Graham Reid | | 4 min read
Tami Neilson and Delaney Davidson have long been Elsewhere favourites in the broad church that is alt.country (and often not so alt).
They have won shelves of awards for their songwriting and albums, and even more critical accolades.
Neilson's new album Dynamite! -- released today -- sees her co-writing on a number of songs with Davidson (who also produced the album) so we couldn't resist offering them a chance to write about that process from their own perspectives.
Neilson and band tour the album starting tonight, see dates below.
Songwriting with Delaney: By Tami Neilson
I was packing to fly down to Lyttelton for a 24-hour whirlwind trip to record “Sad But True Vol 2” for the Grand Ole Hayride tour and wanted to bring along a few originals to include on the album.
The song title Whiskey and Kisses, was swimming around in my head. I worked on the melody, singing it to my 10-month-old son while making his breakfast that morning, composed the lyrics to the chorus while in the shower.
I then headed to the airport, boarded the plane and wrote the first verse on the back of a sick bag. When I arrived at the studio, I sang it as I roughly strummed what I had so far to Marlon Williams and Delaney. Marlon asked if he could have a go at writing the second verse and headed out to the front deck, sick bag in hand, with Delaney hot on his heels. The two sat scribbling furiously and Delaney finished first! That was our first co-write.
Six months later, I was writing for my new album Dynamite! which Delaney had agreed to produce. While he toured overseas, I’d get crackly phone calls to discuss a song idea or concept. I once got an email that contained only a list of three possible song titles. I liked the last one and used it to write Come Over (and Take Me Out).
Writing Dynamite, Honey Girl and Running to You while in the midst of recording the album was lightening-quick and immediately rewarding, which can be quite a rare thing when it comes to the songwriting process. The mind of Delaney Davidson may be a mystery at times, but I definitely know one thing - that it’s a hotbed of seemingly endless creative ideas. He came to me with all three ideas already formed, which was refreshing and exciting for me, as the story is already there, we just had to write it!
We hammered out melodies and lyrics, passing the guitar back and forth, sitting across from each other and firing out line after line, then go quiet and scribble individually for a while, surfacing to share what we’d written and quibble a bit over a certain word or phrase.
Bottomless cups of tea, scrawling pen on scraps of paper, a mutual respect for each other’s work and a two-hour deadline can equal some damn good songs.
Songwriting with Tami: By Delaney Davidson
Whiskey and Kisses: The bag was a sick bag. She had scrawled words over one half of it, and she was asking Marlon to come up with the other half of a duet about Whiskey and Kisses. He was ruminating on it when I started hearing the response verse in my head. I asked if I could take the sick bag. It was like following a mountain goat.
Running to You: The music was still ringing in my head as I left the room, I told her it was a song about being someone’s missing half and offering someone the deficit. A world of fireside kisses and babies, remote lovers pacts and a lonely way forward at someone’s side emerged from a hot sunny day on a balcony. I will write your words and you will write mine.
Come Over and Take Me Out: I was in Nashville and could hardly hear her on the phone. I said, “Its got to be her saying to him what she wants him to do. She is telling him what’s happening. She is insisting.” She struck a few loose lines to paint the end of the week, high heeled shoes spinning over a dance floor and someone’s hair done up high, you could see it piled on top of the head and smell the hairspray.
Writing songs and recording them that same day is a refreshing reminder that music is alive. It flows around us and if we are lucky enough and can see it or take a hold of it, it will transform the world and carry us to different places. That afternoon we wrote Dynamite, Running To You and Honey Girl, a journey through the beginnings towards the final versions. Starting in patter, Fifties bongo-ville, jive rhythm and slang, cartoon wolves and cats, and morphing through coiled bass lines, constricted needles of muscle bound guitar piercing the skittish rhythm that couldn’t control itself and bursts the dam when the chorus arrives.
Bizarre to sit late into the night and be able to listen back to this journey, hear the doubt, the tears, see the exhausted musicians lie about spent. Sated grins of fools scattered between the discarded guitars and mike stands.
It was all there, hard to believe what a beautiful beast we had sighted in that afternoon, and harder to believe that same beast now lay slumbering next to us.
Tami Neilson “Dynamite” Tour
21st March - Wunderbar, LYTTELTON
22nd March - Wunderbar, LYTTELTON
27th March - Mighty Mighty, WELLINGTON
28th March - St Peters Hall, PAEKAKARIKI
5th April - Very Vintage Day Out- AUCKLAND (noon)
5th April - Galatos Ballroom, AUCKLAND (Very Vintage Day Out - “After Party”)
6th April - Sawmill, LEIGH