– Trips Journeys & Chapters
This semester I am teaching a songwriting course at SCU. There are plenty of folk out there who would argue that songwriting is intuitive and not something you can teach. However I think there is always scope to become more aware of how and why things work. By analyzing other songs you inform and refine your sense of what works. Somewhere further down the track you end up applying your knowledge, perhaps just intuitively, in the creation and refining of your own songs. So this month I thought I’d apply some of the songwriting course concepts to local artist Louise Kahj’s recent album, ‘Trips Journeys and Chapters’. The album features last year’s Dolphin Award winning Song of the Year, Thought You Were my Angel – written by Kahj and Glenn Anthony. I’ll start with that.
In many songs the song title is contained in the chorus. The title is often the hook that the listener should retain in their mind after the song is over. Some songs bang you over the head with a repeating title in the chorus, others just put the title line at the start or end of the chorus, emphasized in some way to make it memorable. Kahj and Anthony don’t do either of these, instead the line “Thought you were my angel” is used to open and close the song and not used in the chorus. It is made memorable by the vocoder-like treatment combined with a simple melody and phrasing. So we can throw out the rule about having the title in the chorus, but rest assured there are other aspects that fit the rules.
An important aspect of lyric writing is repetition. Repetition helps set up patterns and lets the listener follow the story. Kahj does this in the verses with a series of questions:
How could you leave me?
Why would you leave me?
Standing on the road
How could I please you?
How could I ease you?
When your life was untold
A nice regular pattern - two questions and a statement followed by two questions and a statement. Lots of rhymes and similar phrase lengths, this sort of writing makes it easy for the listener to latch onto. We know what’s coming. The meaning is clear from both the title and this verse - this is a broken heart story. The verse lyrics above are sung by Kahj and are written in first person. However there is a complexity to this song that is achieved by having a second lead vocal, performed by a male, acting as a judgmental voice.
She looked into your eyes
And you filled it with your lies
She opened up her heart
And you filled it with your darkness
Again, nice repetition of phrases with lines 1 and 3 very similar to lines 2 and 4. The two voices share the same attitude - a disbelieving, bitter and condemning tone. Importantly the delivery style of the lyrics reinforces the sentiment of the lyrics. Kahj’s voice reminds me at times of Patti Smith and she cites Stevie Nicks as an important influence – both masters of acrimony. There’s plenty more songwriting skills on display, such as alliteration (Seekers of the Sun) wordplay (“Come our way/Karma away”) and that’s without even starting on the musical aspects. So you’d better get hold of the album yourself and start doing your analysis homework.
For more info see: www.louisekahj.com