Corin Tucker talks about her songwriting process

Musicians are generally thought of as wielding guitars and not pens, so it was a total treat to find Writers on Process interviewing Corin Tucker. She spoke about songwriting as it contributed to her debut solo album 1,000 Years. Balancing her family and job with her musical pursuits, Tucker emphasizes a need for discipline, seeking inspiration through film, and the relationship between menial tasks and right brain thinking.

If you’d ever wondered how Tucker comes up with her soulful melodies and forthright lyrics, she describes her process as such:

Generally I sit down with a guitar and write a melody, then try to come up with a vocal melody, then the rest of the lyrics. That’s pretty much my standard way, but sometimes a song will pop into my head completely done. I’ll be out doing yard work, or taking a shower, or doing housework, and this whole idea will come to me as a song. Sometimes it comes as a whole idea, or just a melody and lyrical idea. It’s strange, and it hasn’t happened that many times, but when it happens I’ll run to record it and try to articulate what’s in my brain.”

And like all creative people — especially those who have day jobs, or kids, or both — Tucker knows discipline is the golden rule to getting the words down. That, and letting everyone know that you’re totally writing a solo album:

…I forced myself to tell people that I was making an album. But that is how I’ve always worked, by creating a project with deadlines that I had to finish. Otherwise, I don’t think I would finish unless I had someone saying to me, “Um, excuse me, but aren’t you supposed to be writing an album?” .. .I try to set aside time [to write] every day. I put the kids to bed and say, “I’m writing! Time to go to sleep! Lights out!” [Laughs] I have to be pretty intense about it, because they want to stay up a little longer. You know how it is. I have to say, “No. It’s my time!” That was the way I wrote the album. I mandated that time for my writing time. But I still have to force myself to do it. It’s like exercising. It’s not always something I want to do.

Three cheers for the unglamorous underbelly of the writing process! Tucker’s certainly not the first nor the last writer — song or otherwise — to cite force as part of their writing routine. She reveals other tidbits of her writing habits, like that she needs to type out lyrics to see them, but otherwise revises based on listening, and that she’ll rip out magazine pages and scribble on them if inspiration strikes but paper is not to be found. But would she ever record song ideas or melodies onto an iPhone?

“I haven’t gotten as far as recording into my iPhone, but it’s a good idea,” she said. And when asked what songwriters did before the iPhone, her response will make anyone who rocked a portable cassette player smile: “I had the Sony Walkman! That was my ‘90s iPhone. I loved that thing. I’m depressed that they are not making it any more.”

Me too! At least Sony Walkmans didn’t cost $400 every time you lost one.

Finally, Tucker talks about how she deals with the demon that can befall anyone putting pen to paper: writer’s block.

“Just keep going,” she advises. “ I know that what I have is not great and that I am going to replace it or throw it out, but if I keep writing I try not to beat myself up because that can defeat creativity. I work through it and also listen to and imitate other people’s music.”

Imitation being the sincerest form of flattery, I’m sure there are a handful of talented songwriters and musicians complimented in the mellow tracks that compose 1,000 Years. And I bet, too, that there will be a host of musicians (and writers!) who can count on Tucker’s music to grease the creative wheel when the need strikes.

Writers, how do you work? What’s your process?

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