Steve Jones and Dave Harris write "The Usual Suspects"

Steve Jones and Dave Harris write "The Usual Suspects"

Interview with Dave

Q:What was the last song you wrote?

Chronologically, I think it was "A Slow Race" which I wrote with David Fee  We did the Squeeze thing where David wrote lyrics entirely separately then I composed the melody and arrangement. The lyrics and big idea give me a steer towards some style and mood and I imagined Van Morrison performing the song. It helps me develop an idea for the final production style.
Q.When did you start songwriting and why

I wrote my first song when I was 14 , as soon as I could play 3 chords on the guitar. I remember it was called 'Destiny' and I wince when I think how cheesy it was. 

Q.Who are your influences

Bob Dylan for his epic stories of love, life and loss like "Blood on theTracks", which is a lyrical masterpiece. I loved the late John Martyn for his fingerstyle and altered tuning , which still influences my guitar arrangements today. Jimmy Page for his acoustic finger picking and Ry Cooder for his style and humour.And so many others too numerous.

Q.Which of your own songs is your favorite

Not sure I can answer that, they are like kids and I love 'em all. I suppose I should mention The Usual Suspects song because it was my earliest songwriting success, which I co-wrote with my good friend and collaborator Steve Jones.    This has one of my favourite lines which is "Have you met Suspicion and Doubt? They come to visit when you go out". But you love all your songs or you wouldn't invest the time in them.

Q.Where do you get inspiration for a new song

I love great dramatic phrases which conjure up ideas and emotions. I should carry a note book everywhere but  I do scribble words and phrases from TV and movies.
For specific songs, sometimes you have to write to order like a brief or a specific title.  Sometimes I just hear melody lines which sound like a great hook  and that becomes the starting point. The area I draw from is peoples' lives and I hope to write small movies with a big idea and clear imagery that people will identify with easily. Collaborating is a great way to get inspired and creative and it takes into areas you wouldn't normally tread.
Q.Who is your favorite songwriter

It's really hard to name just one. If must choose one  I'd have to say Pete Townshend or Sting or Steve Earle. Sorry that's 3 .

Q.How do you write a new song 

I like to start with a Big Idea and a plot and I often scribble some prose just to help develop a story with, eventually,  a beginning, middle and an end which I can later translate this into 3 verses, maybe add a middle 8.  Completely different, I can develop a great riff and random words to get a matching melody. More often I get more success writing songs collaboratively. I've been really lucky to know a bunch of people who share the same love of songwriting.  We get together regularly in a big house in the country and write songs while we're still sober and generally have a great knock about time. Don't tell 'em this but they're lovely people and although we don't meet very often, they are a big part of my creative life, and without 'em I wouldn't have so much strong material.  My second CD The Usual Suspects is all co-written with them, Steve, David Fee, Gary Carey , Joel Sheridan, Francine Mitchell. 
Q.What single tip would you offer aspiring songwriters

Always reach a clear idea what your song is going to do, get a great title and strong great opening line.

Q.What was your most difficult song to write

Well some songs just happen and others take time, patience and perseverance. Probably "Disconnected " was the hardest  because I just had a great arrangement but no idea or lyric. It languished for years as a great chord progression until I started collaborating on lyrics with Laura Cade and David Fee and we came up with the idea of modern life being so disconnected despite or because of all the modern ways to communicate by voice, text, IM, email, social media etc.. and "Disconnected" grews as a metaphor for relationships.

Q.Which song by another artist do you most wish you had written

Ooh lots, erm, I think "Love reign O'er me" from Quadrophenia. I heard it when I was still a teenager and I was knocked out by the passion and performance. We bunked off school, bought the LP and played it  all day , then went to see them play Quadrophenia at Newcastle Odeon and it was fantastic. The song is a great set piece "Only love can make it rain the way the beach is kissed by the sea". Simple idea great lyrics brilliant cascading guitar echoes the falling rain. Mix it up with Daltry's voice, Moon's drums, Entwhistle's bass and Townshend's windmill guitar and it becomes a powerhouse performance. Wish I'd written that.

Q.What are your songwriting strengths

I think I have a good instinct for what will sound good lyrically and musically. I try not to accept the first draft even though its frustrating not finish there and then.
I can get too pedantic sometimes with words because they often sound better sung out loud than on the page but  it is important to make the lyrics easy to follow, with a clear plot , tense,person.
Q:how would you describe your guitar style?

I love playing fingerstyle and I aim to sing accessible lyrics over an interesting finger picking motif.

Q:do you perform your songs live?

I've been playing around Bristol for a few years now and I play my own songs and covers. I've added more covers to my set list because you need to adapt the set if the gig needs it. Playing a song live is the acid test. If it goes well and it's satisfying to do, then you'll know it was a success. More recently I've developed a live set of popular covers songs when I play simple strumming over altered tunings, which gives some freshness to an old song.   

Q.What's next for your songwriting?

Currently, I am working on two albums in parallel. I plan one album of songs in an English style, partly folk and some bluesy numbers. The 3rd album is called "Hold on to your dreams" which lets me reminisce fondly about when I was a kid. I want to develop my blues guitar style which features more strongly than before.  I produced some other songs in an American style like 'Interstate Boogie', which I want to release as a distinct album provisionally call "Hand Picked Tunes". To help promote more live work I plan a CD of covers which will be original arrangements of popular covers. When you play live and people ask you for a CD, they often want to buy something they just heard live. 

Q:what else are you doing?

Well, I also play live with my good friend Tina Pluchino, she's a great singer and songwriter. She started a band  5 years ago and asked me to step in when the bass player left and later I moved over to guitar. We play regularly with a full band and we've developed a great live set list and regular gigs. Its different for me because I can focus on playing electric guitar live on stage.

Acknowledgements & Appreciations

I want to say a big thank you to all my friends who have collaborated with and supported me over the years. As well as being hugely productive, collaboration can take you  in new directions outside your usual subject material  as well as outside your comfort zone. It also develops great friendships and even if a song never makes the charts, it was time well spent with talented friends. 

Check out the links to their websites on the Contacts page.