Every band approaches the songwriting process differently, but within any group of musicians it is essential to establish a good, open work ethic: deciding what to play and how to play it can be a difficult and contentious process – opinions clash, arguments arise, tempers fray. This is how The 109s navigate these choppy waters.
Our music is primarily riff-based, so a strong, catchy riff is always the bedrock of every song. The riffs come from one of two sources. Our band practices start with a 10-minute warm up, during which we improvise. Our best riffs tend to emerge spontaneously from these freeform jams. Someone will play something, someone else will latch onto it. The music then stops, the riff is isolated, hammered into a definite form and we begin building from there.
The second way we create is when someone comes to practice with a riff already written. For my part, I tend to write riffs on an acoustic guitar: if a riff sounds meaty on an acoustic guitar, it will sound infinitely meatier once I plug my SG in and add some throaty distortion to it. I also use the heaviest gauge strings available for electric guitars, detuned to D#, so the bottom end of my sound is especially deep and rich.
Once a riff is green-lit by the whole of the band, a dynamic change needs to be found – you can’t keep chugging away at the same riff for too long before it becomes tedious. This change normally consists of the introduction of open chords, a trick lifted from AC/DC. The change from muted single-string riffs to chiming open chords really allows a chorus to spread its wings and fly.
Then begins the real work. Vocal melody lines either emerge spontaneously – which is a minor miracle given the amount of clattering and random noise that occurs at practices – or are written at home. Meanwhile, I begin to work on the middle section of the song, using the basic blueprint of the riff to develop a tuneful, dynamic background for a short guitar solo (I dislike fret-wanking guitarists that simply wail away over the verse or chorus).
Then it is a question of deciding which bits go where, a process which involves a lot of trial and error, with each band member volunteering opinions. It can be a difficult process sometimes, but it is always immediately obvious when the correct structure suddenly emerges.
The new line up of the band has developed a very strong work ethic and has managed to write six new songs with a heavy, psychedelic sound since the beginning of 2018. We can’t wait to get into the studio now to record them and to debut them live.