Man, I really enjoy my own songs sometimes. Not in a Puff Daddy kind of way where I would casually put it on in mixed company in the back of a limo—that is cringey to me. But in the kind of way where I will listen to it late at night by myself at -20% speed and cry with my mouth open. To like every song on SFIP right now. I listen and I feel stuff and then I analyze. People sometimes think it’s called Songs for Imaginary People, but no it’s actually songs for Imaginative people. Meaning that it’s dedicated to people who are willing to commit their imaginations to the listening process. I’m also recognizing now that the album was very inspired by my desire to write songs for specific friends, starting with “Alice,” which is explicitly for my friend Alice. Alice was, I think, the 2nd song I wrote for the album, after (800) HUMAN. And HUMAN was a chorus I had been holding onto for 6-8 months before even sitting down to write the album, so after I finished it, Alice was kind of the first song I was writing from scratch. I needed some reason to write a song, something to accomplish besides just putting chords together and singing notes over them. The final song I wrote for the album, after feeling exhausted creatively, was Chelsea’s Hotel, which I only wrote when the label prompted me for a 10th song. I was hoping to laze out and throw the previously released b-side Hey Mom on the record as the 10th track. I’m glad they pushed me because I happen to be very proud of the song I wrote for Chelsea. [Side note: pay close attention to the drum stick clicks and my off-mic count-off after the 3rd chorus of Chelsea’s Hotel. I suspect a lot of people (even my own band members) are hearing the rhythm differently than I composed it. It is very syncopated, but the clicks will set you right if you follow them hard and tap your leg and try to re-hear it. It’s all in 4/4 time. I was on the receiving end of this experience with a Photek song called Consciousness, which was featured on disc 2 of the Metalheadz drum ’n bass compliation called Platinum Breaks, mixed by LTJ Bukem that came out around 1996. It was a cool song no matter where you were hearing the downbeat, but it is a cool challenge to hear a song with a different downbeat after hearing it a certain way. And rhythmically, it’s like getting a free alternate version of your favorite song just by using your brain power. And it takes a lot of brain power. And Photek’s songs were very much my favorite when I was 16.]
So I spend a healthy amount of time listening to my own records. It’s almost always a private and studious type of listening. But that’s not to say I’m not rocking out, too. I love to listen to music sped up and/or slowed down. You can hear different parts of the frequency spectrum more clearly; it brings buried parts of the recording to the fore; it’s good for just generally getting a solid chipmunk vibe going. So of course I notice new stuff that I didn’t think about even when I was writing the songs. Tonight I noticed a cool dichotomy in the song Free. During the uptempo loud parts, the lyrics address the resistance of outward shackles such as society’s gaze, and the quiet half-tempo parts address the inward shackles of morbid self-consciousness, regret and mechanical self-rejection. The music sort of implies that the outer stuff is the bigger deal, since the cues are louder and more bombastic. But the irony is you can slough off every external eye/pressure/construct and you still won’t be happy until you find a forgiving internal narrative for yourself. The music is very understated about this I think, and if you don’t read along with the lyrics, they probably go by too slowly to even follow. But it’s all there.
One thing I was doing consciously while writing the album was looking for familiar literary forms to appropriate. Free (The Editorial Me) accomplished that best I think by appropriating the familiar form of a publisher’s stock rejection letter. As a device, the appropriation hopefully hooks the listener without resorting to sentimental clichés, which allows you to both entertain people and also potentially sing about interesting things. I was really moved by Regina Spektor’s song, Human of the Year, which does this quite well I think, by appropriating and subverting the formulaic language of award ceremonies. Clearly, in (800) HUMAN, I also tried to appropriate the language of infomercials in order to sing about the strange facts of physical existence as human organisms. I’m not confident I made anyone feel anything with those lyrics, although the chord changes are extravagant enough to do the job I hope. Turns out that 90’s TV commercial language is maybe too strong to subvert and repurpose, or more likely, that existentialism is just really hard to sing about in a way that connects with anyone. Love and romance on the other hand are much easier to sing about in a way that connects with people. The TV language unfortunately may have gotten in the way of the ideas I wanted to express in the song: namely that life often feels to me like a raw deal and also a complete mystery. The conceit was supposed to be “what if the only reason we’re here is because heaven was boring from the perspective of its residents?”
One thing I regret about the writing of SFIP is my use of puns/cleverness. I was just trying to experiment lyrically, but the results are not my favorite, especially the the prechorus stuff in Alice. (The bridge is the best bridge ever, if you excuse the singing.) The main alternative to puns and devices as I saw it was to focus on imagery, which is a stronger and more effective way to write, but also therefore more of an “automatic” thing to do as a songwriter, which made it less appealing to me as someone who was looking to experiment. Double Down might have more images in it, because I was certainly past the point of “trying things just to try them” and simply looking to hit home runs when I made that rekkid.
Currently, I don’t know what to do. I feel like I’ve said my piece, musically. I could always say it more, but people don’t really seem to buy records anymore anyway. Anyway, it’s definitely a blessing to be able to make money from something that isn’t retailing items purchased at wholesale cost or renovating buildings in order to raise the rent. So I’m going to continue it certainly. And if any of this sounds cocky, just remember that my deepest experience in writing my best songs is very much that I myself am definitely not the active ingredient. The overwhelming experience at the time of writing the best ones is very much that the music just comes from somewhere else on its own. The best stuff on my records is not stuff I give myself credit for, so I enjoy it the same way as everyone else in that regard. Hoping that’s not weird for you because I wanted to share these thoughts.