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American Songwriter recently caught up with Kyle and Neil of Alternative hip-hop rockers Vonnegutt, the newest signee to Big Boi’s (OutKast) Purple Ribbon label to ask about their writing process. The band has been touring this summer on the strength of their Appetizer EP, and their debut LP Falling Up The Stairs is expected out early next year.
How do you all write songs?
Neil: I actually really never sit down with a guitar or anything, I have a [digital recorder] and I’m always thinking of music so when it comes, I just sing it in there. I play guitar and sing so I will just sing both parts into that and keep it on me. Because I never know when it’s going to hit. It can be at 4 in the morning. I’ve had dreams of songs before, and I just wake up and sing it into that.
Kyle: I usually write all my lyrics in my phone and sometimes I will write them with music. And I will have skeletons of tracks or beats or something. Or sometimes I’ll just write it without music. I can’t really plan it.
Who are some lyricists you enjoy?
Neil: Definitely Thom Yorke, and Noah Lennox of Panda Bear. I can really relate to their style and how they do it. I am more melody based. He would be more lyrical based. Those are my two biggest vocal influence probably.
Kyle: I like Black Thought from The Roots, and Claudio from Coheed and Cambria. I also like the lyrics that Pete Wentz’s writes for Fall Out Boy. They are pretty good, and sarcastic too.
Do you write separately or together?
Neil: We usually just shoot each other ideas back and forth and kind of sit on them, and hear them out for a little bit and see how they feel, or see if it’s something we can use. We are always trying to approach a song differently and get a new sound out of each song, and we are always trying to top the last one. So it’s not necessarily a slow songwriting process, but we’ll write a lot and pick the best one.
Kyle: We usually record ideas separately and the engineer will send me what he’s done, or I’ll be there for a session — or sometimes we’ve done it at practice with the band, just hashed out ideas like got started there. I’m trying to get better at writing with the music to try and make [the vocals] almost like another instrument, because I’ve heard a lot of MC’s do that. Sometimes though I will bring all the songs written with no music.
What were some early influences on your writing?
Neil: I was raised on ’60s music. They always have really strong classic melodies. Jimi Hendrix, Axis: Bold as Love, that was just incredible. Just his style and what he was doing it was so tasteful and so ground breaking, especially at the time. Everything about him really as an artist, his presence and everything. He was definitely the one that made me say “I want to do that.” I was like 12 or 13.
Kyle: When i was like 15 and I thought I wanted to be an MC or I wanted to rap, there was an artist coming on the scene called Joe Budden. He talked a lot about emotional problems and stuff he was going through personally. And at that time it was kind of all glitz and glamor in hip hop. there was no really depth top it. you could kind of search for it but Joe Budden at the time in my memory was the first person to talk about his problems and his past, to bring the listener in. He seemed more real. I can’t relate to selling bunch of drugs and killing people. He was one of the first “emo rappers”. He just talked about what he was going through, his problems with his girlfriend. And you didn’t hear that in hip hop at the time.
Do you sit down and write everyday as a practice, or do you just write when it arrives?
Neil: I don’t try and force it out. More so when it comes. When I’m sitting down if if I’m trying to think of a certain vibe that I am trying to create, it usually never happens because I am not in that moment. I will sometimes try and picture myself on stage playing a song before it is written to try and get in a vibe. It’s happened sometimes but that’s not as consistent as when it comes to me.
Kyle: I try and write everyday, even if it’s just stream of conscious lyrics, there will always be one or two that I can usually use. And writing on my phone is so easy. I do it all the time. I used to ride around and write while I was driving which is probably not the safest thing.