Reminiscent of NPR’s “Project Song” — remember Stephen Merritt’s “The Man Of A Million Faces“? — The Guardian asked Colin Meloy to write a song while journalist Laura Barton sat at the dining room table in his Portland home and asked him a bunch of questions about his writing process. Awkward! Yeah, it’s a gimmick, but we do get interesting insights into his poetics (he’s hardcore into Dylan Thomas’s Under Milk Wood) and overall process.
The thing is,” he goes on, “it can be a really long process.” He strums the guitar. “There can be months in between. A lot of times, for me, it can be coming up with a melody line. And a melody line will suggest a mood. And the mood will then suggest a character. But sometimes, you have to sit with it for a long time.”
One senses that Meloy is perhaps a little uneasy about writing a song in front of a complete stranger. He stares at the table. He strums some more. “The other thing,” he says eventually, and swallows, “is that I have have a really hard time with people being in the house, people hearing me writing songs. And the reason for that, and I think a lot of songwriters feel this way, is that working melodies over, you’re constantly sounding like a yowling cat, as you’re trying to find the right melody. And you find stupid melodies, too, and stupid lyrics that you never would want anybody to think that you’d knowingly entertain – that you would actually do that.”
…”I usually start writing something when I’ve been procrastinating; the spark of inspiration is laziness. When I was first writing songs, a lot of them were written right before I had to be somewhere. It was a really strange phenomenon: my most prolific, most inspired moments were often half an hour before my work shifts started. And so there was a genuine fear, when I quit my day job, that I wouldn’t have that thing, this encroaching deadline, or this approaching need to be somewhere else, having to do something I wasn’t really happy to do.”
He wasn’t able to finish this particular song, now titled “The Ghost In The Walls,” with someone looking over his shoulder. Not a surprise. This, of course, is where the reader enters the picture…
At this point, the song consists of one verse and one chorus. You can hear it and read the skeletal lyrics (“I hear the floorboards creak, I hear them in my sleep,” etc.) over at The Guardian’s blog, where you’ll also get details about helping them complete the tune:
We’ll try to incorporate your suggestions into a completed song — maybe one submission will finish it off; maybe we can make a collage of your lyrics. And next time Colin Meloy comes to Britain, we shall stalk him until we can get him to sing your finished version, which we’ll then post for your listening pleasure. We’ve told his label we’re going to do this, and they haven’t issued an injunction yet — so get writing.
If you did take a listen, did you notice how Barton thanks Meloy so breathlessly after he plays the fragment? Maybe stalking isn’t out of the question. After the “help a band make a video” trend, and with the “Nude” remixes fresh in our minds, looks like we’re moving into “help a band make a song trend.” Who knows, maybe this puppy will find its way onto Billboard.