Name: Ran Nir
Occupation: Singer, songwriter
Current Release: Ran Nir's sophomore solo album Greener Pastures is out via Clouds Hill. Ran is also playing two gigs in support of the album:
19.08.22 | Berlin | Marie Antoinette // Release Show!
26.08.22 | Hannover | Cafe Glocksee
If you enjoyed this interview with Ran Nir and would like to keep up to date with his work, visit his official website. He is also on Instagram, Facebook, and Soundcloud.
Where does the impulse to create something come from for you? What role do often-quoted sources of inspiration like dreams, other forms of art, personal relationships, politics etc play?
Writing music and lyrics for me is a self-therapeutic method of understanding my inner self and thoughts better. I would then alter them into a form of story or storytelling which I could read / sing / play back to myself and see if I can make sense of it all. If that makes any sense.
Hopefully through these stories more people can relate and find answers for their inner thoughts, conflicts, troubles, desires, needs and just their humanity and our society / world.
For you to get started, do there need to be concrete ideas – or what some have called a 'visualisation' of the finished work? What does the balance between planning and chance look like for you?
Actually to get started I often only need to have thoughts of a topic, line, melody, word, phrase or something like that. That thought then starts a process of an idea in which I would try to decide on the meaning / story that is about to unfold.
For example in the song “A Happy Song” I simply knew I wanted to write a sarcastic happy song to a person that told me: “You write songs that are so sad, you should write a happy song.”
The initial thought is just the beginning of what might become a song later. I would equate it to pulling out a blank canvas, putting it up on the easel and starting to draw a line. I rarely have the so-called “finished” version of the song in my head when I start. It could happen, but it would be very rare in my experience.
Is there a preparation phase for your process? Do you require your tools to be laid out in a particular way, for example, do you need to do 'research' or create 'early versions'?
There need to be three preparations happening in my process.
The first, a mental one, I need to be sure I am convinced about the idea I want to convey and the personal meaning it has for me (as I mentioned earlier). Then the 2nd phase would be making a first demo of said idea, and altering it to fit more into the form of story I wish to tell. This process on its own also requires a form of preparation that includes diving into references and getting inspired by other art/artists (listening to music, reading or otherwise observing the world/art) before finding the right parts/lyrics/melodies etc.
The 3rd and last part of the preparations would be picking the instruments and soundscape of the song. This 3rd part is actually an ongoing process that might change during the work on the piece, but it is good to have an idea about how the song should sound like.
Sometimes I decide, sometimes the song decides.
Do you have certain rituals to get you into the right mindset for creating? What role do certain foods or stimulants like coffee, lighting, scents, exercise or reading poetry play?
Unfortunately I have no such rituals that I can point to, but I would be happy to try anything that works.
I often go back to something I heard Nick Cave say once, which is, to paraphrase: “I go to the office from 9 to 5 and try to write.” I find that that increases my chances to actually write something or come up with an idea, though sometimes I would just stare at the walls from 9 to 5.
What do you start with? How difficult is that first line of text, the first note?
There is no one way for me personally.
Often I have a line, a word, a phrase or an idea first and later I would try to find the music that can work for that idea. Other times I would have a melody that tells a story, or invokes a feeling and that melody would then lead me to the right lyrics. Hopefully. Both are extremely hard to start with.
On some occasions I have absolutely no memory of the moment I wrote a song. Like with the song “Greener Pastures”. These are often the songs I like the most.
Once you've started, how does the work gradually emerge?
Once I have the 1st demo I would start playing with sounds and try to layer different ideas on top of the original base song.
This could mean trying things with other musicians or alone in the studio.
This could mean trying out different variations of the groove, or the tempo.
This could mean trying out different instruments, scales, or ways to sing it.
This is the experimental phase, which is probably the most creative and maybe the most fun part, as long as you feel like you are coming up with something good. Otherwise, you might end up not liking the song or worse, and possibly even stop working on it.
Many writers have claimed that as soon as they enter into the process, certain aspects of the narrative are out of their hands. Do you like to keep strict control over the process or is there a sense of following things where they lead you?
I absolutely believe in the song helping write itself.
Happy accidents happen all the time, where a mistake leads to a new part, or lyric, or sound. Sometimes, as I mentioned before, I have no recollection of how something was created. These moments are my favorite moments, as they are often the only spiritual moment I experience where it feels to me like something / someone else was in control or channeling something through me. As someone who is a devout atheist, I think that’s a big deal.
That’s why music was always and remains to this day the only thing I believe in 100% spiritually.
Often, while writing, new ideas and alternative roads will open themselves up, pulling and pushing the creator in a different direction. Does this happen to you, too, and how do you deal with it? What do you do with these ideas?
All the time, I embrace it and experiment until I find the best road for that song to be made in the best way, I think it can get made.
Especially in the digital age, the writing and production process tends towards the infinite. What marks the end of the process? How do you finish a work?
I love deadlines.
No art piece is actually ever finished in my opinion. Art cannot be finished, as it is a representation of a moment, and no moment is constant as time keeps moving and as we keep traveling through time and space creating new moments. Therefore it is simply an observation on that moment, and when you observe something you change the outcome, therefore at some point one must STOP observing and accept the product of their creation as a finality.
Of course you can endlessly change a piece of work. But you shouldn't ask yourself ‘is it finished?’ but ‘how do I feel right now?’, ‘Am I happy?’ If it feels good, then you can walk away. A deadline helps a lot, because it makes you focus and it puts an end to the observation/obsession.
If by the time you reach your deadline you are still unhappy, then perhaps the problem is not the song at all.
Once a piece is finished, how important is it for you to let it lie and evaluate it later on? How much improvement and refinement do you personally allow until you're satisfied with a piece? What does this process look like in practice?
I would only define a piece as finished if I have decided to not touch it anymore. make no more changes.
The evaluation of the piece and the refining process are all happening before I make the decision to STOP. However I often enjoy the freedom to change said piece/s when playing live, it gives all the musicians in my band as well as myself, another chance to express ourselves.
What's your take on the role and importance of production, including mixing and mastering for you personally? How involved do you get in this?
I am very much involved these days, mostly because I love producing and mixing and I find it to be an extremely important and creative part of the art of making music. I personally think the level of creativity involved in mixing and producing a track (for some people) goes well beyond the realm of being a craftsman/craftswoman and deep into the realm of artist.
Yes, these so called “jobs” can be very technical, but in my opinion what makes a great producer / mixing / mastering engineer is not how well they technically do their job, but how creative they get while doing it, and how can they elevate my art into something that is bigger than the sum of all its parts.
For example Mr. Michael Patterson who mixed and mastered the album did a wonderful and beautiful job doing exactly that.
After finishing a piece or album and releasing something into the world, there can be a sense of emptiness. Can you relate to this – and how do you return to the state of creativity after experiencing it?
Yes, I often feel this sense of emptiness, or sadness or bewilderment when releasing new music. I think it happens mostly because I am changing as a person in the time that passes from the moment I start writing these songs to the moment they get released and therefore I don’t feel the same excitement or sense of “greatness” that I may have felt in the beginning. However this makes it easier for me normally to get back to making new music.
I find it hard to create new music while still working on an album. One door must be closed before I can open the next. That’s just how it is for me.
Creativity can reach many different corners of our lives. Do you personally feel as though writing a piece of music is inherently different from something like making a great cup of coffee? What do you express through music that you couldn't or wouldn't in more 'mundane' tasks?
I touched on this briefly in some of my other answers.
There is a very big difference between a person making / creating something in a professional manner, be it a cup of coffee, a chair, or a car, to a person making / creating a piece of art. The meaning behind the creation matters a lot.
Now, that does not mean one can not do the other! Some people elevate their level of creating something into an art form, be it food, crafts, or otherwise, like I suggested before regarding mixing / producing. However, there is an inheart difference personally for me between music and any other form of creation, be it art or craftwork. Something about the fact that music is essentially air moving through space makes it, for me, unique and magical. I think notes resonating through the air are a powerful thing that you can’t really replicate in other forms of art or crafts.
In my opinion music requires less personal interpretation from the listener and less awareness in observing / listening to it, than other forms of art / crafts. You simply feel music. It doesn't require any of your intellect.