I can never remember the words of songs. I’m not really listening to them. I’ve generally been more interested in the intra-musical aspects of songs, basslines, harmonies and so on, maybe the timbre of the voice, the energy of the thing and the sounds the voices make more than the meaning of the words.
It’s probably a more basic thing than that though for me. Stories and text have their own logic, their own set of parameters and rules, their syntax. I generally feel that music is guided by different parameters. Of course everything is informed by cultural context and historic legacy, but even with all the extra-musical referencing possible it has a more abstract nature with correspondingly different rules.
Yet most people I know seem to be perfectly happy with the idea of a song. I’m aware that it’s my own problem and so interesting for me to work with it.
I’ve set text a number of times – some Gabriel Garcia Marquez, a few Nigella Lawson recipes, a list of Erik Satie’s white food intake – and each time tried to retain an overall ‘intra-musical’ logic to the pieces, with the words working to the music’s structure. I’ve also attempted the bizarre format of opera, which has even more potential for conflicting narrative, and used my own texts tailored to a musical construction.
But whilst focusing on the ‘constructive’ qualities of music I don’t always want to negate the essential communicative quality of the human voice. Irony only takes me so far. I wanted to try and write music which conveyed something outside of its own organization. I started getting interested in the glorious genre of disco. Although I’ve enjoyed the delights of Chic and the Bee Gees since the seventies, I hadn’t really taken on board the social history of disco, it’s roots and legacy. I’ve loved the four-on-the-floor simplicity, the proud bass lines, ‘love is the message’ style lyrics and the later Moroder effect. I was aware of disco’s demise into self-parody, sadly embedded into western consciousness now. But I was only vaguely familiar with its role for instance in the freeing up of partner-led dancing, less clued-up on the effect the genre had on womens rights, black and gay rights and it’s initial place as a haven outside of the mainstream, in a post-Stonewall Riot world.
But whilst I was unaware of its role in the repeal of a New York by-law outlawing two men dancing together, I have always enjoyed the nuance of a largely heterosexual post-wedding knees-up merrily cavorting to a soundtrack provided by leather clad, half-naked, moustachioed bikers, builders and native Americans, unaware of their invitation for something more carnal and boy-on-boy. I like that double-entendre.
I decided to write some vaguely disco-inflected songs, positioned in that borderland of doubt with a large dose of cosy respectability imbued with something mismatched, but this time with a hint of something darker. I wanted to celebrate some of the positives from that period while noting the twisted moral fragility of our current celebrity-icon-tumbling era.