My Thoughts On “Try This At Home – Adventures in Songwriting”

“Try This At Home”, the long awaited – from me anyway – book, Frank Turner wrote about songwriting, his songs and how they came to be, was published a few days ago. I was one of the lucky fans, who got their copy a tad early, because the books were available at the book event, I went to on Tuesday. My days since then have been busy, so I could only read a chapter or two each evening, before I went to bed knackered from long days of meetings and ‘networking’. But the long train ride home yesterday gave me ample time to continue reading it and I finally finished it this morning. I was also slowed down in my usual reading pace by my urge to listen to the song I just had read a few pages about. Sometimes only once. Often enough more than once. Because the main – and I have to admit a bit unexpected – insight the book has left me with was, that I need to give the Sleeping Souls way much more credit than I already do. This book has given me an amplified understanding of and consequently immense gratitude for how each of the Sleeping Souls provides an integral part of the music I’ve grown to love so very quickly.

Of course I was always aware that the sound I love – especially live – is the sum of various elements: the lyrics, the music and the talented and competent people actually creating these sounds on stage. But far and foremost I’ve always been and probably always will be a person of words. I wrote about that last year, when I was trying to put into words what I love about the “new” sound of “Be More Kind”. When I was channel surfing on that summer day in 2013, the music I heard held my interest for a bit and stopped me from pushing the “up/down” button on my remote. But it was the energy of the band on stage and most importantly the words of “I Still Believe” that got me hooked in that moment. And it’s basically been like that ever since. I love and appreciate the melody and music these words were build on. Or build around? For me the music always provided the perfect tapestry for Frank’s words, but I have to admit my auditive sense has been mostly atuned to the words more than the music.

Of course I noticed and appreciated the various solo parts in various songs and Nigel’s work on the drums so often make me tap along, but all in all it’s the words I sing along to. It’s the thoughts and emotions expressed through these words that I can relate to. I should maybe also stress again, that I know absolutely nothing about “making music”. Yes, I learned to read notes and heard about things like scales and times in music lessons in school, but that’s been decades ago in my case. As I’ve never learned to play an instrument, this information wasn’t stored in my brain or at least it’s not there anymore. When Frank in the first chapter starts talking about root chord and major scale and the IV chord and so on, I tried to make sense of it all by consulting Wikipedia and/or Google. For someone, who really doesn’t have any idea what it’s all about, that wasn’t much help though. I tried to keep up with these bits and pieces about chords and such in the next few chapters and got slightly frustrated, because I felt I was missing out on some aspect of the book. I also thought I was stupid for not remembering even the basics of my musical education. How could I even call myself a music fan, if I don’t understand the mere basic of the magic these guys create in the studio / on stage ? How could I even think and so on…. Ugh! You get the drift. My overthinking worrying mind went into overdrive. Luckily I was able to let that go and read over sentences like

It was a high plaintive piece, using a sliding diad chord shape on the A and B strings, with a ringing open G in between, shifting down from a root G minor chord to a C minor.

without trying to understand them. There was still enough of interesting, anecdotal, but also explantory (in laymen terms) information within these chapters. About Frank’s inspriation for the song, about when and where and how the ideas came together and especially how almost from the start Ben and Nigel and Tarrant and a bit later Matt have been along and helped shape the sound by contributing ideas for their various instruments. By exchanging ideas and inspiring each other and working together to create this sound. A few chapters in Frank mentioned a distinctive bassline Tarrant is playing in “The Road”. And I thought: “Does he? Really? I never noticed. Let’s listen closely and find out.” Of course I never noticed, because I never paid specific attention to much else than the words Frank was singing over the backdrop of the amazing music. And once I managed to “tune out” Frank’s voice and focused on something else, I of course heard a very distinctive bassline. Which I hadn’t really noticed before. And that blew my mind a little. It also made me feel a bit ashamed for never having noticed it before. And I’ve been on #TeamTarrant all these years :-)

From that moment on, with each song Frank wrote a chapter about, I tried to pay much closer attention to the arrangement and the part of all the instruments. It did help that Frank often mentions which instrument plays a specific part in that arrangment, so I had an idea what to “look out” for. And even if he didn’t, I was absolutely fascinated by the multitude of different sounds I noticed in a song, once I managed to tune out Frank’s voice. In some songs my mind obviously had a difficult time to keep track of just one. My mind went something like “Ok, here’s the bassline. Neat… Hold on, there is a lovely keys part I hadn’t noticed before. How did I miss that all these years? … Where is that bassline again?… Oh, that’s a great electric guitar part …. I can’t believe it’s just one drum kit creating this amazing crashing sound…” So I listened to various song a few more times to get a sense of how each instrument / musician played their part in creating this beautiful sound. And with each song I newly listened to, I noticed more and more tiny little sounds or melody lines and rhythm parts I hadn’t noticed before. Mind properly blown! Seriously! I feel like I need to make amends with the Souls somehow.

A few more thoughts on the book itself: As a fan of Frank’s songwriting I thought it was very worth reading. It answered a few of my questions and I really enjoyed Frank’s style of writing in this one. “Authentic” is such a terrible word, but for the lack of any other, I have to say it felt authentically him. At least from how I know him; from his performance on stage, from interviews I’ve watched and from the many personal encounters. Eloquent. Intelligent. Honest. Witty. Who would have thought there would be so many sports metaphors in a book about music?

Seriously, even if you don’t know anything about “making music”, but are interested in the mind of a songwriter / performer and in the inner workings of a band who is shaping these sounds together, I can highly recommend this one. It does help if you are familiar with Frank’s music though :-) I might spend the next few drives to and from work with repeating the whole exercise via the audiobook and a book playlist I still need to compile on my iPod. And I’m looking forward to hearing these songs once again with a whole new lease on what to listen out for.

[The image I chose for the header? What can I say: it’s my favourite song. I was pretty sure it wouldn’t get a chapter in the book, as it’s too rare a song and too similar in style to more prominent ones. So I was thrilled to see it at least mentioned in passing and I felt the need to share that thought via an Instagram Story on the way back from Manchester yesterday.]

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