Consistent Collaboration

Lake Street Dive, a four-piece band makes pretty songs with sexy stand up bass hooks that stay in your mind for days.

I saw them play with my girlfriend’s band (Midnight Moxie) a few weeks ago and I had to get their album.

Watching the show live, I assumed that the songs had been written by the female lead singer with the smooth torchlight voice but when I looked at the liner notes I found out that the songs were mostly written by the other members of the band. Each  player had contributed a few songs to the album. This blew me away, not because the singer wasn’t the main writer*, but because of the consistently high quality of the music by different authors.

It’s not that the songs all sound the same, they don’t. But they do all have the same singer regardless of the writer, and the instrumentation changes based on the needs of the songs, not because one or another of the band members wants to play guitar on the song she/he wrote.

This may seem to be a small thing, but it’s not a given with all bands, and it really works for this one. They have a dynamo singer and it would be a bummer to sit her down for a song.

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*As the singer in a band, I guess I give my counterparts extra credit because I naturally identify with them. Maybe it’s natural for folks watching any kind of popular music to identify most with the singer.  He/she stands in the middle, he/she tells the story, and he/she doesn’t have a trap set in front of her/him or a flute blocking her/his face. That doesn’t mean that person is the most important part of the band, it just means she/he attracts the most attention. 

A Second Voice

My band, H for Hombre, has a gig this Friday (June 15th) at the Goose Island on Clark, and it’s got me thinking about writing and making music.

The thing about writing songs that you’re gonna sing is that you always cast yourself in the lead role.

It’s a lot of fun to do that Orson Welles thing, where you develop the point of view in your writing and then bring that point of view across with your own voice. Listening to a song you wrote come together is infinitely more satisfying than getting a cover to work.  Because when you’re singing your own song, you are bringing across something that was just a notion before. The words on paper are just a tease, songs are to be heard and hearing something you thought up is the most fun part of the process. It’s better than writing, editing, or performing.

The problem is if you’re the singer for all your songs you  can only be who you are, and sometimes you’re the wrong person for the part.

If I wrote a song about a jockey it would be bullshit, or it would have to be funny, because I’m very tall.  That song would have a crack in it from the beginning and any work I did on it would be building on that cracked base.

So sometimes you as the singer get in the way of you as the writer.

Amanda Singing "When You're Gone"

Amanda Singing "When You're Gone"

I probably started a hundred songs with a man’s complaints about a woman. I will probably write a hundred more. Conflict is the source of a compelling story and that’s the absolute easiest conflict for me to build a song around.

But before to long that genre of song starts to sound unbalanced and worn thin. I really wanted to give the object of all that male aggression a chance to answer back.

And that’s where Amanda comes in.  She really is like an actor in the way she can embody a song.  She can be sexy, she can be mean, she can give as well as she takes, but the most important difference is the simplest she sings with a woman’s voice.

The song is beyond simple, it’s essentially “A Hit the Road Jack” rehash, but the performance makes a huge difference in it.