Reflection – Song Exploder: Michael Kiwanuka
After listening to this song exploder episode, I was mostly reminded of my own experiences with feeling stuck or at a loss for what to do next creatively. Kiwanuka mentioned during the interview that some days he wouldn’t even go into the recording studio because it felt too depressing to go listen to music that never seemed to sound good enough. I’ve had similar experiences with my own artistic work. I’ve written several original songs, but only the lyrics. Melodies are something that have, and still are a great source of frustration. Sitting down at the piano and trying to pair a melody with any of my lyrics has so far yielded little to no results. As an artist I often have this expectation that once I sit down with an instrument and lyrics I’ve written, that the muses will speak to me and some kind of song will be born. The creative process of course differs from individual to individual, so I usually try to have a peaceful attitude about it and accept that there are aspects of my personal creative process that haven’t become apparent to me yet.
I liked that Kiwanuka’s song originated from something very simple – an old song he had heard that was just a man’s voice and his hands clapping. Before they began to reveal the rest of the layers the song ended up with, I found just Kiwanuka’s start of using his voice and hands sounded wonderful. It was a great reminder for me that composing a song does not necessarily have to be intricate, complicated, or innovative. Simplicity has its own value. I knew this already, but it’s something I often forget. I put pressure on myself to write songs that are astounding and fresh in ways nobody has ever heard. I don’t discourage aiming for that, but more and more over the years I’ve had to settle into the fact that simplicity is perfectly okay, and that artistic individuality will find its way into simplicity if there is some kind of spark to be manifested. An example I should remind myself of more often is the early work of Tom Waits. He’s one of my biggest idols, and much of his early work consists of chord progression and lyrical formats that are essential quite basic. As a lyricist, he was still able to weave his magic around these basic formats and carve out a unique voice for himself. I sometimes still fear simplicity, but it helps to think of others who have made such beauty from it to serve as a reminder of its value and place in art and expression.