I’ve purposefully chosen to omit a chapter on assembling a math rock band from scratch, as I am assuming you have got likeminded friends, as I did, who want to try something new, exciting and frustrating.
However, if you haven’t got any musical friends – or any friends at all – then may I suggest joining the various (occasionally slightly insular) pages on Facebook, created for math/instrumental/post rock fans to talk about that Clever Girl album.
A simple advert with a description of the bands you wish to sound like (but not rip-off) should hopefully be suffice and enlist you some potential band members.
I guess statistically you’re more likely to find band mates in a bigger place like London, than you are in say, Wycombe. But it’s worth advertising nonetheless, as people will travel to play music they enjoy.
Or, maybe, like my parents, you don’t know the Internet from the waffle maker (though I’m not entirely sure how you’re reading this article without the internet?) then whack-on your best shell suit, and put up some witty handmade posters in local music stores and record shops, complete with those tear-off contacts bits – that may do the job. Though I highly doubt it.
Ok, so you’ve read my previous ‘How To Write a Math Rock Song’ chapter, and you’ve got yourself an idea or two for a song. This, my friend, is looking pretty promising. Time to take it to a rehearsal/jam and get working.
When I had an idea for a tune, I would usually play it to the guys at rehearsal and gauge their reaction. If I got that golden nod of approval, then work would begin on making this thing into a polished, and overly complicated bastard. I believe having more than one point of view on a song can be so beneficial to the creative process, especially if you all have varying (occasionally bordering embarrassing) influences to add.
“In You Slut!, we spent years writing songs, and later on, years writing singular songs. We would just keep playing around with ideas and seeing what would sound good next. It was really that kind of simple.”
Obviously there are going to be times when you come to a practice full of enthusiasm for an idea. An idea that you feel certain is going to be math rock’s equivalent of that fucking Bryan Adams ballad from the 90s that’s probably still sat at number one now. But instead, it goes down worse than a South Korean nuclear weapon carnival fun day in North Korea. That’s just the way it goes I’m afraid. Don’t bin your idea altogether in a childlike strop, or storm home in tears with your equipment stowed under your arm. You can always use your idea for something else, or maybe a part of another song.
In You Slut!, we spent years writing songs, and later on, years writing singular songs. We would just keep playing around with ideas and seeing what would sound good next. It was really that kind of simple. Trial and error. Usually more error than trial.
I guess what I am trying to say is that it’s like doing a small pencil drawing of a dog, which you then give to fellow artists who add all kinds of wonderful outlining, shading and colour for effect, and now it looks a lot less like a levitating pop tart with eyes and a mouth, and more like a cocker spaniel – as originally intended.
I personally really enjoyed the “whole jamming out songs” process.
It has to be said that there will almost certainly be disagreements at this stage, however. This is a dead cert to happen when you have several creative minds complete with fragile egos, drinking warm Carlsberg whilst contained within a dark, cold and damp rehearsal room.
Your guitarist, for example, might perhaps insist that a bar should be in 13/8, but your drummer is furiously adamant that this sounds cheesy, and should be a straight 7/4 stomp, and that opinion has formed in no way because, after 12 attempts, they can’t actually play it correctly. The rest of the band clearly cannot be arsed with the impending fracas, so sit very firmly upon the fence, insisting that both the ideas sound good in their own way. Your drummer then places the drumsticks heavily onto the snare head before disappearing out for a cigarette, reappearing 20 minutes later with quarter of the enthusiasm shown previously and a face like a collapsed lung.
It’s only fair to try everyone’s ideas and judge accordingly at this stage. You don’t know if you don’t try. As it turns out the guitarist’s idea, once the drummer learned to play it properly, was great. Top notch.
Remember math rock is like a blank canvas, which is what makes it such a creative genre. You can try pretty much anything at this stage and experiment to your heart’s content – you’re not writing some overly-produced tosspile in a futile attempt to gain a moderate chart hit; you’re writing a song that you’ll enjoy playing, and fellow mathites will hopefully be able to furiously stroke their beards to, whilst nodding out of time.
Videoing and recording this stage, like in the previous chapter, is definitely recommended.
Getting a good quality recording is a must, as this allows you all to take it away, mull it over and then come back to the next rehearsal with a more measured opinion (hopefully not utterly despising it). If you are completely skint and don’t have any kind of professional recording device, then try putting a phone into a drum case and setting it recording. This works far better than exposing it directly to the barrage of noise.
“Don’t, under any circumstances rush finishing off a song, just so you can play it a your next gig, or record it for the impending studio time you’ve maybe booked. You’ll regret it.
Plus, if you’re ever struggling for songs to put on your album’s 20th anniversary re-issue, then these early versions, that (trust me) will be around six times slower than the finished version, could prove to be absolute collector’s gold dust!
Videoing the idea is great for seeing whose slimy hands went where and at what point, and even if the sound is so distorted it resembles a de-tuned long wave radio thrown violently down a mineshaft, you will have the accompanied audio recorded separately. Let’s be honest here, nobody has the time to tab shit out, so this process is vital in remembering and improving.
Don’t, under any circumstances rush finishing off a song, just so you can play it a your next gig, or record it for the impending studio time you’ve maybe booked. You’ll regret it. Let it run its course.
From my personal experience we wrote all of our songs from a singular, usually pretty basic, idea brought to a practice, and then jammed-out over several weeks/months/years. All except ‘MyBloodyJesusExplorerOnFire’ which, if memory serves me correctly, we jammed out from scratch in about 4-5 rehearsals. And lo-and-behold it went on to be by far our most popular song.
So maybe you should just fuck this ‘writing at home’ bollocks, and dismiss the early part of this chapter altogether. Use that time more wisely. Like binge-watching Fort Boyard on Challenge, perhaps. Or learning how to shade a cocker spaniel.