I’ve been writing a lot of music lately. I’ve had some successes and some absolute failures but it certainly feels like I could spend all day messing around with my guitar in a way that I don’t experience with literature. I wanted to talk first about my experience with learning to play an instrument and how it has shaped my view of music.
I first really got into music around age 11. I’d just moved from primary school to secondary school and it seemed that everyone around me had a really good idea of what they liked and what they didn’t, so I went on a quest to find out what I liked as well. Of course I know now that everyone else was pretending to know who they were and what they liked as much as I was, but at the time it seemed really important that I know my own opinions, so I went with it. I started listening to the fairly standard stuff that I knew I liked along with things that my dad introduced me to. Iron Maiden and Eminem seemed to be the two staples until I got properly into metal. My first “favourite” band was a band called Disturbed, who, to this day, is the only band I own all the albums for.
It felt like metal was the place for me, so I went with it for a few years but still stuck to most of what could be called “mainstream” metal. Shinedown and Slipknot are two bands I remember listening to a lot but, eventually, I grew out of it and lost interest in a lot of the metal I found. Disturbed broke up after touring with Asylum, which I thought was a very mediocre album compared to their last 2, and with it my interest in metal waned, but I still wanted to be into music. So at age 15 I took up playing the electric guitar.
My dad bought me my first guitar for £70. It was a kit guitar that someone had made on the internet and it came with a practice amp (which was far higher quality than the guitar) picks, a lead and all the other bits and bobs that you need to play guitar. It took me 6 months of messing around with it to admit that I needed lessons and, by that time, my music taste was growing in more of a hard rock direction, not completely abandoning its metal roots but distancing itself from them. However, I never got into mainstream hard rock bands like The Black Keys and Kings of Leon, both bands I still detest with a passion and whom I don’t think have enough original, non-plagiarized material between them to fill one album. The most mainstream thing I liked was The White Stripes but almost everyone else I listened to were bands my classmates had never heard of. The Exies, Nico Vega, Seether and The Cranberries were staples on my iPod, along with small amounts of metal, rap and, very strangely, a hip-hop artist called Watsky.
I started going to Festivals at this time as well, The V Festival namely, and that certainly helped open up the options for new artists to listen to. Arctic Monkeys, Kasabian, along with a whole load of other, smaller bands which I still enjoy incorporated themselves into my playlists, but I still didn’t write music. I tried, halfheartedly and without and real conviction, but there were moments when I tried to write the dopey songs that teenagers want to write, but I always hated them. I think it’s a rite of passage, as an artist, to dislike your old work because you know that you have advanced so much since creating it, but I didn’t think you were meant to hate it as soon as you wrote it down, so I left my creativity to literature and kept my musical ability pledged to covers.
In terms of what I was learning on guitar at the time, it was a mixture. When I started lessons a few months after my 16th birthday I worked a lot on the exam material, even though I had no interest in doing an exam in it. I worked through them quickly and got to grade 4 in six months before I finally took an exam. Just as an aside, while I’m pleased with what I got in my exam, I don’t think it matters in the slightest. When I think about my favourite musicians, specifically guitarists like Cobain, Hendrix and Jack White, I don’t think about how good they are at playing the guitar, I think about how they create their music.
It was after the exam that I started really dedicating myself to learning songs. A lot of Artic Monkeys and White Stripes could be heard from my room at that time and, thankfully, my parents didn’t stop me singing along. I had always believed that I sucked at singing, but eventually I learned to tame to my voice and I’d like to think that I can hit the right notes in songs now without my voice cracking. Of course, a lot of that was also to do with me getting out of puberty, but I think it was a lot more to do with my dedication to pushing though sounding awful until I sounded acceptable.
My tastes didn’t mature very much in sixth form but eventually I was forced to stop my guitar lessons because, when I was 18, my mu died. We didn’t have the money to keep paying for the lessons and I moved to uni a few months later. My tastes were perpetually stuck in the minor key. I kept finding new artists to listen to, which was really satisfying, and it was only about a year later that my tastes really began to stabilize. Then, about 3 months later, I find myself in a position where writing music and playing music is one of the most satisfying things in my life.
While I went through a few bands I called my “favourites” after Disturbed, there were none that I felt I liked as much as I had liked Disturbed. I called The White Stripes my favourite for a while, and then Placebo until their newest album, then I didn’t really have anything. I went through a strange, classic rock phase a few months ago and now it feels like all I want to listen to is Nirvana.
This brings me onto the music that I want to write. I’d still say my favourite genre of music is hard rock rather than punk, but Kurt Cobain had a way of writing both lyrics and riffs that is completely uncompromising and which I am trying to twist into my own style. I’ll talk more on this on a follow up post