posted on September 12, 2011 at 9:06 pm

the dissolute cavalier

i spent most of the years 1977 -1980 in a spare bedroom writing songs

i wasnt just writing them either

i was recording them at the same time

i was making the whole bloody thing up as i went along

my 4 track recorder enabled me to overdub myself onto the recordings

i learnt to become a one man band

although definitely not a real guitarist or keyboard player

i could always figure something out that was sufficient for my music

if i wanted to be i could again become self contained and never collaborate again

oh believe me it is easy to do it all yourself

i hate explaining my creative hunches

indeed they cannot bear being explained

i feel things and when i’m on my own i follow my nose

i start with just the smallest thing and i build and build

eventually i stand back and i can see what ive done

after 2 or 3 hours of sodding around with a piece of music

adding …..and subtracting as well

bit of distortion here

bit of clarity there

some reverb never goes astray (usually)

i see that i have constructed a piece of music

it needs some words doesnt it?

im a singer aint i…….i gotta have something to sing

now this is where the words and music gotta meet

any idiot can write words

but dreaming up words that suit a piece of music is harder

making those words rhyme and have a nice meter

and good lord the melody

the melody that the words will be sung to

to most people (me included) thats almost the most important bit

but with my very own music i aspire to be more than a songwriter

i aspire to create a mysterious opening within the listener

a certain combination of sounds words notes

well there is magic for you

palpable magic spun from the thin air itself

there are oh so very few incredible songwriters at any one time

no more than a couple of dozen on earth at once probably

you know…the guys who really know what theyre doing

neil finn springs to mind

he is such a fine songwriter

he is the number one in his field

everyone of his songs has a certain quality

he can do that thing the beatles could do

he can incorporate those lovely chord progressions

at once unusual and simultaneously so obviously great

why hasnt anyone ever thought of that before.?…you think to yourself

on top of that he has his mellifluous voice with a slight ache in it

and his melodies which sometimes suggest something familiar

but never ever actually steal anything

neil finns ability to write songs is somehow more refined than mine

his best songs are so fucking good

its hard to see how they unfurled out of his mind

i am not like that

i dont really know how neil finn writes songs but its i bet  not like me

i dont write my songs i assemble them

just a bit here just a bit there

jeffrey cain knows this all too well

you put a little of this guitar phrase here

then some string thing

some other interlocking part

suddenly the music is a pointillistic machine

no one can see how its done

(not that most want to see how its done….but i do….)

now consider this, neophyte types who would write great songs

steve kilbey with his latest song

he comes round your place

his guitar is outta tune maybe (no tuners back then)

he sings it in your living room competing with everything else

he gets one of the chords wrong and gets embarrassed

the song is just a shambles


steve kilbey comes round a sticks in a cassette of his latest song

ooh listen his voice is double tracked and theres harmonies

theres 2 electric guitars in stereo moving against each other

a nice sexy rubbery bassline

keyboards too adding to the overall effect and colour

wow a guitar solo thingy that goes nuts in some weird echo…cool

you see

it wasnt for just writing the songs

it was for their presentation

so i could get people interested in playing them

you see back in the late seventies very very few people had sussed this

that this was the way to compose music and present your songs

it was like magic

a few studio tricks and they were all in awe of your song

meanwhile my new way of writing music was affecting my lyrics

the lyrics were losing all that awkward old feeling my lyrics used to have

things were starting to come spontaneously to me

i filled up books full of lyrics which at first i matched to the songs

this wasnt always as bad as you might think

i often quite magically found exactly what i was looking for

it might have been a lyric i had written a year ago or just yesterday

i needed to make ambiguity part of the aesthetic

my songs must never pin things down

they are like an opium dream

they pass before you

they amuse or beguile you

and then they are gone

they mean everything

the whole world

yet they are meaningless

they are impressionistic glimpses

they are fleeting hypnogogic shapes that remind you of…….what?

my songs are dreams and lies and just things that fell out of the air

the air is full of music

excuse me sir cant you see that real good song hovering above your head?

yeah you gotta have one of these antennae i suppose….

because my bandwidth is so jammed with incoming stuff

i cant get anything done

what i’m saying is i have carefully matched up the ingredients

i have so many variables to work with you know

music and words all existing on so many levels at once

the music suggests the words

the words suggest some slight connection to the listener

its slight but its there

its there and its a key

its a key to a door you’ll find in a song

you go through that door in my song

you got my ambiguity cushioning you

you got my music

it all fits together bit by bit

you listen to the right song

ive got a thousand surely one will be right for you

then you get the opening

something opens in your head and pleasure comes through

sad wise old pleasure still sweet though sweet as

what this pleasure is  i myself will never know

for it is your pleasure

my songs were designed  to feel like a custom fit

this is no lucky strike

i always knew how they were eventually supposed to be

they were meant to be intriguing

they were meant to induce reflective moods

they painstakingly evolved from my early naivete to now

this was done with much experiment and research

i discovered formulae which worked everytime

ways of recording my vocals for example

ways of sitting a softer voice just inside the harder lead vocal

believe me it wont make much sense if i just list things like that

i have only let a couple of really rotten songs sneak into my oeuvre

most of them have the integrity and twists and love in them

i have studied songwriting long and hard

like a zoologist studying animals

i have spent long long hours investigating songs and their components

i am not a divinely gifted musician or writer

i have applied intelligence and perseverance to overcome that fact

its good to be honest bout your strengths and your weaknesses

everything can happen if you just know what you got

i had endless love and enthusiasm for rock music

i had a 4 track and a few cheap guitars

i had a proto-drum machine and a mono synth

i had a shure drum mike

i had a tiny little mixing desk …so silly it looked…

anyhow by the time i surfaced

my demo tapes caught most peoples attention

i did everything from kraftwerk type electronica

to the kind of early church stuff like for a moment we’re strangers

i had to be across a lotta things

i had to figure out recording and engineering and mixing

i had to get more and more cohesive

i had to suspend disbelief in the listener

i did not want to draw attention to me being a one man band

i just wanted the songs to be heard as they should be

after a long long time

i got my methods down and i knew how to do it

give me a studio n some instruments

n i will always come up with something

i never go home empty handed

i usually catch one  song outta the thin air

by the time the church formed

my demos were a pretty good indicator of a songs potential

it all began to make sense to me

its still all coming together

its an ongoing process

the constant refinement of your craft

working on voice and music

working on words and sounds

plus luck

plus destiny

plus the genes

plus i knew my people would have need of me …..ha ha

it was necessary that i invent the songwriter i now am

got news last week i am invited to be inducted into

australian songwriters hall of fame

there you go

41 years for that pay off….











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