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2014-11-09 Where (Song) Babies Come From

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As we get ready to release our CD, it seems a good time to answer one of those common questions. Especially given this is the first in our set of Things for Celebrating the CD Release and the question is about first steps.

Question: What is your creation process? How does Varnish create songs?
Answer: There's some variation, but here's how we usually work...

A bit of guitar (maybe a riff or maybe a whole song) falls out of Jason's lovely brain. As soon as he can get in front of a recording device, he makes sure I have my own copy of his new goodness.

the path of Jason's music magic

I then sit down with that recording on loop, flipping through my massive book of lyrics I've not yet used. Over and over, round after round, narrowing down lyrics until I find the ones that fit in mood, rhythm, line lengths. Sorting out a melody as I go. Regularly apologising to whomever is in earshot and forced to listen to hours or days of the same song.

wee Amber looking for lyrics

With that sorted, Jason and I work out our idea of the best song structure and see how it works when he's playing and I'm singing (sometimes we accidentally discover cool little things to do or find unexpected little stumbling blocks). We won't call it finished, but we'll get the song to a point where we feel like our parts are basically sorted and we've talked about what we think bass and drums might sound like.

Finally, we take this in to work with the bassist and drummer. We bring ideas for them that might be as general as "the guitar is really open here, so the bass will carry it" or as specific as "the beat sounds like this." And then we see just how much better things are as they make it their own, make it real, bring their own expertise and creativity to the party. We make suggestions (sometimes very few, sometimes a lot), but everyone writes their own parts. And, so far, we definitely feel like that's for the best.

This is the point in the process where everyone who loves us is glad for practice spaces, as we play the budding little song over and over until we feel like we've got something worthy of your ears.

baby with a music note for a face

Not every band works this way. When I've been in or worked with other bands or projects, each has had its own process. But this is the magic of Varnish, of me working with Jason. Somehow, organically, two people with similar comfortable places for creativity found each other. And anyone who's tried to find someone else in the world to create something with--be it art, love, business, or anything else--knows that is, indeed, a magical thing. We hope a little of that finds its way through our songs and into your little souls.

(Like it when I'm verbose and self-analysing? Scroll down past the kisses for some extra that's just that--verbose and self-analysing. You're welcome!)

As always, I'm here to hear your thoughts and requests. Drop me an email, lovely.


Where are you watching us? Facebook? Twitter? This site? Somewhere else? Let me know. I want to hang out where the cool kids like you are!

Verbosity and Self-Analysis Ahoy!

Long-time readers know that I'm unafraid of lengthy essays and that I do more self-analysis than the average kid. As I wrote about how we work, I thought a lot about why this is how I work. And because I know some of you like to have that look into me, I thought I'd give you this lengthy addendum.

Creativity is vulnerable. To make it work and feel right, I have to be authentic and put 100% Real Amber into things. I have to take chances and sometimes get it wrong, and I have to open myself up to the chaos inherent in the creation process. With Jason and with other musicians, I have to make sure that I come in ready to give a little, to at least try ideas I'm not immediately in love with whilst still holding to things that I'm sure make the song good and make it authentic to me. Working with a group, we have to create something that is true to all of us...

Like most hardcore introverts, I am absolutely loathe to be imperfect in front of other people. Even people I love and trust. And that means that starting the process and working out the big kinks with just Jason takes a little of the mental pain out of it for me. I can show up to the rest the band with a vocal melody that's respectable and with lyrics that fit the structure and the beat. I don't know if my massive self-esteem will ever override this particular need...

Like most people who are autistic, I crave order. Having a framework is one of those things I deeply crave. Jamming with the hopes that songs fall out is so far outside my comfort zone that I'd have to draw you a map to get there. I think there's some value in a certain amount of the right kind of jamming, and I've even been in a band that mainly worked by jamming a lot (and they took the right steps after the jamming to turn it into some fine songs). So, don't you worry; I've not cut myself off from nor thoroughly condemned all jamming. But this brain of mine is wired to seek order. To count measures and love the beat. Laying out the basic song between just two people before we invite others in to push and pull and poke holes, to introduce more chaos, lets me feel structured enough to have room for the chaos required for creation.

Like many artists, I am deeply connected to what I create. Being open to changing it isn't exactly the normal nature of the creator. Because I know that and because I know that some of the people I've worked with have way more experience that I have, I also have to watch that I don't give up too much, that I don't devalue my instincts and opinions. I tend to dwell in extremes, and this is a place where I need to walk a fine line, a middle ground between self-doubt and self-confidence. Sometimes, I forget that I'm not always right. Working with Jason has helped me with that. (Now would be an appropriate time to thank him for his patience and persistence, wouldn't it? Thank you, dear friend.)

The creation process basically tests and pushes at a lot of who I am naturally. But it's exercise for my soul...Which is to say that sometimes it's the zen of yoga and sometimes it's the brutal push of a marathon, but, in the end, I always feel like doing it, creating, was the right thing. And I get the high of a great workout. These songs we create are the best muscles I ever built. My strength and my flexibility. Now, I'm going to go lift some lyrical weight.