A few days ago I released my first single ‘Villain’, but the version people are downloading isn’t anything like the first draft. Villain has been written, re-written, pulled apart, over-analysed and glued back together dozens of times since I started writing it last year. Apparently I’m really fickle when it comes to creating things.
This was both the first song of the EP I started writing and the last one to be finished. It’s also the one that inspired all of the others. I was going through a rough time , blamed myself for a lot of things that had gone wrong and had wound up with pretty bad depression. I fantasised about escaping from the life I was leading, but I didn’t want to write another sad song where I was the victim. So naturally I decided to write a song about burning my house down, faking my own death and seducing a passer-by into being my accomplice. I enjoyed writing the story so much that when it came to composing the other tracks on the Ghost EP, I didn’t want to leave the story there and expanded it to include all 5 songs.
I always find the creative process itself a lot more interesting than the end product, so I get very excited about other people’s stories. Have you ever written or created something that you had to change many times before you were happy? Have you ever created something you wished you’d changed? How did you deal with it? Let me know (genuinely, I need to start writing a new album soon and I want to feast on your wisdom). To start you off, here’s the timeline of how ‘Villain’ changed over the year it took to write it:
Ok, so the first draft of this piece wasn’t even called Villain. It was called ‘Hit and Run. Here’s the first time I sang the chorus after writing it:
It’s not that I don’t like this section or anything, it just wasn’t the right fit for this song. I wanted it to be really dramatic but this was too melancholy. Plus, no matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t think of anything good enough for the second half.
Inspiration for the new chorus ended up coming from Game of Thrones of all places, which is particularly strange since I don’t even watch it. I remember procrastinating in a practice room at college by scrolling through Facebook. Some kind of incredible.. thing had happened in last night’s episode and everyone was talking about dragon babies or some shit. I can’t remember. It got me thinking – I dicked about on the piano for a while and came up with something different.
I was going to upload the archived practice room version of this but I’m not going to because I’m too embarrassed. I did it to a metronome but still managed to get really out of time. In my defense I was never planning on letting anybody else hear these recordings. Anyway, here’s what the entire song now sounded like. Don’t laugh at my crop-top/shorts combo. It was boiling. And yes, we used to perform as Maze Canyons before Molly Anna.
- Verse words
See Writing the Ghosts EP #2 and the section on long rambly songs. I often start writing songs by coming up with a tune idea and seeing how many versions of lyrics I can fit to them. I figure it’s better to have more than you need than not enough. As you probably heard in the video though, it was pretty lengthy, so I cut the verses pretty much in half.
- Chorus. Again
Yep, it changed again. This chorus was the bane of my life for almost a year. It came to my attention (when somebody told me it over and over again) that it sounded more like a pre-chorus than a chorus. I didn’t want to get rid of it entirely and you know, if I cut any more of this song out I’d just be left screaming words like ‘FIRE’ and ‘METAPHOR’ over and over. I did shave it a little, but I moved it to pre-chorus instead. Pre-choruses build momentum and excitement towards the actual chorus (which then releases the tension), so they’re still important. They basically signal to the audience that a big change is coming so they should put seat-belts on their ears.The first time it appears it leads to an anti-climax as we plunge straight back into verse 2, but the second time it builds a lot more, changes key and pretty much shouts ‘HEY EVERYONE THERE’S A CHORUS COMING.’ This was unfortunate as I didn’t actually have one yet.
- Writing an actual chorus, re-writing the verses and trashing the middle eight.
So with all this drama raining down on the track there wasn’t really the space for all the melancholy crap of the original middle eight (see video above, 3.33 in). It had to go. By now I was left with like, a minute of song with no chorus. It also left me with another problem – it’s all well and good cutting lyrics, but this track was supposed to tell a story. And without those bits of verse it no longer made sense! So I had to re-write the verses before I could even think about the chorus. Luckily I had
the angel of inspiration on my shouldera deadline, so it only took me an afternoon. #Goals
Here’s what I ended up with.
I’ve tried to condense the process into manageable chunks, but what’s not pictured here is the many tantrums, key changes (sorry Mike) and self-loathing that came with it. I guess that’s all part of the creative process for a lot of people, though.
Let me know how you do it!
Cover photo by Everthine Photography. Video from Backstage with Bella.