There’s this famous quote that’s been attributed to various people over the years (Laurie Anderson, Steve Martin, Frank Zappa, Elvis Costello, Thelonius Monk, Clara Schumann, Miles Davis, George Carlin, to name a few), but was probably coined by Martin Mull; ”Writing about music is like dancing about architecture.”
While I can see the point the quote is making, I’m inclined to disagree somewhat. It is true that the experience of music does not really transfer into writing, but there is still a lot one can learn about music through reading. I am a passionate reader of biographies and musical literature, and it’s been a constant source of insight and knowledge to me.
Usually, my favorites are the ones that take you inside the creative process of an artist, let you inside the recording studios, the rehearsal rooms, the philosophy and the inspiration. The more gossipy ones that focus mainly on the private lives, addictions, divorces and scandals of the artists are generally less interesting to me, but of course there are exceptions. I mean, ’The Dirt’ is obviously a highly entertaining read.
In the Billy Momo mini-documentary ’The dirt road to Seven Rivers Wild’ Orren jokingly refers to me as a ”human encyclopedia”, which is quite an exaggeration of course, but I do enjoy collecting little nuggets of musical trivia, connecting dots, and discovering context. So it was with great pleasure I came home the other day to find a new book in my mailbox, Andrew Greenaway’s ’Frank talk: The inside stories of Zappa’s other people’. Basically it’s a collection of interviews with various FZ alumni, and I’m devouring it like a dog attacks a sausage.
I usually share a list of ”recommended listening” in my posts, but today I thought I’d share some of my favorite books about music, so that you may also have the pleasure of reading them.
SOUL MINING: A MUSICAL LIFE – DANIEL LANOIS A beautiful memoir by the legendary producer/musician/artist Daniel Lanois. It has atmosphere dripping from every page, much like the man’s music.
A CHANGE IS GONNA COME: MUSIC, RACE & THE SOUL OF AMERICA – CRAIG WERNER
A thorough analysis of how music has been part of the civil rights movement in the U.S. Deeply fascinating, should be required reading in school.
ONE TRAIN LATER: A MEMOIR – ANDY SUMMERS
The Police guitarist writes poetically and beautifully, he could easily have pursued a career as an author instead of playing with one of the biggest acts in the history of popular music.
ACROSS THE GREAT DIVIDE: THE BAND AND AMERICA – BARNEY HOSKYNS The story of one of the most influential music groups of all time, written by one of the best music writers around. Very insightful and revealing.
BODY AND SOUL – FRANK CONROY This is a novel, unlike the others, but it is by far the most beautifully written book about the experience of being a musician I’ve ever come across. This one actually manages to dance about architecture! Warning: You will cry. A lot.
DEAR BOY: THE LIFE OF KEITH MOON – TONY FLETCHER Speaks for itself, really. A crazy ride through a life lived in the fast lane. Entertaining, legendary, and also surprisingly moving.
TRAVELING MUSIC: THE SOUNDTRACK TO MY LIFE AND TIMES – NEIL PEART The drummer/lyricist of Rush literally takes a road trip as well as a trip down memory lane as he listens to various albums along the way. A combined travel book and memoir.
IN COLD SWEAT: INTERVIEWS WITH REALLY SCARY MUSICIANS -THOMAS WICTOR
Exactly what it says on the tin. Gene Simmons, Peter Hook, Jerry Casale and especially the truly one of a kind Scott Thunes in personal portraits of a lifetime in music.
LORDS OF CHAOS: THE BLOODY RISE OF THE SATANIC METAL UNDERGROUND – MICHAEL MOYNIHAN AND DIDRIK SODERLIND A modern classic, investigating one of the most truly bizarre subcultures to ever emerge in music. Remember the early 90s, people?
REDNECKS AND BLUENECKS: THE POLITICS OF COUNTRY MUSIC – CHRIS WILLMAN
The political landscape of the U.S. viewed through the Country music industry. An often surprising read, tremendously insightful and educational.
THE REAL FRANK ZAPPA BOOK – FRANK ZAPPA AND PETER OCCHIOGROSSO
Not exactly a memoir, but rather part behind the scenes revelations, part political manifesto and part pure entertainment. Funny as shit.
BILL BRUFORD: THE AUTOBIOGRAPHY – BILL BRUFORD
Typically British dry wit and a generous dose of sarcasm make Bruford’s recollections bitingly funny, while at the same time displaying a never-ending quest for musical discovery and progress. Inspiring!
CHRONICLES – BOB DYLAN Beautifully written, as one would expect, a real treasure chest of musical history, and language that flows like wine. Supremely good.
FARGO ROCK CITY – CHUCK KLOSTERMAN Hysterically funny and strangely clever writing about being a metalhead back in the 80s. You will laugh your ass off while being nostalgic for an era you thought you despised. Possibly the funniest book you’ll ever read.
There should be something here for everyone. Enjoy!
In July, the Swedish industrial machine grinds to a standstill for holiday season. Pretty much, anyway. And so did we, apparently.
There were some shows planned for the summer which had to be rescheduled for various reasons. This, in turn, opened up an opportunity for us to have some time off.
So, at the very moment, we are a bit scattered all over the place. But don’t worry, we’ll get back to work real soon.
For those of you who have yet to catch Billy Momo live this summer, we play Liseberg (Gothenburg/Göteborg) on July 28th and Lasse i Parken (Stockholm) on July 29th.
Barba is currently constructing a studio/rehearsal space in his new house, so expect to see some interesting updates on that project real soon. We’re really excited to have a new playground to create music in.
As always, there are video projects in the works, and we are currently bouncing ideas with some talented people, as well as scouting for cool locations.
As for me personally, I recently took a week-long road trip, to clear my head, soothe my soul and lift my spirit, all of which were successfully achieved. Just going from town to town, not really having a itinerary, apart from a couple of little events, but mostly just following whatever inspiration would hit on any given day. I can highly recommend it. Of course, spending many hours on the road, you need some wicked music to listen to, so I compiled a little road trip soundtrack for y’all. May your journey take you to memories you’ll carry in your heart forever. Mine sure did.
Be safe, all you crazy kids in love out there.
Recommended road trip listening:
I don’t know how much you guys know about Billy Momo and our albums. But we are actually celebrating our 10 year anniversary this summer. I thought I’d tell you where it all began and about our first album, Ordinary Men.
The title comes from me and Orren having toured for what felt like forever with other artists and groups. An endless streak of airports, buses, hotels and backstage areas. Life on the road is fun, super fun! Don’t get me wrong here. But it is a strange world that can be quite disconnected from real life.
And there came a point when we just felt that we wanted something real and closer to what we really were. Be a part of real life with our real friends and family. So that is why we went home, started Billy Momo and named the first album Ordinary Men.
But we took our time finding what we wanted to do. We wouldn’t rush this. We started writing songs together in 2007. But we didn’t release our first album until 2011. It wasn’t 4 years of constant recording. We were going through everyday life at the same time. I opened a bar with Preacher Man and had a daughter. Orren met his future wife and was doing his thing. Like we sing on the track Billy Slomo. “We’re coming up slow, ’cause we’ve got time to grow”.
It all began with us packing a car with instruments and going to a house in the woods for a few days. We didn’t really have a plan. We just knew we would write something. Not sure what. The first song we came up with was Come my way. And that kind of set the course for where we wanted to go.
I think we wrote like 10-15 songs that weekend. We really wanted to do everything ourselves. Write everything, play all the instruments and record it and mix it. But our knowledge of studio recording back then was modest to say the least. So after a while we realized that we needed some help. My brother-in-law had a studio and we had worked with him before in other bands, so he was an obvious choice. You probably know him as The Head (Oscar Harryson), electric guitarist in Billy Momo by the way.
And as he began listening to what we had recorded it became obvious that not everything we had recorded was as good as it should be. So we added auxiliary players on a few of the tracks. Most of the guest musicians we found through the bar. Some of them played at the bar. Some of them just got drunk there. And most of them are now full members of Billy Momo.
The music publishing company Hype Music found our album 2 years after its first release and they wanted to help us out. So we re-released the album through Hype and MTV Networks in 2013 with a bonus track, They fuck you at the crossroads. And that is probably when we started realizing that this was something that maybe other people would want to hear and not just something we did for our own creative pleasure. So from there on we kind of stopped playing with other people and started really focusing on Billy Momo. It was a slow process getting that first album out of our system. But that process really laid the foundation for what we are today.
(Tomas Juto, aka Barba)
A Billy Momo song usually contains a lot of stuff. A lot of different influences, different sounds and instruments you may not usually hear in the same tune. We do enjoy the picking and choosing of different sounds that inspire us and boiling it down.
The one thing that it always seem to revolve around, though, is groove.
We’ve all grown up listening to all kinds of styles. There’s really no common theme there. We’re all totally schizophrenic with our taste in music and have always been. But me and Barba did start out together as bass player and drummer and that means you have to groove. We were both pretty much into hip hop at the time. Still are, but we were young then. We didn’t have to mumble the best parts of the lyrics when rapping to ourselves in the kitchen just to avloid the “daddy, what’s a motherfucka?”
We had been playing a lot of different styles together by the time we started Billy Momo, but RnB, hip hop, funk was dominating.
And most of all, I think the basic structure of rap tunes appealed to us. A beat, some attitude and whatever the hell else you wanna add. That’s the content of a hip hop song. So long as there’s a beat, you’re good. The rest is anarchy.
We don’t always have a beat, we sometimes settle for the “whatever the hell else”-part. But usually, we work alot on the groove part.
One of the things that made it clear to me that Barba is the best songwriter partner I could possibly wish for, is how we refer to the same music in the same way. We hear the same things.
We could be writing a country ballad and one of us could go:”mayby a little more
Wu-Tang here?” and the other one would know what to do.
These are some of the grooves we often refer to, plus a few that I’ve kept secret:
Satisfy my soul – the Wailers
Family affair – Mary J Blidge
Da Rockwilder – Methodman/Redman
If you want me to stay – Sly and the family Stone
Eyes on the prize – Mavis Staples
Hey boy – Teddybears STHLM
Billy jean – M.J
For U – Bilal
Minor swing – Django Reinhart
Lemouima – Orchestre National de Barbes
I read an interview with Tom Waits the other day about writing music. He said something about making your life a place where songs would like to come and visit. If one song comes, others will follow.
I totally agree with that. So I started thinking about when I get inspired to write. And more importantly, when I don’t get inspired to write. So that I can eliminate those things while I’m writing.
The first thing is turn the TV of. Not if a movie with Tom Hardy is on. Then turn the TV back on. Not because of inspiration. Just because he’s fucking brilliant. And smoking hot.
Red wine always seems to work for me. But being a responsible dad I can’t go around half drunk all the time. So that’s a weekend thing.
Driving is perfect! I write most of my stuff in the car. Recording on my phone and using my voice memo for lyric ideas n stuff.
I even had a keyboard in my car for a while when we where recording the Drunktalk album. I was stuck in crosstown traffic everyday back then, and Stockholm traffic can be a bitch, so I started having my own jam sessions while waiting for the car in front of me to move a few meters.
Anyways, I’m all about getting in to that writing mood right now. I’ll let you know how it goes. (Tomas Juto, aka Barba).
Yes, Billy Momo does write songs on political and social subjects. But it seems to me it’s kind of hard to do it right.
I love it when a song has a deeper meaning and it’s incredibly cool when music can put out a message that changes the world.
It’s just that to me, the subject doesn’t make it a song. It’s still the way you tell it that counts.
When you express an opinion, you have a responsibility. Especially these days, when your opinions are posted on social media and there are many people reading. With the terrible amount of hate and fear we now have floating around, desperately looking for somewhere to point its finger, there are risks involved with claiming the truth. You need to check your facts and also think about what people may read into your statements.
Here’s the difference between that and writing a song.
Music has to be about expressing your emotions. It cannot be about coming across as politically correct, teaching the youth or taking part in a cause. Those things are welcome as a bonus, but if you’re not expressing an honest feeling, without censoring, you’re violating the artform.
I grew up with a political/musical movement not too different from the flower power movement. People believed that an artist is responsible for the messages they put out and how it’s recieved. I believe putting that on an artist is a big mistake.
Think about it. If only music that seemed responsible, music that expresses views we can stand by, only music that parents would be happy to play to their kids, only music that was never banned from radio, was successful, would any of the music you listen to exist?
A lot of my favorite artists were or are assholes. And I don’t care! They sang it and they meant it. They probably meant it in a fairly twisted way, but they were still sharing a piece of their souls with other people. If anything, it’s beautiful that we can share something really deep and profound with someone we could never get along with outside the music. That should contribute to a lot of love and understanding, right? And to me, it’s deep and profound because you mean it, wether it’s about healing the world or making love.
So, what this all comes down to, in my view, is that artists don’t have to be good guys. They only have to be honest.
If our music is to contribute to world peace, it needs to be free of judgement, so that it can touch people emotionally, because that’s what music is good for.