Songwriter Stories #1: Liam McClair

 Hey guys!

Songwriting has always been one of the most fascinating ways of writing to me.
When I was younger, I wrote countless amounts of songs. They were terrible, but I enjoyed writing in a creative way; without restrictions, without things stopping me.

There are so many incredible songwriters out there. Some use lots of metaphors, some write very vividly, some rely on strong verbs.
Songs transport emotions, tell stories and describe situations.

I've always wondered how songs I like came together. 
Did the writer first write the lyrics or the music? What's the story behind the song? Who inspired it? Who influenced it?

Speaking to some of my wonderful readers, I soon learned that a lot of you feel the same.

And instead of wondering, I've decided to invite talented songwriters to share their writing process with us.
"Songwriter Stories" is a new series and I'm very excited to have the wonderful Liam McClair kick it off today.

Liam McClair is a singer/songwriter from Manchester, UK.
His sound can be classified as acoustic/folk with raw pop elements. Most of his recordings are guitar based and vocals focused. But you'll still find piano ballads and harmonica instrumentals paired with supportive percussions whilst listening to Liam's repertory.

Liam is about to release his third EP "Honest" at the end of this month.
You can (pre-)order it here: "Honest" on iTunes

But before that, he's here to share his songwriter stories with us!


"I am still attempting to perfect the best way to write a song. When I say best I mean most productive and efficient. I find the whole process quite organic and an outpouring of an emotion I am currently feeling or an emotion that I have not fully processed yet. 

When I first starting playing guitar I would learn all of my favourite songs and try to sing along to them. I was learning Coldplay, Radiohead, Bill Withers, Joni Mitchel, Nick Drake and The Red Hot Chili Peppers, than as soon as I liked a song I would learn to play it. This process helped me to discover new chords and chord progressions. 

My first few forays into song writing were all fairly cliché in their content.
 Lots of love songs, tales of heartache, ‘I Miss You All The Time’ being the chorus of one of my first songs. I was like any young singer songwriter attempting to try and convey my relative teenage angst through the Em7 chord I had just learned the day before. 

When it came to lyrics I never used to transcribe them, I would follow a more improvisational method. Once I had the chord progression together that I liked, I would sing over the top in order to find a suitable melody. In this process I would discover that I had inadvertently created syllabic gaps that only fit certain words. Then once I had found a phrase or two that fit (and that rhymed, for some reason I am most comfortable in rhyming lyrics I think it creates a continued theme and also ties phrases and verses together) I would then chose a direction for the song to take thematically. 

Usually I will discover the theme of the song upon a second or third listen to the recording of the first few phrases I have added in over the top. Other times I can create an image in my head from the tone of the chords and my voice. 
Most of the songs I have written up until now have had a strain of love through them. 

My first EP How contained contrasting themes, with "Rough Waters" I wrote from personal perspective of a break up. That song must have been ready formed and was waiting for an outlet as I started playing one Wednesday afternoon it effortless flowed into a recording. 

"How", the title track, was an attempt to capture the feeling of pure desire for a person who you deem seemingly impossible to talk to even though they are just the same as everyone else.

 "RoamThe Globe" was a musical diary of a 6 month travelling trip and confronted romances from long distances and Somewhere Before was inspired by watching a documentary on dementia and considered losing a loved one. 

When it came to writing my 2nd EP I was under more of a deadline therefore the pressure helped me to write more.
 I had intended to release and album but due to time constraints this became an EP. 

"Honey", the title track, is a pure and honest expression of desire and pride. I wrote it when thinking of how I would express myself if I were totally in love and how I would want that person to feel. 

"Girl At The Station" came from a desire to write a blues song that ended up being a country blues track. In retrospect I found myself just using words that fit the song as opposed to taking careful consideration, the words fit together quite naturally.

 I found the same with "If You’re Really Mine" which is a song all about doubts, it is heavily inspired by The Beatles as I was when I wrote it as a student in Liverpool. 

My favourite track on the EP is "Fall Down", a piano based track all about support, which is only just over a minute long. I have had various people tell me it should be longer but I think the fact it is short gives it a unique appeal and the honest expression involved has made people warm to the track.

I have found that even though I always perform with a guitar a lot of my best writing has come from playing piano. I am not the best pianist but I find the visual element of being able to see all the keys out in front of you helps in my writing.
 How and Honey from my title EP both started on piano as did Someday a track from my forthcoming Honest EP. 

When I was writing my forthcoming Honest EP I conscious of creating songs that fit a structure. I wanted it to be clear how the song progressed through its verses and choruses. 

I also attempted a new strategy when writing "Alchemy". This song is based around a book, The Alchemist by Paolo Coelho and I was inspired by British Singer Songwriter Nick Mulvey who said his song Meet Me There came after reading a Rumi Poem. I liked the challenge of turning a complex tale into a song and I feel I have done that, however like any interpretation of a book it’s pretty subjective. 

"Someday", a track on my upcoming EP is the song I have taken the longest to write. I transcribed the lyrics and considered every line and I think that comes across, it’s a song about having faith that you will find someone in your life eventually. I was feeling pressured by the social constraints of age related goals especially concerning finding long term romance so that song was a good release and I think people can relate to the song and also feel its hopeful nature.

 "Oh Mary" is another track from the Honest EP and this song was a pure unedited outpouring, loosely on the theme of regrets and reflective sorrow the track fitted together beautifully one day after I had been experimenting with a similar chord progression in various keys.

 The title track of my forthcoming EP "Honest" is an important song to me. It is an expression of a change I went through in my early 20s, a resolution to be more truthful in my life. I was, again, trying to experiment with a different topic to love and admiration and I think I achieved that, the song has more themes of support and confession. The structure of the chorus provides me with a mantra that I can follow into the rest of my life and I also think it has the best structure of any song I have written with clear distinctions between the various segments. 

So how do I write songs?
 In numerous ways, voice recordings on my phone turn to songs, phrases I think of in my car turn to songs, playing guitar and fishing for ideas turns to songs. I am yet to discover a consistent and reliable formula or time to write music but it is something I love doing and each and every song has unique origins which keeps the process fresh and exciting and long may it continue."

And there we have it, a beautiful insight in Liam McClair's writing process. 

I hope you enjoyed this is as much as I did. 

Liam McClair online: Website | Twitter | Facebook | Soundcloud | YouTube


Many, many thanks to Liam for taking the time to write this for house in the sand. You're a legend who definitely deserves a pie. :)

Thank you for reading! 


Credits // Text intro & outro: Vanessa Jertschewske | Image & Text: Liam McClair


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