Sunday, 19 October 2014

We Know We're Being Conned

In a week or so, our latest album will be mixed, and we'll be starting to work towards a release date. Lots of work and money goes into it this stage - creating artwork, getting CDs designed and produced, arranging some kind of PR strategy (or paying someone else to), trying to arrange live dates and a possible tour around its release, and in our case, making sure we get all the merch ready to honour our Pledge campaign. It's a necessary though not particularly interesting period in the process. In fact, it's the antithesis of writing, playing and performing - all the bits of being a musician that you actually get a kick out of.

That's probably why my mind has started to wander towards the next record. This evening I was reading an excellent article on black conmen in antebellum New York, who practiced "burning": ripping off whites with counterfeit notes. The article was smart and well written, by an Australian chap called Shane something or other (I haven't got the article to hand), and he was developing a thesis about free African Americans and their relationship with money (I'm paraphrasing; it's a lot smarter than that). It got me thinking, firstly, that 'Burning' is a good song title, and secondly, that some of these characters are definitely worth writing about. Then, I realised that I've got a few song ideas about New York in the 1830s that I've been wanting to write about: The unsolved murder of Mary Rogers (The Beautiful Cigar Girl); the Moon Hoax; Sojourner Truth and her involvement with a religious cult in upstate New York; some Paine-ite newspaperman who I can't remember much about but sounded interesting. Oh, there are loads of them; stories I've wanted to write and develop but never got round to. Then I thought, what if they all converge on one day in the city,  the stories weaving in and out of one another, passing but never quite seeing each other. It's a bit of a stretch as a lot of these stories are 5 or 6 years apart, but what the hell, I've been anachronistic plenty before in my songs, I can pull it off again.

I also thought, I'd really love to write these lyrics down without playing a note, and then just taking them to the band and see what they do with the material. I've never really done that before and it kind of excites me as a new idea, and is bound to produce melodies I wouldn't otherwise find.

I read something last week that suggested that voters in this period, despite what historians have suggested,  were engaged with the political process, not through a deep understanding and passion for participatory democracy, but with a knowing irony that essentially they were being duped, conned by a wealthy political class. There's probably only a morsel of truth in it, but the idea is too good, and at its very genesis, I love the thought of imbuing the project with that wry fucking smile. We know we're being conned. 


  1. Gotta love a concept album!

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  3. I really like both ideas: handing both just the lyrics to the band and letting them layer the sound around the stories; and the idea of the characters in each track being interwoven and weaving in and out of each other. Without knowing the stories I don't know how this would work but I say go for it.

    I also love the idea that there is a overarching theme to the album, that we're all being screwed by The Man and we know it even though we have to let it happen. I'm sure most people can relate to that whether it's something basic like our last shop purchase or something larger like being in court. The Man always wins as the deck has been stacked against us.

  4. Thanks, James! In all honesty, it's a bit scary handing over that much to the band, but I think it's worth it as an experiment, if only to see how different our songs end up sounding. I think I'd quite like to just let them know the story and see how they interpret it.

    The theme - that of knowing irony - is harder to enact, or make known. This is obviously in the writing of the lyrics, but that's going to be a real challenge - it needs to be something consistent running through all the songs. How do you write that theme though? It's a toughie.

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