David Byrne on writing lyrics

I recently came across a post by Mr. Byrne about musical collaboration that is well worth reading, particularly for those wordsmiths among us when he addresses the topic of writing song-words (the “she” he refers to is singer-songwriter St Vincent, and “Brian” is Brian Eno (of course)):

It seems she doesn’t like writing words — and she’s not alone there. Brian hates it as well. I find it to be the most labor-intensive part of songwriting, but when it works, and it doesn’t always, then the song can seem more like something that magically flowed out — something that emerged naturally, rather than something that was made in incremental pieces. But at times words can be a dangerous addition to music — they can pin it down. Words imply that the music is about “that” (“that” being what the words say literally) and nothing else. They can, if not done well, destroy the pleasant ambiguity that is a lot of the reason we love music so much. That inherent ambiguity means that we can psychologically tailor music to our own needs, sensibilities and situations — but words limit that, or they can. There are plenty of beautiful tracks that I can’t listen to because they’ve been “ruined” by bad words — my own and others. So I understand some folks’ trepidation, and my own sometime-failures.

Read the post in its entirety here.


Poet. Author. Beard. Husband. Dad. Four chickens. Dog. Cat. I can sometimes fix my lawnmower.

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Posted in i would like to recommend these people's writing, the writing process
One comment on “David Byrne on writing lyrics
  1. opoetoo says:

    I think David Byrne has managed to not let words overpower many of his songs. I think it is “Sky Saw” on Another Green World where Eno addresses the issue of words in songs in a comical sort of way.

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About Adam

I'm a dad and the author of the poetry collections The Third Fruit is a Bird and Not Quite the Man for the Job, the novel Man Bites Dog and the short story collection Heroes and Civilians.

I'm currently working on "Dance to the Anticlinal Fold", a spoken word walking tour that will be part of the Castlemaine State Festival in 2019. Find out more about the show here.

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