Taking on the role of the pub bore provided this Bristol artist with the perfect angle for her latest single
Whenever we cross paths with Bristol chanteuse Emily Breeze we’re wowed by her creativity and passion for songwriting. Our interest was first piqued back in March of last year when we shared this diary entry – detailing the lead-up to the release of her song Ego Death, taken from her debut album Rituals. A further deep dive into the record itself revealed a collection of songs that were drenched in drama and daring storytelling.
Our latest fix of an artist who has been compared with the likes of Patti Smith and Trent Reznor came when new single Hey Kidz made its way onto the Songwriting stereo. Another example of Breeze’s ability to blend dark humour with eminently interesting and regal goth-pop, we were determined to find out all about the song’s genesis.
Thankfully, Emily was on hand to reveal all…
When I have finished a song I get about two days in the afterglow where I think it is the best thing I have ever written and I have finally ascended to the top floor of the tower of song, before the comedown and creeping doubt kick in and I know I have to start the cycle again.
I lazily flick through old lyric books for another story to tell, another angle. I think to myself, “I have said everything I possibly have to say about my life, I am never going to write another song, this is it, I am bowing out of the game,” and then inevitably an idea emerges.
This one came from my friend Duncan who said I should write, “An advice song to all the kids, warning them not to adopt a rock ‘n’ roll poor musician lifestyle,” and I imagined myself in the role of that old guy you meet in the pub who once played bass in The Sweet or The Stray Cats who offers unsolicited, outdated advice to any young rockers he can corner. Hey kidzzzzz….
The song opens with, “Hey Kids, don’t do what I did or you’ll never write a hit,” then goes onto list some objects, “leather jacket, mirror shades,” actions, “wake n bake, navel gaze,” and some characters, “Zappa, Beefheart and Bill Hicks.” This refers back to life in the late 90s when you could still sign on and survive off of dreams, cigarettes and whatever was in the discount aisle in the supermarket. (This is not possible for young musicians now and as a result, they are much more responsible and less self-indulgent).
The chorus, “I hate rock ‘n’ roll” is an obvious play on Joan Jett’s, I Love Rock ‘N Roll. For the bridge section I imagined an army of Elvis impersonators in comeback special black leather, glittering gold lame and jailhouse rock stripes casting off their rock ‘n’ roll aspirations and dancing joyfully at a disco: “To all my tired out troubadours, my middle-aged matadors, my rock n roll dinosaurs, nothing matters anymore, we’re leaving the spotlight and hitting the dancefloor!”
The second verse changes tack and commands, “Hey kids do exactly what I did, buy the ticket, take the trip, climb aboard the mothership,” and borrows Kerouac’s On The Road, “never yawn or say a commonplace thing.”
There are other multiple references in this song: T Rex’s Teenage Dream, a subversion of My Generation by The Who – “Didn’t die before I got old” – Gene Vincent’s Be-Bop-A-Lula and Elvis’s All Shook Up.
It’s a frivolous three-minute anthem for arty kids and failed rock stars, which is totally out of step with the zeitgeist. If I had known this song was gonna come out during a global pandemic I may have tried to write something more philanthropic but I am proud of the songcraft and there is a lot of sincerity beneath the sarcasm.
Most of my songs begin in my flat on an acoustic guitar, I don’t know any music theory. I just move my hands around until I find some sweet chord changes. Musically, this is my attempt at pop – which does not come naturally to me. I like a hookless, lengthy dirge! But I wanted to express the playful nature of the lyric and settled on a pretty Cmaj / Emin7 / Gmin / A7 for the verse.
My collaborator and lead guitar player Rob encouraged me to throw in another change and I put a B min halfway through the first verse which accelerates the drama, he also helped me to untangle the chords for the final chorus – we went for a straight doo-wop cycle and it was ready for the rehearsal room.
This is where the songs come to life. The band write their instrumental parts and we usually end up making final adjustments to the structure and tempo. Songs are like Rubik’s cubes; you just have to keep moving things around until it clicks (or just throw it at the wall in a fit of rage). I am very lucky to work with highly creative and sensitive players who listen to the lyrics and inject a lot of their own artistry into the final product.
IN THE STUDIO
The track was recorded at the legendary Rockfield Studios with producer Stew Jackson who I have worked with for years. He has an implicit understanding of the weird world I am trying to wrench into being and also pushes me out of my comfort zone and gets the best performance out of me.
We did a few live takes as a band and then chose the best one, no dropping in or cut and paste but I did the vocals back in Bristol and Stew added backing vocals, pedal steel and the celeste hook on the outro. This was back in January just before coronavirus hit and the memory of collaborating and partying with wonderful musicians and friends Rob Norbury (lead guitar), Andy Sutor (drums) Graham Dalzell (bass) and Duncan Fleming (keys) feels like a utopian fantasy.
Here is my step-by-step songwriting system for all you freaks and weirdos out there…
Step one: Fall madly in love with the idea and submerge yourself in every aspect of it.
Step two: Go in with some forceps and a head torch and drag some chords and lyrics out of a deep dark pit.
Step three: Keep moving the sections around and editing with the cold eye of a clinician until everything is crucial and focused.
Step four: Get some feedback from trusted sources and repeat the editing process.
Step five: Step away, leave it alone, start something new.