I have been working on a song commission for British artist Tania Kovats who is currently undertaking a commission responding to the River Exe. Tania will be speaking at EXE: Conversations Between Floods on Friday 10th November at The Royal Albert Memorial Museum, Exeter.
This has been a lovely songwriting commission and has been a very creative and thoughtful process as I have listened, read and tried to carve a song with the perfect message to align with Tania’s vision.
After meeting to discuss the brief I went to my cabin and sketched my initial thoughts and words on the main message for the song, before reading any research that followed. I liked certain ideas that the river knows and sees our lives and when the flood hits it impacts and contains the stories and changes the stories of people’s lives, the city and the landscape. I then composed a chord sequence to use that I thought would work great but I found it too ‘romantic’ and melancholy sounding so after reading a letter Tania wrote inviting her reader/listener, I had a song idea come to me.
A few of her words from the letter and the information sheets on rivers really struck me and I wanted the song to echo what the hoped outcome would be; a conversation.
"Follow the river. Listen to its conversation. We risk everything if we don’t listen."
I wanted to write the song from the river’s perspective but in an empathetic way. It starts off as the river speaking "If I were you" to the human subject. I wanted to set the scene and introduce some ideas people associate with beautiful times with the river.
I recalled many of my initial memories and ideas from living so close to the Exe myself in various houses and it challenged me to think how much I need, rely, look, use, walk, sit, paddle with the river and how I am guilty of ignorance of not listening. I remember once when the river flooded and there was a dead sheep just bobbing around for weeks! I guess it is easy to not worry about things when it doesn’t directly impact on you (or that you can see impacting on you). So the river then goes on to speak ‘If you were me’ to the human subject, asking for some empathy and understanding of it’s ways.
The refrain is the human subject voice in the shadows - knowing there is something to fear but not really wanting to delve any further. This refrain leads into the main message/chorus about listening and having a conversation. “Tell it to the river, tell it to the streams, I am the giver I contain all your secrets, I am the river that weeps.” I liked echoing ideas that the river has been humanly manipulated by being put in containers, weirs, embankments, dams etc but that the river holds an almost omnipotent, mysterious and knowing quality (inspired by the poem Tania sent likening the river to a strong brown God) and is asking sweetly (at this point) to be heard. The last line "I am the river that weeps" is a direct link to the river flooding, weeping, outpouring and rising.
So within this process I mainly worked by sketching ideas and storyboard first, then worked on a chord sequence first and then went back to the initial ideas and wrote the lyrics. It’s had a few weeks and developments and I am quite pleased with the outcome. I look forward to playing it for you soon!