‘Lucky Day’ is not only a great record. It’s also an artistic research study. David Myhr travelled the world to work with those who mastered the art of songwriting. In search for the ‘perfect’ tune.
You studied songwriting. What’s the story? And did it change your approach?
Well, to begin with I never actually studied songwriting back in the day. There weren’t any courses like that when I went to music school or music university. I learnt songwriting the hard way through trial and error, together with my band mates in The Merrymakers. And of course, by listening to the great masters. Not until I started to teach songwriting I realised it’s actually something you can learn in some kind of organised form. But the process is still the same. Practice a lot, trial and error, work with others, and again, learn from the great masters. The guide book is out there on Spotify! There’s no teacher, myself included, who can tell you that ”this is how you write a song”. The best I can do is to listen to a finished song and say stuff like ”this sounds a bit complicated” or ”don’t be afraid to repeat that part a few more times”.
What I’ve done during this project is to make the writing of the songs for the Lucky Day album into a artistic research study. Studying the process of songwriting.
My aim is to understand more about how songwriters go about making up melodies. And I’ve made my own process the object of the study, no matter whether I’m writing on my own or together with others. I’ve been recording or filming many many hours in total so that I’ve managed to document in real-time as these melodies were born.
My aim has not been to change my approach. I just want to contribute with some knowledge to the research field (and others who might be curious) about how it is done. More specifically, to try to understand for which reasons some ideas are accepted and other ideas discarded.
Some pretty big co-writers. Can you elaborate a bit on these writing sessions? Share some key insights maybe?
Well for me they’re all ”big” names in the sense that they are great pop writers. And all with some kind of mutual frame of reference I guess.
I haven’t done a lot of co-writing with people outside of The Merrymakers through the years. But back in 2005 when I was in Nashville I realised how simple and joyful it can be when I wrote the melody for ”Looking For A Life” that ended up on my solo debut Soundshine (2012) together with a guy called Ian Eskelin.
We locked ourselves into a little room, exactly the way I imagined Goffin and King, Leiber and Stoller, and those kind of professional writers would have done it back in the day. I didn’t know whether I was expected to come in with a lot of song ideas or come empty-handed. In the end I didn’t have anything.
Being a bit nervous about this, while he was getting coffee, I started to sing a simple repetitive verse melody. And when he came in with the coffee and heard it, he just sat down and ”responded” with a great chorus melody. The melody was literally done in 15 minutes. It was an important moment because I realised that I could work with other people. So it became a goal for me to do it more.
So it was a dream come true when I did my 2015 co-writing trip working with all these great people, Brad Jones, Bleu, Linus of Hollywood, Bill DeMain, Young Hines, Steve Schiltz, and others.
It was lots of fun and went very easy for the most part! In several of the cases, my co-writer had started on a musical idea which certainly makes life easy! I’ll give you a couple of examples. Bill DeMain had started ”Room To Grow” with melody and lyrics for a great A-part, the same way as Young Hines had started ”My Negative Friend”. My task became to come in, get to know the idea, and contribute with a B-part. Kind of ”filling in the blanks” really. I feel truly honoured and grateful for them sharing those great initial ideas and inviting me in on them. One would have thought they could have kept it to themselves. On the other hand, hadn’t I suggested the co-write in the first place, invited myself and scheduling a day for it in the calendar, those ideas might never have come up in the first place. So one thing I’ve learned is that scheduling co-writing session dramatically increases the probability that there will be a finished song at the end of the day. Thinking about it, I should do it more often.
With Brad Jones it was a bit different. We did what he calls ”distance writing” meaning sending ideas beforehand back and forth over the ocean. I sent him a few melodic ideas for which I needed lyrical ideas. And in some cases there was a part missing. Like for instance I sent him a simple melodic idea with the working title ”Shitty Day”. Brad said it had something musically and went around with the melody in his head for days. He contributed with a beautiful B-part and wisely suggested to change the title ”Lucky Day”. It felt like a key track and eventually it gave the album its title as well! On the other song on the album which him and I wrote together I had sent him an up-tempo, stompy, piano-pop idea but with very little lyrics, just singing random phrases to give the melody something to lean on. In the chorus I was singing ”Wait for a moment, wait for a while”. A couple of weeks went by and then it came back in a completely different form. A slow, kind of bossa-nova-ish ballad, with the most beautiful lyric, now with the title” Wait Until The Moment”. He had kept most of the melody, but completely changed the chords on the verse, thrown away a long and complicated pre-chorus, and the result sounded absolutely beautiful to my ears. We talked about this way of working in a filmed interview that I hope to release on my Facebook page during the summer called ”David Myhr in conversation with Brad Jones”. He commented that he kind of prefers ”distance writing” because it allows you go into this ”dream space” when you are on your own. Something that might be hard to do if you’re locked into the same room.
So the other key insight is, there’s no right or wrong way. You can write with others in many different ways.
What was the biggest fun during the making of the last album?
It’s kind of hard beating the fact that I was able to bring my good friend, favourite drummer, and co-producer from Soundshine, Andreas Dahlbäck with me to the sessions with Brad in Nasvhille. I was so happy about our collaboration on the first album, not least the way he plays the drums. So I had some kind of ”separation anxiety”. But when he offered to join me it was a no-brainer. To bring two extremely talented producers together seemed like a good idea to me, and it was! We had lots of fun during those days. It was great also to have the brilliant Nashville session guitar player Pat Buchanan with us. It’s such a magical thing to show a few musicians an idea for a song, and then make it come alive. We mostly spent our time in Nashville in the studio. Poor Andreas even slept behind his drum kit. He was like a prisoner. But on the other hand I know him, and he spends most of his days in his own studio here in Stockholm so this wasn’t any different. We did get to see a little bit of Nashville as well which was great! So, apart from being away from my wife, the recording sessions in Nashville was the biggest fun!
If the budget was unlimited, how would you record the next record?
That’s a great question! The funny thing is I would probably do it more or less the same. But adding a few days here and there, and paying all the talented people around me a little bit better. And most importantly not lose a fortune myself while doing it. I would simply make it into my day job!
The meaning of ‘success’ has changed over the years. When will the new record be a success?
When people talk about it twenty years later. This sometimes happens with Bubblegun, the album we made with The Merrymakers together with Andy Sturmer. Lots of blood, sweat and tears – and time and money – go into the making of each album. So knowing that it brings joy to people over years kind of makes the whole thing worthwhile.
What’s up for the rest of the year?
In the first weekend of June I will go to my second home country Spain (my wife is Spanish) and promote the record there and hopefully make an appearance in Madrid. And in the beginning of August I will make a little tour of California with my great peers Linus of Hollywood and Chris Price under the moniker of Melody & Madness. I’m hoping for lots of both! 🙂