as is. - Song Breakdown
Updated: Jul 4, 2019
I’m pretty sure I just wrote and released my best song to date. I don’t even say this flippantly, I have a lot of criticisms when I look back at stuff I make, and I’m sure this will be no different in a few months’ time. But for now, I really feel like I done something different this time round and I want to dig into the feelings and ideas and everything that went into this because honestly, I feel like that’s important to unpacking my emotions a bit.
One of the main reasons I think this song is good is because it addresses a problem I raised in a previous blog post. I was worried that I wasn’t going to get the opportunity to be “reactive” as a songwriter, because of the fairly finite structure of this whole project. But luckily, the stars aligned with an empty spot in the release schedule, and I have a lot of feelings I want to air on this song. So, let’s get into what this song is about.
I really wanted to call this song “Arya Stark” but that’s somewhat misleading. Never the less, the initials of her name (as) made it into the song name so at least my thought process is noted. But why on Earth do I want to name a song that isn’t at all about Game of Thrones after one of the central characters? Let’s talk about success. Again.
I’m really into Game of Thrones, and as of writing, season 8 is ruining my life. I’m kind of not ready for a show that’s been with me for a great long time to end, but that’s kind of neither here nor there. The reason Arya’s arc specifically is really grabbing me is because I think deep down, she represents what a lot of artists in the world are working towards. Sure, her amazing victory in episode 3 looked effortless, but it was the unreal number of hours put into training in private that paid off in one glorious, seemingly effortless moment. To draw an analogue with the music/art world, this was basically her break after all the years of practicing scales and rudiments in her room. And so, I projected hard. Despite this entire story, person, and universe being fictional, it filled me with a determination to keep doing the thing I do in the hope that I’ll be called up at exactly the right moment. What is ridiculous about this whole scenario is that it’s all lined with what I can only really be described as jealousy. So why on Earth am I jealous of someone who’s entire life was written to be perfect? That’s absurd, right? Right?
We’ve had plenty of conversations in our house about commercial success. Every now and then, a person that we know will make serious progress in our industry, and that can always feel weird. I’ve always felt oddly zen in those situations. Good for them I always find myself thinking, this is their journey they’re living out. I couldn’t copy their trajectory even if I wanted to. And I’m still aware that’s the only mindset actually worth having. And yet, seeing a fictional girl stab a fictional villain, I got bitten by the success bug in a way that I never have before. This is also compounded by the fact that Maisie Williams, the actress behind Arya, is doing an insanely good job with using her platform to do great things. Not just great things, but things I imagine myself doing had I the contacts and standing in the industry that she has. This was the first time I really felt like I wanted to make a piece of art that was genuinely affecting on a large scale. Not just that, but I wanted the access to the wider world that making a great piece of art would give me. This has never happened before but now it’s all I can think about.
And yet, there’s the horrendous, well-documented downsides to the kind of success I’m irrationally coveting. While we’re talking Game of Thrones, I was sent an interview with Sophie Turner, another lead actress from the show, and American pop psychologist Dr Phil. Sophie went into excruciating detail of the kind of mess it can be to grow up in public in the way that she did. Hitting puberty is a weird and confusing thing for anyone, but to do that in-front of an audience of millions has to be brutal for your mindset. And sure enough, it manifested in severe depression for Sophie. You can see this weird dichotomy of success playing out in the last few years of her life. Of course, you’d take the opportunity she was presented with. She’s one of the main faces of popular culture. And yet, there’s a suffering and social disconnection that we know is part and parcel of a life like this. But still, everyone is gunning for it despite knowing this.
After the Sophie interview, the somewhat sobering content on this subject kept coming. The first one was by a YouTube channel I hadn’t come across previously called Cold Crash Pictures. The video was called “Rise & Grind Film Culture: A Rant” and I strongly recommend giving it a watch.
In it, the host gives a very candid account of his own journey to moderate success while also examining the various platitudes and bits of advice given by the mainstream successful artists. It’s a very well-made video and paraphrasing it here wouldn’t do it the slightest bit of justice.
The other majorly sobering piece of content I came across came from Kevin Abstract, a musician I’m a massive fan of. In an audio recording that quickly surfaced and disappeared on his website, he was saying that he feels like he’s peaked prematurely. He feels that with Brockhampton’s Saturation albums, he caught magic, and that he’s never going to be able to capture it again. In a kind of Promethean celebrity, Kevin now has to make albums and other releases out of obligation, knowing that they’ll never live up to the expectations of himself or his fanbase. Again, this is someone who’s position I feel like I’d take in a heartbeat, despite knowing full-well the kind of situation he’s gone through recently.
So where does that leave me? Watching Game of Thrones has affected me because I’ve realised that I want that kind of cultural impact for something I make. I want people I idolize to stop me at a party somewhere and tell me something I’ve made has affected them. I know these are big irrational pipe dreams but it’s literally the first time I’ve ever had that. On the other hand, I know that there are hundreds of issues with that lifestyle, and maybe what I need is to try and refocus on the fact that I make a stable living off of music and that’s what a lot of people consider success in itself. I think a big part of this problem is that I have a serious grass-is-greener mentality. It’s very likely that if I had all these things I desire now, I’d want to go back to my current life just as quickly for all the benefits that I’m currently turning a blind eye to, and I think that’s important to register that as part of this conversation.
I’m essentially left where most people are left, wanting to have my cake and eat it. I see the devastating effects fame has, and the ridiculous journey that most people embark on which, in 99.999% of cases, leads to some kind of disappointment. But that doesn’t stop me wanting it more than anything right now, and I have two options currently. I try and cure myself of the bug I’ve been bitten by, or I can try and use it to turn my life in a new direction somehow. I don’t have a solution yet, but I think it’s important noting where most of the feelings in this song came from and what I’m going to be thinking about a lot over the coming months.