Worldbuilding song by song – Nothing You Can’t Buy

Everything I’ve ever written has been about fictional worlds. I love fantasy, scifi, speculative fiction and my songs tend to tell those kind of stories. 

Sometimes it’s very obvious, sometimes it’s kinda oblique, but all my songs are from the point of view of a character, telling you about their world. 

So that’s what this first Ashfeathers album is about – 9 songs about characters in their fictional worlds.

But there’s also the idea of a ‘sound world’. The instruments, voices, textures and gestures you choose to create your music. So as well as building worlds with the lyrics, I’m building worlds with sound. World building. 

I’ve released 8 albums prior to this one, almost all under my own name – Tom Slatter. Ashfeathers has such a different sound world to those songs that I decided a new name was needed, and here we are. 

But the lyrics of the first song – Nothing You Can’t Buy – could absolutely have been on a Tom Slatter album. 

This song is about a city in the desert where you can buy anything – physical things, maps and knives, cages, cars, diamonds, hot dogs, but also abstract ideas like broken hearts, broken promises. 

The character singing revealed themselves to me gradually, pretty much as happens when you listen to the song. First he’s walking through this bizarre market, looking at all the weird stuff you can buy, but then the chorus comes he tells you he bought a map, a knife, someone else’s name and revenge. 

Cos you can buy revenge in this place. 

And despite the kinda sweet sound world – acoustic guitars and chimes and stuff, there’s something sinister going here. By the bridge he’s talking about accusations dogging your every move, and an old man in the market in the city you can pay to make your past sins disappear. And by that point you know this guy ain’t in a happy place. 

And it means you’ve got a juxtaposition I always enjoy – a singable melodic chorus with dark sinister lyrics. 

Cos by the end our character is talking about how he could have bought happiness, but to do that would mean raising someone he loves from the dead, and thats a pandora’s box, cos if one person can get raised from the dead, others can too and he can’t afford that. 

I assume cos he’s put some many people there and he doesn’t want to have to face them after what he did. 

Or something like that. Lots of writers will tell you, sometimes it feels lik the song or the story kinda takes over and you’re acting as a conduit for the words rather than creating them yourself. You are of course, except maybe with a bit of help from your subconscious brain – but that’s what it felt like when i got into writing this song. It wrote itself very quickly. Like he felt he wanted to confess to me. 

So that’s that first song ‘Nothing You Can’t Buy’. Next time I’ll talk about the second song, MirrorWorld.