ON WRITING TOGETHER IN THIS BAND
by Andy Roman
Going back to the beginning – when Elm Treason first secured its unusual nomenclature…
After the initial “Cap Tango” sessions were over – and we decided that our musical partnership would, in fact, be a long-term thing – we knew we wanted to write songs together, but weren’t sure exactly how we’d go about it.
On one hand, we certainly didn’t fancy being side men for each other. On the other, we definitely did not want to be Johnny Overkills, behaving as if we were competing chefs trying to season the same stew, throwing in ingredients just to be able to say we had an equal hand in creating the meal.
Yet, right off the bat – from the get-go – we did write together with surprising ease and fluidity. And it was as natural as a cool breeze at a nudist colony. There was a weird – almost eerie symmetry – about how we worked. Our methods of creation just sort of happened.
There was no set formula for it. How could there be? Inspiration comes in many forms. Ideas come from everywhere. You feed off each other. But one example of how we might write together (if Bobby had the initial inspiration) would be: Bob comes over with a nice chord progression or an intriguing rhythm on guitar. He plays it for me a few times. Then I record him playing that rhythm – just a rough recording. Then, I listen to it fifteen thousand times. I might be struck with a melody line or a phrase …. or I might pick up a guitar and try to formulate a riff or a counter-rhythm….or I might sit at the piano and play along. Hopefully, something will click and that magic moment will occur when you say to yourself, “Aha! A song!”
So, if it turns out that I’ve come up with something worth sharing, we will listen to it at the next session, and if we both agree that this is the direction we should take with it, we will begin to build upon it. We might rearrange things or compose other sections to fill things out. We’ll toss lyrics around, envision arrangements, whatever. It literally becomes a back and forth thing until it is molded into a finished piece. I’m sure most musical partnerships work this way to some degree.
Another example is (assuming the initial inspiration is mine): I may have an idea for a song or the skeleton of a concept or a nice progression with a la-la melody attached, no words. I’ll play it for Bob at a session. He’ll listen a few times, then start playing along, usually on guitar. If it moves him, he’ll ask me to record myself doing a demo of it so he can take it away and come up with stuff for it. He’ll then go home to his computer, track himself doing all kinds of things to it and start sending me a boatload of MP3s with all kinds of ideas. I’ll tell him which ones I like, and at the next session, we will start building upon that.
That’s how we work.
And with egos consciously – deliberately – tossed aside (and believe me, sometimes that ain’t easy), we always approach things as doing what’s best for the song. Period. Even if we come up with something we feel is an amazing riff, or a killer bass line, or a stunning drum fill, we both must agree it works for the song and not just exist as a showcase of musical prowess or pyrotechnics for pyrotechnics’ sake. If we concur that it doesn’t make the song stronger, it won’t be used – sometimes to the heartbreak of the element’s author. We’ve quite literally tossed some juicy stuff away in the name of maintaining a song’s strength. It’s been painful, admittedly.
Incidentally, all of our original songs are credited as Roman-Steel. The only reason my name comes first in the writing credit is that we decided to list the names alphabetically. It easily could have been Steel-Zyzenzick, had my mom married Mr. Zyzenzick.