Writing Books Vs. Writing Songs

Though it’s been nearly a decade since we parted ways, my old band, The VAM Commanders, is in the process of recording a new album. Seeing as how fans have been pushing for this for years, there’s a lot of buzz building around it, the kind of buzz that never built for the other projects we’ve all been in in the interim. For whatever reason, none of those projects, musical or non, resonated as strongly with people as VAM did.

I’ll be honest, it took me a long time to come around to the idea. I didn’t want to play again for a lot of reasons. Chief amongst them—aside from the obvious Blues Brothers cliches—was  that I wanted to move on and grow as an artist and a thinker. A band best known penning the anthem, “Beer and Naked Chix,” wasn’t the best place to do so, even if just because the outside pressure to Peter Pan that shit was so great. People didn’t want a new album as much as they wanted a time machine to make them feel 19 again.

The other reason was that I forgot how to write songs. No joke. I’d spent years pushing for more, to go deeper, longer and harder, to forgo rhyme and to constantly break meter. I wrote dialog, insight. Songs had been a phase, a youthful experimentation. Two months ago, when I sat down to start writing material for our new album, I literally had no clue where to start. And when I looked back over my old songbook for material we hadn’t used yet, I found a person whose tone was familiar, but whose content was barely recognizable. To summarize: Then, I pretty much wanted to burn down the world and now I’m cognizant of how that fire would consume me in the process. I might have been back then too, but I don’t think I cared.

The problem I quickly reached was that the things I wanted to say now weren’t as distinct and fiery. They didn’t lend themselves well to brevity, metaphor or fist-pumping rhythms. How could I write a simple chorus that captures the magnitude of suffering caused by the global financial crisis, its roots in a wholly self-destructive value system and an earnest desire for substantive reform, while tempering that with a knowledge of political blowback and an earnest belief in the power of dialog to find an effective middle ground? I’d sound like a total asshole. I almost feel like one just typing it.

But as I was explaining the problem to a friend on the phone, the solution suddenly hit me. That frustration was the song. I grabbed for a pen and scribbled this down.

I want to write a masters thesis, put it to a melody

85 verses of charts and graphs, so anyone can plainly see

The complex inter-relations, between my values and my strife

This world needs change now, but it should probably take more time

But that doesn’t make for a very good chorus

So instead I’ll sing…

Burn it down, burn it down to the motherfucking ground

Piss on the ashes, all dance around

This world that we got is a steaming pile of shit, and you…

You’re at the heart of it.

I stared at it for fifteen minutes. It was everything I’d wanted to say and more. I kept repeating it over and over in my head. The words had a natural rhythm and melody to them. I didn’t write the song. It just came out the way they used to, like it was always a part of you, simply waiting for the right time to be ejected into the world like progeny. I played it over and over again, feeling sure I was on to something good and the proposed new album might not be the clusterfuck I’d initially imagined to be.

Since then, songs have been coming much more easily. We’ve put together over a dozen new tracks that we’re emailing back and forth to one another and re-released our last album online. But the best part, the thing that’s making it all worth it, is how well maturity sounds on us.

And when I heard that back I realized the secret to writing good songs is the same as to writing good anything else or to making good art in general: Always look forward. The moment you stop doing so is the moment what you becomes irrelevant.

I’m super-excited about where this album is heading and about where the books I’m working on right now are heading. The reason why is simple: it’s somewhere I’ve never been and I just love an adventure.

For any interested parties, the special new “Decade of Obsolescence” re-release of our album with bonus live tracks, can be heard and purchased here.

Our new album, This is Not a Time Machine, will be out in late summer. A video demo of one of our new “mature” songs is below.

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