My producer, Leo Abrahams, doesn't usually scare me; he's the nicest man alive. But for some strange reason, when I came to play him my ideas for the new album I was more than just a bit nervous. I flipped open my iPad and hit play on the first Garage Band idea I came to, and suddenly I realised how long it had been since I invited anyone to hear a new idea. This is such a self-conscious experience, the one all artists fear, it's the starting of a new album.
What has always eluded me, and I'm sure eludes many artists, is pinning down the processes of creativity, especially as it's something you tend to do natural and sometimes from quite an early age. So being older and wiser than I've ever been before (one of the only fortunate by-products of the passage of time), I decided to look a little more keenly at just what processes Leo and I were implementing to get the new material off the ground.
Having a second pair of ears always helps and Leo picked out two ideas to start with. The first was a fairly upbeat song, in a minor key, with a fairly big chorus. I'd had the idea for a long time, which is normal for me (keeping ideas locked away until they gather dust), as I didn't think it was strong enough. However, Leo thought otherwise, so we sat around with some guitars and rooibos tea, and looked at what I'd already done with the idea.
The chords and lyrics for the chorus and one verse were already there. So firstly, we patched up where the rest of the chord structure was going. Then, while Leo worked on the rhythm track I worked out the rest of the lyrics and refined the subject matter. When the rhythm track was done, I laid the acoustic guitar part over the top and Leo got to work on the rest of the arrangement; I went back to the words. So, it went like that for a while longer, him working out various sections for the arrangement and me completing the words and ironing out the vocal melody.
Looking at this process and seeing how things are put together, from what might just be the scrap of a song, is so important. For me the first album was the piecing together of the various processes involved in multiple recording experiences; so many years and so many demos; and numerous collaborations. Portrait took so long that there was never going to be a way of defining the process, and I certainly don't remember any beginning, middle or end to it (other than a release date of course).
When Leo and I had completed the first track we moved on to a second. After that we re-consulted my ideas and started a third. What might have taken me months to complete, Leo managed to iron out in a day. So, I'm feeling pretty positive about the new material, and I just can't believe we've actually started.
It's wonderful to have a collaborator. Sometimes as a musician, or writer, you spend hours at home alone just working on idea after idea, you never really know what's working, you don't know what's good, bad, or just plain terrible. And, I suppose that's why getting those ideas out in front of another human being can be so scary.
Of course I'm not saying this is an easy process, it really isn't. Finding someone you can work with confidently is tough. I think I'm lucky though, I don't feel like anything gets missed out when I work with Leo, I feel like all my ideas get a fair go. Whether or not these ideas survive such a good airing will be a test of the strength of the idea itself. Some things might be best left gathering dust.