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. First up is Deer Chicago front-man Jonny Payne.
1. Who is your favourite lyricist of all time?
I’d have to go with Benjamin Gibbard. He manages to depict, at times, fairly ordinary situations and pin-point every intricacy that adds together to make the overall atmosphere of the song.
“The clanking of crystal, Explosions off in the distance” – ‘The New Year’
I like that when he is describing a certain event or place, he usually acknowledges the journey within the lyrics of the song.
“Misguided by the 405 ’cause it lead me to an alcoholic summer.
I missed the exit to your parents’ house hours ago.
Red wine and the cigarettes.
Hide your bad habits underneath the patio.” – ‘405’
2. Which lyrics make you smile or laugh the most?
Neutral Milk Hotel have some obscure lyrics that can seem pretty absurd at times.
3. Which lyrics emotionally move you the most?
Scott Hutchison’s lyrics. I first saw Frightened Rabbit supporting Death Cab in Bristol and they blew me away. Their 2nd album ‘Midnight Organ Fight’ shaped the following winter for me. The way Scott Hutchison is so brutally honest and heart crushing about himself within his lyrics and what’s going on within the song. His vocals and melodies really express the desperation in the subject matter across the whole album.
“The door shut, shut I was vacuum packed,
shrink wrapped out of air
And the spine collapse,
and the eyes rolled back,
to stare at my starving brain.” – ‘Floating In The Forth’
4. Who is your favourite Oxford lyricist?
There’s a lot of Richard Walters lyrics that are really emotive, but I think the way that the lyrics in ‘All at Sea’ are written is really interesting. The last word of each phrase kind of rolls into the next phrase really well. Hard to explain, but is very interesting:
“Silence is empty, filled with breaths from mouths that never move no more” – ‘All At Sea’
5. How do you approach writing yourself?
Lyric writing for me is usually the last part of the song writing. Sometimes the lyrics are about situations or events that happen to, or around me, but there’s a couple of songs that are based on books I’ve read that stand out. One of the things I really try to focus on is capturing the atmosphere or mood of the event with the lyrics, not just facts, and not wrapping situations up in puzzles of metaphores. I like lyrics that actually pull you in one direction or another and are emotive to your own situation and that you can relate to, even if the context is different. I think sincerity is pretty key, as well as not using massively overused lyrics or words.
6. Which lyric(s) are you most proud of?
The lyrics in ‘Lantern Collapse’ and ‘Frozen Globe, Freezing Teeth’ I’d say I’m most happy with, although they are completely different in context. ‘Frozen Globe…’ is about an Antarctic explorer called Douglas Mawson who has been a bit forgotten but had some pretty mental times. The lyrics in ‘Lantern Collapse’ are very nostalgic and are really about series of events that happened a few years ago. It’s about times of elation and how you can look at really positive situations that have happened, and although they are good memories, the nostalgia brings them into something that doesn’t feel so great.
Deer Chicago recently released a double A side single which can be purchased on the band’s official website: http://deerchicago.get-ctrl.com