3 2 1…
The APRA 321 Sessions in early June 2023 involved an afternoon spent in the company of songwriters working on our craft under the guidance of esteemed rock goddess Abbe May. It was held at Hen House, one of my favourite studios in Perth.
I had no idea what to expect. I was quite nervous.
Because, well, what happens when you fill a room with songwriters, most of whom have never met before, and task them with making music together? Many solo creators I know might feel intimidated in such a situation. But then, perhaps all of us being cut from the same conflicted cloth, partly introverted and partly extroverted, there was a sense of solidarity present. And having Abbe smooth the way for us, the concept of collaborating with strangers on what is generally a lone task began to take on a less daunting aspect.
In his book How Music Works, David Byrne briefly explores the idea that a collaborative work can render a finished piece more indistinct in its tone and thus potentially more universal in its nature. This sense of universality is something I strive to achieve when writing songs, leaving work open to interpretation rather than dictating a meaning to the listener. Rather serendipitously, this sense of space (which Rick Rubin also talks about cultivating in his amazing book The Creative Act) was something that my two song writing partners, Shane McDonald and Trent Williams, were aware of in their own writing. The three of us bonded over the idea of leaving lyrics open ended and that same spacious aesthetic naturally wound its way into the musical aspect of our work, for we come from quite different backgrounds.
We all agreed that minor chords made entry into a song more palatable, so we started there. With Shane on bass playing around in G minor (which I always find dark and melancholy but which Shane made sound badass and jazzy) and Trent finger picking on a beautiful acoustic guitar, I sat on the floor and sang out some ideas as we cycled through chord progressions and moods. After a while I jumped on the keys and together we fleshed out a song. We left writing lyrics till last which is, I suppose, a distinctive feature of a similar creative approach, so perhaps we three were just super lucky, or perhaps Abbe has some sort of super charged mind reading abilities when assigning groups. For the lyrics, Shane came up with a scene from a story, and then he and Trent and I narrated possible pathways it might take. Writing down key phrases, we cycled through the song a few times, recording as we went, with me singing and Trent harmonising while Shane rigged up some mean ipad drums.
Our combined skills created a song that I believe was unlike any we had written in our own careers. I might get in touch with them to record it and share it with you here. The song managed to belong to all three of us and yet none of us stood out as sole songwriter. It was in none of our styles and simultaneously in all our styles. And so when David Byrne asks,
‘Can eliminating some portion of the authorial voice make a piece of music more accessible and the singer more empathetic?’
I can confidently reply, ‘I should say so.’
Thanks to Tenille Elkins at APRA, Abbe May, and all the wonderful creatives who put themselves out there and not only wrote a song with songwriter strangers in a couple of hours, but then performed that song to other songwriter strangers in an intimate setting. Extra special thanks to my new collab partners, Shane and Trent.