First Watch: Lawrence Arabia's 'A Lake'
Today we premiere the new video for A Lake, the first single from Lawrence Arabia's forthcoming album, Absolute Truth, and Lawrence (a.k.a. James Milne) shares the story of the song's inception.
As I've grown older, I've become more and more self-conscious about the lyrical content of my music. It somehow seems like a portentous responsibility to encapsulate some profound insight and wit into songs these days, which makes me deeply fearful of picking up my pen and actually writing. In my heart I know this kind of approach is self-defeating.
Every song I've ever written that I'm fairly happy with has involved very little conscious construction or composition – it's been the act of pulling back a filter and letting words pour out in a kind of associative flow. Not just some kind of abstract free-form pseudo-Beat nonsense, but words which congeal into phrases and sentences whose meanings gradually become more apparent on a larger scale until the theme of the entire piece reveals itself, normally into a story with something vaguely approaching a narrative arc. It's a minor act of intellectual bravery which, afterwards, feels like it was some form of sorcery. During, usually, it feels like the easiest and most natural thing in the world.
Every song I've ever written that I'm fairly happy with has involved very little conscious construction or composition
A Lake, a song I wrote maybe two years ago, sort of fits into that style of composition, though it was something I forced, probably in an attempt to shake myself out of that mature brand of self-consciousness I mentioned, which was definitely causing me blockage in what was otherwise a pretty fertile period of songwriting for me. The device I used for this was a book of conceptual art, called 73-74 – An Annual of New Art and Artists. It seems rather cheap and demystifying to talk about this now, but here I am!
In the book, there's a piece of art by Gino De Dominicis. It's black and white photo of a person (the artist, presumably) facing away from us, sitting on the edge of a pond, looking at the concentric ripples created by a stone tossed into the otherwise perfectly still water. Under the photo is the caption “an attempt to form squares rather than circles around a stone that has fallen into the water.”
Hence, the first lines of the song:
A still and ageless lake
A dark and depthless lake
you made a splash – it was concentric, as you'd expect it.
Much of the book is black and white, but a flick through the pages brought me to pages 42-43, which contained an artwork by Mary Corse – a large, abstract work in bright yellow spread across both pages, called Chartreuse:
A yellow painted field depicted in a dusty book
The mind was weak, the body willing
– that fact was chilling.
Like Donovan, in his absurd anthem Atlantis, at this point I go straight from subjects that skirt universal mystery into words about love, relationships/my relationship. It's kind of a cop out, and an abrupt shift I suppose, but screw it – it's pop music right? And I think I've avoided most of the pitfalls of cliché.
I never knew me my dear,
until I met you I thought I was cool.
It only took seven years and then we were truly in love.
You led me dumb and blind through the obstacle course that I call my mind
and when I reached the end, the certificate – it was you.
It's kind of a cop out, and an abrupt shift I suppose, but screw it – it's pop music right?
At this point in writing a song, after the completions of sections A and B, I normally celebrate the nominal completion of the work, record a demo and rest on my laurels for a while, listening to the demo and thinking how great it is until the novelty of the new creation starts to wear off. At this moment of staleness, I have to then write the second half which always seems weirdly effortless and slightly glib. This process doesn't rule out the occurrence of great lines, but it never feels quite as magical as the first verse. Later on, you forget the moment of creation and all is equal again.
The final point of interest in this song is the outro solo, a section that briefly had a silly chorus lyric about being “terminally pleased,” which I elaborated into some kind of cancer metaphor. (Briefly, “Terminally Pleased” was the song's title) It was patently a ridiculous idea, so I replaced that with a fussy horn arrangement and then, inspired somewhat by Liam Finn's Snug As Fuck, a guitar solo – which in the past I'd been a little shy of deploying for all its connotations of rockist anachronism. But Liam's beautiful solo at the end of that song reminded me that they could be used not just as an expression of virtuosic wankery, but as just one of a myriad of ways to represent a melody in an arrangement.