This week sees the release of a new album by a remarkably innovative song writer, Marc with a C. The album is called Unicorns Get More Bacon—and if you think the title is strange and intriguing, that’s just the beginning. We couldn’t pass up the chance to get Marc’s insights as part of our Songwriter’s Secrets series and see what we could find out about the creation of this new album.
We’ve spoken with Marc before, about his own musical development, recording and mixing an album, writing songs and playing in a band. Today we’re focusing on his song-writing process and the new album, Unicorns Get More Bacon.
Heads up: some of the tracks on this album, including those embedded here, contain strong language.
Let’s start at the beginning. How did you get started writing songs, has it always been a part of your musical life?
I’d always written poems to pass the time in elementary school. I looked at them as lyrics, and while I was hung up on trying to rhyme and throw in “rock cliché’s”, I never wrote melodies to go with them, so it was just poetry. Bad poetry, at that.
I made up my first complete song—including melodies, music, etc.—when I was about thirteen, and it was predictably awful. It was called “New Age”, and it was mostly about being mad at the teachers at my school. I could probably remember the recurring riff that ran through it if pushed, but there certainly aren’t any tapes of it laying around.
I might do something with it at some point, as I rarely throw any song components away. For example, bits of a song that I wrote around the age of fourteen called “BT” showed up in 2010’s “Winter Colors”, and I began work on “Falling Sometimes Down” from my newest album when I was around fifteen, only completing it last year. It’s always been there, and I just kept plugging away at it because it was fun.
I believe that anyone can write a song, honestly.
There’s not a typical process, no. Sometimes I have an idea while I’m in the shower, and when I get out, I’ll try to scrape together what I can remember and jot it down, but it rarely sounds anything like what the original idea might have been. Or maybe it does. Inspiration is fickle, and memory is a myth at best.
The way that my brain tends to process things is twofold: there’s the moment that something occurs, and the decay of the moment, which some might call “memory”, but when feelings and sociopolitical beliefs come into play, I don’t believe that memory is terribly pure most of the time for that reason.
But to be a little more direct, some of my best work comes when I just sit down with a guitar, a pen, a notebook and a glass of water and just play and sing improvised lines for a while to see what comes out.
You can usually find at least the zygote of an idea in even the worst session. You just have to be willing to expound on minutia.
Sure! Around the time of the initial writing sessions for Popular Music, crowdsourcing was all the rage: asking fans for money to complete your projects.
I did one such campaign to raise the needed money to put my album Normal Bias on vinyl for the first time. I found it to be an inspiring experience, because you were putting your fate into the hands of your listeners. I wanted to take it one step further by crowdsourcing actual ideas about the next album from my listeners. If I can trust them with my finances, why not trust their ideas as well?
I’d ask leading questions on the Marc With a C Facebook page, things like “What’s a song title that would ensure that you’d buy a record, sight unseen?”, “What is the biggest problem facing America today?”, and others in the same vein. I’d use these answers as writing prompts, and literally gear the record towards exactly what listeners claimed to want.
I felt that by following this pattern, one could make “the best album of all time”, at least for that community. We released a good portion of the used data in graph form on the innersleeve of the record, and the album itself was designed to look like the pie chart on the front cover. This way, you’d literally be dropping the needle on the information garnered from the focus group.
I don’t know how successful that was for the listener on the receiving end who might not have been involved with the process, but I would certainly consider it to be among the best albums that I’ve ever made.
Listening skills are everything when it comes to writing songs, for sure.
I’m willing to take influence from any source. Overheard conversations, misread sentences, anything at all. It’s hard for me to answer your question exactly as you may want, but I can say that I demo the song a few times, tinkering with different bits each time before I commit it to an album.
I only occasionally dip into completely unfamiliar material on stage, unless I’m positive it’s going to “work” in that situation. My performances aren’t the time to experiment: people paid to park and possibly took the night off of work to come and have a good time. It’s unfair if I cram a bunch of material that I’m merely “working out” into the good time I’m supposed to be hosting. This isn’t a John Cage performance. People are usually coming to see me in hopes of hearing a catchy pop song and leaving with a smile on their face.
We talked in our previous interview about choosing to include references which clearly date the songs. In that case, you said you were thinking about bringing the “Brill Building” approach into the modern day, writing songs for a modern 20-something woman to sing. With this new album were there particular song writers or artists whose commentary-through-songs you were inspired by?