Secrets of Australia’s biggest songs

SONGWRITERS will tell you composing is as much about perspiration as it is about inspiration.

Those lightning bolt moments, when words and music arrive fully formed and seemingly out of nowhere, are often the result of hours and hours spent writing songs which will never see the light of day.

The craft of songwriting is celebrated each year at the annual APRA Music Awards, with a shortlist of 20 tracks selected out of the hundreds released each year whittled down to just five nominations for the Song of the Year.

 

A mate’s bad date inspired Paul Kelly’s Firewood and Candles. Picture: Darren Leigh Roberts.
A mate’s bad date inspired Paul Kelly’s Firewood and Candles. Picture: Darren Leigh Roberts.

 

 

The nominees for the 2018 award are an eclectic bunch of rising stars and a master craftsman.

Paul Kelly and his mate Billy Miller, of 1970s Australian rock band The Ferrets, lead the nominations with their song Firewood and Candles from last year's Life is Fine record. It was Kelly's first ever No. 1 album in his four decade career.

Miller often drops by Kelly's home in St Kilda to watch cricket; inevitably they will pick up guitars during the breaks.

"We started writing songs, getting together to watch cricket (and) write songs during the breaks," Kelly says.

"We were with a friend of ours who was talking to us about his love life. He had organised a date with a woman, a first date and she was coming to his place. He cooked a meal, he bought firewood and got candles.

"Anyway, it didn't work out, nothing ever happened. He told the story and he said 'All that firewood and candles, all for nothing."

One of the men grabbed a guitar, strummed an A minor chord, sang those three words and "off it went."

Kelly has often said lyrics are the hardest part of a song for him.

"So it's really nice to have some good words to start with (and) you are well on the way to the song," he says.

 

 

Any Shark confesses all her songs are “very, very personal.” Picture: Supplied.
Any Shark confesses all her songs are “very, very personal.” Picture: Supplied.

 

Indie pop breakthrough Amy Shark, who has found global success with her debut hit Adore, is nominated for Song of the Year with Weekends.

Shark describes Weekends as the "part 2" to Adore because they share "that youthful, angsty drive."

"That song is (about) finding someone who you realise really cares about you. And it's such a big thing in someone's life," she says.

"All of my songs, I keep it very, very personal which sometimes I regret but I think people are connecting with this song because it's real life."

Shark exemplifies the post millennial switch in pop music towards songs with lyrical substance as evidenced by the phenomenal success of Ed Sheeran and Vance Joy.

"It's really special when you can listen to someone kind of wear their heart on their sleeve and they can still connect with that. It's a beautiful part of music," she says.

 

Gang of Youths frontman Dave Le’aupepe broke a year’s worth of writer’s block. Picture: Tim Pascoe.
Gang of Youths frontman Dave Le’aupepe broke a year’s worth of writer’s block. Picture: Tim Pascoe.

 

 

Dave Le'aupepe feared he would never write another song when he penned What Can I Do If The Fire Goes Out? For Gang of Youths, his Song of the Year nomination.

Le'aupepe said he struggled through a year's worth of writer's block after the band's debut album The Positions established them as the band most likely to resurrect rock music from its cultural nadir.

He broke his drought after a "15 day bender in LA".

"Not being able to write anything, that is literally my job, and I was lost and doubtful," he says.

"I think that song is really about doubt and trying to destroy doubt with urgency.

"I kind of want people to feel there is a plausibility behind being able to claw themselves out of s … ty situations and there was a part of me that was always sad at this point but I was able to wrangle myself free."

 

Jessica Mauboy’s Fallin’ is a Song of the Year nominee. Picture: SBS
Jessica Mauboy’s Fallin’ is a Song of the Year nominee. Picture: SBS

 

 

Jessica Mauboy returned to the pop charts last year with the unusual soulful r&b hit Fallin', written for the second series of Seven's drama series The Secret Daughter.

Her producer Louis Schoorl, who helped sculpt the two chart-topping editions of the shows' soundtrack, teamed with young songwriters PJ Harding and Ivy Adara to compose a song which fulfilled the brief of "reluctantly falling for someone."

"It means a lot that one of the biggest pop singles of the year came from all Australian writers," Schoorl says.

Adara and Harding acknowledge it is unusual for the song which hits radio to resemble the original demo as Fallin' did.

"It's quite rare. With a lot of songs there's a lot of change from the first day demo to the release. With this one, Something special just happened that day," Adara says.

The final Song of the Year nomination is Running Second, written by acclaimed indie pop artist Ainslie Wills with her collaborator Lawrence Folvig.

Wills describes it as her "take a breath" song, inspired by frustrations that she wasn't "quite hitting the mark."

"We try and do our best but we are not quite getting there and we are putting a lot of pressure on ourselves," she says.

"I think (the song) was me trying to tell myself that in the beginning, then I felt this need to make it for an universal audience in the end because I feel like it's an important message."

The 2018 APRA Music Awards are held in Sydney on April 10.

Louis Schoorl was one of the writers of Fallin’. Picture: News Corp
Louis Schoorl was one of the writers of Fallin’. Picture: News Corp


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