In May 2016 I started baking bread. I’m a big fan of sandwiches and toast…and especially of toasted sandwiches. I wanted to see if making bread with no sugar in might help with losing a bit of the fat that had insidiously crept into my body over recent times.
So I experimented, eventually settling on a nice simple recipe.
And it’s to everyone’s surprise (including mine) that it’s a habit I’ve maintained for over a year now.
There is so much about it that brings me creative joy. Bringing the dough together from a goopy sloppy mixture into a nice sticky ball. Seeing it rise and expand over time (doing enough and then getting out of its way to let the organic process take over). And ultimately ending up with a great result at the end of a truly organic process of natural creativity.
Untouched on the Inside
On a wet “hyggeligt” Sunday afternoon I decided to set the week up with a nice fresh loaf. I poured all the ingredients into the mixing bowl, kneaded the life out of it, then left the dough to prove while I read my book. A couple of hours later the loaf was shaped, placed in the tin and popped in the oven. Timer set. Twenty five minutes later out it came. A little more “browned” than usual.
I pulled it out of the oven and shook it loose to drop it on the cooling rack. Only it didn’t slide out like it usually does. In fact it kind of flopped out… in two parts.
Evidently it was burning on the top and completely raw at the bottom. The ultimate bread fail. Hours of waiting and creating had fallen at the final hurdle. The oven it seemed was kaput. It had essentially grilled the bread, which in case you’re unaware, isn’t really the ideal way to bake a loaf. My loaf had the appearance of “done” but deep down the heat hadn’t touched it.
It was useless. A bit like this metaphor. I’ve reached a mental blockage…why did I share this story?
Umm, songwriting is a bit like a loaf of bread? And it can be a failure if you don’t bake it properly in the studio? Hmmm possibly, I dunno. Anyway, I’ll leave it up to you.
Demos, Works in Progress, and Song Development
One of the most successfully creative times for me was in 2008 when I wrote a new song every week for 20 weeks in order to try raising funds for my next album. People would sign up for £2 and I was committed to sending them a new track every week for 20 weeks (5 months, which sounds like a MUCH bigger commitment). I wont lie, it was tough, especially when the new sign ups dried up and the excitement wore off.
Coming up with stuff that was “good enough” in amongst living life, was a real challenge. But it was also incredibly fruitful, and yielded results that led to material being written for my next album (One World Less).
I wrote songs that would never have been written, and experimented with techniques and ideas only because of the constraints and pressures that time limits had put on me. It forced me to be creative – not in an abusive way, but with focus and clarity. It’s often been my experience that like Picasso says, “inspiration is real but it has to find you working”.
Some of those songs are still sat proving to this day. I want to find a place for them. I’m just waiting.
Baking Bread is a Process that Takes Time But Requires Action
A part of my commitment in the Backstage area of my Bandcamp is to keep members updated with new noodlings, demos, and works-in-progress. A part of me is frightened to do this because it means letting go of unpolished, ragged work. But equally I think back to the 20 week song challenge; an experience of letting go of any notion of “perfection” and polished.
I was forced to concentrate instead on the power and rawness of ideas. It challenged me to grow as an artist in huge ways.
It was about planting seeds. Giving what I had committed. And knowing at some level down that these seeds may actually lead me deeper into something else. Trees don’t start life fully formed. Nothing does. Time turns every idea from a seed to an infant, and onwards into the thing it is made to become.
Songs are like loaves of bread, and it can be a beautiful thing to watch as they move through:
- Impossibly abstract ideas (ingredients)
- Mess of making sense of ideas (mixing the dough)
- Muscle work of turning ideas into some kind of whole (kneading)
- Sitting back to see where it wants to go (proving)
- Going back in and editing the track (moulding for the tin and proving again)
- Satisfaction of finishing it, recording it, and hearing the finished product (baking – that smell of fresh bread)
- Scary and exhilarating moment of sharing it fully formed with the world (cutting a slice and tasting it).
As I prepare to release the new Arrow of Time EP, I invite you into my Backstage Area where I have doughs and breads at various stages of development for you to see. I’m committed to sharing at least one new “work-in-progress” with members every month. I want to give you a candid view of what’s going on as I move towards September 1st and the release of the EP.
I’ve just put a “noodling” up in the Backstage area, which you can hear now when you join. The dough is mixed, but it’s pretty sticky and messy. Time to start kneading it…
It’s just £3 a month to join the backstage and you get:
- The FULL Back(stage) catalogue: downloads of all 4 of my previous albums
- A Backstage Pass to subscriber-only Online Hangout Gigs where I (and special guests) play songs old and new (catchup recordings are also available exclusively to subscribers)
- My Backstage Playlist – the ever-evolving playlist of songs that are inspiring me
- The Backstage Community area: updates, videos, and photos
- Backstage Noodlings (THE BREAD): exclusive access to rough demos I’m working on and first-listen to brand new tracks (+ subscriber-only releases)
- Plus, all NEW music I make and release, instantly downloadable or streamed through the Bandcamp app
- And you can cancel any time
If you want to find out more, I’ve put together a video explaining how it all works here.
Over to You
Do you identify with the bread analogy in your own creative pursuits? What are you baking right now? I’d love to hear your thoughts. Please feel free to leave a comment below.