Canadian Musician - July/August 2017 - Page 58

PHOTO: MARTIN GIRARD WRITING Ian Kelly is a singer-songwriter, producer, and label owner from Montreal, QC. He released his fifth studio album, SuperFolk, in 2016 and recently celebrated the release of SuperFolk Remixes, featuring various Montreal DJs and artists reinterpreting the songs. By Ian Kelly Eat, Sleep, Songs H ow do I write a song? That’s a question that I’ve been asked so many times over the years that I’ve lost count. When I was a newcomer to this whole “professional music thing,” I thought it was a ridiculous question. I must have been asked it hundreds of times, and I’ve probably giv- en a hundred different answers. Over time, I’ve surmised that there really is something to be said about it; turns out, it’s not a silly question at all. Writing I could just as easily ask a “non-composer,” “How do you not write songs?” To me, it’s just something I do, that I need to do. It’s just one of those things, almost like sleeping or eating. It’s kind of hard to explain, but if I really think about it, I guess I could even tell you how I sleep… Well, I lie down in my bed, or sometimes I’m leaning against a plane window, or trying to catch up on some very important TV show. Then, I close my eyes, or they close themselves, and then, well, I start nodding off, still breathing, still alive, but un- conscious. Then I start dreaming. Or do I? I can’t remember my dreams but I must have them. Oh, and I think I grind my teeth a little. At this point, we would need to ask my wife or a bandmate for more details about how the pool of saliva ends up on my pillow… Writing songs is just something that happens organically for me. The process has changed over time, but the initial spark that starts it all remains the same. I just feel 58 • C A N A D I A N M U S I C I A N it… I just need to do it. It’s a calling. It’s just part of my life. Not that it can’t be forced. We usually write some songs, produce an album, put it out, then go on tour, and repeat the process. That means you get to a point in the process when you just need to find some songs in yourself, within a limited amount of time, during what is, most likely, the least lucrative period in the creative cycle. (By the way, after all these years and some success, I’m still not sure when the lucrative period in this cycle is, so don’t worry if you’re not, either.) Words When I started out, I didn’t really care about my lyrics. I would write anything that sounded okay just to have some words that produced the right sounds for the music. To a certain extent, a part of me still feels this way. I am, after all, writing songs, not novels. I still very much believe that a good song will make you feel the way it’s supposed to, whether or not you pay attention to the words. It’s not a hard case to make. Two words: “instrumental music.” The big difference between me today and me in 2004 (when I made my first al- bum) is that now, I believe that my songs aren’t just chords and melodies; the lyrics should also serve a purpose. They can defi- nitely make or break a piece. One thing hasn’t changed, though. I still feel a song should express some universal emotional truth – one that anyone can relate to, regardless of language. Looking back on Ian Kelly’s Insecurity, my first record, I have to admit that I’m not particularly proud of the lyrics and I wish that I had spent more time writing them. Getting around to writing the lyrics to a song 15 minutes before recording the album – one that will always exist and might come back to haunt you – is definitely not the way to go. Also, I never put anything out now until someone else has gone over it. Actually, I used to write my lyrics really late in my songwriting process, but on each album over the years, I’ve addressed it earlier and earlier. For SuperFolk, my latest endeav- our, it pretty much happened simultaneous- ly with the music. For me, what’s cool about writing that way is that the length of the prose might get you to do something more original rhythmically. You might add a bar or take out a beat to accommodate the lyric, and that can lead to a more intricate song. In many ways, I still don’t feel like I’ve really found a “method” to write my songs. Every song comes about in its own way. And I’m still trying to write the song: a masterpiece like “The Boxer” or “Suzanne.” Know what I mean? I think after writing something like that, you could probably just quit. If it’s about progression and not perfection, there might come a time when it’d be best to just throw in the towel and do something else if you feel you’ve written the best song you could possibly write. So YXZ H[][&]ܚ][^H8'[XYB[K'H]8&\H\[[H^KX]\HH]Y\Z[8$[]\H[[\B\[\و][