Jackie McLean of the indie band Roan Yellowthorn grants us an inside look at the making of an album from start to finish in her ‘Breaking The Record’ column.
This column is a day late this week. I usually submit it for publication in time for it to go out on Thursday. But this week, it’s here on Friday. Why? Because this week a lot of my brain power has been spent processing.
Processing everything going on in the country right now. All of the fear and anger and worry that it inspires.
Just jumping into the Breaking The Record series documenting the making of our album from start to finish? Read part 1
I’ve been feeling really anxious recently. Finally, after about a week of high anxiety, I started feeling more calm and grounded yesterday.
Even though I’ve been feeling really anxious and overwhelmed the past week or so, I’ve been in a steady creative zone. For me, the feeling of creativity really ebbs and flows. When it ebbs, I wait for it to return. When it flows, I try to capture it.
This time, I’m writing song after song. Usually, I complete one song before I start writing another. When writing a song, the process usually consists of roughly four parts: I start with the words, written to a cadence. Like a poem. Then, I go through and clean them up. I tighten up the rhythm of the stanzas. If a chorus and verse have naturally emerged during the first pass, I define them more clearly. If they haven’t, I go in and carve them out. On the third pass, I add a melody. I usually only do this once the song has had a chance to be fully written. Otherwise, I can feel constrained by a melody coming in too early. Once the melody is in, it’s time for the last step. That’s when I polish the whole song; tucking in stray syllables, adding accents here and there, and replacing individual words.
During this recent burst of productivity, however, I’ve rushed off loads of rough songs – all at the first stage of development. So the method this time around has been to go through each rough song and do the remaining parts of the process on it. It’s fun. Because I don’t have to start from scratch every time. There’s something to work from. It was an intense outlay. Because the initial work is the hardest. Getting the thing down. Following the emotion through. Finding a route.
After the groundwork has been laid, it’s less of a daunting prospect than it is to start from a blank page.
I’m enjoying this writing. It feels good to be creative.
Writing is such a potent tool for me. It always has been. That’s what it’s all about for me, when it comes down to it. I love to write. I like to express feelings. To honor them. It helps me to feel like myself. To be connected. It helps me feel alive. And there’s nothing like finishing a song. It’s one of the best feelings I know. The sense of accomplishment. Of cleansing. And the intellectual satisfaction. Because songwriting is a lot like puzzle-solving. It’s so many things. And it helps me to process the world. To better understand this life. So that’s what I’ve been doing. Processing. The best way that I know how.
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📸 © Jackie McLean
:: Breaking the Record ::