Diss Rants

This is the news/ranting forum for Diss (a.k.a. Tom Kercheval), an independent musician. Check here for new music, updates on new music and just random rantings on a variety of subjects. Feel free to leave a comment or four. For Diss' main web site, go to www.dissmusic.com.

Thursday, June 30, 2005

New Material and My Writing Process

See, I told you all I would start posting here more regularly. :-)

Several people have asked about new material, so I wanted to give an update on what's going on on that front. I know it's been awhile. I guess I've just come to accept the fact that this is how I work - slowly. Hey, if someone wants to set me up with a big fat contract and make it so I can devote all of my time to this music thing, I would be amenable....until then....I'll just have to keep slogging away as best I can, as I can.

I'm really going to try to do some things differently this time around, as far as releasing stuff. I plan to put some VERY early demo stuff up on the site in the near future, and I hope to release a song or two as works in progress, rather than doing what I usually do, which is wait for everything to be "perfect" and then release it. I'm trying to relax my perfectionistic tendencies a bit. They can be a good thing, but they can also cause needless stress and frustration at times.

Anyway, all my CDs or projects usually start in the same way. I get a title for the entire thing and work from there, and the songs tend to relate back to that main theme. If they don't, they probably aren't used. That's also how I tend to write songs quite often. A title pops into my head that carries with it many connotations of what the song should sound like, both lyrically and musically, and I write from there. For example, on the last CD, I always wanted to write a song called "Blood of the Martyrs." The title came to me first (it actually came from an old book that detailed eyewitness accounts of Christian martyrs killed in horrific ways during the Inquisition period, but I didn't want the song to be overtly Christian). So, you get a song title like that, and it's fairly clear that it's probably going to be a heavy, hard-edged type of thing, and that influenced the music.

Actually, though, the music usually comes first. In fact, that's the stage I'm at now with the newest project. What I do is sit down with the guitar and just start playing, hoping that something interesting will pop into my head and through my hands. If I find myself playing the same riff over and over and over, that's usually a good sign that I've got something useful. Then, it gets dicey, because if you're not careful, as quickly as these things come to you, they can disappear if you don't find a way to somehow ingrain them in your gray matter...or simply just record them...but that's too easy. I'm embarrassed to admit it, but I'm often too lazy to set up the computer and record the part that's just come to me, so I just play it over and over again, hoping I'll remember it next time I pick up the guitar. How pathetic is that? Usually, though, I do remember it, but there have been a few things I've lost because I didn't take the time to commit them to a recording.

Eventually, I DO record all these little bits and pieces, and then start trying to shape them into a song structure. I've gotten much better over the years keeping my songs relatively short - my early tunes were insane opuses that often stretched out over 7 minutes long, with different choruses, two or more bridges, etc., etc. You live and learn.

Once I record these demos, some of which I will post soon, I usually burn them onto CD and take them with me when I drive. I find that driving is the best place for me to write lyrics. I listen to the demos and sort of "scat sing" to them, trying to find a good melody line for the verses, chorus, etc. Once the melody line is down, that's when the words start to take shape. Actually, I'm pretty good at just writing lyrics in my head and retaining them.

Then, I usually do another demo with a rough vocal track, start thinking about drums, etc., etc. As you can see, it's a complicated process, or at least a time-consuming one. But again, I'm going to try to be quicker this time out. Can't promise that, but I'm going to try.

The tentative title for this project is "Three Long, Three Short." This is S.O.S. in morse code. It's sort of a questioning time in my life right now...a midlife crisis? I don't know, maybe. You know, you think that as you get older, things should make more sense to you, but I'm actually finding the opposite to be true. Things seem to make less sense. There's less of that child-like wonder and acceptance of things that characterized youth, there's a certain world-weariness that comes from seeing the same patterns in life repeated over and over again, by yourself and others, there's a questioning of traditions and other beliefs you once thought were solidified in your soul for all time.

Now, don't worry - I haven't become Kurt Cobain here. My music will always (I certainly hope) try to inspire more than depress, and I'm not out to make some dark, melodramatic mess. It's just what I'm feeling at the moment, and that's what the songs will probably reflect. They will be harder-edged sonically (again) and I'm going to try to personalize the lyrics more...not make them about "me" per se, but make them more about the human condition on an individual scale. I've never been one to really write about broad political issues or saving the world. But I also don't like it when artists get to a point where they become too self-obsessed in their writing. I want songs that people can relate to on their own, but songs that still reflect what I'm feeling at the time. So, that's the goal.

I may even revisit a few old songs from previous CDs done under The Dissidents name. Now that I'm getting a real handle on this digital recording thing, there are a lot of old songs that I would like to get right. I've never been really happy with either of those CDs. I think the songs are good, for the most part, but the recording and performances are rarely satisfying for me to hear these days, mainly because I just didn't have the time or means to take my time and get everything right.

A couple songs I'm thinking about redoing are "Gunnysack" (always loved the song, but the recording is too muddy and there's too much going on throughout), "Feather in My Hands" (another song I really love, but it was in the wrong key for my voice. I've since dropped the key dramatically and it sounds a lot better and more natural), and maybe something from the Valiant CD, like "Distant Thunder" (always loved the riff of this, but not sure about the lyrics and the arrangement is too bloated - needs to be pared down and shortened).

Another tactic I'm trying this time is how I approach the guitar. When I was in an actual functioning band, The Dissidents, we were a three-piece and there was no other guitar. So, I had to come up with guitar parts that really filled the sound up, and I loved using droning open strings and other techniques that made for a big guitar sound, even though only one guitar was being used. I've carried that over into my own stuff since, but when recording, I've often been more interested in LOTS of guitar parts to fill out a song. I was reading an article on Bruce Springsteen recently, and he was talking about how he struggled early in his career to get a big guitar sound, and then he realized that the best way to get the biggest guitar sound is to record one guitar, not do so many overdubs. So, I may try to get back to playing the way I did when I was playing live in a three-piece setup, although I'm sure I'll still do some overdubs. Just not as many.

Okay, that's the latest. There will be more to come soon. Saw a great movie recently - "Land of the Dead." If you like zombie movies, this one will not disappoint. I'll post a review of this and "War of the Worlds", which I haven't seen yet, next time.

Thanks for reading! Stay safe, happy and tuned!



Anonymous Jim S. said...


Thanks for the peak into your creative process. I always wondered how the melody develops from the chord progression or guitar riff. Fascinating.

I would be very interested on new takes to songs from "Gunnysack" and "Valiant."

I recently googled you to get back to your web page and stumbled on some of your BC reviews. That '99 concert in Nashville sounded completely incredible. Thanks for posting that stuff.


July 14, 2005  

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