How Mumford and Sons Inspired My Songwriting Process

Songs are like people, each one has its own personality and life. Motivational speaker Jim Rohn once stated that “you are the average of the five people you spend the most time with“. So, in theory, a song is shaped over time by current inspirations its songwriter has.

When it comes to my own songwriting, I love to sit back and watch a song find its own way rather than force it. Relying on intuition from this inspiration. To make the song seem even more natural, I only write on acoustic guitar until both the music and lyrics are complete.

This technique came from an interview with musician Marcus Mumford (lead songwriter of Mumford & Sons), in which he talked about how the band picked their final songs through a process called “The Campfire Test“. Here, Marcus would play the songs one by one acoustically, much like on a wholesome camping trip, with the band picking the best sounding ones. This is because, “bad songs hide behind good production, then when stripped back, they don’t sound that good.

My song ‘Cosmic Joy‘ took around a year to get to this Campfire stage.

It started with two chords going back and forth from one another. A rhythm that flowed up and down the fret giving the sense of being on a mystical voyage. It immediately sparked the vision of Peter Pan flying in the starry night sky, guiding Wendy to the magical world of Neverland.

At the time, I had started a new relationship. Deep in those exciting first days where you’re obsessed with introducing each other to new sides of life. So the music became a soundtrack of new love and these unknown journeys.

Mumford & Sons – Beloved

For the vocal melody, I took further inspiration from Marcus Mumford. I’m a huge fan of the podcast “Song Exploder“. Each episode a musician or band breaks down the creative process behind one of their songs. Marcus Mumford was asked on and had chosen “Beloved“, a song written for his late grandmother. When it came to recording the vocals, he talks about losing objectivity of how hard he sings. He often over-projects due to constantly playing live, singing to the back of the room. Yet, it was only when the producer on the track (Paul Epworth – Adele, U2) advised him to “sing as quietly as he possibly could” that he found the right take. This revolutionary switch changed how the band sounds to this day, resulting in their (IMHO) best album Delta.

The song now feels it can move into production, yet still feels complete without it. It is it’s own person, inspired by the people that it has spent the most time with.

You can hear my Campfire Test version with this quiet singing style of Cosmic Joy below.

Campfire Test of Cosmic Joy

COSMIC JOY

I haven’t known you for long
But you caught me with your song
At a speed that’s never too much and I like it
You whisk me up into space
For a trans-dimensional chase
I tried to catch you up but you already caught me

When I’m here and you’re out there
Talking through the atmosphere
With cosmic joy

Unknown skies grow so cold
As your golden glow takes a hold
Moves on through me so much
Like a rush of blood to the head
Looking out for a crew, staying true as we all go straight through
Singing out in the dark and now I hear an echo

When I’m here and you’re out there
Talking through the atmosphere
With cosmic joy

You and me
We meet cosmically
Taking our time
To see if this
If this is better now
closer now

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Paint by Melodies

I step out on the Pyramid stage for the first time, the sun turning my glittery suit into a funky disco ball. I walk to the mic, centre stage, press my mouth against the grated metal and bellow “Glastonbury, can you hear me!?”

That was my goal all throughout my teens and early twenties. Like ourselves, goals change and these days I often have a pen in my hand, not a plectrum.

I was music-first growing up. In school choirs, every week at an open mic and front man for a band. Always remember hurtling down the motorway from York to Manchester and back again in one night to play to a gig. As I grew older, I left uni and entered the world of corporate life. With little time, music became harder to keep up with so I turned to art in my limited downtime.

In 2015, I had that typical want to find myself moment. So, I left my band, and armed with a pen and sketchbook, headed out to Asia and Australia to document everything I saw. Thus my love for illustration was born.

Despite developing this new found skill, life wasn’t easy when I returned to London. So, I resorted to the medium that helped externalise these particular emotions – music.

However, this time around I had levelled up in illustration. So, I asked myself, “what would both mediums together in one project look like?”

So, my main focus for 2019 was to write songs, draw artwork for each, and release them all on Spotify.

Here are the four tracks and some commentary on each :-


VIRTUALLY FREE

This song is about how long distance romances are like new technology. WhatsApp messages and video calls have kept relationships alive that would have not have existed before.

The art is based on a fresco I snapped when I visited the frozen-in-time city of Pompeii. There was this feeling of a different kind of long distance connection to another world.


WATCHING THE WORLD

There have been powerful global movements in recent years – Trump, MeToo, Climate Change. With movements come protests and marches, especially in my little home town of London. This song is about the witness of such events. The admiration of how one voice can create such a crowd.

When I was travelling, I used to run a drink and draw group. This is where travelling illustrators could meet up in a bar, get geeky about pencil cases and draw. This character is built up of the different features of each person of the group.


STRAIGHT THROUGH

This short song was written over a couple of days whilst my girlfriend was at a trance festival. Lost dancing in some Polish woods. The only time we got to talk was when she took a break dozing in a hammock by a lake. This was about that moment.

The artwork is inspired by the Transdimensional Space Goat meme. Her favourite festival spirit animal. Turns out GOAT stands for Greatest of all Trance, of course.


BLOSSOM

I was lying on a sofa in Kilburn, a lazy suburban borough in North West London. Spring had sprung and I was sleepily playing chords on an acoustic guitar on my best friend’s sofa. This song came out of those chords. It’s an ode to friendship and declaring new beginnings.

The artwork is a portrait of the two of us during one of our many deep chats. Wittering on and spewing nonsense wordplay like our joint hero Jack Kerouac. Forever being the mad ones for they are the greatest of all.


What I loved about this project was going in with the bar lowered. I wasn’t creating to play Glastonbury, I was creating only to see how both my art and music connected.

When we are young we have these wild grandiose goals. If we don’t achieve these exactly as planned then we consider the whole endeavour a big fat failure. We stop. We abandon it. We run away.

So, by setting your goals lower, you’re not only more likely to complete them but gain momentum to strive for more. Experiment. Jump between mediums. Combine them. Follow your creative spirit. Have bloody fun and … hey … you can always wear a glittery suit whilst you’re doing it.

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My work on the ‘Stranger Things’ London Underground Takeover

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During a stint at a media agency, I was able to be involved in the marketing of the second season of Netflix’s Stranger Things, which was arguably the most anticipated show that year. My job was to help run brainstorm sessions across our agency and provide A3 illustrations of the chosen ideas, to pitch to Netflix later. Here, I’ll take you ‘behind-the-scenes’, through the process of picking the chosen idea that they ran with.

BRIEF

To create unique and culturally relevant media moments around the return of TV show “Stranger Things” on Netflix, with all episodes dropping Halloween 2017. Their aim was to cement “Stranger Things” as a flagship Netflix Original title. This would be achieved by encouraging existing fans to return as well as reach the rest of their target audience to make them feel this is the TV event of the year.


STRATEGY

1. Bringing the world of Stranger Things to life by creating ‘the upside down’ in a London Underground tube station. Messaging will focus on ‘Find Barb’ which will appeal to super-fans and create intrigue for those who have never seen the show. As Stranger Things is a story about kids going missing, the campaign will also be providing support for missing persons organisations.

2. Running an OOH campaign across Bus Stops and other Public Transport locations using Augmented reality. The background of the advert will turn into the Upside Down. Clips of people interacting with the advert, using content from cameras on these sites, can then be disseminated on Social and VOD channels such as YouTube.

3. Stranger Things is about the 80’s and mystery. On the 30th October 2017 Netflix will be celebrating all things 80s, giving a handful of fans the chance to watch Season 2 a day early in true 80s style. There will be copies of Season 2 hidden across the country on VHS with clues only being given across analogue channels, including phone boxes and posters. They will also partner with Global Radio to take radio back to the 80s and for every listener that tunes in to be transported back in time. This will culminate in a number of national launch cycle cinema screenings, encouraging the public to grab their bikes in true Stranger Things style and head to a screening.

EXECUTION

Working from idea 1, the London Underground station Oxford Circus was revamped into the ‘Upside Down’ with OOH placements. A series of digital billboards and spooky wallpaper on both walls and signs were installed to immerse passer-bys into the alternative dimension of small town America in one of London’s busiest stations.
This tied in nicely with Topshop’s own marketing campaign where their flagship store outside the stations had been transformed into the Stranger Things World. Customers could enter the “Upside Down”, Hawkin’s Lab, the Arcade, and Will’s Castle Byers Den whilst also attending an exclusive screening of the first episodes.

Featured in The Drum & NME.

Chris