As promised, here's the first entry in my Semester Project journal.
Saturday December 5th
I find it kind of odd that it’s taken me long to begin recording an album. This isn’t to say that I’ve flirted with the idea in the past; however, a number of things have held me back.
I first tried my hand at writing songs within the pop/rock framework when I was in eighth grade. There was a problem, though; I attempted to construct my songs by writing the chords first. Now, there’s nothing wrong with this – that is, unless you took the approach that I did. Back then I was of the conviction that if I wrote a song, it had to be completely and totally original. That meant that the chord progressions that I used had to be wholly unique. It doesn’t take a Vandercook graduate to realize that this is a pretty naïve thought. It’s rare for a pop/rock song to have a totally unheard of chord progression. Just look at the songs of the late 50s and early 60s. The chord progression I - IV - V (popularly known as the chords to “Louie, Louie” or “Hang On Sloopy”) probably appeared in hundreds of popular songs of the era. Needless to say, this doesn’t mean that all of the songs sound the same; this is where varying melodies and rhythms help.
There were a couple of other obstacles that stopped me. One was that I had a profound (and equally irrational) fear of singing. I was afraid that if I ever tried to sing, I would be no good, not that I had actually ever tried to verify whether or not this was true. Luckily, this changed when I was about 16. That was the year I got my first car; you can make the connection there.
The final obstacle was that I was never sure what I should actually write songs about. Because I was (painfully) aware of my adolescence, I was unwilling to be emotional or sincere for fear of coming off as whiny or immature. However, things have changed since then. These days I am perfectly comfortable with my whininess and immaturity.
I still toy around with songwriting every now and then. I’ve never really written or recorded anything of any merit, primarily because that whole “what to write about” thing. Luckily, with this semester project, that shouldn’t be an issue. My subject matter has already been decided for me: things that I’ve learned about during my first semester at Shimer. My goal is to write and record nine songs. For the sake of fairness and interestingness, I intend to write three songs per class. Given the rate at which I've started on this project, this amounts to writing and recording two songs a day over the next few days.
My primary goal for this project is that these songs will be enjoyable, even to those who have no familiarity with the subject matter. Ideally these songs would be something that someone would be willing to listen to outside of the context of a Shimer semester project. This, I think, will be the most ambitious challenge of this project, especially given the tight deadline I'm working under.
I started the project today by fully writing and recording a song about Francis Bacon titled (surprise, surprise) "Francis Bacon." I got the idea for this song a couple of weeks ago while lying in my bed trying to fall asleep. This led to the genesis of this entire project. I guess it's safe to say that without Francis Bacon, neither this project nor our modern conception of science would exist.
I'm pretty pleased with how the song turned out. My original image of the song entailed a rather gypsy jazz sort of sound. By the end, though, I feel as if the song sounds more like a bizarre carnival anthem, which is kind of a pleasant surprise.
In many ways this song has set the tone of the entire project. From it I've learned how to most effectively use the recording software that I'm using. Upon finishing the lyrics I also realized that these songs are going to be of a very cursory nature. This doesn't bother me too terribly, though; one can only cram so much depth into a two and a half minute song.
I was also struck by the amount of words and phrases that rhyme with the word "Bacon" - that is, if one takes a few liberties with pronunciation. There's fakin', mistaken, rake in, awaken...the list goes on and on. I was so enthused by this discovery that I ended up going a little overboard in attempting to rhyme things with "Bacon": "Now open up the oven door/and I will throw a cake in/and we will have ourselves a slice/in honor of Mr. Bacon." It's probably for the best that this lyric was axed.
In order to stay on schedule, I'll have to write and record two songs tomorrow. I have a few snippets of ideas, but none are as fleshed out as "Francis Bacon" was. Tomorrow will really be indicative of how this project will go, in that I'm going to have to come up with two songs with rather limited inspirations. I'm excited, though. At this point in this venture looking at a blank canvas has filled me with excitement rather than despair; hopefully that doesn't change.