Symbolism ~ a really good way to say what you mean without being super obvious.
Since I was a kid, I have been fascinated with hidden meanings. It’s always seemed to me that there is so much MORE to the world if you just take the time to look for it. That could be summed up by the phrase: “The more you know, the more you know you don’t know.” And I both love and hate not knowing things. I suspect that is because I am a human.
When I was 16, one of my teachers was showing us how to analyse TV adverts. He said that the script, the colour schemes, the little pauses in the speech, the font and size of writing, the choice of camera angle, lighting, music, background sounds, the race, age, costumes and face types of the actors had all been designed specifically, methodically and deliberately in order to target the emotions of their purchasing demographic ~ to get their audience to want to buy their product. Now, I realise that in one way, this is a totally fucking obvious thing to say, but at the time, the idea, to me, that so much thought could go into something that taps into people’s minds on a subconscious level was a total revelation. It seemed way more significant than my previous understanding of advertising, which, until that day, went like this: “Here’s a thing! Buy the thing!” The fact that psychological human truths were being exploited by these companies to say such fucking stupid materialistic bullshit blew my furry little mind. They can affect people on an emotional level very easily. For me, it’s mainly their use of music. That was the day I began to discover what a big, powerful (and terrifying) machine the media really can be. Over the course of the next decade, watching the media affecting people in various ways (6 years ago my TV broke and I haven’t missed it) I had one thought which has surfaced again and again regarding symbolism and its affect on people, namely: “If the media can do it, so can I.”
I will never forget that day at school, or the teacher who helped me to open my mind.
Another person who really helped me open my mind was Ane Brun. I met her at one of her gigs in Feb ’16 and did a fairly passable impression of a stuttering twat. She is a Norwegian singer and an excellent songwriter, and her work is the most influential art I have ever had the privilege to experience. I don’t fangirl all over the place too easily, so here’s why I mention her. The woman uses the most open language possible, and English isn’t even her first language. Wherever they are emotionally in their lives, she writes in a way that allows the listener to project their own version of events over whatever she is saying. It’s phenomenally skillful. It also only works as songwriting providing the listener already shares a certain level of understanding with her. If the listener isn’t receptive in the right way, it can totally turn them off. I was one of those kinds of listeners when she brought out her It All Starts With One album. Before she had released that, she wrote perfectly nice songs. She has a distinctive voice and a way with visual imagery and melody/harmony and key change that I found very pleasing as a fellow songwriter. When I didn’t understand the album at first listen, I felt disappointed. None of the obvious images were there, and if they were, they didn’t create a linear structure of narrative, they just sort of hung there, awaiting confirmation, disjointedly. Or so I thought at the time. My own misanthropy had led me to such a dark mental place that I could no longer experience the symbolism from her work that I had so thirsted for as a kid. In order to interpret Ane’s new album for myself, my whole life had to be rearranged. This was in 2012.
I went away to another city for a weekend, and in the process had the most profound experiences I could ever hope to acquire! One of those was that I realised I had to start meditating. I’d tried meditation before, but had always hated it and given up within minutes because it seemed pointless. Now, when I tried it, I really needed it. My mind was working at such a pace that I could be having two conversations with the same person at once and they wouldn’t notice. Or maybe I was just going a bit crazy. Either way, it doesn’t matter. The point is, in meditation, I realised that if I focussed my attention on my individual Chakras, (for the non-hippies, this means certain energy-centres within the human body) I could get a whole load of information from them about what was going on with me, physically, mentally and emotionally. The colours of the Chakras revealed themselves to me at the time as well. Suddenly everything made sense about what made each Chakra relate to each colour. Colour symbolism played a big part in my life then. To this day I let my eyes decide which is their favourite colour on which day. It gives me an indication of which areas of myself and my life I need to focus on. That is an example of how symbolism helps me write. If I ever use colours in songs, that will be why. I won’t put the colour meanings I found here, just in case they are different for you if you decide to meditate on (or just think about) them. I’m sure not everyone’s perception of purple is what I would call purple after all, because actually, I’ve decided that my job here is to let you discover this stuff for yourself. If meditation isn’t your bag, then I guess Google can take care of what the colours mean to you!
I was having a kind of mental breakdown/breakthrough/awakening at that time, and Ane Brun’s It All Starts With One album helped me change my life so much for the better! I gained the understanding of myself that was necessary to understand her album… Or maybe the album helped me to understand myself… I’m not sure which! All I know is that there were revelations clicking their way into place in me that I had long since given up on. I still get something new out of that album nearly every time I listen to it. I really, honestly felt like I was reborn back then. Given a fresh start and a hundred thousand new perspectives… And let go of being who I thought I was. Let go of being anyone, really. Since then I have never looked back, and I have even started creating songs which, at least to me, affect me in a similar way and remind me of what I learnt during that time in my life. I had needed more from life than I was allowing myself to experience back before this shift in my perception of reality… And before I stopped taking myself so seriously! (I can’t believe I haven’t said shart for WEEKS!)
Another type of symbolism I love to use is elemental. Air = Thought, Water = Emotion, Earth = Body + Physicality, and Fire/Light = Awareness/Spirit/Consciousness. This gets used in nearly every song by me these days! It’s such a wide field, I love it!
I am also quite a fan of using animals as symbolic elements in songs. There is so much in the realm of animal symbolism that I won’t be able to put it here. There are too many animals for a start! I love using birds, as they are such a perfect mixture of thought, emotion, and body.
Buildings can be used as a good metaphor for the self. A castle, particularly, can be useful, or two castles could represent both the conscious and the unconscious minds of the writer. All of this is dream symbolism as well.
I am constantly attempting to learn more about symbolism, so I may post more about it in the future. If you have any suggestions of your own, or any comments about this post, I would love it if you left a comment at the bottom! If this post was a little “far out” for you, I hope you got something out of it anyway!
Remember, you are love.