When does a song become a soung?
When Doves Cry by Prince.
A Day in the LIfe by the Beatles.
Good Vibrations by the Beach Boys.
All of these are more than just songs, they are what I call soungs, or musical expressions that are as much about the notes as the are about the sound of those notes.
When I first started doing serious songwriting/recording back in 2008, I thought mostly about music and lyrics and just wanted my songs to have good sounds. I wanted good guitars through good amps, properly mic-ed up drums, punchy bass, warm vocals. In other words, I wanted the expected in the hope that the song itself would be enough to grab people. Think Honky Tonk Women or Alright Now or any number of other great, great songs that are distinctive for their music and not so much their sounds.
Now consider those soungs I mentioned at the start of this post. When you first heard When Doves Cry you had never heard anything like it? Same with A Day in the Life and Good Vibrations. The sounds that these songs are built on are as important as the songs themselves. Sure, you could record them with just an acoustic guitar and they would still be great but they would not be the indelible marks on music history that these songs have become.
Have I written a soung yet? I wish. Mostly I’m just after a good song, I find that to be challenge enough. Which reminds me. Have you ever seen this video? It’s by Gotye and shows what he is willing — even eager — to go through to create soungs. Amazing.
And here’s another one:
I think the closest I’ve come to creating a soung is Old Wounds Still Bleed, but only one sound is truly different from my usual approach, not every sound. It’s a guitar played by Tim Young through a device I call The Spooky Box, which is a rotating speaker thingamajiggy Tim bought from some guy in Oregon who built it by hand out of wood and found-parts.
If you see ever see a Spooky Box in person you will think it a beast. Black, clearly home-made, not in the least bit sleek or refined, big. Pick it up and you feel it’s heft and solidity and you are a little nervous about it all because you’ve just never seen anything quite like it. Now plug it in and play through it. What comes out at first sounds like a chorus pedal that just escaped from a SuperMax but then you hear the beauty and the delicacy and the mystery.
On Old Wounds, the Spooky Box creates ethereal textures that are meant to enhance the lyrics and evoke the kinds of haunting feelings that rise up out of the past and engulf you in your present and drag you backward; a ghost hugging you, drawing you in, pushing you away. It’s the one instrument on the whole song that’s unconventional but it defines the sound of the song and pushes the song toward being a soung. Is it enough? No, because a soung has to be about every instrument sounding new and a little strange and adding up to a whole that cannot survive without all its parts. But it’s the best I’ve been able to do, so far.
Just wondering, do you have a favorite soung? Leave a comment if you do. I’d love to compile a list of favorites.