We have a lot of trouble making our lyrics work with our music and vice versa. So, here is my question, from all of your experience with Darkest Hour, which has worked better: lyrics then music, or music then lyrics?
Music or Lyrics?
Dear Music or Lyrics,
I really can’t tell you who or what influenced me on how to put my first set of lyrics to that first riff. I think it was always an organic & simple process for me. At the time, I only saw songs in one way; as different sets of guitar riffs. So, it’s only natural that I would develop a writing style that involved writing and arranging the lyrics at the end. After all it was what I knew least and feared most. Years and many records later I must admit writing and arranging lyrics, its still quite a challenge. For me, it’s not ‘music then lyrics’ or ‘lyrics then music’, it’s music WITH vocal patterns, which later becomes music AND lyrics.
The Darkest Hour way is simple but has evolved over time. When we first began I wrote all the songs on guitar. The songs started with just a few guitar riffs (to be fair, John, our singer might have written a few riffs too) that were arranged in sort of simple skeleton of riffs. Now that I think of it, I probably just listened to how other bands put riffs in order and mimicked that. After songs were written we then wrote lyrics based off of rhythms we would hear, that worked over the music. This in turn made the vocals kind of an after thought (heed my advice here, this is a common problem among metal bands). The vocals kind of worked as an overdub. The music was already set in stone so they just had to fit regardless of how well they actually worked.
Later, on the Mark of the Judas record we started to hum or write the vocals as we came up with riffs. (It’s a good rule to follow that if you can hear vocal patters fit over a riff right away, then it’s a good riff!) This approach made the music bend more with the way the vocals work and let me tell you, it made a huge difference. As we grew as a band, John started writing more of the lyrics and vocals and now as a band we function very democratically. The band writes the music and John comes up with the lyrics and vocal patterns. We all have a say but everyone in the band respects each other’s rule of law. That is, if it’s a guitar riff, Kris or I will have the final say. If it’s a vocal line than John is going to have the overriding power. Now a days we are usually working with a producer who also has input, so in the end you hope that with everyone working together the best possible music will prevail.
So the current Darkest Hour process is a bit complex. It involves the band and the singer working together to make all the riffs and parts work with the vocals. But the basic gist of the process is not that off from where we started. It all starts with a riff, as your guitarist plays you riffs listen for how vocals might work over it. Taylor the riff, change it, experiment with it and find other riffs that work with it. Those riffs and parts will turn into songs and if you’ve worked to make sure the vocals are not an after thought your going to find the songs will work better over all not just vocally. Don’t let those vocals be an after thought, remember most of the time it’s the lyrics and vocals that will reach out to the people listing to your music.