The title’s a joke: I actually enjoy the rewriting process, and I don’t consider things I enjoy “work.” Rewriting is when you get to play with songs.
Musicians use the word “play” in a very generic sense that isn’t really the primary meaning of the word, which is an activity that kids (and juveniles of many species) engage in naturally, where you explore and exercise your imagination. For some reason, adults very often lose the ability to do this, and what we get in place of it is a lot of inhibitions.
So for me, most of the work is just breaking down inhibitions when I first start writing the song, and again later, after I think the song is “done,” to begin the rewriting process. But once I’m in my mental “play” space, good things happen. One particularly interesting example of this was the rewriting process for “Blue Eyes” with Midway Fair. I met up with Tim one night and played him what I had so far. It was a sort of mopey, slow feel with some Decemberists influence. Then we proceeded to run through a dozen different styles of music until the song just clicked with a rock and roll feel. Before that, it was one of my least favorite songs and would have been filler on the album (and better deleted). After, it’s one of my favorite songs to play live, and I think Jen had fun with it in the studio.
But our plan, as a band, for the next little bit, doesn’t involve arranging things for live shows, and we’ve also decided to be a bit more collaborative. So I’ve passed off some of my songs to Jen just asking for her thoughts, and decided to … rewrite someone else’s song. Today I did a little bit of work on Joe Scala’s “Grounded”, which really hit home for me when he wrote it. Turning a skeletal song like this into something that fits the band isn’t exactly easy. It has a kind of weird rhythm part that doesn’t work with other instruments in the mix (the lead parts I tried to play with Joe on Monday at Teavolve didn’t mesh well), so the first thing to do is convert the guitar to a rhythm that DOES leave space for other people. The next thing to do is normalize some things so that the backing vocals are easy to perform live.
This is very basic rewriting. But doing it on my own isn’t likely to yield the best results. So it has to be run by other people, especially Jen, who’s a better arranger than I am.
All of this in the end, though, has to come down to a song fitting into “our” style, whatever that means. I know it when I hear it. And the only way to hear it is to try everything without reservations or prejudices until it comes out.