Well, I sent off the second Dimmer album for mastering this week. Letting go of baby. The record is called "You've Got To Hear The Music" - six words, just like "I Believe You Are A Star". I like the symmetry even tho' I often tell people the title and they stare at me all blankly like I've just said "Now That's What I Call Music Vol. 7" or something - but to me there's resonances and ambiguities within the title that totally capture the spirit of the record.
I wrote most of the songs in a month last year. Personally that's almost unheard of. "Smoke" off the last album took about four years to write. I've been privy to many a sudden arrival, but often there's struggle, tangents, and blind alleys, where you poke around in every corner except the right one. Then one day you find the thread and it all falls into place. It's a magical, ecstatic time when you finally discover how that tune really goes.
Many songwriters talk of fully formed songs floating around the ether and how it's just a matter of hooking into them and letting them arrive. I think craft and the writer's instinct have a lot to do with it as well but I like the romance and mystery of such a notion. Free your mind and your ass will follow. Unclutter all those internal dialogues and external buzzes and you tap into what is always there. Sourcing the Great Lost Moments In Rock - you've just got to hear the music.
I wrote a little mantra that I'd look at every morning before I started writing. Stuff about not second guessing what came out - if it felt good, it was, if it was true then don't waste time trying to say it in a 'better' or 'cleverer' way. I think over the years I've tried to make my music as elemental and honest as possible and while I realise that the word 'honest', when applied to commercial pop music, has be one of the most bandied about and abused terms in the history of all communication, it really is true - you learn that concerning yourself with other people's expectations or worrying about whether your music is 'right' or whatever is a waste of everyone's time. Those efforts sound like efforts, and they'll always carry a whiff of fraudulence or contrivance. (Then again I knew that when I was fifteen but sometimes you have to make the journey to realise you were right all along.) You can't guess. You just have to hear what's inside and somehow let it come out.
Similarly I can't see the point in obscuring or complicating music that already expresses a base emotion . It's like the soccer players say - a two yard tap-in is worth just as much as a 30 yard screamer. No amount of metaphor or candyfloss can ever enhance the hard won, quintessential truth. Help. Let's Get It On. A Love Supreme. Musics and lyrics with a haiku-like economy and directness where you know exactly what that person is saying.
It's what I've always loved about blues and gospel music, how so often their ageless, universal themes seem to boil down to the one blunt truism - that we'll always be revelling or struggling within the consequences of the choices we've made. It's all evolution. It's just the consequence. Getting what you give.
That whole idea of karmic come-around was totally confirmed for me at my father's tangi three years ago. He always had a lot of time for kids. He taught Maori to the local children on the Taieri, but he also had a wonderful sense of fun and mischief that every eight year old could relate to. Just seeing the response and faces of those dozens of children who turned up over those sad few days made me feel so proud of my old man. You can't bluff kids, they know , and no amount of fake or bluster will ever divert that ultimate reckoning where you finally have to face up to the impact and ramifications of the way you've behaved and what you have or haven't given. We all get to face the music some day. (I suppose death too is the great reminder of how much the good things count. Life can't be all Faustian thunderclaps and dischords - sometimes you've just got to ... well, you get the picture.)
It brings to mind a conversation with my good friend, Dimmer drummer and video-maker extraordinaire, Gary Sullivan. We were talking about Orson Welles' "The Third Man" a classic that I somehow have never managed to see. "It's really great," said Gary in his rolling Southland burr, "but you've got to hear the music."
He talked about zithers but I was only half listening.
You've got to hear the music.
Now there's a title, I thought.