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Levi's®/LitNet Origins of songs
Moontlik gemaak deur/Supported by: Levi's®

In our seventh contribution Mike Hardy of Bed on Bricks tells more about how the songs “Humanarium” and “Funny” were born, and answers five quick questions.

Mike Hardy Mike Hardy
“ ... it all starts with an idea. Whether you are writing a guitar riff, a drum beat, a lyric or a melody, if you have an idea as to where the song is heading, it makes it a little easier. We often achieve this through jamming together - that's how we write our best songs.”

The big question

Mike Hardy

How does one write a song?

The answer is simple - there is no one specific formula. No bank of information one can draw a guaranteed winning cheque from that'll elevate your status to the next genius rockstar! There are many guidelines to writing a great song, many words of wisdom and endless advice from self-acclaimed experts with years of experience, but nothing set in stone. This is what makes being a musician a nerve-racking profession - but it is also equally exciting in that there are no boundaries. No big brother breathing down your neck informing you that you are straying from company policy. You, yes you, could just write a hit song today, and it may well happen when you least expect it!

OK - so how does one go about it?

Well, the first thing that you have to do is START …

Bed on Bricks - pic by Liam LynchIn my situation I am fortunate enough to be surrounded by three great musicians and friends, Dave, Tim and Schalk. Bed on Bricks was born out of the fact that we complement one another musically. Each one of us brings something unique to the party. We thrive on being a band - a band of brothers, I guess - so what we put out there is a collaborative effort as opposed to an individual effort. So once a song is completed, it has been twisted and fine-tuned by all four of us, so much so that it becomes OUR song, not just that of the guy who brought the idea in the first place. This is how WE like to write songs. It works differently for other artists. I personally feed off this setup and this is how I've been writing songs from day one.

My strengths are melody and lyrics, whilst the other guys' are riffs, beats and bass respectively. So for all these years I've conceptualised songs through ideas, melodies and words/lyrics - that's how my brain works - whilst Tim, for example, will obviously concentrate on the steam engine beats. The beauty of this is that an initial idea is (in most cases) taken to heights that I wouldn't have been able to achieve without the input of the rest of the guys. So we all benefit from the song in the end.

Like Clinton from Flat Stanley said in his article, it all starts with an idea. Whether you are writing a guitar riff, a drum beat, a lyric or a melody, if you have an idea as to where the song is heading, it makes it a little easier. We often achieve this through jamming together - that's how we write our best songs. But like I stipulated earlier, this works for us. Other bands work differently. At the end of the day you must work with a formula that works for you. Everybody is different! I like to think of ideas as ingredients for songs. Once the right ingredients are applied the song usually works. A bit like baking a cake (not that I bake a lot of cakes - it's not very rock 'n roll if ya know what I mean - but I do like the band Cake). If the right ingredients are mixed then the cake will rise. If not, it'll flop. Don't limit yourself, and think out of the box. Don't be scared to venture into uncharted territory. If it feels good for you then go with it and see where it takes you. Try different approaches and be open to advice and constructive criticism.

What the ....???Where do ideas come from? For me it's a question of just being open and aware of what's going on around you, ie of LIFE. Whether that be love, hate, war, politics, relationships, perceptions, opinions, eating disorders, celebrity fanfare, fashion, who drives the fastest car, who wears the coolest shades or whoever pops your toast, there is always something to write about. It all comes down to how you go about expressing that in a song that works with the melody and direction of the song. Be open to ALL types of music. If you want to be a good writer it's important to listen to as much different music as possible. If you limit yourself to one style then there's a good chance that'll you'll end up writing pretty much the same sort of music. This isn't wrong, but generally by the time you get it out there it's been heard so many times before that your song won't stand out. The listening public is always looking for something new and refreshing. So you can start to achieve this by being open-minded. Who cares if your mates find that treasured Britney album in your car cd shuttle that you sing along too in rush hour traffic? Sure, you might not like the music, but listen to how she (well, The Neptunes) go about writing her songs. Listen to things you wouldn't usually listen to in your preferred style of music and, if you like them, try and interpret them in your style of writing. No one has to know ... Also try and listen to artists and/or poets who write so as to leave you thinking, "What the ....???". I like to write songs where people can interpret it in their own way. It leaves an open book, a talking point and doesn't place a life span on the song. Look at how songs from the 50s and 60s are still being played today because they are still relevant in today's ever changing world. Timeless songs are always a winner ...

There are two songs I'm going to talk about. The one is called "Humanarium" off our first album with the same title and the other is our track "Funny" off our second album, If You See Kay.

"Humanarium" is a title that derives from the concept of a "human aquarium". I was driving home from work one day (on Upper Orange St) when I saw this guy holding up a plastic bag with two goldfish in it. Here he was in rush-hour traffic selling goldfish! What a laugh! I thought it was so odd that I immediately thought of what a mind-boggling experience it must have been for these two goldfish in the bag having to witness all of this at once. Through countless generations of goldfish existence, they were probably geared up for bedroom or pet shop views, but in this instance it was a whole new experience. So the song started off from "… a day in the life of …" from the goldfish's perspective to everyday life in Cape Town as we all know it. From everybody selling their wares and trying to make a buck or two, to me trying to convince the bank manager that I need a loan whilst concealing that I'm a musician. It all falls under the caption of "Tell me what the specials are today - I'm feeling special." The song is a hit at shows because not only do people like the lyrics, but they can relate wholeheartedly to the circumstances which come with the package of being South African. They immediately feel a part of the song, hence why it works.

The next track, "Funny", has, to date, been our most successful song, as it went to number 1 on many campus and regional stations. A very off the wall video followed which drew much attention. The song is a little harder hitting, as it deals with issues that are more political. Controversy usually follows when lyrics are more direct and people either get it or they don't. We're not a controversial band, in that we don't go out there to try and be controversial but at the same time we are not afraid to say what we feel. As an artist and songwriter one needs to find a balance that you are comfortable with. After all, you are in the public eye and people will always interpret your work differently, so be prepared!

This song was initiated by the lyrical content and melody. All the riffs and beats were built around the phonetical presentation of the melody, which is constantly grounded by the lyric "Funny how you should say that …" It's a song about contradiction and irony, saying one thing but doing another. Simple concept. The video that followed was an interpretation of the song by the director and the animation team. So by the time the song was completed there had been many people involved without whom it probably wouldn't have had the success that it accumulated. This underlines the point of playing in a "band" for me. Collaboration. The idea started off with the lyric "Funny how you should say that", and it just went from there ... gaining momentum, so much so that people were using it in their regular everyday slang ... Funny that!



From the album If You See Kay

Today I saw a man selling goldfish
In a plastic bag
On the corner of Upper Orange Street

How strange I thought it must be for these two life long friends
Like being in a large … humanarium

With a 3 second memory
It must be quite a rush
Having a tour of a town
In what must feel like a double-decker bus
Round and round and round they go
While trying to absorb the freak show
Being driven by a large … Nigerian

Tell me what the specials are today
I’m feeling special

Sunglasses in his jacket so cheap
Plastic dolphins to cuddle in your sleep
Wired chickens to feed at night when you’re stoned and lonely
Switch on the star lights
That you bought from Mr Irie outside the café
While your eyes were still wide from your 104th latte
How about a coat hanger
How about a soap dish
How about a key ring in the shape of a fish
Support a cause by buying a rose
You stand a chance to win … fuck knows
Timeshare is the way to go
You've been working too hard
Take it slow
Kick off your shoes come eat in my pad
Even though the food is crap and looks nothing like the ad
Vitamins and supplements to make you go faster
The bank manager his smile’s in plaster
Take a seat Mr Mike let me shake your hand
I don’t think he knows that I play in a band

Tell me what the specials are today
I’m feeling special

Copyright protected.

Buy their cd now!

Lyrics to


From the album If You See Kay

It’s funny how you should say that
When you’re under the biggest umbrella
In the stormiest of weather
And it’s funny how you should say that
When you snap your fingers click your toes
Anything goes
Funny how you should say that
Sitting on top of the mountain
Controlling all of the fountains
Funny how you should say that
When your stomach seems to be breeding
While your speeches are misleading

Grass is only greener
If you practise what you preacha
Can only be a teacher
If you live by what you teacha

It’s funny how you just did that
When you throw your habit into the street
Spend the night cleaning your feet
Funny how you just did that
When you hurl abuse in the wrong direction
Turn around and look for affection
It’s funny how you should say that
When you paint your face with the constitution
Still the kids got no solution
Funny how you should say that
When you call for peace and calmness
Your white beach is rather harmless

Grass is only greener
If you practise what you preacha
Can only be a teacher
If you live by what you teacha

Copyright protected.

Five questions

What excites you about the local music industry?

A wealth of talent. Diversity in cultural inspiration. Interest and support from corporations outside of the music industry. Exciting times ahead and an open highway of opportunity for all if you have the balls to stick it out.

What pisses you off about the local music industry?

Whining musicians. People with the powers that be not backing the local talent - all talk no action. Scraping the money-pot on a daily basis. Being asked to sing “Sunday Bloody Sunday” or “We are the Champions” after the Bokke have either lost or won respectively!

Are radio stations doing enough to promote local music?

Certain stations do a lot for local music but are rather small in the bigger scheme of things. I believe that all is improving. If the song is good with good production, it should make its way onto the airwaves. A lot more can and should be done nevertheless, but it's also up to the artists to create a demand for their music outside of radio play. In this way the public can create a demand for the songs to be played on the radio, etc etc ... I do believe that our listening public in South Africa is still very much moulded out of what they listen to on the radio and, to be honest, they do play a lot of Westernised crap. So what happens is that peoples' ears are tuned in to this "international" sound and then only really fall in love with South African bands that sound like Coldplay or Creed or whatever. Come on, ous ... there's a lot of local stuff out there that's unique and even better!

If you have to give an aspiring lyricist advice in one sentence, what would it be?

Be open-minded, learn from other lyricists and don't be scared to ask for advice.

What can local artists do to promote an awareness of HIV/AIDS?

Support organisations that fight for the cause. We work alongside Levi’s, for example, who create an awareness through projects like the CD4 compilation. Music is our strength, so we should try and create an awareness through music. The microphone is powerful.

Best of luck to all you aspiring writers! Always keep a pen handy and write down everything! You never know when that hit might arrive!

Skryf aan ons/ Write to us:

LitNet: 21 June 2006

boontoe / to the top

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