Songwriting – Ed Seed/Stats
Songwriter and musician Ed Seed has toured with everyone from Dua Lipa to La Roux, and his recent album with band Stats is soaring up the indie charts. He gave us some insights into his songwriting process.
How did you get started in songwriting?
When I was 17 or 18, learning the guitar and messing around with recording machines, I enjoyed coming up with bits of music, but then it seemed like the tunes needed words, and then it seemed like I should try and sing them, and although I didn’t have a very good singing voice, writing words slowly brought it out and I began to find a way. The first few hundred songs I wrote were all dreadful.
Can you talk us through your process of writing lyrics?
I write them on my phone in Notes, wherever I am – on the tube, or in the supermarket, or looking after the baby, whenever something comes into my head or I see something that suggests a line. Sometimes they’re complete lyrics with lots of verses, sometimes it’s just a single phrase or line, or ten versions of the same line. There’s a lot on there!
I write words separately from music, then bring them together later. Stats tunes come out of the band playing off the top of our heads in a studio for 5-30 minutes at a time, then later I go back and listen to the jams and cut out the best bits, and assemble them into rough “song” structures. Then I think about what mood the music suggests and how it makes me feel, then set up a mic and scroll through all the Notes on my phone and just sing bits out, however it occurs – just to see what lands.
The hope is that this way the lyric will find the tune it goes with, that there’s a match of moods. A tune might also bring together single lines or whole verses from totally different sources, which when they’re put together in that context suggest a direction or a meaning that neither had on their own.
Which of your songs are you most proud of from a lyrical perspective, and why?
‘I Am An Animal’: it took shape just before the birth of our baby son Levi, and although almost all the words were written before he was born, the song took on some of the surreal, almost psychedelic aspects of the early days of living with a baby. You’re simultaneously shattered and remade, there’s no day and night, you’re overwhelmed by both love and terror – everything you thought was fixed is moving.
I like the lines themselves, the phrases are good and they make pictures, they’re emotional – but it’s also satisfying from a process point of view: the song came together using the cut and paste method described above, and I feel like it worked. All the different lyrical sections used to be separate, but falling together over this mood, they just connected. They all circle the same subjects – things that are both everyday and fantastical, the cosmic-domestic, the miraculousness of love and the odds stacked against it – but they don’t fit together too neatly, it isn’t a tidy little story that goes beginning-middle-end.
I don’t like it when songs are too storyfied, too narratively complete, because they leave no room for interpretation by the listener, and once you’ve heard them once you never need to hear them again. I like when some things are left obscured or unsaid, when you’re invited to connect things that at first seem distinct. That’s how life actually feels.
Which of the artists you’ve worked with do you think have connected particularly well through their writing?
I used to tour with La Roux and then Dua Lipa, playing in their bands, and both have clearly connected extraordinarily well with their songs and the emotional integrity they convey. I was a big fan of La Roux before I ever met and worked for Elly: to me her songs have always had a really consistent and intense mood – vulnerable but defiant, aggressive but seductive, stylised but absolutely real – and that style feels like a big part of the reason why so many people have connected so deeply to her and her songs. Take three great songs like Bulletproof, Cruel Sexuality, Cover My Eyes – musically they’re very far apart, but their emotional intensity and the way it’s expressed, that’s unmistakably Elly: no one is quite like her.
Do you feel the songwriting process can have positive effects for mental health?
Absolutely – speaking personally, it’s always been one of the main ways I explore and deal with complex (and often uncomfortable) emotions and experiences. It can make you dwell on bad stuff, sure, but it also gives you some mechanisms for working it out – just by saying what you feel about it, you can sort of defuse its power.
What are your top three tips for writing lyrics?
1. Write everywhere, all the time – it’s not a sacred activity that needs a special space
2. Write loads and loads, and be ready to discard almost everything
3. If you write a line that makes you squirm or laugh, that’s almost certainly the best bit
Do you have a particular place you escape to when you’re writing?
No, I don’t find that helpful – I don’t feel that lyric writing is something rarefied or separated from normal life, something that needs cloistering away. The more lines spring out of your real experience, and the less distance between the moment you think of them and the moment you write them down, the better the songs they contribute to will be.
Take part on 26th June 2019:
- Write Away! – a free write activity for everyone
- Teaching Resources – for use in the classroom
- Writers’ Hub – tips and activities for use at home or in a workshop
- Events – all across the UK
Everyone has a story to tell – what’s yours?
Join the conversation:
National Writing Day is led by First Story and partners across the UK.
Image credit: Robin Pearce.