Memorial’s Songwriting Survival Kit
The folk-pop duo’s writing essentials include guitars, retro synths, conversations on long walks and the power of being silly
Old friends bringing something new to the folk-pop scene with their vulnerable music, Ollie Spalding and Jack Watts are able to weave magic with little more than their acoustic guitars and entwining voices. Building on the foundations laid by previous releases, such as Moth To A Flame, Dialtone and Latchkey (now with over 2.5 million listens on Spotify), their latest single Fake Moon is another showcase for their trademark harmonies, the kind that only sound effortless after a serious amount of practice and hard work.
The music we’ve heard so far suggests that Memorial’s self-titled debut, due out in April, is going to be one of the highlights of the year. In preparation, we wanted to know a little more about the kit that Spalding and Watts use to write their perfectly crafted songs. So it’s over to Ollie and Jack…
Walks are useful in many ways: clarity, mental health and general exercise. Unintentionally for us, there’s been a subconscious link between walking and deep conversation. It could be that beautiful scenery can dilute the weight of heavy topics and/or inspire various outlooks on our current existential problems. These types of conversations in a small room, facing each other, hold a seriousness that doesn’t feel useful or comfortable. Having those kinds of talks on walks, means you have the choice to leave it outside when you come back home, the home is most likely when the song starts.
2. RETRO SYNTHS AND OP-1
Ollie’s got a huge passion for retro synths. It’s early days for the collection, but it’s slowly building. But we’ve found that creating soundbeds and drones have become an essential glue for our existing songs and often writing process. We find that both our Casio SK1 and Teenage Engineering OP-1 are really good for this. Having a nice atmosphere in the background kind of acts as meditation and when you’re repeating the same verse over and over and over, the drone can keep you in an acceptable and pleasant trance, to give you enough will to keep going. We choose older synths for their warmth, that warmth feels integral in order to blend with our guitars, like a nice comfy bed.
3. TWO GUITARS AND VOICE MEMOS
Over lockdown, we played more guitar than ever before in our entire lives. Even if we weren’t writing, we would be noodling. As a result, when we pick up two guitars, especially in our tunings, it feels like fun telepathy, it can last for hours and sometimes freaks us out how we know where the other is going. But these noodles can lead to oodles of voice memos, which we often sift through. Sometimes an idea doesn’t feel viable in the moment, but you find it voice memos months later and you wonder why the hell we didn’t continue with it.
Lyrically, solitude seems to be a pretty sweet ingredient. Not always necessary, but can often add that extra sting you might avoid when writing in company. How it tends to work for us, is letting the other have the time and space to find the root of what they’re feeling and once that has shown some form, we can work on it together and both of our perspectives usually paint the final picture.
Jack has always sworn by this. Funny accents or impersonations when trying to find a melody can be unbelievably useful. It doesn’t work for every song obviously and a vast majority of songs require pouring your heart out and singing in an accent would most likely not feel like the right option. But some of the most exciting things can be born out of something silly. Those invisible restraints you put on yourself when it comes to identity, being taken seriously and knowing someone will hear what you’re creating, can sometimes send you in the same safe direction every time. Allowing yourself the freedom to wildly impersonate a style can put you onto something that you previously never would have considered. There’s an old quote, “Write drunk, edit sober,” it’s the same principle without advertising alcoholism, find an exciting idea by intentionally messing around, then take that idea seriously and bring it into your world.
6. JUDGEMENT FREE ZONE
This is arguably the most important thing for us. Like in any healthy relationship, friendly or romantic, open and honest communication is essential. As mentioned before, we’d often have deep conversations when out for walks and it gets to the point where it feels like we truly know each other, more than we know ourselves. We could write songs for each other that feel more accurate to the feeling than if we wrote it ourselves. Sometimes, if you’re caught in an emotion, it can blur your perception of it, whereas if you have that unrestricted line of contact with someone with an outside perspective, they can erase that blur. Having a judgement-free zone just makes it more appealing to open up.