I wrote my last couple of albums by writing songs first and then figuring out what tied them together. I'd get five to seven songs written, find something they had in common, and then build the rest of the album from there. As such, the first two albums I wrote feel very tied to where I was in my life while I was writing them. They are highly autobiographical, but I think there's a sense of remove that comes from the fact that I'm purposely grouping them together.
The first song I wrote for All Our Heroes Drank Here, for example, was “Jordan Baker," which is either about New Year's Eve or the Apocalypse, depending on the day. As I wrote the rest of the music, it became clear that most of the songs were set in specific locations, so I wrote a song about being too sad to leave your house ("Biography of Cells") and moved the narrative through New York City from there. The first song I wrote for Cinemascope was “Smoke Is Rising," which is either about orgasms or self-immolation, depending on the day. I knew I wanted to write lyrics that described scenes rather than thoughts, so the "female stereotypes via film genres" theme followed naturally.
I'm taking a different approach with the new material - I have a general idea for a mood and I'm working backwards from there. I explained it to the boys in the band as “listening to old records in an abandoned house after society has collapsed." I want these songs to sound familiar and comforting, but warped somehow. I want them to feel like something you loved as a child and only fully understood as an adult. I want them to be the poppiest songs I've ever written, and then fuck them up at every turn. I want them to be - to borrow a catchphrase from my girl the Trash Queen - unsettling.
Since I'm not sure exactly where I'm going with this yet, I put together a playlist of songs that feel like I want this album to feel. I didn't want to think about it too hard, I just threw in anything I could think of that instilled in me the appropriate amount of dread. It's not about the lyrics, or the genre, or the production, it's about the visceral reaction I get when listening to the music. Here it is (Spotify is currently being the god damned worst, so here's a link in case the embed won't work):
Like the album, this playlist is a work in progress - you'll be devastated to learn, for example, that I originally chose entirely the wrong Arctic Monkeys song. Once I reached a stopping place I thought it would be interesting to find themes within the list that might inform the album moving forward. So far this is what I've got:
It’s All Over, Now What?
These songs are about endings: cities burning, violent deaths, despondent people mourning the better people they once were. The thing I find the most unnerving, however, is the lack of finality; it's as if they're saying that the worst part being finished is no reason to relax. Your alarm bells, they should be ringing.
Songs Only Hannah Would Find Comforting
I don't know guys, Bright Eyes makes me think of the bakery I worked at in college and I used to have a crush on this idiot who was super into Radiohead and "Under Ice" makes me think of riding in the car with my dad in the 80s. I like sad stuff, ok?
Hate Fucking: The Musical
Yeah, I'm not sure what's going on with me right now but I'll own the fact that including both "Closer" and "The Perfect Drug" is kinda weird. Maybe don't think about it too hard. Don't think about "Providence" either.
Death and Other Forms Of Isolation
I'm going nowhere. Tell her to come pick me up. Disappear here. I do nicely without you. Fade out. Why should you want any other, when you've a world within a world?
Bitches Out For Blood
"Get Out Of My House" is The Shining, written from the perspective of the fucking hotel. Tori Amos wants to smash faces and "Furnace Room Lullaby" is a female-fronted Tell Tale Heart. Again, let's all collectively try not to think about this one too hard. I promise not to murder anyone.
I'm sure I'll find more categories as I go, but there's two here that don't fit with the rest of the list at all: "Dust and Ashes" from Great Comet and "There Is A Light That Doesn't Go Out" by The Smiths. These songs are both about finding a future when things are at their very darkest, even if you're doing so begrudgingly. I don't know how these fit in with the rest of the concept, but I'm not ready to discount them either. To be perfectly honest, I'm not sure if I have it in me to write something completely bereft of hope.
One more thing - this list is called "Deflection Tracks" because the working title for the record is Nice Deflection, Future Corpse. That's a story for another post, I think, if it sticks. Hell, I might scrap this entire concept and write a wholesome musical instead. If this playlist has taught me anything, it's that nothing is ever truly finished.