Why I don’t write personal songs

My dad died when I was fifteen. Cancer. In my memory it was a few short moments from him complaining of chest pains in our kitchen, to him being close to death in King George’s hospital. It was only a few months. I remember it as being both instantaneous and lasting forever.

At the time I wrote some songs about it, but ever since I’ve held back from that sort of writing.

My lyrics are not about me. There’s a style of lyric writing that is ultra-confessional and sometimes it’s brilliant – Tori Amos has some amazing songs that are all about the most painful, heartbreaking moments in her life – but I can’t do it. I tried when my father died and for a fifteen year old I think I did the experience justice, but now I can’t imagine singing songs about such personal episodes of my life.

For me music is transcendent, which is just a pretentious way of saying escapist. Escapism gets a bad rap in art, as if it’s somehow shallow, but I absolutely don’t think it is. I want songs that tell you a story along to a rock drum beat with some funny chords and silly solos. I want to do – in a different style – what Iron Maiden do. Cos singing songs about dreams and monsters and science fiction stories and taking lots of other people of a journey is more fun, more mature and more of a challenge than writing about your own feelings.

I’m sure I read once about Bjork telling Thom Yorke that he should be less self-indulgent. That the audience matters more than his feelings. I’m not sure if he ever really got that, but it’s something I’ve always felt pretty keenly. The point of music is to evoke emotions in others. Going around emoting is doing exactly the opposite.

To be honest, because of that I find confessional writing a little dishonest. You can’t feel heartbroken all the time. That break-up from fifteen years ago can’t possibly feel as raw now, as you sing it for the thousandth time, as it did when it was an open wound and you happened to grab your guitar. Whereas that fictional story? That’s true every time you sing it.

Having said that, here’s a recording of a song from when I was 15 and all emo. It’s not a bad song in my opinion, despite the obvious influences and lack of singing lessons.

My songs aren’t about me, and how I’m feeling. They’re about the audience and how we can all feel something joyful and silly and escapist together.

We recently marked the 20th anniversary of my father’s death, which is why it’s on my mind. I’ve lived more of my life without him than I lived with him and I am sure all my memories are more than little inaccurate.

My mother was a music teacher, but actually my dad was just as much an influence on my music as my mum. During the period when he was ill I borrowed a four-track recorder from my school and started to figure out how to record songs. Our bathroom was next to my bedroom, and it was when my mother was helping my ill father in the bathroom that he heard me messing about with this four-track recorder and suggested to her that they buy me my own four-track. So in more ways than one, all this music is his fault.

But I don’t write lyrics about myself, and I certainly wouldn’t write a blog post about anything so personal. So you didn’t read this, it isn’t here.

Spirit Box released today

I am very pleased to announce the release of Spirit Box, my new EP.

It’s a collection of murder ballads with songs about evil clowns and overzealous butchers. It’s about death and ghosts. It’s acoustic and noisy and dark and murdery.

You can stream it on bandcamp, download it, or buy a CD with two bonus tracks.

New EP Announcement – Hear the first track “Butcher Boy”


 

I am very pleased to announce my new ep of murder ballads Spirit Box is now open for pre-orders.

It’s a noisy collection of acoustic songs about murder and mayhem.

The first song ‘Butcher Boy’​ tells the story of a butcher who practises his craft on customers he doesn’t like.

​’Ashes’ is about a man who, having murdered his wife, decides he isn’t happy with the urn full of ashes he got in return. So he uses a ‘spirit box’ ghost hunting device to try to find her again.

​’August and Whiteface’ tells the tale of a pair of murderous clowns, and the finale ​’And The Voices Sang’ returns to the murderous ghost hunter just as he is giving up hope of ever contacting his wife again

You can pre-order the download, or the CD digipack that has two extra songs ‘Here Love Dies’ and ‘Paper Scissors Stone’.

Or you could just join the Immoral Supporters club which includes all of the digital stuff I’ve released, plus a discount on the CD.

Tom Slatter’s Tournament Of Perfectly Adequate Demo Songs

I have written quite a lot of songs. There are plenty already recorded and released, but lots more just exist as rough demos.

Lots of those just aren’t good enough to bother recording properly, but plenty are actually pretty good songs that just haven’t found a place on an album.

I want to record some as singles, but there are lots to choose from. Therefore it seems sensible to have a demo song tournament to decide which I will record ‘properly’ and release as a single.

Introducing Tom Slatter’s Tournament Of Perfectly Adequate Demo Songs.

Here are the rules:

  • There are 8 songs. Loser in each bout will be eliminated. Most votes wins.
  • Anyone can vote and you do so by commenting under this post, or the facebook post, or the bandcamp post.
  • Votes from the members of the Immoral Supporters Club on bandcamp are worth twice anyone elses. I know who they are.
  • I can’t be bothered setting up a proper poll – I’ll just count the comments manually. Any mistakes I make are irrelevant – this is my competition. I am the referee. I reserve the right to make arbitrary and unfair decisions.

The eventual winner will become a properly recorded single, rather than a rough demo.

Want a double vote? You need to be an immoral subscriber then. Here’s a link for that.

First up: ‘Mysteries and Monsters’, a very old song lamenting the death of magic, and ‘Anything to Make you Mine’, an extremely creepy ‘love’ song.

Of course they are demos, not the finished article, so don’t expect perfect recordings or performances.

Have a listen to the video and let me know which you prefer.

Songwriting – Run

There’s a fictional band in The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy called Disaster Area. Douglas Adams wrote that ‘Their songs are on the whole very simple and mostly follow the familiar theme of boy-being meets girl-being beneath silvery moon, which then explodes for no adequately explored reason.’

I obviously took that idea to heart, at least subconsciously because I’ve got several songs that follow a similar story. Set Light to the Sky is one of them, so is Satellites – Love songs set to a backdrop of apocalyptic goings on.

My new song Run is similar.

It’s a love song about two people holding each other’s hands and running from the end of the world.

It is also a pretty straight ahead rock song – verse chorus verse chorus, singalong bits, nothing complicated and nerdy.

Or is it?

Run was written in about twenty minutes when I was attempting to complete February Album Writing Month in 2017. I started at 9 o’ clock with the intention of having an entirely new song. Some time before ten I had recorded this:

The verses are in 7/8, the verses 4/4 and the verse has an augmented chord in it: F#minor D Bb Augmented, C#minor – so there are enough unusual elements in there to keep the nerdy muso side of me happy.

Did I decide at the start to use funny time signatures? No, not at all. These things are just part my palette now, I find them as natural as more common rhythms.

The song was pretty much an improvisation and it hasn’t changed a whole lot between demo and the finished version, except that it is now well played and has the guitars turned up.

It is part of a ‘double a-side’ because I don’t have an album for it to go on. You can have the two songs for whatever price you want, including free.

Thanks for listening!

My part in Dial by Shineback

Dial by Shineback is now out.

This track, Here I Am, features some of my guitar playing:

Simon Godfrey, the madman behind Shineback, asked me to play something ‘disturbing’ to fill the gaps in between The Wizard Ramsay’s spoken word performance.

Most of the backing track was already there and there’s not much that’s rhythmic in it. It’s all big ominous chords and drones. So it made sense for me to play something with a bit of rhythm to it.

I read ‘disturbing’ as an instruction to play odd notes. They’re not random though, I’m playing with a whole tone scale centred on D – taking advantage of the symmetrical nature of that scale to slide up four frets and play the same pattern again a few times. It’s only right at the end that I return to a nicer, more ‘in tune’ scale for the last few notes.

My original performance was rough around the edges – as I’ve said elsewhere I can’t compete with proper lead guitar players on technique, what I have is funny note choice.

I spent several hours trying to record a version that had the same idea as the original but was better played. None of them sounded right so I sent Simon the original rough version instead.

Thankfully his inspired processing and choice of effects disguises how badly played the part was.

Thanks for letting me join in, Mr Godfrey. Its a great album.