Last week, when I briefly reviewed Slow Dancer's
new track "I Would
" from the upcoming album In a Mood, I often found it hard to focus on what I was writing because of how entranced I became by what I was listening to. I loved the track so much that it was hard for me to pull myself away from it, and for the past week I've been listening to it nonstop. It was clear to me that Simon Okely is a multi-talented, subversive songwriter whose lyrics are just as compelling as his melodies and instrumentation.
I recently got a chance to ask the Australian singer-songwriter a few questions about his songwriting process, and his answers were refreshingly humble, interesting, and honest. Check out the interview below, and be sure to give In A Mood
a spin, which is out now.
Jake Holzman: Your music sounds reminiscent of classic 70s rock and rhythm and blues, and yet it somehow also sounds current. How important is it for you, as a songwriter, to draw from your influences while also keeping in touch with what's going on in the current music world today?
Simon Okely: Yeah, it's definitely important to me. I'm glad that's the reading you get. I don't think of myself as a genre musician or a renaissance guy. I'm here and this is now, and I want my music to reflect that. I watched that classic albums DVD on Songs in the Key of Life
when I was a kid. Stevie Wonder said you have to know where you've come from to know where you're going. I really took that to heart.
JH: Your lyrics seem very personal too, especially on "I Would." What's your songwriting process like? Is it sometimes a challenge to get so intimate?
SO: Absolutely, candid vulnerability... it's my shtick! "I Would" is embarrassingly intimate for me, it makes it hard to sing it live sometimes. When I was writing it, I was thinking "man, this is like going to the shops without your pants on!" As an artist, I feel like it's an important part of the job though, and every job has its difficult parts.
JH: I noticed on your Facebook page that you said you wanted the songs on In a Mood to be "less about the stories we tell ourselves when in love and more about the moods that can come creeping over a relationship." Would you care to delve a little more into that?
SO: Well, I wanted to capture the feeling, the moment as opposed to the story. You know how a great movie leaves you with this mood? It kind of permeates your life for a little bit after it ends, like a feelings hang over. I think we all experience these moods in interpersonal relationships. Someone might do or say something that subtly effects the way you see them and can hang on for ages. I wanted to try and get that into this record.
JH: You say on "It Goes On," that you "like to overanalyze." Is that true, and if so do you think it helps you as a writer? That mentality comes through a lot in your lyrics, there are a lot of great observations on relationships that most people probably wouldn't think of.
SO: It's absolutely true, I'm over analyzing this question right now! I can revel in the 'what if's' for ages - like a pig in mud! If analysis is key to the creation of knowledge, over analysis is an occasional bi-product. I think it's also a bi-product of insight and empathy, two real weapons in writing. For the thrill I get from knowledge and from writing, I'm happy to manage the bi-product.
JH: I also read that growing up in Perth helped shape your sound. What do you mean by that? Are there any other locations that shaped who you are as an artist?
SO: No place has shaped me more than Western Australia. I was involved in a little doco years ago that set to unpack 'the Perth sound'. It was called "Something in The Water". Although I don't agree with the title, I think artists benefit from parameters - myself included. Perth's isolation and its insular music industry mean songwriters have to be bold. It has its own frequency too. An undertone. It's a place David Lynch or Raymond Carver would love. I forever see beauty in ugliness and ugliness in beauty because of it.