Photo by Maciej Pieloch Photography
(Continuing with his Saturday Waxing Lyrical series, Andy Synn questions vocalist/guitarist Nick Forkel about his approach to the writing of lyrics for Turbid North.)
As you may know, Turbid North’s fantastic Eyes Alive was one of my outstanding favourite albums of 2015, and I’ve been singing the band’s praises ever since, and trying to get as many of my friends (and even a few of my enemies) to listen to this three-piece’s unique blend of devastating Death Metal riffage, megaton metallic grooves, and psychedelic progressive melody, as possible.
Unsurprisingly I was quick to get in touch with the band’s vocalist/guitarist Nick Forkel when I first decided to pursue “Waxing Lyrical” as a regular column, and he was kind enough to furnish me with the following information regarding how he first fell into the role of lyricist, and how he’s developed as a writer over the years.
My role in becoming the band’s lyricist started with me pretty much never wanting to become the lyricist!
I kinda took on that role out of necessity. I was always more into the music side, in particular the riffs and song structure. However, as far back as I can remember I was always interested in the lyrics to songs, but I never really aspired to be a lyricist. I always loved going through the album booklets and reading the words while listening to the song. It was like the final thing you had to do to fully appreciate it.
So as the band honed our songwriting over the years, I started to get the urge to dabble a bit in writing lyrics. At the time we had a full-time lyricist in the band (circa 2010) and I wanted to take a stab at penning the words to a few of the songs I had written. I did three off our first album Orogeny and fell in love with that whole process. It really made me appreciate lyrics and the whole process much more.
When that member ended up leaving the band and we became a three-piece, all of the lyric writing sort of fell on my plate. At first it was pretty intimidating, but I fully embraced the challenge and it’s really broadened how I approach songwriting nowadays.
It can come from anywhere and happen at any time really. I’ll see a movie or read a story that I really get drawn into and keep that idea in the back of my mind for a song or even a whole album.
I like to take or “borrow” ideas from all sorts of movies/books and throw them all together to make something more original. Also, and this is more recently, it comes from life in general. Some major things happen and you feel the need to write about it.
For vocals and lyrics in particular, my process probably isn’t like most people’s in that I don’t sit down and write lyrics or poetry in my free time. Unlike with guitar riffs, where I’ll have a huge stockpile before we start an album, I’ll have pretty much zero lyrics. Just some basic themes in mind. It’s only once the music writing is done that I start thinking about lyrics. Once the song is written and demo-ed, I’ll sit and record scat vocals over it, just to get vocal patterns down, and that may take a few hours or a few weeks. Then I’ll plug in lyrics to fit each word and syllable.
I’d like to get better at not always doing it that way, but for now it works for me.
Here’s a couple. First this line from “The Diplomat” by Pig Destroyer. J.R. Hayes definitely speaks to me right now as I’m currently wrapping up our next album:
“We never ever change. We make the same mistakes.
If you’re gonna have roads, you’re gonna have roadkill.
That’s the risk that it takes.”
I’ve always been a fan of Roger Waters’ lyrics as well, particularly the ’70s Pink Floyd albums. And because I just listened to it recently, one of my favourites is from “Sheep”. These lines sum up the theme of that entire song and I love how it flows:
“What do you get for pretending the danger’s not real?
Meek and obedient you follow the leader,
Down well-trodden corridors into the valley of steel.”
Once you start thinking about what a vocal part could do in a song instead of only thinking about the music, you change how you write. Song structure and riffs come out differently now. I wouldn’t have thought about those things if I hadn’t gotten involved with the lyric writing. I still wait until most of the music is done before I start the lyrics, but I think now I have more ideas on the way in. I’m constantly writing notes in my phone for song ideas. I still sit with the laptop for weeks trying to finish writing everything, but I’m a little more aware of where I want to go with the songs now when I start.
This was the first song I did lyrically and it was a struggle to finish. I had just watched Apocalypse Now and was heavily inspired by it. You had Martin Sheen taking that boat on that river for days, slowly going insane, and Brando who was already way past insane. I wanted to do something with that idea, but it wasn’t until i saw The Perfect Storm that I was like, ok…here’s my story. Crazy obsessed sea captain. So I took from both of those. Pain in the ass to finish though.
“Wave, rogue, spray, grow, grey sail
I come from continents, insolent
With prowling prow and viscous scowl
Sail into the heart of an immense darkness“
I took a similar approach to this one in that I wrote it right after watching Beyond The Black Rainbow. That movie really spoke to me and inspired a lot off the Eyes… album. The lyrics came out much easier this time around and I probably had the most fun writing this one. So the moral of the story is — when inspiration strikes, hit it while its hot.
“Crawl in – Enter the institution, Arboria
Cult of the acid kings
They will show you the way
And then make you their own
The shadows hand gripping
Lay the drop on the tongue
Submerging into the black hole
The bleeding skull
Worship the vessel that guides you
Keeps you and blinds you”
I’m currently wrapping up our next album. I certainly hope it shows another progression within the band, the music, and the lyrics. I think these lyrics and themes are little more personal, but still in keeping with a story type of vibe. It’s gonna be out at the tail end of the summer, so keep your eyes open for that!
I like this series, and I’m so excited to hear new music from Turbid North. Eyes Alive still stands tall as one of prog-death’s crowning achievements.
Glad you’re enjoying them man, I’ve got lots more lined up going forwards!