I’ve been a major fan of The Walkervilles since I first heard their album, Meet the Walkervilles Live at Mackenzie Hall. Their soul-shaking, Motown sound is one that jumped up on me and hasn’t let go. Frankly, I don’t want it to! Since then, they have put out several singles, and another album, Rebirth of the Cool (available on CD from Dr. Disc in Windsor or by purchasing from the band). Their latest recordings will come out of New York City and I can’t wait to hear them!
Because I’m an uber-fan, and I’ve had the honour of doing some writing for them, I wanted to have an exchange with Mike Hargreaves, lead bass player, vocalist and songwriter for the trio about his writing and how/if it compares to writing poetry. Wasn’t I just thrilled to bits when he agreed to answer my questions!! (I was, I swear!)
The thing is that when I listen to The Walkervilles what makes a direct line to my heart and soul are the lyrics of the songs. Hargreaves is an incredible writer. I sing along loudly in my car or in my kitchen and each time I’m floored by the strength and soul in the stories the lyrics elicit. I really want to give you a list of my favourite lyrics, but I just can’t. Each song holds such power that I’d literally have to show you them all. The best thing you can do for yourself is listen on your own time!
Of course, I need to tease you…so here’s ‘No California’ via YouTube…you can hear and see these fine gentlemen working their magic. (You done? I told you…)
Let’s get to our Q&A with Mike Hargreaves!
1) As a songwriter, can you tell us how you find/know the themes to write about? Do you think about your fans/audience and how your words will affect them?
Themes in music can be applied at a variety of levels. I can apply themes to specific songs, to albums, or I can have thematic goals as an artist in the broadest sense. I bounce all over, with songs about morality, the super-ego, ethics and creating change, to songs about basic instincts, primal natures, sexuality and entertainment. There are also traditions in song writing that we can contribute too. Love songs, rain songs, knowledge songs, personal identity songs, religious songs, political songs, etc. there are a lot of categories, that make song writing like joining a conversation. After that, what counts most is being true, and being personable.
2) How much a part of the ‘poetic’ process is the music versus the words? Which comes first – the words or the music? Or is it both?
There is a type of poetry that exists between the musical statements and the literal statements of a song. I always consider the feeling of the music to count as much or more than the lyrical sentiments. Music and lyrics don’t need to express the same feelings, in fact, it’s very interesting when they don’t agree. Imagine a piece of music that sounds haunting, like the exorcist, or jaws theme, then imagine putting love song lyrics overtop. All of a sudden, the loving sentiment of the lyrics takes on a richer, and more complex feeling through the suspenseful music. Complexity is relatable, and where lyrics can be truthful, it is the music that provides the listener with the whole truth.
3) Can you comment on the ‘poetry’ of music? Do you believe that being a lyricist puts in the category of poet?
Lyrics are different from poems beause of the reasons mentioned above. Some lyrics can stand powerfully on their own, and a good line or phrase in a song can be called poetic, but poetry has to create an emotional context, that lyrics do not, because of their relationship to music. I do think it’s good for lyricists to read/write poetry though, as poetry typically condenses emotions and scenarios: techniques that work well in lyric writing. Poetry and lyrics both have the job of packing a punch into a few short lines, or over the structure of a few verses.
What I love about his responses is that they’ve given me a deeper understanding about the music-making process. While I do believe it comes from the same soul place in our bodies and minds, it’s not quite exactly the same because of the music component, as Mike points out. “Music and lyrics don’t need to express the same feelings, in fact, it’s very interesting when they don’t agree.”
I know that seems obvious, but I always say that poetry is all around us – it’s in the music we listen to – and now I can build on that and give a more detailed account as to why and how it’s different and the similar.
“Some lyrics can stand powerfully on their own, and a good line or phrase in a song can be called poetic, but poetry has to create an emotional context, that lyrics do not, because of their relationship to music.”
I never thought of music/lyrics that way. But I think it’s because when I listen to music – I listen to lyrics as much as I hear the sounds of the music, and to me, there is an emotional context in the connection of the words and the music. Even if they are at play with each other. And, there have been many times when I simply read lyrics to songs without listening the music – and I see the words on the page and they are poetry to me.
I don’t have music behind my poetry…and I don’t know how to write music to make my poetry different or turn it into songs…And that’s okay. I suppose the closest I can get to bringing music to my poetry would be in the way I perform/deliver it. It’s not literal music…but a vibe or tonal play that would elevate the poetry. And, I think we can definitely deliver a poem in a different tone/voice that would not agree with the actual words or story the poem elicits.
Overall, whether we define or identify ourselves as poets or songwriters, I believe that they are one in the same! So thank you songwriter/poet Mike!
Photo Credit: The Windsor Star
From left, Mike Hargreaves, Stefan Svetkovic and Pat Robitaille of The Walkervilles when they played at The Windsor Star Cafe, announcing their upcoming gig at The Strawberry Festival.