It's a strange beast, songwriting. Such a delicate balancing act of sounds you personally wish to hear, things you think others might enjoy listening to, messages you want to convey, melodies you feel need to be given their freedom, beats that rotate round and round your head, searching desperately for a bed of tunes and words to anchor themselves to. And if you're a band, there's yet another level of marination: taking on board the whims and head-scratchings of the two or three other fussy bastards on your team. It's complicated.
And yet: history has shown that sometimes the creation of the most enduring, universal tunes has occurred quickly, simply, a whole song sometimes showing up unannounced in the composer's head, with all its organs and limbs functioning, ready for action, and with a complete set of teeth. Paul McCartney often tells the tale of a dream in which the song Yesterday appeared, before he awoke to automatically assume it belonged to someone else. Another Paul - of the Simon variety - apparently knocked off Bridge Over Troubled Water in one solitary evening. There is a school of thought that believes people are actually song "beacons" rather than songwriters, capable of picking up melodies and rhyming couplets that are floating around in the ether, fully formed, and that some people - your McCartneys and your Simons among them - are better beacons than others.
While I enjoy the romance of this theory, sadly I think it's a load of old tosh. Whenever I've written songs I've had to work like a packhorse to extract even the most basic melodies from my mind, and most of my favourite songwriters have apparently been the same way, kneading, sawing, hacking and chiselling a piece of pop music like the finest of craftsmen before the beast cowers into catchy submission. And while I think he probably isn't in need of yet another compliment, Fin Greenall of Fink fame is certainly one of these favourite songwriters of mine. He's a man who's not afraid to trawl the depths of his darkest feelings to extract, as he puts it, "the good juice" for a memorable lyric. I remember the day I called him up and he said he'd been up all night working on words for a new tune, but admitting that he'd only come up with two lines. All night for two lines? But those two lines happened to be "the things that keep us apart keep me alive / and the things that keep me alive keep me alone" from This Is The Thing, up there in Fink's top three songs, I reckon. So the hard graft approach is evidently worth it.
So we're at it again, us Fink boys, beating new tunes into shape, wringing out our brains for decent rhymes and convincing hooks. Fin remains a master of atmosphere and the haunting chord progression, and knows exactly what sort of lyrics he can get away with singing, and those he can't. As for the rest of us, it would be fair to say that, over the years, Fin's become better at accepting contributions from Guy and myself, and - neatly enough - the contributions from Guy and myself have become better.
There are other gunslingers at play too: our longtime collaborator Blair Mackichan, whose magic can be felt in Fink tracks Pilgrim, Honesty as well as the aforementioned This Is The Thing, has cast his (un)usual spell over a number of tunes that we're currently wrestling with. Songwriting with Blair is less a collaboration, more a case of hooking him up to a transfusion machine and harvesting a couple days' worth of his inexhaustible genius. Which is just as well, for this time we're determined to write more. More tunes, more chords, more lyrics, and more finished pieces. If we had twenty complete songs to choose from, that would just be awesome. Double album? No, more like jawdropping single album and some decent B-sides, and maybe a few left over for a rainy (record store) day. Will it happen? Who knows. But the signs, so far, are good.
After that comes the next stage of the process: recording the damn thing. Where, when and with whom this happens, remains to be seen. It depends what sort of record you want it to be, and there usually isn't much hope of knowing that until the songs are done. All we know is it has to be different to what came before. It always does. All our favourite bands make a deliberate effort to mix things up on each new album, whether it's a different producer, different studio, different city, different country, different lineup - and even the smallest things can make the vastest of transformations. Pick up a guitar you've never played before and I guarantee you'll play something totally different to what you played yesterday on the guitar you've had for years. We've already changed the city - our songwriting is happening in Berlin and it's highly likely the recording will too - and you can hear the changes already. It's quite exciting.
I can't say too much about the new songs - not because it's all terribly secret, but mainly because describing a song is a little like trying to tell someone why a cartoon is funny - but there's definitely been a few twists and turns in the influence department, corridors down which we've never been, doors we've perhaps been too timid to open in the past. You'll have to wait and see. Hopefully not too long. Now, where the hell did I put that rhyming dictionary?
You can watch Fin's own take on the creative process in Eyeforce/Tommy N Lance's short film Less Alone, here....
Meanwhile... here's what we're currently listening to...Suggest a correction