Throughout the year we shall be asking Oxford musicians to talk to us about the importance of lyrics in music. Each interviewee will be asked the same six questions in an attempt to discover which writers, poets and themes Oxford’s musicians find the most moving and inspiring. This time is the turn of Oxford’s finest folk/Americana outfit The Epstein, and we spoke to frontman Olly Wills about who in the world of music (at home and abroad) he couldn’t live without.
1.Who is your favourite lyricist of all time?
I’m fighting between 3 on this front with Bob Dylan, Leonard Cohen and Nick Cave all being on the very top rung in my estimation. I think that Cohen marginally edges it though and for me and if I had to take just one of his songs then it would be ‘So Long Marianne’. The images and feel of the song are so timeless and have a depth that allow you to discover new meanings on every listen, to me this is the greatest compliment that can be paid to any song.
“Your letters all say that your beside me now.Then why do I feel so alone?Im standing on a ledge and your fine spider webIs fastening my ankle to a stoneNow so long Marianne, it’s time that we beganTo laugh and cry and cry and laugh about it all again.”
2. Which lyrics make you smile or laugh the most?
There’s a song written by Peter Sarstedt called ‘Where Do You Go To My Lonely’ that was a hit back in the late 60’s and was used to perfect effect in the short film that served as a prologue to Wes Andersons film The Darjeeling Limited. This song never fails to cheer me up with the imagery just transporting the listener to another place and another time instantly.
“You talk like Marlene Dietrich And you dance like Zizi Jeanmaire
Your clothes are all made by Balmain And there’s diamonds and pearls in your hair, yes there are
You live in a fancy apartment
Off the Boulevard Saint-Michel
Where you keep your Rolling Stones records
And a friend of Sacha Distel, yes you do But where do you go to my lovely
When you’re alone in your bed
Tell me the thoughts that surround you I want to look inside your head, yes I do”
“Sometimes I don’t know where this dirty road is taking me
Sometimes I can’t even see the reason why
I guess I keep on gamblin’, lots of booze and lots of ramblin’
It’s easier than just a-waitin’ ’round to die”
“There’s a rumour going roundLouise, you’re the talk of the town‘Cus your mother, the widow, convertedAnd the meek sure speak up when desertedThey say she’s trying to marry you offTo some ragheaded boy in the NorthAnd my dad says your mom must be crazyIf she thinks that Mohammed’s the oneAnd I may be bad-mannered and lazyBut he’s sure glad that he had a sonWell I love you, Louise, and I’m asking you, pleaseBe my Queen before their Kingdom comes” – ‘A Sufi From Dixie’
In general I have two approaches to lyric writing, the first being that I sit down with a guitar and try and capture a melody and chord sequence and hopefully a piece of lyric to go with it. If that is the case then I can build the song from that. Sometimes this process takes hours and hours and then sometimes it will just ‘happen’ and you can have a complete song in minutes. This is an all too rare occurrence though…The second approach is by using diaries and notebooks to capture moments in time. I always keep these when travelling and it is amazing what you find when you go back through them months – or years – later. I recently wrote a song called ‘Red Rocks’ and this was inspired by a page in a diary that I kept over 10 years ago.In the end I think it comes down to putting in the time… for the most part songs don’t leap out of people. Put in the time with words and chords and you will start to get somewhere, it may take a a lot of aborted attempts but the good lyric, the catchy melody and the song you want will come.
“‘Headed down the city again tonight,Promised to pay my way, tonightWandered through those city streetsDown to SohoWill they listen to me in Soho?Before I head on home for the bedside light.Parade another song out on the bar roomWill the people give a damn before im through?I know it’s a tale of loveBut it aint so sad,If you listen it aint so sad…It might take you back to someone that you once hadWell Im running from the undergroundGonna catch the midnight rideDon’t miss the midnight rideDon’t miss the midnight rideWell the low lights by the airport, they always keep me from sleepAnd make the world seem like a Hi Fi Dream…”