Our lyrics for Mars Lights tend to be at least a bit abstract. I still like to write the lyrics about something concrete, though, whether that’s a story, an image, or an extended metaphor. With the latest batch of new songs, I’ve been using a little trick I first did by accident. It may be obvious to you, or in retrospect, but it still might help. I’ve been writing songs for years without it, so maybe it’s not as conspicuous as it seems.
What I’ll do is write down the story, idea, or emotion I want the lyrics to be about in a plain phrase or two. This focuses me on what I want the lyrics to achieve, whether that’s a bit of action in a story, or conveying a certain feeling.
For example, a couple of weeks ago I had a lyrical concept for a finished Mars Lights instrumental demo called “New Blooze.” At the top of the page, I wrote:
solar flare apocalypse, like “99 Red Balloons”
That’s it! Within an hour, the lyrics were pretty much written. Here’s the first verse and chorus:
“Have A Corona”
I wouldn’t, I couldn’t modulate
I’d never, ever go all the way
Coming out of the sun, blue-shifted as I close in
Much fucking worse than bombs, back to annihilate
I found a way in to the image that I liked, which was personifying the flare in the first-person. So, rather than a lecture about existential risk, the song kind of opens up. The story is there, but other interpretations are available, too; it could be a song about anger, using the flare as a metaphor instead of the main idea. There are others, I’m sure.
I’m not sure why it works so well for me. Maybe having the main idea down on paper frees my brain up to focus on the more poetic language needed for the final lyrics. With the central point explicitly set out in front of me, it seems easier to dance around the edge of it, getting that somewhat abstract quality I like for Mars Lights without ending up with lyrics that are empty.
Will you try this technique? How did it work for you?