I decided just a little bit ago that I wanted to do a series of posts wherein I discuss my writing process for the Malibu Shark Attack album. Being the word nerd that I am, I find it endlessly fascinating when artists talk about the intricacies and details of all the things they put into their work. I’m hoping that some of you might find it at least a fraction as interesting.
I should note that I’m in no way trying to prescribe what listeners should get out of the songs I write about; I am a firm believer in the idea that once art is out there it is effectively out of its creator’s hands and belongs to the people whom it reaches. The way a song makes the listener feel is completely up to that listener, regardless – or in spite of – what the artist was feeling when he or she wrote it. So please, continue to feel the way you feel. I only ask that you feel. If you feel like it.
I guess it makes sense to go in order. “Start at the beginning; and when you get to the end stop” and such.
Track one of the album is called “Better Off As Friends,” and it features Dudley Colley of The Dudley Corporation and additional vocals by Angie McCrisken and Kev Jones, both of whom are absolutely lovely people I met on my recent trip to the UK. Unfortunately, I didn’t get to meet Mr. Colley, though I’m certain he is also lovely.
When Rocky sent me the music for this song it came with a one sentence description of his idea for the song, which basically amounted to “When my old band, Oppenheimer, broke up and I started working on another project all of the band’s fans were pretty upset about it.” This made me curious, since at that point I had no idea how big of a deal Oppenheimer had been. When a quick google search turned up videos of them playing live on the Craig Ferguson show and touring with They Might Be Giants and being on the soundtrack for Gossip Girl and Ugly Betty I started to get a little intimidated. Who the eff was this guy? And why did he think it was a good idea to work with me???
I was definitely starting out at a deficit. So when I started writing the song, I did so with the knowledge that Rocky’s old fans were probably going to hate me just because I wasn’t the other guy in Oppenheimer. And you know what? That’s fair. I get it.
But I wanted them to at least give me a chance to explain myself. Here are my lyrics to the song:
“Man, I hate when my favorite bands go on indefinite hiatus and
later announce a new side project
They may be done, what if I’m not yet?
Now, I know that you think that I might not get what you’re going through
but I totally do
That chip on your shoulder’s a boulder I’m moving
to show and to prove that I know what I’m doing
And I ain’t even aiming to brag when I say I’m amazing at rap
’cause I’m honing my craft every moment I have so it’s only a statement of fact
And, see, Rocky’s still making that post-new wave-prog-electronica-indie core-synth-pop
and he said to put on it whatever I wanted, but all I could think of was hip hop
But I promise that I’ll never lie on a track
Diamonds and gold are not why I’m in rap
I want you to know that I’m trying to act like an honest adult with a spine in my back
If you give it a listen and hate it that’s fine
I’ll be grateful and thank you for trying
I’m honestly sorry I wasted your time
Unless maybe you’re changing your mind…”
“This isn’t rock and roll
This sounds so thrown together
What happened to Oppenheimer?
I like their old stuff better
This isn’t real hip hop
This is some new bold endeavor
What happened to The Remnant?
I like their old stuff better”
And Dudley’s verse:
“I’m so sorry I broke your heart
Never meant to be the one who would tear this apart
And I’m sorry if I let you down.
One without two’s just a mediocre sound
And I’m left here holding this impossible crown
And I’m sorry that you’re stuck with me.”
Usually, when I start writing a song the first thing I do is listen to it. I mean, yeah, obviously. What I’m listening for, specifically, are the ways the music interacts with itself and how I can then interact with it without disrupting it. How are the drums patterned? How does the melody interact with the drums? What is the bass line doing? After getting a feel for that stuff I start to do a scat-type of thing to get an idea of how I can pattern my flow to complement the music and sort of fit into the rhythmic pockets of the song. Then I try to adjust my voice and tone to harmonize with the song’s melodies as best I can. Ideally, I want my verses to be just another instrument layered into the song, not overpowering or dominating it.
Content-wise, I was attempting to address the fans of Oppenheimer and The Remnant (my longtime group) and let them know that, yeah, this record is about to be pretty different than what they’re used to, but if they give it a chance I’m going to try my best to give them something honest, at least.
On just about every level, I think this is one of the best verses I’ve ever written. It was one of those magical, oh-so rare instances of a verse materializing exactly the way I imagined it. The chorus teases just a little bit, but mostly I was just trying to preempt that criticism and turn it into something that worked for us instead of against us.
So, yeah. I’m pretty proud of this one. I think it does a really good job of setting up the album both in how it sounds and what it says. I don’t know enough about music to say more than Rocky is a genius and on this song, as well as every other song, he absolutely rocked it.
I really enjoyed writing this song and I loved performing it. At the official record release party in Belfast last month there were actually people crowd surfing to it. It was unbelievable.
I hope you like the song and I hope you’ve enjoyed reading my thoughts on it. I also hope you enjoy this video for it, starring my good friend Bee Mick See: