What’s your favorite song? Do you know the motivation behind it?
Yvette Frausin uncovers Darren Middleton’s - the talented lead guitarist and songwriter of legendary Australian band, Powderfinger - secrets and inspirations behind his legendary song writing prowess. Do you ever listen to a song and wonder what inspired it? Was it a personal experience, or a topic that popped into the songwriter’s head? What comes first—melody, or lyrics? And how does a song work its way into a songwriter’s brain? Fresh from completing his latest album - due to be released soon, we chatted over a glass of wine in his old home town - the beautiful Samford Valley, west of Brisbane. I am immediately at ease and captivated by his calm and easy-going persona, as he talks about his passion for his craft, and how writing a song is like storytelling. Although Middleton compares song writing to telling a story, he says it doesn’t happen in a neatly ordered fashion.
" For me there is no set structure when songwriting - either comes first, the tune or the lyrics, it's wherever the stream of conscious occurs,” he says. “An idea can come from something my family or friends have said, a feeling, a personal experience or something I have read - whatever it is resonates with me and the quench to analyse follows. It is painting a picture in your head and then verbalising it. You’re telling a story," says Middleton. Middleton believes that storytelling and metaphors go hand in hand, because they both help to express a myriad of feelings and therefore they are a big part of his songwriting. Nowhere is Middleton’s skill in weaving metaphors into songs more evident than in his ballads. Growing up with the inspirations of Neil Finn and the Beatles, it was their ballads that resonated most with Middleton. And they still do, judging from his hit songs being played today. "Ballads are what come naturally to me, however there is no one thing that triggers that song idea,” he says. “There is no spiritual place I go to write - the scene can be set anywhere - the studio, home, driving in the car.” Nor is there a set amount of time it takes for him to pen a song: “I can write a song in one day, or one song took me three years. There are days the words flow, other days I am faced with distractions and brick walls,” he explains. “At times, you become so immersed in the story you lose perspective and visualisation. The words, tune, cords and melody - it's a repetitive process but perseverance is the key, you know it will eventually come to fruition and you do what it takes to finish it." As the song writer works to complete each task, they wonder how their carefully crafted work will be received. Will the listener understand the true meaning of the song and relate to the emotion that the artist has created? A song should take the audience on an emotional journey. Whether it is the lyricist’s own story that resonates with them, or something in the audiences past that triggers an emotion. Songs that show the vulnerability of the artist allow the audience to connect with them. Songs like this ultimately become hits that then become defining songs in many people’s lives. I ask Middleton – “what are the defining songs in your life? Middleton finds this a difficult question to answer, and ponders for a moment before replying. “Obviously, a song that reaches many people, breaks through the previous threshold you had and takes a band or artist to another level of performance,” he says. “But also as a writer, there may be more personal songs that perhaps don’t resonate with people en mass, but where the writer feels he or she has successfully captured the feeling exactly how they could have imagined capturing it - in lyric and music.” And Middleton goes on to describe how some of Powderfinger’s own songs became defining ones. “Our song ‘Pick you up’ took Powderfinger to the next level; ’My Happiness’ took it even further,” he explains. “As for a personal song I have written since going solo, ‘Can’t Hide Sad’ – which is on my first solo album, ‘Translations’- is one for me that managed to encapsulate a feeling.” Writing a song, which encapsulates a feeling, takes practice and patience. While the majority of songwriters share the dream of their passion becoming a success, not all songwriters seek the same vision. Some song writers just love to write to express themselves. Nevertheless, they all aspire to one common goal - for the words of their songs to be loved, not liked, as only then will they become memorable. After 20 years of being a part of making music that has garnered five number one albums, 18 ARIA awards, three APRA awards and sales of more than 2.5 million albums, it’s fair to say Middleton’s craft has made its influential mark. So, next time you hear a song you like, give some thought to the time and effort behind it. Songwriting is a work of art - a craft that requires skillful expression and emotional integrity. And who knows, that song might just become part of a defining moment in your life. Darren Middleton's second solo album - "Tides", is now available. Keep updated @ www.darrenmiddleton.com Article Published in The Australian Songwriter - July 2018. www.asai.org.au.