Trouble is the third track on my 2015 EP City Lights. Quite often, I get asked how I go about writing songs. Vocal melody first? Lyrics first? Music first?
I don’t think I’ve ever mentioned this approach to writing before, but one of my favorite ways to start writing a song is vibe first.
*Sunglass wearing emoji*
Dark Pacific is an album of mine based completely on this style of writing. I wanted the record to feel like you were driving up the coast alone, windows down, late at night. This is because when I actually did this, I found myself in a unique space of reflection and wanted to capture that space in my music.
I wrote 60 plus songs for City Lights and I’m pretty sure I tried writing songs from every direction, however, Trouble was the first time I ever wrote in this specific way.
I remember one day stumbling across the poster for the 1983 movie “Risky Business” starring Tom Cruise and loving its vibe. Go look it up! It is so, so very ‘80s. It was the first time it ever occured to me that I could write a song based on an intangible feeling something gave me.
So I stared at the poster, opened garageband, plugged in my midi keyboard and started writing.
Sometimes it’s hard to put into words how something makes you feel. But you know very specifically the feeling it gives you. You know what it is and you know what it isn’t.
So when I started with drums I played different beats and, with the poster as my reference, made sure what I was playing lined up with the feeling the poster gave me. Then the same thing for piano, synth, bass, etc.
It’s not a quick thing. Sometimes it takes hours of playing the wrong thing to find something that feels right.
Similarly, when it came to the lyrics, I first wrote down short words that quickly came to mind.
“Attitude”, “Fun”, “Fast”, “Energetic”, “Danger”, “Dancing”, “Mischief”.
From there, the concept of a late night adventure song was pretty easy to expand upon.
It’s one of my favorite songs I’ve ever written because it was the first time I took this approach to writing. It felt very different and very strategic. It’s important as an artist to continually find new ways to challenge yourself so that you can grow and create new things.
It’s a technique I’ve used for Dark Pacific and Songs from a Sketchbook, Pt 2.
If you’re a songwriter and have never tried writing vibe first, I recommend it. Give it a try!
Also, fun fact: my mom doesn’t like this song at all. She says it’s too wild.