How do you usually write the lyrics of your songs?
First of all, thank you for taking the time to chat with me about lyrics. Lyrics are super important and something that I take a lot of pride in. It can happen a few different ways. Normally, I’ll have a very rough recording of the song and try to piece together melodies or patterns in my head. I might go for a walk with the song and hum to myself to see if I can come up with something I like. From there, I’ll just see if there are any phrases that keep popping in my head. If that happens, I try to go with that. There are a lot of phrases that have popped in my head from listening to a song and I try to pay attention to that.
Other times, I’ll just sit down and not worry about syllables or patterns and just start writing and then worry about bending the words to fit the song. That is where it can become fun because you can try different things vocally to make the words fit. You might hold out one word in a phrase and use a few different pitches for the one word instead of using the same pattern for the entire line, if that makes sense.
Alternatively, I’ve definitely gleaned poems or random lines I’ve written in my notebooks over the years and made a lyrical stir fry of a song. We have a song called “Toll Collector” off our EP “Nothing I Say Has Any Weight” which was a poem I’d written about a year before the music was written. It can be interesting to use lines from different poems and combine them into one set. The song then doesn’t become about one thing but jumps all over the place, which I’m a fan of. As much as I like visual storytelling lyrics, I don’t know if I’m there yet so I tend to write a bit more vaguely.
In your opinion, what is the most important thing in songwriting?
In my opinion, the most important thing is that you are a fan of what you write and you believe in it. Also, there should be a real emotion behind it. Some people might disagree that you need to be a fan of what you write, but I believe the best way to get other people to believe in it is if you stand behind it. You will always grow as a songwriter if you keep writing and reflecting on what you‘ve written and you may look back on older material unfavorably, but you should believe in what you write when you write it.
Lyrically, there should be real emotion behind the words. Plenty of bands have made a genuine connection with fans by writing goofy lyrics which is great but I always respond most when I feel it comes from something that is pulling at the writer.
Are you ever scared of revealing aspects of your personal life/experience to strangers through your music?
That’s probably why I keep things so vague 🙂
Definitely. For me, I’ve not had a crazy or tumultuous life so my thoughts are centered around, “who is really going to give a shit?” It can be scary to put emotion down onto paper and then bring your words into band practice and sing them while everyone stares at you but it gets easier the more you do it. It feels like I’m fucking naked, though. Like the only thing covering me is my guitar 🙂
Having said that, it is extremely gratifying when people tell you how much they like your words. We have a fan in India named Aditya (shoutout to Aditya!) who messaged us asking for the lyrics to ones of our songs called “Hot Breath” because he liked the song so much. That feels pretty great. Or when we played a show in Sacramento for the first time and there was a dude singing the words to “Delay.” Another incredible moment. I’ve also gotten a lot of really nice compliments on songs like “Headless Pillow” and “No Love Gets Away.” It always feels nice when you‘ve put yourself out there and people respond positively to the words. It’s also totally fine if people don’t like the lyrics of some songs. The important thing is that you stand behind it.
What is the best lyric that you ever wrote (the most meaningful for you)?
Every single word I have ever written is golden and should be in the Smithsonian 🙂
Joking aside, my personal favorite is most likely “Headless Pillow.” That is probably as close as I’ve ever gotten to an idea I’ve had in my head and seemed like the penultimate moment from our first record, lyrically. It is very much about a specific life experience and I think I nailed it on that one. Other favorites are “Tied to the Bed,” “Deceiver,” “Drinking From the Trough of a Tyrant’s Piss,” and “Stab.”
What inspired “Mask”, part of your latest album “Drinking from The Trough of a Tyrant’s piss”?
This is going to sound like bullshit, but most of the words popped in my head while I was laying in bed one night. I didn’t want to forget them so I got up and jotted them down. I added a few more lines later on but the bulk of it was just laying in bed.
It isn’t a hard concept lyrically, but I liked the way each line began with the word “too.” It sounds like each line is making a justification for something. “Too lovely a face to be broken by a mirror, two hands apart to be joined by fear” is my favorite line in the song. The line “I don’t want to wear a mask anymore” was written well after the initial verses. That’s a good example of combining words from different songs ideas together. That line focuses more on feeling inauthentic.
And “Dirty Dream”?
I had a girl I was dating in mind when I wrote this. It’s about feeling empty when you open yourself to someone and that isn’t returned but you still find yourself thinking, fantasizing, and dreaming about them. This is another song I wrote half-asleep after this person left my house one night. Side note- we filmed a music video for this song that everyone should check out. It turned out amazingly well and the response has been very enthusiastic. It is a very surreal, trippy video that does not feature the band in it. Our good friend Artak Ozan shot it and you can find it on our YouTube channel, The Living SF.
“Losing me inside you, it’s not love but I’m breathing hard” is my favorite line.
Maybe I should write more when I’m half asleep. Didn’t Proust and Kafka do that? Not that I’m anywhere NEAR their level.
Do you remember the day you wrote “Leaving”?
Yes. I really struggled with this song and could not for the life of me get ANYTHING down that I liked. When we went to record this song, I still didn’t have lyrics. We had to come back a few weeks later to do some touch ups on other songs and that was when I had lyrics.
To be fair, this song when through so many goddamn iterations before we landed on what you hear on the record. What you hear sounds markedly different from what it originally was, to say the least.
But I do remember going to a coffee shop and knocking it out along with all the other patrons who were probably banging out a screenplay or a manuscript. (I used to live in LA so I remember seeing Final Draft files on everyone’s laptop.)
Again, this was about the same girl I was dating from “Dirty Dream.” As the title implies, it’s about…leaving. She was a flight attendant so it was extremely difficult to make that work. “Firecracker in late July split apart to a different sky” references the time of year this ill-fated romance occurred and also her personality and job.
There’s a theme of flying away in the lyrics. Maybe a bit on the nose, but I think it works. “Forgot how to drape an arm across the back to a cold shoulder” is my favorite line and another line that came from a totally different poem.
I was so goddamn relieved when I left that coffee shop.
What are your plans for 2019?
We are planning on shooting another music video for this album cycle in the new year and will continue to promote this album. In addition to playing shows, we will continue to write and expand our sound and deliver an even better release on this next round. It’s an exciting time. We’ve gotten a lot of great press on everything we’ve released and we’re pumped to continue to grow.
To conclude the interview a short Q/A session, please answer the first thing that comes to your mind:
- Define in one word your album “Drinking from The Trough of a Tyrant’s piss”: Sexy.
- The best show you ever played: Probably the album release show for this album at Brick & Mortar in SF. We also did a show in Seattle last year that was phenomenal.
- The one thing that you must have in your backstage: Beer? Maybe some chips? We almost never have a backstage. I need to have some time to myself before the show.
- The soundtrack of your childhood: My parents telling my brother and I to turn it down 🙂 Probably Metallica, The Beatles, or Elvis.
- Your favorite song lyrically speaking, but not written by you: Jesus, that’s tough. I’ll probably think of something later on but I’ve been listening to a lot of Townes Van Zandt lately. His words on the song “Highway Kind” get to me. I got a tattoo based off a few lines.
- Last question is “unusual”, we want to know your best relationship advice: Nick Cave said it well. “Let Love In.”