Having forming a new group Artmagic with Robyn and Britney Spears collaborator Sean McGhee, Suede guitarist Richard Oakes (left) examines what makes the best songwriting partnerships – including his collaborations with Brett Anderson – work.
There are so many different ways to write a song. When I first started writing at 14, I would give cassettes of chord progressions to my friend Peter and he’d pair them up with one of the many sets of lyrics he’d been writing that week. Staple them together and you have a song. No rehearsing, just record it immediately.
With Suede it was a lot more traditional. I’d give home demos to Brett; he’d take them away and come up with melodies and bits of lyrics. When he felt they were fully formed enough, we’d rehearse them as a band. There were rare occasions when things would get written spontaneously in a room together, or a rehearsal jam would suddenly take shape, but mostly co-writes were written separately.
With Artmagic, it’s different again. I was throwing a lot of home-written music at Sean, but he’d want to write to it while I was in the room with him – something unusual for me; I’d never been invited to take part in the melody writing before.
Sean has a very immediate reaction to the music, and seems to pinpoint the emotion perfectly in the lyrics he comes up with. We’ve attempted some spontaneous writing, and I think our next album will have a bit more of that on it, but Become The One You Love is largely based on music I’d written when between bands.
Writing for Suede meant writing with the band in mind, so the music had to fall within a certain area in order for it to become a Suede song. With Artmagic there are fewer people but more options – the palette was and is wide open. That’s why we see Artmagic as a project, rather than a band. If you can successfully avoid pigeonholing, you’ve done the hardest job, other than getting in the Top 10!
Saying that, I can’t understand how so many chart hits have so many writers involved, especially when the songs are so simple. It serves to prove that making chart music now seems more about following a mathematical formula, and I only understand music that is about self-expression rather than calculation. I think we need great songwriters delivering great performances. Shows like The X-Factor have fooled people into thinking that songs are separate from, and secondary to, the performers. They aren’t.
For more head to Artmagicmusic.com.