I was told, after one of our shows on this Australian tour: “You write sad songs.”
It seemed less like a criticism than a simple observation. Nonetheless, it got me thinking – about sadness, happiness, and the thing in between: desire.
Back in creative writing class, I was taught that a happy poem was more difficult to write than a sad one. When I started writing music for RM3, my challenge to myself was: “Write happy songs”. I found it difficult to stick to: by the third track on my first album, The Ray Mann Three, you can hear things quickly descend into shadier territory: “Feels So Good” is an ironic title; the full title of “Gettin’ Thru” is “I Just Ain’t Gettin’ Thru With What God Has Given Me”. One listen to – or look at – the more recent Sketches, (like “Bleeding”, “Hold Onto Me”, perhaps most apparently “Sometimes”) yields even more… tension. But sadness?
Sadness, to me, feels… static. Stasis isn’t interesting to me, as an artist. I’m not, say, a narrative songwriter; my songs are about moments – a turning point, a realisation, an appreciation, a will toward something… more. Better, hopefully. Perhaps that’s why writing about straight-out happiness didn’t work for me either; perhaps happiness feels static to me too. But the act of taking steps towards happiness? That’s kinetic – even when it’s stalling, like desperately trying to get home during rush hour. That’s the place, I think, where my art lives.
Happy or sad, the songs I write are about desire: for a person, a situation, a state of mind. Desire interests me; it excites me. Desire is the tension between you and the thing you believe will make you happy. The questions that raises – why you think that thing will make you happy, what it does to you, what it makes you do – inspire my music, visuals, words, art and life.
Maybe exploring those questions involves examining sadness – or frustration, or restlessness, or excitement, or whatever feelings prompt someone to want something. I think that’s far from sad – it’s idealistic, perhaps even romantic. Or at least: it’s me trying to take a look (and an honest one, I hope) at the moments that propel, I suppose, living.
It may not be happiness, but it’s at least about the search for it.
The Ray Mann Three tours Australia in November & December 2013. Dates & details here.
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