Wednesday, 9 May 2018

Music For Writers #4: Paul M. Feeney

Music For Writers week 4 - a bit late coming out onto the stage, but like all great bands worth waiting for. This week is the turn of Paul Feeney with some fine choices, so let's get this party started shall we? 1-2-3-4...

Take it away, Paul:

Like many writers, I have a deep, abiding fondness for music, both when reading and when writing (and just in general). I won’t say I can’t do either without a soundtrack, but I will say it often helps. In fact, so close is this relationship, I have, over the years, inextricably linked some pieces of music with various books and stories (so much so, anytime I hear the strains of Danny Elfman’s Batman score, I immediately think of The Hobbit and not Tim Burton’s film because I always had that album on when reading the book, and I read it a lot; it was a rather odd experience eventually watching The Hobbit trilogy with the Howard Shore music, I can tell you). However, this is a post about writing to music, and James Everington has very kindly asked a bunch of us to talk about five instances where music is tied to our work.

[I know the Batman music isn't strictly speaking one of Paul's main choices but I've included the video here because I love it. JE]

And so to it:

1 – Much of my writing tends towards a kind of pulpy, Twilight Zone aesthetic, very much influenced by the books I read and films and TV shows I watched in the 80s and early 90s. As such, I find I often put on a constant stream of thumping synth music as a background for writing most of these stories. And one of the best – to my mind – of this style is the film-maker, John Carpenter. Carpenter has long created scores for his own films, and chief among my favourites is that of Christine. To me, it perfectly encapsulates his sound, is the optimum distillation of the tone he aims for. And I had it on heavy rotation when I was writing my first novella, The Last Bus (Crowded Quarantine Publications, 2015), an urban alien invasion story that harked back to those 80s monster flicks and books. Marvellous stuff.

2 – Sometimes, you’ve gotta go bleak, and again I reach for Carpenter. This time, he’s not the composer, only the director (though by all accounts he had a fair amount of input in the score). It is, of course, The Thing, one of the most nihilistic, claustrophobic, downbeat films ever made (as much due to the music as anything else), yet still with its fun set-pieces. And the composer is the legend that is Ennio Morricone. With this one, I was playing it constantly while writing my own story of wintery terror, a short called The Light that Bleeds from the World, for a forthcoming charity anthology (sometime in 2018, I believe). Morricone’s – and Carpenter’s – synth and string tracks were the perfect accompaniment to my attempt to capture that sense of bleakness and desolation. Hopefully, some tiny part of their genius made it into my wee tale.

3 – I appreciate the above are both full albums, so perhaps now it’s time to focus on a specific track, and something a little different. My very first ever published story is a Kindle-only novelette called The Weight of the Ocean (Phrenic Press, 2014). It’s very much unlike anything else I’ve written, being that it is, essentially, a love story, although one with more than a hint of melancholy to it (and a touch of ambiguous supernatural elements). Partly based on real events (though still filtered through my writer’s imagination), it’s about a guy who falls – and falls hard, oh so very hard – for someone he sees as his soul mate, the love of his life, but slowly has his heart crushed as it all falls apart. One song which played throughout the writing of it (and it took a while to finish; almost half a year, if I recall correctly) was Pearl Jam’s ‘Release’, from their Ten album; mainly this was because the song meant a lot to the real-life girl who was the basis for the story’s love interest and it sort of seeped into my head, too. I find it has such a quiet sadness to it, but also a kind of resignation, an acceptance (and when I hear it, I always think of her and that time). It’s a very powerful piece and, I think, compliments my story perfectly, despite the short’s flaws and rough edges. And shit; that’s put me on a little downer, now...


4 – Another single-track entry, and this one connects to an unpublished story I won’t describe in too much detail (because it’s a little bit bonkers). Suffice to say, it’s a post-apocalyptic tale with the most unusual reason for humanity’s near-total demise. And that’s as much as I’m willing to impart, I think. But the piece of music I listened to while writing is one of my favourites. It’s called ‘At the Heart of it All’ by Aphex Twin, though the track actually appears on the NiN remix album, Further Down the Spiral. Legend has it Trent Reznor asked Richard D. James for a remix and instead, for whatever reasons (most likely James’ rather unconventional and unpredictable personality) gave an original recording he had “lying” about. Whatever its provenance, it’s a beautiful track which mixes lush keyboards with harsh, scratchy beats. The perfect soundtrack to the fall of the world, and for my story of walking, rampaging...well, that’s enough of that. Ahem. Incidentally, I consider James and Reznor to be genuine musical geniuses, along with Tori Amos, Steven Wilson, and David Bowie, and a few others.

5 – For my fifth and final entry I’m going to cheat a little and include an entire genre (though I will pick out one piece to represent). One of my favourite styles of music is one I’ve only recently started to delve into in a big way, though I think I’ve always heard and liked snippets of it. It’s post-rock (and I include metal and ambient variations under that umbrella as well), and there are thousands and thousands of bands and artists creating stunning work, from the rather well-known – Mogwai, Godspeed You! Black Emperor – to the less famous – Ohgod, If These Trees Could Talk, and This Patch of Sky (this last very newly discovered but already a firm favourite). Every conceivable emotion is expressed by these bands, though there is an overarching sense of the epic, a stately, crushing grace even in the heavier moments. And I love it. I love listening to it while reading, while driving, while just sitting in the house. It’s one of those styles of music I can put on at any time, in any situation and it just...takes me away, fires my imagination. So it’s no surprise to find I often have it on when writing. And one track in particular personifies, to me, the power of post-rock. It is ‘The Mighty Rio Grande’ by This Will Destroy You. This piece is epic, crushing, moving, and has been used in at least two films to great effect – Room, and Earth to Echo. It never fails to move me to tears and was one of the first pieces that really turned me on to this kind of thing. I would have written any number of stories with it on, especially where I wanted a more emotional, melancholic mood; most recently perhaps, while writing my Christmas short ‘Call of the Piper’, which appeared in the seasonal anthology 12 Dark Days.

So there you have it. Thanks for reading my rambling thoughts – and believe me, I could go on a lot more, but I think this is more than enough – and maybe it’ll inspire you to seek out some of the music mentioned, and even the stories to read along to and see if the tunes match up. Thanks to James for coming up with the idea for these blog posts and inviting me, and I hope there’s at least some interest in this one. Happy listening (and reading).

Peace out,

Paul M. Feeney.

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