Digging For Bones
I like to describe song writing as paleontology (archeology sounds cooler but that science doesn't study fossils). When inspiration strikes, it's as if you've just uncovered a dinosaur bone. That riff that you discovered is exciting because you know it's just one part of the whole skeleton. The next step is to keep digging around on the fret board until you come across the rest of the skeletal remains. This can take a few hours, a few weeks or a couple of months. The hunt can be exhausting but once the skeletal structure is unearthed, it's extremely rewarding.
The Skeleton Hunt
The best way that I remember riffs and vocal harmonies is to record them. I always keep a tape recorder next to me when I mess around on the guitar. I used to believe that if I can't remember what I wrote, the next time I sat down to play, then it must've not been good. Wow, that was a stupid idea! Sometimes the riffs are just improvised. So when I listen back at a later date, I discover riffs I don’t even remember playing. That’s always a fun and often disturbing experience. Plus, when you record yourself, you have the chance of picking up E.V.P.s!
I've noticed that when you try and write a song together as a band, by jamming out each part, it takes longer. Not that we haven't done this in the past. It seems more expedient and less frustrating when you do your homework and present song parts to the group. I must admit its more mystical when I play a random bass riff that inspires Davey to play a beat, and then Bobby jumps in to complete it with a sweet guitar solo.
Fusing The Bones Together
We've discovered that our favorite song structure is the ABACB song structure, or the Verse/Chorus/Verse/Bridge/Chorus. When a song is in this structure, it flows smoothly. We've broken this structure for some songs, sure. Not all songs fit this model. Sometimes they call for something different.
Like I mentioned earlier, the verse and intros are the easiest to write. It’s the chorus that’s the hardest to figure out. We usually end up re-writing the chorus a few times as we play the song together as a full band.
The bridge section is also the last piece of the puzzle, and it’s usually a group effort in writing the bridge. I consider this part the most collaborative part because it could never be achieved by one person alone. Bouncing ideas back and forth until the bridge starts to pan out can take time, but when done properly is really fun.
Adding The Reptilian Flesh
Whenever inspiration strikes, I write down lyrics on drink coasters, scraps of paper, notebooks, whatever. I have folders of lyric ideas and scraps of paper kept in a drawer. I might hear an interesting line from a TV show, movie, in conversation, on the radio, in books...anywhere, really. When I take out the guitar to write a song, I put all those lyric shards in front of me. I read those words while trying to discover a riff, searching for the perfect match. This is how I put together my verse for "Your Ghost." Sometimes the melody of the line writes the lyric. Those words I randomly choose can be polished into a worthy verse, that's how I wrote my verse for "Vampires Don't Exist".
Hint: When you listen to our songs, you can figure out who brought the song to the band. If Bobby sings the first verse, he probably introduced the song. Or If I sing the first verse, it's mine. Most of the time it's true!
When Dinosaurs Roam The Earth
When a song is completed and the music is working, I get chills playing the tune. I look at my brothers and think, "Where did this song come from?" When I feel electricity in the air, that’s when I know we are on the right path!
I try and let my musical tastes dictate if a song sounds correct. The many years of listening to Danzig/Misfits/Samhain have played an important template to compare our music. I first discovered Danzig in high school when someone said I sang like him. So when I looked into this Danzig character, it was like fire discovering wood. It was fate, like a Catholic school kid discovering the joys of sin!
Behind The Songs
I thought I'd share some thoughts about a few of the songs we've written.
"Come Alive" -- This was an older song I wrote on my own before the band Calabrese was formed. I wrote it in my apartment in Illinois on a 4 track. I probably scared the neighbors as I yelled, "Monster Monster Come Alive!" The chorus riff was different back then, but the main verse was established as a launching pad for the version we have today.
"Midnight Spookshow" was one of our first songs that we re-wrote the chorus at least 3 times. All the lyrics on that song are from 1950’s spookshow taglines. These are all actual ballyhoo lines assorted in an entertaining fashion.
"Zombie I" is our ode to George Romero, also one of our first songs we wrote together that survived the beginning of the band. (We wrote some really bad songs back then) During this stage of the band we would just sing without any idea of what we had in mind, letting the universe guide us. Guess what was on our mind…zombies!
"Blood In My Eyes" -- I wrote the chorus and verse on a small child's acoustic guitar, the kind you find at the swap meet. Playing on different instruments inspire me and forces me to play inventively. The lyrics on this song was provided by our sister Margy, who has since been un-inspired to write us anymore lyrics. Damnit!
"Death Of Me" was a song that started with only a verse. Together as a band, we discovered the chorus by just playing it over and over 'til we had something. I knew we had a good chorus when I left practice with the melody stuck in my head. I sang it in the car the whole way home.
"Backseat Of My Hearse" -- This song started with that cemetery surf guitar sound. This was one of easier songs that wrote itself. The chorus came from a line I wrote down, which I discovered in my massive pile of lyrics.
"Eyes Down" was inspired by the band Type-O-Negative. We wrote this as a very slow dirge. I don’t think we had the patience to play music at such a slow tempo, 'cause as you can hear on the recording (and mainly at our live shows) we tear through that song!
"Death Eternal" was written in the living room of our folks house. That summer, the AZ heat was too intense to practice in the garage. We must have been practicing with the TV on because the inspiration for this song was the "Teen Titans Theme Song" (Puffi Ami Yumi and Guitar Wolf...how cool is that?) Don’t ask me how the song evolved into the finished product, but I’m glad it took a more evil twist.
"Inside This Coffin" was the first song we wrote after recording "13 Halloweens." Actually, the song was completed while we were still in the studio. We thought this song was more complex than our previous songs. We liked how the music was heading in a more technical direction. This song is the link between the first 2 musical phases of the band.
"Saturday Night of The Living Dead" was inspired by a random lyric of the same name. I handed Bobby a handful of lyric fragments, and this one line inspired him, and now we have this killer song.
"Voices Of The Dead" -- This was our last song to write for the album, "The Traveling Vampire Show," and it straight up almost destroyed the band! We wrote this song only a few months before our scheduled studio time. The song was complete, but Bobby hated the chorus, and I was fighting to keep what we wrote. The morning after a show in California, a heated argument broke out in the parking lot of a roadside diner. If we weren't brothers I’m sure this would have broken up a weaker band, but somehow we worked through it. We changed the chorus to Bobby's suggestions and "Voices Of The Dead" turned out to be one of our more popular songs off "The Traveling Vampire Show." To this day, I still hold a grudge against Bobby…revenge will be mine, Bobby…revenge will be mine!
For me, the song writing proccess is the most rewarding part of playing in a band. I thrive on this creativity and I’m the most happy during these times. It's supernatural, how random notes pulled from the ether can forge a song. Songs powerful enough to inspire people to sing along and connect strangers from all over the world. Someone told me that they thought music was my religion, and looking at how I describe song writing as a spiritual endeavor, I think she was correct. I praise thee, Gods of Rock!