us, discarded, will strengthen the ideas we choose to develop and pursue.
We’re offering access to some of these works in progress, as well as handmade lyric booklets, as part of our pozible project to release the album.