Writing the Ghosts EP #1 – Modify, combine, create

Lately I’ve been getting ready to release Molly Anna’s debut EP. It’s been a long time in the pipeline and I’m really excited about the launch, but the thing I’ve liked most about writing these songs is the creative process itself, not just the finished product.

Everybody creates in different ways. Some people can just sit and write a song from start to finish – there was a great singer on my MA course who would just sit down at the piano and in a few hours she’d have 3 songs written. Dolly Parton reportedly writes at least a song a day. But that’s not me. My process is slower, but it works for me and I’m ok with it.
I think part of the reason it takes me so long to write songs is that I worry and overthink things a lot. I used to get really worked up about trying to write something really original and unique… more than just your average pop song, you know? Then I watched a documentary called Everything’s a Remix by Kirby Ferguson and it made everything better. In the documentary, Kirby talks about how humans create by following the Copy, Modify and Combine model: we learn a craft by copying the work of others (a kid with his first guitar learns other artists’ songs first), then we modify (we might start to improvise around our favourite songs, or create alternative melody lines to existing chord structures) and then, in time, we start to combine elements from all our influences into our own, new music.

You see then, that no musician or artist can be truly original. At all. Not a single one. Anyone who tells you their band’s sound is ‘unique’ is lying to you (or themselves). It’s not just music either, it’s everything from inventions to novels. There’s nothing new under the sun. Hell, even this blog post isn’t unique. It’s a remix of lots of ideas I wrote about for the Molly Anna Band website back in February this year… but none of this is a bad thing. Without influence, our music ends up directionless and a little bland.

I decided to embrace others’ influence, and seek it in lots of places. I like visual art (even though I don’t understand it, ha) so I visited a lot of art galleries around Leeds for inspiration. I read lots of art magazines too, and eventually put together a board of images that best represented the mood of the music I wanted to create.

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Here’s me working on lyrical ideas using my visual inspiration about a year ago. It’s ok to be jealous of my socks – they’re handmade and super warm.

Once I’d done this, things started to move quite fast. I was able to start coming up with small lyrical ideas and even structure outlines for a few of the songs. Afterwards, I made a playlist of tracks that, to me, fit the aesthetic of the images I’d collected and the lyrics I’d started writing. From these tracks I’d gain ideas for instrumental line ups, vocal performances, structure and even the stories of my songs.

I found myself coming back to these mood boards and playlists over and over again during the months I was writing the Ghosts EP. My advice to anyone stuck in a rut would be to look outside of your own work for more ideas. Although it might seem counterproductive, stopping your work for a few hours to escape your creative vacuum might be more helpful for your project in the long run.

If you’re interested in listening to the playlist that influenced my new EP, you can listen here.

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