Welcome to Self-Restrospect, in which David looks back on and writes about music he has recorded, knowing that most people don’t really care about it, but secretly hoping that one or two might.
From summers 2001 to 2006, I maintained a site named davidsprojects. On this site I, put up almost every single bit of music I created in the “playroom” of our family home in Bray. In all, I think I put up about 180 tracks, consisting of original songs, experimental pieces, with a couple of covers thrown in here and there. The decision to end the site (in that form) was simply due to the fact that I was emigrating to Japan. So, on 20 June, 2006, I posted a goodbye message, along with a .zip file. The .zip contained ten songs I had selected to represent the life of the site – the Projects compilation [which you can download here, if you wish!</plug>].
The ten songs are not very literally representative of the full body of work. Representing it accurately would probably have involved choosing a few more feedback collages and recordings of me wedging different household objects under the strings of electric guitars. No. Instead, the ten songs were, well, songs. They had structure, words and meaning. The music was quite unsophisticated in many ways, almost poppy in some. Hell, there was even some melody in a couple of these tracks! I suppose, in a way, compiling these songs was me hoping that, somewhere amidst all that messing about with alternate tunings and chains of effects pedals, I had managed to record some songs that people would actually want to listen to – perhaps even more than once.
The ten songs were arranged in chronological order. Track one was ‘Breaking’.
I wrote ‘Breaking’ – and recorded a now-lost version of it – on 11 April, 2001, almost ten whole years ago. It was not the first song I’d ever written. It wasn’t the first song I’d ever recorded, either. But it was possibly the first time I’d successfully captured what I was feeling in lyrics and music.
I suppose it helped that the feeling I had was quite a simple one. The phrase “unrequited love” makes it sound very grandiose and romantic. I was seventeen years old. I was not at all capable of grandiosity or romance. It was a lot more straightforward and adolescent than that: I fancied a girl. And there was absolutely zero indication of any possibility that she might have even slightly fancied me.
How did I feel that I could express these sorts feelings in a song? This was coming off the tail end of my Pixies obsession and during the beginnings of my Sonic Youth one. Considering both of those bands’ lyrical output, you’d find it hard to believe that they had been the inspiration. Up until that point, I was writing songs about forklift accidents, songs pretending that my friend from Limerick carried a knife around, songs mocking pretentious rock stars who thought they were great. I was more concerned with being wacky and obscure than about pouring my heart out.
There was, in fact, one key influence. Around this time I was in a sort of band. There were three of us: me; Bebhinn, a girl I knew from a summer camp I’d attended; and Chris, a guy I had been in Scouts with. We never played any gigs or parties. We never played in front of anyone, actually. We never had a name. The three of us just got together for a jam once, enjoyed it, did it every weekend for a couple of months and then stopped.
Even though that all sounds incredibly unfocused and unproductive – and in many ways it was – I can’t understate how significant those sessions were in my “musical development”. The three of us were all very inexperienced when it came to playing, but with that came that naïveté and innocence that allowed us to explore quite freely. When you have no idea what the rules and conventions are, it’s a lot easier to break them.
Between the three of us we had quite a wide array of instruments, traditional or otherwise. We had drums, a bass, an electric guitar, a violin, a keyboard, turntables, a rain stick thing. We alternated among the instruments, though our default set-up ended up being Chris on drums, me on either guitar or bass and Bebhinn singing. Playing the sole tonal instrument was great. The guitar didn’t have to be in tune! As long as I kept in time with the beats, I was free to play anything. There was no need to worry about sticking to a key or complementing any other instruments. And Bebhinn was adept enough to sing over anything.
It’s funny. Later, I would learn about Beat Happening and fall in love with them and wish that I could be in a band that worked like them. But I kind of had been!
Hmm, I went off on a bit of a tangent there. What was relevant about my experience in our little trio was how it influenced me with regard to writing lyrics. As I said, it was usually Bebhinn who sang. When she did, she would sing about things that were personal and real. This was amazing to me. Revolutionary, even. Of course, the artists I had listened to growing up sung about things that were personal and real to them. But I didn’t know those people. They were distant and famous. Their personal and real feelings were on a different plane altogether. They were the folk who were able to pull off that whole grandiose and romantic thing. This was completely different. This was someone I knew. Who was in the same room as me. Singing about her own feelings.
I didn’t realize we could do that!
In one of those sessions, I came up with a set of lyrics for a song (called, at different points, ‘When She Talks To Me’ and ‘Miss Today’) that was a kind of precursor to ‘Breaking’. It was never fully completed and no serious attempt was made to record it. None of its words or phrases were carried forward to ‘Breaking’, but the subject matter (and subject) was the same.
Reading the lyrics to the song now, they are not quite as naked and raw as my 17-year-old self probably thought they were. There is a lot of hazy vagueness going on. And there’s that repeated use of the pronoun “it” as a dummy noun, which I’ve had issues with ever since I wrote it. Likewise, the one-word chorus always felt like a bit of a cop-out. But it, like the dummy its, fit and stuck. A few months later, on 21 August, when I came to record what would become the “canonical” version of the song, the lyrics were unchanged.
Wait, that’s a lie! The beginning of the second line of the second verse was changed! “(There’s) hidden answers…” became “I’m giving answers…”.
The chord progression and song structure did remain exactly the same. It was still based around four power chords – all played by barring the strings, which were in an open D5 tuning. As I said, this was the beginning of my Sonic Youth phase, which had huge implications for how I would tune my guitar(s) over the next couple of years. This tuning was quite tame: DADAAD.
The verses and “chorus” are quite mundane, really. The bit I’m most proud of was the bridge/middle 8 – something about its position in the song: before, rather than after, the second chorus; as well as the lead into it, where that one chord is held out before it slides up… works really well, I feel.
The original April recording was very bare. Two tracks of electric guitar (actually Bebhinn’s guitar, which I’d borrowed, not owning one at the time) and one vocal take. The August version went that one step further and stripped it down to just one guitar (my own new one) and one vocal:
Listening to it now, one may be struck by the incredibly bad recording quality, or the lack of enthusiasm I appear to have had when singing the song. As such, one may question how I was able to choose it as one of my top ten songs of that time (“The rest must be terrible!”). One might also question how self-obsessed I must be to be able to write well over a thousand words about it.
I’m a bit concerned about that myself.
But in spite of its faults, I don’t believe the song itself is bad. And, again, although it wasn’t the first song I recorded, it was the first time I really put my true feelings about something personal – as trivial as that something might seem now – into music. This, I’m quite sure, is a decent enough reasons to consider it significant in the context of my modest musical history.
And so, till next time…