Mood, food and groove: how a songwriter writes.
Lee’s originally from Bath and despite his time in LA and DJ’ing in Miami, his West Country accent is still thicker than clotted cream.
On the last sunny day of the summer, I grabbed a translator and met up with him in his VW camper van, parked up on a beach in Devon.
He talked about his sources of inspiration, the songwriter’s equivalent of the bottom drawer full of old ideas, and how to get the best out of someone you’re working with.
Verbal Identity: How do you go about writing a song?
Lee: I take expressions that people come out with. For example, I’d just got back from Australia and someone asked me how I was, and I said, “ Fine! Look, it’s a beautiful sunny day, I brought the sunshine back with me…and I got in the car and drove up the road and thought ‘I brought the sunshine back’ and literally within two minutes I’d come up with this melody, ‘I bring the sunshine back to you my friends/And it’s the little things that make amends/I’ll bring the sun-shine back to you’ and this is a song I’ve actually done with Katherine Ellis.
Other times, I’ll hear somebody else’s song, an instrumental, and it gives me a really good feeling, that will get me started. That’s a really good little tip, I tell that to people: you can take a Mozart tune with a really really strong melody, and sing over it.
Verbal Identity: Where else do you get your inspiration from?
Lee: I buy lots of secondhand old poetry books. I’ll get a phrase and it’ll stick in my head.
Verbal Identity: How much do you throw away?
Lee: Nothing! My phone’s full of phrases and half-written songs. Then you hear a really good backing track and that melody will set you off and you can use some of those songs.
I was on the Tube the other day going to see this male singer/songwriter and an idea came into my head. I started speaking into my phone, and everyone was looking at me odd because there was no signal down there, and I wrote these lines. And I got this guy to record it with his vocals, and I had it on my computer and when I went to LA last year to work with Chris Cox, I took it into the session, and he said, What shall we work on? And we played songs to each other and he liked that track and we recorded it…
Verbal Identity: What do you think about working with other writers and artists?
Lee: It’s really interesting, when you come up with an idea, to involve someone else. Some people won’t do it, or they’ll pay someone to write stuff for them. But life’s too short, get on with it. Share it.
Verbal Identity: How much do you sweat it?
Lee: Do it straightaway, if there’s something in there bugging you.
Lee offered me a cup of tea from the burner, we had a piece of cake and I asked him,
Verbal Identity: When you walk into a room with an artist and you’ve only got a couple of hours with them, how do you start?
Lee: Food, first. I always cook for people – and the best food. I’ll go out and spend a lot of money on excellent food. You’ve got to make them feel comfortable to get the best out of them. Or I’ve got a studio at my house, and I’ve got this long garden with a trampoline in it, and Emma Bunton’s lying on my sundeck, saying “Oh this is heaven.” It’s really important to make people actually feel so comfortable and then you can get down to work and see what they can do, and you can pull the best out of them.
Verbal Identity: What about working with Cyndi Lauper?
Lee: When I met Cyndi Lauper in her suite in Beverly Hills Hotel, which I still can’t believe I did, after buying her single in 1984, I’m knocking on her door and she answers with her hair all up and she’s saying, “Lee, is that you?” Within 15 minutes she had completely opened up and was really friendly and we just talked about music and by her meeting me and seeing that I was some normal person, she agreed to come over to London and we worked on a musical of Kinky Boots.
One day, while we were waiting for her to turn up to the session, we made a backing track and I came up with a melody and when she turned up, I said “We’ve got this dance track, do you want to have a listen?” And she said, “Hey , that’s really good.” And I sung the lyrics to her and she said, “Yeah, let’s do it” and she stood up and did it.
Anyone can do it, just believe in yourself.
To find out more about Lee Dagger’s projects as DJ, song writer, producer and remixer, visit www.leedagger.com
And thanks to you for reading. If you have tips for getting in the mood share them in the Comments below. Tea or cake? Wine or whisky? What works for you?