A couple of months ago, alternative rock act Of Allies released their debut album Night Sky. With a record on their sleeve consisting of gorgeous melodies, undeniable riffs and distinctive vocals, we were interested to findour just how the DIY band get about on their writing process. We caught upwith lead singer Rich Nichols, who told us all about how he writes his lyrics.
Mosh: How does the lyric writing process begin for you – Does the music come first, or the lyrics? Do you collect fragments and ideas when inspiration strikes?
RN: The music always comes first so once that’s written and the band have helped structure it all, I can find some vocal lines that fit. I generally start by singing utter nonsense until I find a good pattern and melody. Once I have that I’ll start writing the lyrics to fit. I don’t collect ideas or have a lyric book or anything. The lyrics are written for the song but I’ll find something I want to write about first.
Mosh: Is this process always straightforward for you? Have you ever struggled with ‘writer’s block’ or similar?
RN: No, it’s never straightforward because of the way in which I write. I have a topic but I don’t want everyone to know what that topic is sometimes so I like to play with metaphor. I think it makes the song have more depth if people can take their own meaning from it. I definitely struggle from writer’s block and have had weeks or months where I’ve not been happy with anything! It always passes though so I don’t stress!
Mosh: Do you go back to lyrics you have previously written and edit or refine them, or is it a case of ‘one and done’? Do you collaborate or share lyrics with other band members and take their feedback on board?
RN: I tend to write lyrics for the song so I don’t go back to stuff and refine like some people do. During the writing process I’ll edit them until I’m happy but I think if it doesn’t spill out of me naturally then they’re probably not worth keeping. For lyrics, I don’t collaborate with the band, no. I don’t often tell them what they’re about either as they’re personal to me so I don’t like sharing that. As I’ve said, I like people to make their own minds up about their meaning.
Mosh: Are there any bands or artists that have impressed or inspired you lyrically? Do you try and emulate any other lyricists in particular?
RN: My main lyrical influence is also my main musical influence; Chino Moreno. I love how he writes and the way he uses words to create an image in your mind. I also think Dustin Kensrue is an incredible lyricist. The lyrics to The Alchemy Index are amazing and have been a massive source of inspiration. I don’t try and emulate them though as I think when you’re writing about personal stuff it should be in your own words and your own style.
Mosh: Do you draw lyrical inspiration from outside of music, such as authors, films or artists?
RN: No, not really. The lyrics tend to come from dreams I have or things that have happened to me or people around me. Lost Not Found, for example, is about a dream I had after my best friend had died. I was in a really bad place and I turned to music during that period to help me make some sense of what had happened. Writing music and lyrics was the only way I was capable of expressing how I felt at the time.
Mosh: Is there a specific space (mental or physical) where you get ‘in the zone’, or can you write anywhere at any time?
RN: I can’t write anywhere at any time, no. I need to be focused on them 100% or I can’t get what’s in my head onto paper. I only write in my home studio or strangely when I’m in the bath! If someone interrupts me or I’m distracted by technology I can’t write. It’s a solitary process so I suppose that’s the ‘zone’ I need to be in.
Mosh: Do you choose to publish your lyrics or keep them personal? Is it important that fans be able to access lyrical content?
RN: For our debut album, we’ve published the lyrics. The reasoning behind it was because I remember being a kid and going out to buy an album then coming home and listening the music and reading the lyrics and just absorbing the album. I loved trying to work out what the songs where about and if there was a theme in the album. I’d hope people will do the same for our album and work something out that means something for them.
Mosh: Can you remember when you began writing lyrics? Was it a conscious choice? Something you drifted into out of necessity?
RN: Yeah, I first started writing lyrics when I was 13. It was for a song I wrote for one of my first bands and retrospectively, they were awful! Proper teenage heartbreak stuff haha. It was about some girl I liked who didn’t like me so you can imagine how embarrassing they were.
Mosh: What is your favourite lyric and why?
RN: I have a couple but my favourite is probably ‘last chance for the modern man, stay silent if you can’ by My Vitriol on their song ‘Losing Touch’. I just think it’s so well put together and says so much in such a short time. You could pull so many meanings from that, there’s a lot of depth there in just 11 words.
Mosh: What is your favourite lyric that YOU have written?
RN: I like ‘Caught up in ropes I made a new parachute to help me fall until my head hit the ground, it opened up, reflected back and there was nothing but sound’ from ONE19 as I love the imagery and the way the words flow. I also like ‘You sold a memory to pay for the burning hole but maybe it’s not enough’ from Run. It’s really difficult to pull a line from a song and says it’s my favourite as I see them as sets as opposed to singular lines. Within its context ‘If I could change, make it the same, just like it used to be, we would stay 17’ is the most obvious and personal lyric I’ve ever written so that’s a favourite too. Difficult question!
Mosh: Is there anything you actively try and avoid when writing lyrics? Any topics or themes you think are overdone?
RN: Politics. Religion. Anything that is opinion based. I don’t like it when people try and force their opinions on me and I don’t intend to do that to others. I think lyrics and songs should be something people can relate to and seek an emotion from, not some kind of platform for opinion. Apart from RATM. They can do that.
Mosh: Is it important to you that lyrics always tell a story or have meaning?
RN: Absolutely. Without a story or some kind of meaning they’re just words on paper. Writing lyrics is my way of expressing what’s happening to me at a certain time. Without some kind of emotion, it makes the whole song empty. The lyrics are what give the song life, it provides the music with a purpose. People listen to music for a reason don’t they. It makes them feel a certain way so by having meaning in the lyrics it applies the emotion for the listener to interpret.
Mosh: Does your knowledge of your vocal delivery have any impact on how you write lyrics? Do you write to fit a vocal style, or fit the delivery to the lyrics?
RN: I write to fit my vocal style, definitely. I know what my voice can and can’t do and on occasion have tripped myself up by writing something that I then struggle to sing at gigs! I’ve learned to work within my capabilities for the most part. I don’t write happy songs or sing about particularly positive topics because I use music to cope with the harder aspects of life. I think my voice has changed over time to have that sound so it backs up what I’m writing.