Danny McNamara

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What Does It Sound Like? Blog 2

So what’s it sound like?

There’s a phrase that every band signed or unsigned comes to dread. The record companies, producers and managers know the artists dread it and so they find loads of different ways of saying the same thing. Unsigned bands will hear “I love the band but I’m not hearing that big song yet”, signed bands who are working on their follow ups will hear, “It’s sounding great, but I think you should keep going we still need a couple more key tracks.”

Big songs, key tracks, biggies, monster tunes, radio songs what are they trying to say???

One word.


There said it.

People who work with bands hate to say it because it makes them look like unfeeling money grabbing monsters who don’t care about the artists art, and songwriters hate to hear it because it means the lovely people who work for them are telling them that most of the world isn’t going to care about this record as much as they do until they do more work.

Lots of bands moan about the charts, usually unsigned bands or bands who aren’t doing so well in them anymore, but it’s not hard to see why. Most of the music in the charts is soulless, throwaway rubbish. No-one wants to make soulless shit forever, even big pop acts who’ve had a best selling debut will often try to get all serious on their follow up. How many times have we seen a child sensation suddenly start trying to write their own material when their manager/parent realises that’s where the money is. They do this by fooling themselves that more control means more depth, integrity, soul etc etc. It doesn’t. What almost always happens here is the tunes dry up, writing great deathless pop is hard so finding a plausible reason for that not being important anymore is one of the most corrosive self delusions for any songwriter. You might be able to fool yourself for a time, but you can’t fool everyone else. The people around you are crucial here (if they are good at their job that is) because they push you and help you realise your full potential. When you are frayed and spent and you have given it your all, the last thing you wanna hear is someone you respect saying you need to do more work, but often all they are doing is saying something out loud that you already feel deep down you just don’t want to face it. By contrast if you’re working with a pop sensation whose never written a song before in their life and you get them to give it a go and you give them three months because they have a world tour booked already, don’t be surprised if the album you end up with has no big songs, key tracks… erm SINGLES.

So pop acts sometimes think that if they stop singing someone else’s songs and sing from the heart about their life it will always mean the songs have more soul. Well sorry it doesn’t always work like that. In fact some of the best most soulful records in history are written by other people Aretha Franklin’s “Respect” was written by Otis Redding, and pretty much every song Elvis ever sang was written for him by someone else.

This is such a pervasive myth that bands who write their own songs do it in reverse too. They think that if they stop caring about putting their own soul into their work it will have a broader appeal. We almost did it ourselves on our singles collection, we recorded a song called “The Day The Radio Broke My Heart”. We gave ourselves a week to write and record a single for the album, and though I still love the title the song wasn’t very good. Fortunately our record company told us to get a grip and we never released it. Bands can make the mistake of thinking that because most of the stuff on mainstream radio is middle of the road, they have to aim at the blandest lowest common denominator in order to write a single. In fact the polar opposite is the truth. To get deathless pop you have to go right out there, be brave put your soul, your arse on the line. And whether that’s just a piano vocal like Adele’s “Someone Like You” or the Nero/Skrillex pop hit “Promises” it can be anything, everything but safe.

So that’s where the bar is. It’s always been there it’s just a lot more obvious when you’ve been away for five years and it feels like everyone has forgotten about you.

It’s why whenever we go away for a while we always come back armed to the teeth with big tunes.

Embrace is known for having the most amazing fans in the world, but if you want your record to matter to more than just your most hardcore followers you are going to have to write something that’s such a distilled, burningly amazing tune that no-one can ignore it. It’s not a bad thing if it has a beat you can’t help but move to, a hook you can’t get out of your head, a lyric that sends a shiver down your spine and a chorus that takes your head off. That’s the job, you can either whinge at the world and all it’s digital robbery and unfairness or you can get on with it.

That’s what we’ve been doing and it’s very very exciting.

What’s it sound like???? Well after five years of writing we now have a bunch a big TUNES like that. Everyone is smiling but we aren’t patting ourselves on the back yet.

We need to write more, and we need to get the performances and music right, and it’s going to take a while, but we were born to do this, mark my words it’s going to happen.


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