Tom Waits on songwriting


The latest Mojo Magazine has an interview with Tom Waits about his songwriting process. I wanted to share a few quotes. The first is on the diversity of influences songwriters have. The basic point being that you draw from sources that are unlike your own.

We all have a feeling that songwriters are purist, that if you like folk music you only listen to folk music, but it’s not true. Like for example, Howlin’ Wolf loved Jimmie Rodgers and Muddy Waters loved Gene Autry. He didn’t sit around listening to blues all day. It’s like breathing your own oxygen. You’ve got to find some nutrients somewhere.

I love the thought of Muddy Waters sitting around listening to a Gene Autry album and digging it. Creators need a broad range of  sources to create new things. Limiting your consumption also limits your output. If you want to break new ground, you’re going to need every resource you can get.

He also compares hearing new and different music to “entering another world.”

I think everybody’s looking for something they’ve never seen before. You work on your songs, but your songs also work on you. So you absorb and you excrete and in some way you retain, and slowly you start to become some place that songs are passing through. I’d like to think that they enjoy blowing through you. There’s something electric about you, maybe, some kind of a force left behind by music that passes through you. Like everybody likes to be around someone who does something well and loves doing it, so songs would be no different, right? Like, ‘Let’s blow down and see that guy.

In other words, instead of trying to build the songs, make yourself into a person that attracts songs. You have to open all the windows in your house for a breeze to come through and you’ll have to open your mind to new resources for ideas to wander in.

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