So, would you like to learn how to write lyrics like The Decemberists’ frontman Colin Meloy? The correct answer is obviously "yes". All of The Decemberists' songs are very well-written, and read like great works of literature, and are much better than anything you could ever come up with. They're also much, much better than those mainstream pop-rock crap that they call music nowadays. Crap which you probably like, and sing along to sometimes, am I right? I hereby scorn at your inferior tastes and even more inferior intellect. I am so much better than you, I just know it. This fact is also evident in the jeans that I am wearing, which are not just skinny, but extra skinny.
That does not mean I am a hipster, though, contrary to what you might think. They are superficial, pretentious scumbags that I do not associate with, even though they have a habit of showing up at all the bars and art galleries that I go to. For your information, most of them are not even indie enough to have heard of the bands I listen to. This is as close as you can get to learning how to write like a true master of indie. As I impart my wisdom to you, I'm also slowly stroking my beard, and it helps if you have one too. You know beards can help you think deeply and on many different levels, and therefore write better lyrics. You should seriously attempt to get one.
Setting and Storyline
First off, a typical song by The Decemberists has a complex storyline and is set in a historical period. Setting the song in a historical period shows thought and depth, something that pop musicians desperately need. Your songs can be about these historical topics:
- Orphans - Alludes to a Dickensian theme.
- Wars and soldiers - The more obscure the better.
- Pirates - Arrr. Pirates are always cool, no matter the situation, but you can never actually go “Arrr” in the song, and no, not even “Yo Ho Ho”.
Anyone can write songs about real issues in real life that people can relate to. That is so mainstream. That is also bad practice, because where else can you show off your knowledge about Post-modern Dadaism and Neo-classical literature? It is also very tempting to write something like “This song takes place in London, 1824”, but that would be too easy, and Colin Meloy does not do things the easy way. You should use this opportunity to show off your period vocabulary, using words like:
- Thou, thy, thee and thine
- Rake, cad or caitiff – Means man of ill repute, and not, as many would believe, gardening equipment.
- Lay, swived, entwined – Means “to fuck”. As in “laying with a rake”.
- Consumption, tuberculosis, cholera, syphilis – what you get after laying with a rake.
- Laudanum – Opium. This is what you take to get over the discomfort of the syphilis that you got after laying with a rake.
Colin Meloy also writes a lot of love songs. They can either be set in a historical period, per above, or in modern times. Like most indie rock love songs, they’re not very optimistic, because life is not all about ho’s and their booties. Happy love songs are so mainstream. The key is to write everything with SUBTLETY. Words like sex, rape, pregnant, murdered, will never appear in a Decemberists song, unlike the songs of other crass, classless musicians. Those four things also happen to be Colin Meloy’s favourite topics, and so you can imagine writing a Decemberists song is like playing a game of Taboo. Only you have to make it rhyme. And make it alliterate.
Colin Meloy will never be caught dead writing a chorus like “Your, your sex is on fire, repeat multiple times”, and no, that is a horrible song. Instead Colin Meloy writes, “I laid you down in a grass of a clearing, you wept but your soul was willing”. You are more likely to run into trouble with the law doing the latter, but you will sound like a total gentleman when you tell other people what you did, as opposed to the first one, when people will just think you are a wanker.
Like most musicians, Colin Meloy is a liberal and a Democrat. The thing is, liberals are more educated, tolerant and open-minded sort of people. More young people are liberals, and we are definitely more tolerant than our parents. You know we even hang out with people who don’t understand Andrei Tarkovsky, and each of us has at least one black friend. I even have a Republican friend, even though we totally don’t agree, but it shows how tolerant I am of other people’s viewpoints. Common liberal song topics that concern Colin Meloy are:
- War – The normal sort of war that other musicians complain about also. Like the Iraq War.
- War – The sort of war that other musicians probably have heard of, but don’t care about. Like the American Civil War.
- War – The sort of war that other musicians have never heard of, and don’t care about, but you will probably see a documentary about it on the History Channel. Like the sack of Constantinople.
- War – The sort of war that not even the History Channel cares about. Like the France-Algiers War.
Writing the chorus
If you find that you need to include a chorus in your song to make it memorable, shame on you. Choruses are so mainstream. Surprisingly though, choruses are not banned in Decemberists’ songs. You are welcome to use them as long as they are not catchy. I repeat, not catchy. Also, they can only be repeated to a maximum of two times between verses and three times at the end of a song, any more and you will risk being labeled a sell-out.
I have stressed this many times, and I will say it again, be subtle. Try using light allusions and metaphors, and never ever state you message directly. Remember all the fun you had when you tried to interpret Shakespeare in your English literature class? No? Well, Colin Meloy’s lyrics are sort of like that. His songs can keep young people constantly amused and feeling very smart. To illustrate, here are a sample of some lyrics, along with my interpretations:
- Lyrics (Here I Dreamt I was an Architect): But you, my soiled teenage girlfriend, or are you furrowed like a lioness.
- Meaning: I, a middle aged man, got my teenage girlfriend pregnant.
- Lyrics (The Hazards of Love I) : Margaret heaves a sigh, her hands clasped to her thighs.
- Meaning: A man had sex with Margaret, and also got her pregnant.
- Lyrics (The Odalisque): And what do we do with ten baby shoes, a kit bag full of marbles and a broken billiard cue? What do we do? What do we do?
- Meaning: Uhm...this is sort of like...imagine the Aristocrats meets the Holocaust. Probably no pregnancy, if you were wondering.
Be cheerful, even though your lyrics are not. This has more to do with the music than the lyrics, but I ought to know a thing or two about this, since I am in a band. I’m really in a band. We smoke and drink coffee together, but not at Starbucks because that’s too mainstream. You should know that the style of The Decemberists is sort of like baroque-prog-folk-rock, so there are a lot of acoustics and fast strumming. There are also a lot of random instruments, and up to six or eleven different drum sets. The rule is don't do anything you wouldn't imagine hearing on NPR.
Being introspective involves the use of thought and complex emotions. Like me, for example, I can be very introspective. I can always have an intelligent conversation with the people that I hang out with, usually about Akira Kurosawa’s films and his use of rain and frame wipe techniques. Like Kurosawa's films, your song should have a lot of introspection and thought. Specifically, a lot of thought to link up elements of your past relationships with random and not very obvious metaphors, such as rural occupations, sub-par architecture and feet. Most people won't immediately see the connections, but that is because they are stupid. If you get the metaphors right, though, the few people who have heard of your music will love it, and will call it things like "beautiful" and "deep" and "I completely understood it even though my friends didn't".
Now, Colin Meloy is known to have an extremely large vocabulary. In fact, Colin Meloy considers a song a failure if the average listener is not made to reach for the dictionary at least 5 times during the song. Using words like palanquin, pachyderm and phalanx, will instantly make you sound more intelligent, and yes they are real, actual words that I did not just made up. It's completely OK if your song ends up being incomprehensible. Making sense is so mainstream. Observe the following stanza, from the song A Bower Scene:
- Thou unconsolable daughter,
- Said the sister.
- When wilt thou trouble the waters,
- In the cistern.
- And what irascible blackguard,
- Is the father?
Yes, I know, it's another one about pregnancy. But look at the vocabulary! Have you got your dictionary out yet? I sure have. Such vocabulary will not be found in the songs of many less intelligent musicians. Besides the dictionary, the thesaurus is also an indispensable tool to writing Colin Meloy lyrics, as it lists all the long, obscure words that can become handy during songwriting. Like most things, longer equals better. Allow me to illustrate with an example:
- Roses are red, violets are blue.
- Thesaurified: Rosaceaes are alizarin, wisterias are International Klein blue.
Why are you looking at me like that? That’s perfectly good verse, I tell you. Even my Republican friend thinks so.
The repetition of consonants is alliteration. Observe this stanza, from the song Yankee Bayonet:
- But oh did you see all the dead of Manassas,
- All the bellies and the bones and the bile.
- No I lingered here with my blankets barren,
- And my own belly big with child.
Yes, yes, it is yet another one about being pregnant. But observe the magnificent alliteration with a record of seven b’s! A skilled lyricist normally attempts three, or four if he feels particularly daring. But seven! It is unprecedented. Don’t let anyone fool you into thinking otherwise, but a song's greatness is judged solely by the number of consonants one can alliterate.
Rhyme and Meter
Unlike the lyrics of many talentless musicians, Colin Meloy’s lyrics actually rhyme. Besides rhyming, a line also needs to have an appropriate number of syllables, following a meter pattern that is consistent through your whole song. If you fail you will be scorned by your audience, and may have to change genres, to R&B perhaps, where if you wail hard enough your failure to use meter can be concealed.
When writing Colin Meloy lyrics, all your rhymes must be perfect rhymes. That means stress is the most important. Spelling is essential too but not at the expense of stress. Rhyming a word with the same word is the worst thing you can do, so is using slant rhymes. Slant rhymes are so mainstream. Also as another example, look at this wretched excuse for “rhyming”, by a "band" who will remain unnamed:
- And you lost all sense of control,
- And your thoughts have taken their toll,
- When your mind breaks the spirit of your soul.
Atrocious. I am now adjusting my Ray Bans in disbelief, and I think just hearing this song will leave me scarred for a few months. Needless to say you must never do something like that if you intend to emulate the greatness of Colin Meloy.
Putting it all Together
Now that we have learned all the lessons, it is time for a test drive. I bet you are excited. Why don’t we try a little couplet, or if you are feeling a little ambitious, a quatrain. Full verse-chorus-verses should be saved for later.
If you will allow me to demonstrate, this is the result of the finest song writing in motion, following all the tips and instructions I have given you just now. Observe my magnificent opus:
- Thou lovely lady, a gandabout so crapulous
- Thy abdecarian alacrity
- If only my long lost farrago were assiduous
- With fecund, cavorting clarity
- Never had a lover perorated, never propitious
- We are reticent with celerity.
Bet you weren’t expecting a sextrain! Yes, I’m pretty sure that’s what they’re called, you know, six lines? Just add a chorus and we have a song. Pretty exciting huh? What’s with that look on your face? I bet you are worried about not being able to write like me. Don't worry, you will one day, with a little talent and a lot of hard work. And the beard. How's that coming along? Did you manage to grow a beard after I told you to at the beginning?
A Final Note
The most important lesson I hope you take away from here is that it doesn’t really matter what you say, you just have to say it in the fanciest way conceivable. I hope you found my advice valuable, and it gives me great satisfaction to see a once illiterate pop music listener like you, walk away from here, confident in his ability to write lyrics like The Decemberists’ frontman Colin Meloy. I take it that you are just joking when you tell me to go fuck myself, and you are in reality out of words to properly express your gratitude to me. I am a bit offended that you are calling me a hipster again, because I'm definitely not one of them. And no, I would not like to have my fedora stuffed up my arse. You might notice as well that I am wearing vintage Converses, which are also not very good for stuffing up people's arses.
- ↑ Their earlier stuff was better!
- ↑ Giving several songs the same name and numbering them proves your sophistication, like, you know, Pink Floyd
- ↑ Yet another word you had to look up, I bet.
- ↑ Do you feel an urge to sleep with me now?
- ↑ Ok, how about now?
- ↑ They all mean penis.
- ↑ The punishment for this failure is called a Grammy.
- ↑ You may notice that Colin Meloy doesn't have a beard all the time. This is because he is not writing lyrics all the time, and only grows a beard when he does.