I’ve always enjoyed songs about the darker things. Songs about characters in extremis, pushed to the edge and pushing back. Songs about murder, and killing and weirdness. Nick Cave, Tom Waits, the darker traditional folk songs.
I couldn’t pinpoint exactly when I started to love songs like that. I’ve always liked heavy metal, which has its fair share of horror songs. As a very young child I liked musicals, and that’s stayed with me, even though a great many musicals suffer from not being Sweeney Todd.
But wherever it started, I like music that’s melodramatic and macabre. Here some inspirations:
Nick Cave’s Murder Ballads
Where the Wild Rose Grow by Nick Cave and Kylie Minogue is one of a great many Nick Cave songs I could have picked. The juxtaposition of a pop princess and a raving madman stoving her character’s head in then putting a rose between her teeth works beautifully. What I particularly love about this is that if you were listening with half an ear you could be forgiven for thinking this was a cheesy love song, rather than a murder ballad.
It’s also unforgiving and bleak. Apparently the older, more traditional murder ballad folks songs would contain verses where the murderers get a proper comeuppance. The law, or at least justice, would find them. Not so this song. The tradition changed, particularly over in America and murder ballads just focused on the dastardly doings of the antihero. This Nick Cave song is definitely in that tradition. There is no light. He just kills her. And yet musically it is a straight ahead, simple song.
What I love about the video in the link above is the melodrama. It is dark, but the audience are happy to laugh as well. What’s often missing from more experimental stuff on record is the audience reaction. Laughing is okay. If it’s weird, it’s weird.
Waits’ songs aren’t always about murderers, but so many of them are populated with these weird, over the top characters who get up to all sorts of strange things. I know people always focus on the unique character of his voice, and rightly so, but for me what stands out are the protagonists of his songs.
I couldn’t write about the music that has influenced me without mentioning this show. Sweeney Todd has a special place in my dark little heart. I’ve never seen a live show so blood soaked and gleefully, messily, violent. And Sondheim is a genius, isn’t he? The words are genius, the accompaniment grotesque and perfect. And there are moments of real beauty in the melody, but every one of them is undercut with an air of menace.
In short, I like ’em dark.
What about you? What dark, storytelling songs would you add to my list?
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.
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.
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.