News: 6/29/2008  

Journal of a Record #2

I have been working on this project all year.  When I returned from Iceland in August, I reviewed my journals and started tinkering around with music again.  I had the idea to make songs from the journals and in December I booked studio time and began real work on it.  And from that moment forth, I have not stopped working on it for a second; I breathe it in and out all day.  It’s the first thing on my mind when I wake up and it’s the last thing when I go to bed.  Any art, music, conversations, books, scenery, and emotions I come across I immediately evaluate for how it contributes to the record and I can’t feel good using free time for anything besides it.  This is how I’ve always worked on any creative project and it both kills me and keeps me alive.

I started with a few songs and from them I developed a specific thesis for the record, which includes a breakdown of how each song contributes to it.  This outline is used as a guide and has changed and developed almost weekly since I first wrote it.  I’ve never written this way, I usually just write songs when I feel like it and in trying to write a whole record as a single piece (and with a deadline) I have had to develop a method of writing and dedicate time for it on a regular basis.  When I write, I keep all the songs open on my computer as well as the outlined thesis of the record.  It looks like this:

I make it a discipline to constantly refer back to the outline to make sure that the songs are doing what I want them to.  It’s easy to get lost in fluff that sounds cool or interesting but the purpose of my writing here is specific and I am trying to avoid filler.  There are pages and pages of lyrics that have been tossed out, not to mention the handful of nearly-finished songs that have been cut completely in order to focus the record.  Its an exhaustive and exhausting process but my hope is that by building the songs around a specific vertebrae there will be a connection and power between them that ultimately creates a strong communication of some thoughts that I feel I must share.

In the fine tuning my creative process, it’s become important to dedicate not only time but specific space for writing.  I’ve been making a rotation between a few cafés, Laurelhurst Park, and my apartment at the Belmont Dairy.  I write words at Stumptown and Opposable Thumb, I read books at Laurelhurst, and I work on music at the Dairy.  I’ve learned that if I just sit around trying to come up with ideas, I get distracted or frustrated so when I set aside specific hours at specific locations, I have an easier time dedicating my thought to craft.  I also keep moving because I burn out if I try to sit in a room working all day.  You can’t force a good idea, but I’m learning that you can do things to increase the chances of getting one.

We are constantly stimulated, with phones in our pockets and radios in our cars.  I hear people say all the time that they come up with ideas in the shower and acknowledge it as some mystical place where ideas brew.  I think that people come up with ideas there because it is the only time in their day that they allow their minds some space without some sort of stimulation.  I come up with my best melodies and central lyrics when my mind is free so I have made it a discipline to walk around town and drive with no music on a regular basis.  I don’t do well just sitting on a bench but walking gives me enough new sights to consider and observe and the motion helps my thoughts get into a rhythm.  There’s always a temptation to pull out the cell phone or iPod but if I fight it and give my mind time to wander, I will almost always stumble upon something good.  I’ve grown to love walking and it has been fun to have a new neighborhood to explore.

I have today and tomorrow to finish basic structures of all the songs because I will be recording guitar first.  I have a lot of touching up to do on lyrics, harmonies, and parts for bass, cello, trumpet, violin, etc., but the priority is to finish the skeletons of the songs so I am confident and decided on them. To me, a song isn’t done until I have tried several versions of it and know what it is capable of so I like to stretch them out in all directions until I understand them.  It’s easier to find the true identity of a song when you can see it in all different clothes.  I have much work to do to simply exhaust the possibilities of songs until I know where they belong; this is what my work will consist of until Tuesday morning when I start in the studio.

Journal of a Record #3

Tags: music, joel p west, Recording, Portland

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