Poll: Do You Have to Play an Instrument to be a Songwriter?
So I was reading this new antiMusic interview with Sebastian Bach about his new album, Give ‘Em Hell, when I came across this interesting exchange:
antiMusic: It might sound silly to say this since it’s obviously your record but even though you’ve worked with different people on every solo record you’ve made, it all still really seems like Sebastian. The songs may take chances here and there but even though you’re writing with the likes of Roy Z, John 5, Steve Stevens to name a few, there’s still this huge vibe of you that sits over each record. Do you agree and if so to what do you owe that to?
Sebastian: Absolutely but the white elephant in the room, you’re holding yourself back from saying Skid Row because there’s this misconception that I don’t write or something…what a fucking crock of shit.
Upon reading this, my mind immediately flashed back to a 2004 Metal Sludge e-mail interview with Adam Albright, who was the guitar player in Baz’s then-project, Sebastian Bach and The Bach Tight 5:
Metal Sludge: Has it occurred to you that the reason you’re playing with Sebastian is because he can’t write his own songs and he’s just using you guys to write music for him and manipulate?
Adam Albright: you know if you ever had the chance to work with him youd see that guy writes he doesnt play guitar hell humm me some shit or whatever but he writes and when its not played the way he wants it hell find a way to hum it scream it whatever hell get it across so you know RAND GUU KA GUG RAN GUG KA GUG RAND GUG A GUG GUGA GAN GANNA thats fuckin slave to the gring how we talk !!!!!!!!!
And this isn’t the last time the humming-as-songwriting thing came up with regards to Bach. This is from a 2011 interview that Geeks of Doom conducted with Bach’s then-guitarist, Nick Sterling:
Geeks of Doom: Working with you must be great for [Bach] because you can play pretty much any instrument can’t you?
Nick Sterling: Yeah I can; if I sit down and work at it I can make some sounds out of most things. When I’m writing with Sebastian he doesn’t play anything but I’ll write a riff and play it to him and we’ll kind of be working on hashing out a song. What he’s good at is hearing something inside of his head that’s good, you know? For some reason he just knows what’s good and he knows what he likes. I’ll be working on a riff and he’ll just kind of sing it back to me and change it just a little bit and every time it’s a lot cooler…when you’re just singing or humming a melody it’s better than when you’re technically straining with your fingers to produce a melody I guess. So when Sebastian is singing me what he wants to hear it’s coming out more natural.
Now, my first reaction to the assertion that Baz is helping to write songs by humming was pretty much the same as Metal Sludge’s reaction to the assertion that Baz is helping to write songs by humming: “Who knew you could be a songwriter but just humming? In that case, I think everybody reading this has a great career ahead of them as songwriters.” I mean, that just seems ridiculous, doesn’t it?
But here’s the thing: I’m not so sure. Because I’ve actually seen bands work out parts this way — with members humming to one another, whistling to one another, making silly instrument noises (e.g., “The drum part should go bum-buh-BAH!”), etc. Now, granted, in my experience, those “notes” (for lack of a better word) generally seem to come from a musician who does play an instrument, and the reason they’re humming/making sounds is either because a) they’re attempting communicate an idea to another musician who plays a different instrument (e.g., a guitarist to a drummer), or b) they’re just trying to save time (e.g., two guitarists in the studio trying to discuss an idea without one having to go and pick up a second guitar or whatever). But still: if a piece of music didn’t exist before someone hummed it and exists now, well… didn’t the hummer write it?
I’m honestly not sure how I feel about this right now, so I thought I’d ask you folks: is this completely ridiculous, or can Baz claim to be a songwriter despite the fact that his only instrument is his voice? Vote below: