Between The Lines Of Age #7: The Cooling Pearls

Cooling Pearls

Throughout the year we have been 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. So as we hurtle head long into the abyss of 2012 (especially if you believe those pesky Mayans), who better to ask about the light and dark of lyricism than The Cooling Pearls’ Aiden Canaday.

1. Who is your favourite lyricist of all time?

Oh no, there’s so many. Lyrics are one of my favourite things in the world! I adore Thom Yorke, Nick Drake, TV On The Radio’s Tunde Adembimpe and Kyp Malone, Damon Albarn and Jeff Magnum amongst others. They are all astounding, unusual and beautiful in their own unique way. However, I must say that I am in biggest awe of Matt Berninger of The National and Elliott Smith. They are both quite different but equally claim a place in my heart.

As far as whole songs go lyrically, Elliott Smith’s ‘King’s Crossing’ is one of the most harrowing and honest pieces ever written. It is steeped in metaphor with references to death, drug use, anxiety, alcohol, and relationships, and is so sad. It is a very human song, written from the heart, and is a fine example of his songwriting. The twist at the end, in the last line where he changes “get carried away” to “be carried away” gives the shivers every time.

With The National, Matt Berninger has this genuine and very real lyrical sense that I have fallen in love with over the past few years. There is a line or two that blows my mind in almost every song of theirs scattered through their albums, just little abstract lyrics that could mean anything to anyone, such as, “You can drive a car through my head in five minutes, from one side of it to the other” or “Everything you say has water under it.” They whir around my head for days, I think mainly because I’m trying to interpret the meaning. And that’s the thing with meaning, it changes person to person, so there’s never an end to what something can mean to you, and it can alter with each listen or you may see a new tangent forming with another listen years later, depending on your own situation. I guess in many ways his themes are very male, and generally very emotive; he sings about every day things in a very clever way – waking up hungover, missing old friends, joining the rat race, falling in love, being afraid of sexual relations, baking cakes. Some lines are very simple, with others layered in meaning. Song wise, ‘Baby, We’ll Be Fine’ is a melancholic masterpiece, with truly wonderful lyrics.

“Baby, come over, I need entertaining
I had a stilted, pretending day
Lay me down and say something pretty
Lay me back down where I wanted to stay
Just say something perfect, something I can steal”

2. Which lyrics make you smile or laugh the most?

Funny one, because I don’t tend to like comedy too much, not in a curmudgeonly way, but that’s just the way it is. With songs, the ones that make me laugh are the ones where the subject matter is a bit out there, audacious and peculiar. There’s not one artist in particular, but certain songs from certain artists are bloody crazy lyrically. The opening lines of The Magnetic Fields’ ‘Underwear’ – “A pretty girl in her underwear, if there’s anything better in this world, who cares?” always make me smile. ‘Nimrod’s Son’ by Pixies, the lines about being the son of a mother fucker, and of incestuous union, brilliant! Wild Beasts sing in part tenderly, and in part over the top, about sexual prowess and that is a wonder. Smog’s ‘Dress Sexy At My Funeral’ is the one though. Maybe sex in song just makes me smile actually.

“Dress sexy at my funeral my good wife
Dress sexy at my funeral my good wife
For the first time in your life

Wear your blouse undone to here
And your skirt split up to there

Dress sexy at my funeral my good wife
For the first time in your life
Dress sexy at my funeral my good wife

Wink at the minister
Blow kisses to my grieving brothers

Dress sexy at my funeral my good wife

And when it comes your turn to speak
Before the crowd
Tell them about the time we did it
On the beach with fireworks above us
On the railroad tracks
With the gravel in your back
In the back room of a crowded bar
And in the very grave yard
Where my body now rests”

3. Which lyrics emotionally move you the most?

Well, along with those mentioned earlier, I love Beth Gibbons’ lyrics. She always seems full of anguish and sorrow, and it is quite intense listening to some Portishead songs, especially from Third. ‘Magic Doors’ is lyrically my favourite of theirs. The song ‘I See A Darkness’ by Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy sets a contemplative mood at any time of day, and the lyrics are really beautiful. But there is a song by The Organ at the end of their last ever E.P (Thieves) called ‘Don’t Be Angry’, that gets me every time. Sometimes I spend a whole evening talking or thinking about this song, depending on whether anyone else is around. “I’d like to know if you ever told yourself, I could have once given your life some meaning” Those words, in that specific order, are perfect and the song gets me all emotional in a strange way.

4. Who is your favourite Oxford lyricist?

Well, apart from Thom Yorke, probably Liam Martin of Cat Matador. Intelligent and very human, honest lines from his heart I guess, that always get me thinking. It may be that we’ve lived together for years and I’ve seen Cat Matador more than any other band, but it’s more than that. To be honest I wouldn’t continue watching a band I didn’t like the lyrics of. Or live with him for that matter! Lines like, “As I felt the release of a clear day, I made my bed / As she stroked the back of my neck in that way, I fled” (‘Soren’) are very open and confessional and I like that a lot. There are a few words here and there that I can never make out, but I like that, it adds mystery.

5. How do you approach writing yourself?

I dunno, there’s no set way, except that I don’t write songs unless I have the words initially. Or at least the words are the most important part of the song to me. If I like a line, or two words together, I will keep them circled and underlined in a book or on a page somewhere for years until the time comes along and it all falls into place. Sometimes meaning comes later, once I’ve written and even sung the song for a while, and the meaning can change with time too. Thematically, I guess my lyrics are observational and auto biographical and a bit world-weary. I do admire those with a narrative slant to lyric writing, but I can’t seem to get anywhere with it. Sometimes the different words of one song can be years apart from when they originated. I have a weird fascination with titles, of how they sound and look on a page, and it’s quite bizarre. Sometimes the titles relate to the song, but not always, and sometimes the titles come first and other times afterwards. There’s no set formula. And for some people titles don’t even matter! I revel in futility! With ‘The House of Peace’ the title came first, from a chapter in a Laurie Lee novel, and then the lyrics. In an old song of mine on piano called ‘Old Words/Ariel’ the lyrics came first, and because they were lyrics my grandfather had written I chose ‘Old Words’ and then the second part of the song was written in April, and so I wrote ‘Ariel’ for some reason. But it stuck, and I like it. I hope to re-write it with the band soon, as they turn my shambolic solo material into something else – in a good way. Most of the time though, we all get together and write fresh songs from scratch, someone will bring an idea to the table and we’ll go from there. The first song we all wrote together in our current guise was ‘Cold Fire Together’, and weirdly, I found the words that make up the chorus in my phone one morning after a night of drinking. They’d been saved at 4.30am and I have no recollection of writing them. Other times words come to me in my dreams, and I try and use those for songs. With The Cooling Pearls I don’t necessarily play any instruments, and so we jam a song for hours and I will attempt different lines or vocal ideas until it works as a whole. With our newest song ‘Like Mirrors, Like Brothers’ I wrote a little poem called ‘Potentially Michaelangelo, Potentially A Vase’ and gave it to the band who wrote the music and the melody one evening, and then when we all got together next they had this song and all I had to do was learn the melody, which was a whole other debacle! And of course, they vetoed the original title!

6. Which lyrics are you most proud of?

Oh no, horrible question! I try not to talk about my songs too much (apart from right now), mainly because I used to a lot when I was younger, and I’m sure I was a bit of a wanker. Though in short, I guess I wouldn’t sing anything I wasn’t proud of. I try and be sincere with my words, but I think it is sometimes a thin line between sincerity and cheesiness. There’s a line in our song ‘Palamino’ that goes ‘this song is a love song, but it can’t go on’. I am very proud of it, but also can see that it’s mightily twee and perhaps not very original. But at the end of the day, you just sing what you feel comfortable singing, and what other people think doesn’t matter too much. My favourite lyric of mine is from ‘I Want To Live’, which is from our debut album ‘The Honoured Meal Of The Stranger’.

“I can’t think of life without you, so I don’t think of life at all”