Ahead of his Tornadoes EP on Monday (4 November), up-and-coming singer-songwriter Luke Sital-Singh defending that much put-upon, but somewhat ubiquitous creature, the – er – singer-songwriter.
The singer-songwriter, a cultural figure every journalist loves to hate, and perhaps often for good reason. So I volunteered to write a 500 word piece arguing for the unique and necessary role singer-songwriters play in our lives. Whoops! It turned out I had no real theory. I panicked. I tried to think of ways around it. Maybe I’ll just make a joke out of it. Maybe I’ll fill it with inspirational quotes and hope no one notices. Or maybe, I concluded, I’d just be honest and see what happens. That was when my inner theorist clicked because if there is any reason at all why we need singer-songwriters it is all to do with honesty.
Music can take many forms and music can serve many purposes, but the singer-songwriter takes a form based on honesty, and honest music serves a purpose others kinds can’t.
On paper the writing process for a singer-songwriter is a simple one. Take human experience, add your instrument of choice (acoustic guitar probably, or possibly a piano if you’re willing to lug it around), together with three major chords and a song is born. The simplicity is such that when performed publicly, in its purist form, the only difference is the presence of an audience. There are no tricks, no effects, and no fads. In fact at its best the song is reborn again in the presence of others.
The beauty of the process is that the singer-songwriter is saying only one thing: “Here’s what it’s like for me, maybe it’s like this for you too?” It’s a connection between two people: the singer and the listener. Maybe it resonates and the answer is yes, maybe it doesn’t. Either way it validates the truth that from time to time it helps to connect to our inner lives. Whether that be heartbreak or joy, confusion or certainty, those feelings and thoughts are ok because they are honest. And because they are honest they are real. And because they are real they are ok.
I believe the simplest things are the best things. Apple’s Steve Jobs said “simple can be harder than complex”, so there! I think the greatest songs live and die by how simple they can be, how well they can be performed by one person with one guitar (or a piano… we’ve been through this). I hate the trend towards loop pedals and drum machines for singer-songwriters. To me that’s like padding-out your Q guest column with quotes and hoping no one will notice(!).
The singer-songwriter lets life experience stand alone, butt naked, nothing but a story and a song. Bells and whistles only detract from the words that communicate the reality of that experience, and therefore make it harder for others to simply listen, engage and perhaps recognise themselves in the songs.
At first that engagement might seem a touch voyeuristic, but the great songs of the genre are great not because they allow people to look on with a detached pleasure as they witness what a stranger is going through, that’s the realm of sheer entertainment. The singer/songwriter opens themselves up to show you a mirror. The great works of singer-songwriters are esteemed because what first appears to be on outside can exist on the inside. We begin to notice familiar faces, familiar stories. We sense familiar hopes and familiar fears. It doesn’t break you down, in fact the opposite happens. It builds you up because we’re all in this shit together and once you’ve been spoken to honestly you can go home and feel better because someone sang out loud what you hadn’t yet found the words to whisper – and that’s not an experience that ever gets old.
For more head to Lukesitalsingh.com.