Music I Write To: Part 1

Okay, so I’m going to do something a little bit different today, here on When The Credits Roll… 

I’m going to get extremely personal.

I’ve written a lot about television and film on this blog in the past three months, but my love for music is just as potent as my love for those two things. If I had any kind of serious musical talent, I would probably be wanting to pursue a career in music of some variety. But instead, I’ll pay for my Spotify subscription and lose myself in my favourite songs and support my favourite artists. 

Writing about Amy Adams really inspired me, because I realised what a true artist she is and that she approaches everything in such a different way. That kind of versatility is something a lot of careers in the arts thrive on, and I don’t think there is anything more versatile than music. Think of all the different sounds, genres, and styles of music. Think of how differently music is utilised to fit different projects, different moods, different situations. It’s extremely malleable and (this is going to sound extremely pretentious and fake deep) it traverses the physical world and somehow allows us to connect music to feelings we have. I once went through the last 6 years of my life and realised I had an album that defined each new period in my life. School, college, university, summers, there’s a specific selection of songs that will always whisk me back to those times and I can almost recreate the feelings and emotions in my head when I listen to certain songs. 

So it comes as no surprise that I listen to a lot of music when I write. Both on here and my script work, I have a playlist collection on Spotify that’s cultivated to everything I’m doing. I have genre playlists, specific playlists for specific projects, and I’ve even started creating character playlists, to help me get into the mindset and write them better, but also to inspire me and help me create someone who is fully realised with their own musical background. What I wanted to share with you all (and in an effort to be more consistent here with my posts) is to share ten tracks every week that inspire me when I’m writing. There are a lot of them, so this new series could go on for a while if that’s something you would all be interested. I say all as though there isn’t 5 people who read these every time and hype me up, love you guys. Cue that video of the person on the balcony and then the three people jumping around on the floor below them. You know that one. That’s my blog. 

Anyway, to get back on track (music pun?), here are the first ten tracks that I write with to feel inspired. There is no order to these, just a haphazard collection of brilliant tracks that are always on my playlists. My list-obsessed brain wants to categorise them by project or by emotion, but I think it would be better for this series if I just picked ten random songs without a theme, because different people look for different things. I hope you find at least a few songs in this collection that might inspire you too. Also it’s a chance for me to hype up some artists I think are drastically overlooked. 

Track 1: Memories by The Midnight 

I really decided to jump right in and hype up an underrated artist. Even though this track closes out their phenomenal sophomore album Endless Summer from 2016, I chose to open with this one because I’ve never heard a more cinematic song in my entire life. Every beat of this synth-wave track creates imagery better than almost anything I’ve ever heard. And that’s before even focusing on the lyrical content, which is incredible. 

You’ll always be a part of me. Some wounds will always sting. Forever in full bloom, barely twenty-two. Summer days are growing colder, we’ll know better when we’re older.” 

Those are just some of the amazing lyrics in this song, backed up by some sublimely brilliant production and the creation of melancholia intertwined with the halcyon days that you don’t even have to have experienced. Memories throws you right in there, the lyrics and gorgeous vocals taking you back to a time they created, but you feel as though you’ve experienced. As with my love for certain movies like Call Me By Your Name, I adore when art can so authentically capture a moment that it can convince you that you’ve lived through it. 

I had a pivotal life experience while listening to this song while at university. I walked to the beach at 4AM and blasted it in my headphones while walking in front of the gently lapping waves, moonlight and ocean stretched out for miles in front of me. It was unlike anything I’ve ever experienced. I thought about a lot of different things and had my very own movie moment, putting some puzzles together that I had been obsessing over for a while. With nothing but this song and the light drops of rain that didn’t even bother me, I started to live in the moment, realising that for six minutes and nineteen seconds, I was standing on the sand, my footprints the only ones around, and I was present. I don’t even care if this sounds delightfully corny and I wouldn’t blame you if you laughed. But it was a truly enriching experience in my life and one that I will genuinely always remember. 

Memories is a true ballad: a melancholic story set to some brilliant music. Whenever I need to capture the essence of a moment in a story, I’ll put this one, and try to think of the best way to recreate a feeling for an audience. I think about what exactly in the music makes me feel the things that I do, and take from that. 

This won’t be the last time The Midnight are featured in this series, but go check this song out, as well as their entire discography. You won’t regret it. 

Track 2: Forrest Gump by Frank Ocean 

It’s no secret to any of my Twitter followers that I think Frank Ocean is one of the greatest musicians of all time. I don’t say this lightly, no hyperbole is used here, and this song is a big part of why I think he’s one of the greats. 

Just like Memories, this song means a lot to me. In fact, it was my most played song of 2016 on Spotify. That’s how much I love it. I listened to it all the time, soaking in the visceral lyrics and revelling in the genius of Frank’s storytelling, as well as the beautiful tone of his vocals. 

My fingertips, and my lips, they burn from the cigarettes. Forrest Gump, you run my mind boy. Running on my mind, boy. Forrest Gump.” 

These lyrics might not be as deeply entrenched in a memory as the previous song, but they create an image all the same. And it helps that Frank’s using the male pronouns so casually here, because it’s little things like that that help to enhance the storytelling. Looking at how people interpret this song is really interesting, because there are some that run with the overt movie reference to the eponymous character and his love interest, Jenny, which yes it can be read that way. But it’s Frank’s lyrical mastery that allows for deeper interpretation, about his personal experiences or the listeners. 

I have a personal experience that I associate with this song and, although I can’t help thinking about it whenever I listen to this song, I can appreciate the song on an impartial level. Frank uses the movie motifs to create parallels between his music and his life, and not always in the obvious way. And he uses some really cool production tricks (like the crowd cheering in the verses) to make the song so much more deeply realised than it would have been. It’s like being read a bedtime story set to music. 

When writing, I use this in a sort of masochistic way. This song provokes a very specific emotion within me, when I can then channel to set the mood of a specific scene. This song, along with another Frank track I’ll talk about next week, is one I use very rarely, only in situations within my writing that I need to tap into the deep stuff. It’s like method acting for writing. Method writing. I’m going to pioneer that technique. 

People know and love Frank Ocean, and this isn’t exactly a deep cut considering he performed it at the Grammys, but it’s one people don’t really seem to know. Check it out! 

Track 3: Eros by Nicholas Britell (from If Beale Street Could Talk: Original Motion Picture Score)

Calling something a standout track on this album is like picking a favourite flavour of ice cream. A lot of them are pretty damn good, but there are just a few of them that take the cake. Eros is probably my favourite, mostly because of the way it builds. 

It starts so softly, the flurry of instruments making themselves known very slowly, letting the emotions build. Slight spoilers for the movie here, but please for the love of god go and watch it it’s a phenomenal movie. The track plays as Tish and Fonny engage in physical expressions of love for the first time. And every single thing about the scene is purposefully perfect (try saying that five times fast). Director Barry Jenkins, along with Britell, uses the simplistic perfection of the moment to accentuate the love the two people share. Sometimes when watching a love scene, it can feel uncomfortable, but Eros is a big part of making it feel beautiful. The direction is skilled and helps a lot, as well as the performances by Kiki Layne and Stephan James. 

But Britell brings something truly special to the table with Eros. You can truly feel the aching love within the track. The strings pull so delicately that you almost don’t notice how chaotic the polyphony really is until it kicks in. And isn’t that kind of like love? It starts with a feeling, something you can sort of ignore, until it bursts into an array of feelings you don’t really know how to describe. Maybe I’m looking way too deeply into this, but Britell knows how to create magic. Even separately from the film, this is a beautiful piece of music, one that I find myself listening to a lot. When I’m writing, I tend to use this as a scene-setting device, trying to picture an image and see how I might want a scene to progress. 

All of Britell’s work is truly brilliant, but this might just be my favourite thing he’s written. Go watch If Beale Street Could Talk, and also listen to this score. And the score for Moonlight. And Vice. He’s just insanely good at what he does.

Track 4: The Great Escape by Patrick Watson 

If you’re listening to this song, and wondering why it sounds like a moment in a coming-of-age movie where the quirky protagonist reaches the apex of their journey and their lives come crashing down and they need a moment of solitude, well that’s because it is. 2012’s Struck by Lightning has the particular pleasure of being the movie that uses this song in the most perfect way possible. Carson (Chris Colfer) drives to the beach and sits on his car, looking at the ocean, something he had never seen before, after his only dream is torn to shreds. The movie isn’t amazing, but this scene is wonderfully done. A true moment of catharsis, it’s actually what inspired my own aforementioned soul-searching beach excursions. 

Yes, I have also listened to this song at the beach. 

Hey child, things are looking down, that’s okay you don’t need to win anyways. Don’t be afraid, just eat up all the grey and it will fade away. Don’t let yourself fall down.

It also sounds like a montage sequence from Big Little Lies, which has a very impressive and eclectic soundtrack, so it just goes to show how good this song is that it’s in the same vein as some of those tracks. 

The Great Escape is quite similar to Memories in how I feel about it, even though the feelings they generate remain different in my mind. While Memories focuses on a time gone by, The Great Escape looks ahead to an uncertain future, and how you can feel out of place in a world that seems to be whizzing by with no way of stopping it. 

As soon as the piano kicks in, if I have my playlist on shuffle, there are instant chills. I always listen to this while in a car somewhere, hopefully with the window down and my arm hanging out of it. This song is a journey, symbolising anything and everything, whatever you want it to mean. 

This song truly is the perfect catharsis, and it actually inspires me quite literally, because it reminds me that time does pass and one day I AM going to be doing the thing that I love as a career, and maybe I can put this song in one of my movies. I’m literally pumped while writing this sentence just thinking about that. And I have this song playing and all I can think about is the future. 

And it’s not so scary all of a sudden. 

Track 5: Space Between by Sia

This is actually the song that inspired me writing this post and the series. 

It’s so haunting and atmospheric that it’s hard not to be creatively inspired when listening to it. It’s also the perfect album closer, wrapping up Sia’s 2016 album This Is Acting. Perhaps some of this has to do with the fact that Sia wrote this and offered it Rihanna, but then decided to take it back because she had “seller’s remorse”. Rihanna was happy to let her have it, and Sia knocked it out of the park. Although I’m interested to hear how Rihanna would have performed it, Sia uses her signature vocal style to make this song so visceral that virtually the only time it fits to listen to it is late at night with headphones in (like I’m doing right now). 

Feel the void in our bed. The space between is deafening. Oh we don’t bend, we’re breaking. The space between is deafening.”

This is one of those songs where the lyrics match the style of the piece. The background sounds quite hollow, with Sia’s haunting backing vocals elevating the mood of the piece. It evokes gothic imagery as much as anything I’ve ever heard. The live version from the Village is marvellous and her vocal acrobatics are insane, but the studio version is more restrained, and fits the haunting tone of the song much better I think.

I use this when I want to soak myself in atmosphere, but also when I want to listen to really good lyrics and word choices. “Space between” is such a good phrase for a lot of things, but emotional distance is a really apt way to explore relationships between people, and Sia knows how to write about that better than almost anyone. She truly feels her lyrics and you know it comes from a place of real depth. That inspires me to become more in touch with my own experiences and how I can apply them to writing and fill characters and pieces with a little bit of myself. Authorial voice is something I’ve struggled with for a while, but songs like this make me realise that your writing truly becomes your own when you leave a little piece of yourself inside it. 

Track 6: Yes I’m Changing by Tame Impala 

A big hello to this song, it’s one of my all-time favourites. It has some wonderful production and the vocal lines accompany it so well. And yes, when I listen to it, the vocals are the accompaniment, because the production goes off! 

There’s a world out there and it’s calling my name. And it’s calling, yours, girl it’s calling yours too.” 

This quite literally reminds me that there is a world out there and I am a part of it in whichever way possible, but also that I have potential. I’m very self-aware when it comes to my abilities and I know that I have potential, and a lot of hard work is needed to turn that into a career, but there are possibilities and that’s the thing I struggle to remember when I get down on myself about my writing. There’s a chance for me, and this lyric in particular reminds me to work hard and I’ll have the best chance at succeeding. This doesn’t necessarily spark ideas when actually writing, but it keeps me optimistic in times when I might not be. 

And plus it’s just really nice to listen to. 

Track 7: Young And Beautiful by Lana Del Rey 

Oh Lana, this was the perfect song for you to write and sing, and The Great Gatsby fits your stylings perfectly. One of my favourite songs written for cinema. Great lyrics, great production, great vocals, Young and Beautiful is so hypnotic that it’s easy to lose yourself in its grasp, but make sure not to miss the lyrics, which are so fitting to the movie that it’s actually scary. 

Dear Lord, when I get to heaven, please let me bring my man. And when he comes, tell me that you’ll let him in. Father tell me if you can.” 

It becomes romantic, aching, and spiritual all at the same time and it remains one of my favourite Lana songs vocally. I really liked Baz Luhrmann’s iteration of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s masterpiece of literature (and maybe my favourite book), and this song is one of its best features. 

This inspires me on several levels. One, it inspires me to watch The Great Gatsby again, which is always a win. Two, it helps me write about love, even when it’s not going right. I don’t much heaps and heaps of experience with it myself, good or bad, but listening to songs like these helps me to focus in on the feelings of love within it and how to realise them on a page, before you even cast the actors, you need to have the characters feel love for it to come off well. And Lana writes about love in such a unique way that it’s hard not to pick things up from the way she phrases things. 

And how peaceful this song is, which is why I chose the version without the orchestra, truly puts me in a zen mood for when I’m about to write. I crack my knuckles, flex my fingers and put this song on. 

Track 8: Tear Garden (UnFALL Art Deco Remix) by IAMX 

And we’re back to melancholia. 

This has unfortunately, for some reason, been taken off Spotify, but the full version is fortunately still available on YouTube. IAMX specialise in lyrics that feel truly raw, yet poetic at the same time. It’s such a unique style, but they manage to pull it off extremely well. As Rachel Berry once said, “Metaphors are important” and IAMX use them in a brilliant way that really captures a song’s essence. 

I love the original version, which is one of my songs to walk to, it’s upbeat and dynamic, with one hell of a bass line. But the remixed version brings the soul to the lyrics, inspiring visuals that are practically dripping with feelings, just begging for someone to make a conceptual music video with a lot of black. 

You can’t hide, I remove from you every tiny strength in everything you do. And I’ll kick you down, I’ll break you with a tender touch.” 

I haven’t done a deep dive into the lyrics with this song, as I quite like its ambiguity. But they sound nice on the surface, and there are some choice words used in some important places, and that’s how I become inspired by this. 

Using the right word at the right time can make something so much better, particularly in music. But I like to apply that my own writing, whether it’s scripts, stories, or poetry, words are the very thing I’m playing with. When I listen to a song like this, I’m reminded to stop and think about why I’m using the words I’m using. I can be a very mechanical process, but writing always is for me. The words never really flow across the page, but wouldn’t it be great if they did? I have to spend time trying to choose the best ones that work best for the scene or the moment I’m writing. And it can actually be fun. 

If you listen to this song and don’t get an array of images popping into your head, listen to it again. And again. Until it happens, because it’s absolutely worth it.

Track 9: Dauòalogn by Sigur Rós

Where are my Vampire Diaries fans at? 

I became obsessed with this song when I first heard it on the show, in a pivotal scene (Season 3, Episode 22) and I immediately searched for it and downloaded it to my playlist. I’ve looked up the English translation of the lyrics and while they’re beautiful, I try to forget they exist. Because hearing the Icelandic vowels sounds and intonations is enough. The vocals are so beautiful and the accompaniment is so fitting that it blends together and becomes transcendent. Whoever chose the music for The Vampire Diaries deserves a big round of applause because they got this one spot on and introduced me to one of my favourite songs, as well as some others in the series.

It’s the epitome of a peaceful track. But within that complete serenity is a truly haunting experience. It’s so quiet and soft but has this really expansive feel to it. I’d love nothing more than to play it on a really big, really loud set of speakers and just let it wash over me. 

I don’t necessarily know what it is about this song that makes me listen to it while writing, or what effect it has, but I know that it works. I know that when it comes on my playlist when I’m writing, I’m transported and it puts me in the mood to suddenly churn out a couple of pages. It’s kind of like magic. It’s one of those songs that’s so filled with emotion and atmosphere that it becomes hard to not listen to with a creative mindset. 

It’s just that kind of track and I adore it. 

Track 10: Cool Enough by Nicole Atkins

And we close out with…wait for it…the most underrated musical artist of all time. And 2007’s Neptune City is in my top 10 favourite albums of all time. She’s very important to me.

Yes, I’m saying that, because Nicole Atkins is one of the biggest talents I’ve ever heard. She writes, composes, and performs all her own tracks, and accompanies fantastic lyrics with beautiful, powerhouse vocals that are up there with the best I’ve heard. She infuses every lyric with emotion, and personality, and that’s part of what makes her songs so integral to storytelling for me. 

Cool Enough is a rare kind of nostalgic track that immediately takes me back to the first time I ever heard it in full. And it strikes up a powerful reflective feeling within me, and the instrumental at the end is just pure genius. It matches the feelings provoked by the lyrics without using any, just using some cool production and careful instrument choices to accentuate the mood and themes of the song. 

I’ll go anywhere, I’ll go anywhere you want if you’ll take me. I know that I don’t know you very well, but you seem cool enough.” 

It’s not even a case of identifying with things in the song, but rather appreciating it on a purely artistic basis. The vocal choices, the melody, everything about this song just works and it makes it one of those rare songs that I could listen to on repeat without it growing tiresome. I find something new to pick out every time I listen to it. Plus it led me to listen to Nicole’s whole discography which is one of the best decisions I ever made. 

There’s something about this song that’s immensely cinematic for me but I don’t really know what it is that makes it that way. Can I see it being used in a film? Perhaps. I definitely want to incorporate it in something I make, even if just to sing Nicole’s praises to the world. 

But yeah, you should seriously check her out. This song and everything else she’s ever released. You won’t regret it. 

Just look how many views this video has…it deserves millions more!

So there’s ten tracks that inspire me. I realised halfway through writing this that I’ve never really written/shared something this personal with the world before, and music is about as personal as it gets. Someone’s favourite songs can tell you a lot about them. 

So I hope you enjoyed reading this, and I hope you go and listen to at least some of these songs and find the same feelings within them that I have. I’ll probably do another one of these at some point because I have tons of tracks I’d want to share, even if nobody asked. 

As always, you can come talk to me on Twitter @Jamie_Carrick_ or drop something in the comments below, maybe talk about a song that inspires you? I’d love to hear them! As Emma Stone’s Mia Dolan wisely said in La La Land, “people love what other people are passionate about”. And it’s true, I love hearing about what sparks other people’s passion and what certain things mean to them. So please don’t hesitate to share things, whether it be a song or a film or a poem, anything really! 

And never stop indulging yourself in things that inspire you or make you feel passionate! No matter what anyone says, it’s important. 

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