Hello Katy, This is a follow-up to the band’s comments in response to a question about “Still Breathing” as well as something said during the Sky Arts performance. John said that the album version of “Still Breathing” lost energy, and the band probably spent too much time on it. On the Sky Arts show, Nick alluded to how quickly “Late Bar” was written and recorded, and noted how easier it was to do that vs in later years, when the band would agonize over every detail in a song.
I remember reading something similar about R.E.M.—that the band was split into two camps, one which favored writing and recording quickly, while the other preferred to take more time—and they would alternate their approach on various albums. So my questions are: 1) Is there a similar creative tension within the band now, or at any time in the past, over recording quickly vs tinkering with songs, and 2) are there some albums and/or songs which are more reflective of one approach vs the other, in addition to the aforementioned “Still Breathing” and “Late Bar.”? (or, put differently: are there examples of songs/albums which prove that one approach is better than the other, as a rule?)
PS-The Sky Arts performance was amazing. Really appreciate how the band mixed in the usual hits with songs like Late Bar, Shame, Skin Trade, The Valley…nothing kicks *ss live like The Valley…
“This is a really good question. We would love for the writing process to be as rapid as it was during the first two albums. It’s simply not the case any more. Although you get lucky with some songs, it is inevitable that to complete the album, you need to spend much more time forming the ideas, concepts and lyrics of the bulk of the material.
Regarding “Still Breathing,” I don’t actually agree with John’s point of view. Having listened to earlier rough versions, I still think we ended up with a superior version on the album. I do agree with John that it’s entirely possible to overwork some songs. We all agree this usually occurs when we’re not satisfied with what we have in the first place, hence we spend time searching for how to improve the song, sometimes resulting in a break through, other times a road to nowhere. It is the crucial choices made during the song writing process that excite us because, from the initial sketch to the final painting, there are so many decisions that need to be made, and each one can have an enormous effect on the final track.
The easiest way to write, by far, is to begin with a lyric. But since we have not often worked like this for many years, we tend to gather in a room, begin to play and see what happens. The music usually comes quite quickly, it’s rare that we have a day when we do not complete the sketch for one idea that excites us all, but it is less likely that we will end up with a finished lyric that day, and this is what lengthens the process for completing most of our material. There are exceptions, on the last album, “Falling Down” was written and completed in one day, where as “Last Man Standing” was appropriately the last to be finished, having been worked on at various times over a period of several months. On our current work, we have 14 back tracks in progress, several are now completed, a couple probably won’t make it and the rest are still under construction. Such is the process. Nick”