by Camel Eye
Yes, I’ve done it, just about. Okay, it’s been closer to a year and a half, a couple of those albums were EP’s, one was a single, etc., but I’ve done it, just about. Five more releases, and I’ll have recorded as much music as The Beatles.
Listen to the EP while reading the text.
I haven’t counted the number of songs I’ve written since this began, but some cursory arithmetic puts it at nearly two hundred. Is the music good? I’m not sure. I’ve received contradictory feedback; several people, including a venue owner, have called it “very good,” but the Bandcamp data paints a different picture.
I don’t know who or what to believe, and, having invested so much time and energy in this, I’ve really begun to crave some concrete response. So, would you, dear reader, do me the honor of reviewing one of my albums? Though my finances are in such ruin that I’m now buying beer with a credit card, I will pay for some honest, informed criticism. What will it take? A hundred dollars? Of course, you must have credentials. I invite candidates to e-mail me at email@example.com.
Now, how did I do it? The following is a guide to extreme musical hypergraphia. I have based it solely on personal habits and experiences, not on theory, but because I am nobody special (a late-blooming musical autodidact with almost no prior output), it should work for anyone.
Step One: Go insane.
For months, I heard voices that begged me to kill myself. I was the worst person alive, said my father, said my in-laws, said my former Chiefs and LPO’s (I was in the Navy), and they absolutely convinced me of that. I would spend entire days frozen on the edge of my bed, my head cocked toward some white noise source, listening, struggling to suppress my own thoughts (they could read them, and they did not like what I had to think). My left arm is covered with scars from the cigarettes they ordered me to put out on myself.
Suicide attempts proliferated. I tied nooses that would have made my Naval superiors proud, once sat in a bathtub with my grandfather’s beautiful, loaded revolver in my mouth, but something would always deter me: I would suddenly hear a sympathetic voice among the cacophony, a branch would snap from the appalling weight of my fat, benoosed body, etc. I hated myself for not completing the one task I had been charged with, but the voices hated me even more, and they were real, transmitted to my auditory cortex by a device installed by the Navy. They were also Goddamned eloquent as hell, which terrified me.
My wife and I had separated, but she still visited me, and during one of those visits I confessed everything to her. That night, she saved my life by dragging me to a hospital that prescribed an antipsychotic and an antidepressant. Upon my release, I went to stay with my parents in New Orleans, and I took my guitar. That’s when I started writing songs. This was in March of last year.
Step Two: Learn to play the ukulele.
I was introduced to the ukulele by Olivia Dvorak of Super Happy Fun Land, a.k.a. Poopy Lungstuffing, and I took it up seriously, hoping to impress her. I don’t think I ever did, but I’m still thankful for the encounter, because I have found the ukulele to be the ultimate cure for musical writer’s block. Often, what seems to be an earnest attempt at songwriting is really just a “noodling” session on the primary instrument. Noodling is bound to lead nowhere. The ukulele, by reducing music to its fundamentals (chords and rhythms), forces a musician to forgo noodling and confine his playing to the broader strokes of song accompaniment.
What I mean to say is that the ukulele will draw songs out of you like a damned sponge. You should try it. I should mention here that there has never been a better time to acquire a ukulele; Fender has just released a series of beautiful ukes based on its most popular guitars (one is shaped like a strat, one like a tele, and one like a Jazzmaster). I suggest you buy one if you have the money!
Finally, I must advise you to purchase a ukulele with electronics, or at least to purchase a piezo along with it; you will want to electrify the thing at some point, especially if you own a nice guitar amp.
Step Three: Feel around.
This instruction goes along with step two, though it should apply equally to all instruments. What I mean when I say to “feel around” is that the initial stage of songwriting, by my book, is a search for interesting chord shapes. Feel around on the fretboard or on the keys and see what interesting, novel harmonies your fingers can produce. Some more feeling around will train these harmonies into a chord progression. This chord progression, if you listen to it carefully, will suggest melodies to you, which will suggest words to you. Or, if you have already written the words, the meeting of lyrics and chords will suggest melodies.
The important thing here is that songwriting initially consists of the movement of fingers. Songs are not first imagined or first sung, they are first felt out. This, I think, is the mechanism that has allowed me to write so many songs in such a short period, when my imagination would have failed me.
Step Four: Sleep in your studio.
This is non-negotiable, I think: your instruments and recording equipment must be kept in your bedroom. They should be the first things you see when you wake up and the last things you see before you sleep. They should be inescapable. I am so committed to this principle that my nightstand is entirely taken up by my Vox AC-10, my entire floor taken up by guitar pedals and cables, and so on.
My wife complained initially, but she relented, because she is a good person. If your S.O. does not relent, he or she is not a good person, and you should seriously question whether a relationship with him or her is worth pursuing.
That’s all I have for now. Please visit cameleye.bandcamp.com and tell me what you think by e-mail, if you have the time.