There’s No Such Thing As Writer’s Block

There’s No Such Thing As Writer’s Block

When you were growing up you probably believed all kinds of crazy things. Maybe you believed in the tooth fairy. Maybe you thought you’d grow up to be an astronaut. Maybe you believed you had to be good all year or you wouldn’t get any Christmas presents. Of course you believed these kinds of things. That’s what being a kid is all about. But if you’re above the age of twelve you probably don’t believe these things any more. You realized your parents made up the tooth fairy to help you feel less weird that parts of your mouth kept falling out. You realized that being an astronaut would be pretty cool, but you hadn’t really thought through how hard the training is, how dangerous it can be and how difficult it is to be selected to go into space in the first place. You realized that being good for Santa isn’t nearly as rewarding as being good because you live your life in accordance with your own morals and values. And if you’re above the age of twelve you probably started to realize that part of growing up is realizing that some of the things you believe aren’t that useful to you any more. And if you’re above the age of twelve you probably started to realize that readjusting your beliefs can be hard. You probably started to realize that acknowledging there’s a better way to think about something can really piss you off. But you probably started to realize that once you got through that discomfort you were much better off in the end. So it is with writer’s block. Writer’s block is a convenient thing...
Why I Chose Art

Why I Chose Art

When I was sixteen I thought I’d be a doctor. I say I thought. I didn’t really know. I figured you had to decide something, I was good at science at school, my parents are both medical. So I said ‘why not be that’. I’m glad it didn’t work out that way. I’m glad I gradually wound up where I am today. Not that I wouldn’t have enjoyed medicine. Not that I wouldn’t have been a good doctor. Even for all mind-fucking things you have to do to become one, and the back-breaking and mostly thankless things you have to do to stay one, it would have been a life very well spent. Whether ultimately I chose songwriting or songwriting chose me, I’m not sure. But I am sure I’m glad I’m here. Even if eighteen-year-old ‘No thanks, I’ll be a musician’ me had no idea where here would be. There’s a common view of young artists (actually, most artists) that says we’re a drain on society. That arts education is a high-minded, mostly masturbatory waste of time. That we should go get a real job: work in a factory, an office or – even – save lives in a hospital. It’s a view that says what we do is less important because it’s hard to see what point art can have in a world where North Korea are probably making nuclear warheads, millions of Africans definitely don’t have enough food to eat, and anyway the street is full of potholes, they missed the trash collection this week and bloody hell have any of you seen my keys? And you know, there’s a point...
Playing It Safe Is the Riskiest Thing You Can Do

Playing It Safe Is the Riskiest Thing You Can Do

Let’s just get straight to it: there’s no room for safe any more. Safe is guaranteed boring. Safe is guaranteed mediocrity. Safe is a guaranteed ticket to nowhere exciting. Economy, of course. The appeal with safe is that it’s easy. It’s easier not to take risks. It’s easier just to repeat the same old way of doing things ad infinitum. It’s not that there’s anything wrong with something being old. It’s that we get bored of old. What’s hot right now ends up looking like those dodgy 70s haircuts that make you wonder what the hell your parents were thinking. The trouble with safe in 2016 is that safe is everywhere. It’s never been easier to saturate the daily fabric of life with safe: pictures of your cat, your Facebook status about your broken microwave, some comment about your grumpy boss. We’re one wafer thin mint away from exploding from overconsumption of safe. We’ve learnt to block most of it out because it’s the only way any of us can go about our lives. Risky is harder because where there’s risk, there’s fear of failure. But taking that fear of failure too seriously comes at a price. Let’s imagine for a moment that every song ever made could be given a single score from 1 to 10. 1 is the worst thing ever written. 10 is the best. The trouble is that when most people write, they aim (intentionally or not) for the 4 to 6 range. They’re writing songs you might describe as nice, average or OK. But here’s the crux: if you want to write a 7, you have to be prepared for it to come out a 3. If...
As Artists, Travel Is Not Optional

As Artists, Travel Is Not Optional

I’m writing this from my cousin’s apartment in Mexico City. Saludos. Mexico is the thirteenth country I’ve been to and I’m trying to raise that number stat. Why? It’s not just the travel bug. It’s that I figure international travel really isn’t optional for anyone who considers themself an artist. And no, this isn’t some article about some prissy millenial who discovered himself while shearing goats in the mountains of Nepal. I’m not trying to convince you to start an online business, travel the world and live a life without ties and regrets. I’m not telling you your life in some Birmingham suburb is meaningless and unfulfilling by comparison. I’m telling you that travelling is an essential part of growing up as an artist. And I’ll tell you why. Unless you still live round the corner from your parents, you’ll have experienced moving city at least once. Maybe it was when you left home to get a job or go to college. Do you remember what that was like? Suddenly there are things you can’t take for granted. Suddenly you have to find your way around unfamiliar streets and resort to Google every time you need to find a supermarket, hardware store or post office. Suddenly you have to adjust to all kinds of cultural micro-subtleties: how much to tip, the local slang, whether jay-walking is considered acceptable. Travelling abroad, when it’s done properly, is the same thing magnified a hundred times over. You have to adjust to a totally different culture: different expectations, different values, different ways of doing things. Sometimes this process happens smoothly. Sometimes not. But there...
Art Is Not a Competition

Art Is Not a Competition

If you were planning on finding out how insecure you really are any time soon, I’ve got the perfect tip for you: become a writer. With writing there’s really nowhere to hide. To some greater or lesser degree you’re going to know that’s you there on the page. And you may or may not feel comfortable about that. Building a career as a writer is also tough because it takes a long time. Once you start to build a reputation for being good at what you do so many doors start opening. But until that process begins properly, it can be a bit of a crapshoot. How can you prove what you can do without the right opportunity? But if you have to get the right opportunity before you can prove what you can do, how do you get the opportunity in the first place? It’s not all a Catch-22. Some people get a lucky break. More often, some people make their own lucky break. But this period up to and until that happens is a great time to see how uncertainty and insecurity get to you, and with a bit of luck check yourself before you wreck yourself. So to speak. One of the worst ways insecurity rears its cute little head is jealousy. Your best friend does half the work you do but has just been asked to write something for another awesome band. Someone you sort of know is breaking the Internet with posts on Facebook about their upcoming iTunes album release. Meanwhile, you thought you’d landed an awesome gig but the venue just got shut...
Get Your Story Straight

Get Your Story Straight

I work a lot in theatre, where using songs to tell a story is everything. But it’s not just on the stage where songs are about story: anything that affects us on an emotional level is about story. The Kardashian family’s latest internet coup, every Kickstarter campaign to bring us the latest life-saving gadget, and virtually every piece of advertising ever made. As a species, we’re story junkies. If you’ve read more than a couple of books on storytelling, they all tend to come back to the same issue: we love to know about other people. We love to know what they’ve been through. What they’re celebrating. What they’re struggling with. What they learned along the way. We filter other people’s experiences through our own. We see our joys and our struggles in them. It makes us feel better about our sad, pathetic lives that aren’t even as nearly as exciting as we make them out to be on Facebook. Whatever we’re going through – especially if it’s tough – we feel much better when we share it with others. We feel good when we connect with other people. We’re hard-wired that way. When a song resonates with you deeply, it’s not because you like its groove, its flashy lyrics or that sick guitar solo in the bridge. It’s because you see your own life in it. You’ve been there in your own way and the song resonates with you. You’re drawn to ‘I Will Always Love You’ because you know how shitty breakups and unrequited love can feel. You’re drawn to ‘Imagine’ because you agree that the world can be a pretty fucked up place sometimes. You’re drawn to ‘The Real Slim Shady’ because sometimes...