Interview with Simon Hopper
Talking to Simon Hopper - lyricist and musician with The Simon Hopper Band
FW: Can we discuss songwriting - are folk songs manufactured like most pop songs appear to be?: SH: Good question. People write songs for many complicated muddy messy reasons. I like to imagine that when songwriters write folk-type lyrics there is something deep going on. Folk songs are profound, meaningful, narrative songs, analytical, reflective and filled with social commentary. There’s a sense in which the writer has to do it. I’m told that sometimes with song writing it’s like having a shit – it’s there and you have to deal with it.
FW: What comes first for you the lyric or the tune? SH: The lyrics force some people to write songs. Subjects present themselves and they feel strongly that they have to write about them. They feel that they have to address the topics, they want to say something about the subject matter even though the lyrics are hard to come by.
FW: What influences your lyrics? SH: Either the lyrics are there nagging and if you don’t go and write them down you’ll forget them, and if you forget them you’re going to regret it. The other side is where a subject presents itself. You need to address this, write something down, to say something about it because somebody should and you might as well because you’re thinking about it.
FW: So is there difficulty in expressing ideas?: SH: Song writers need to express that collection of ideas that are in their heads about a specific subject. But it’s going to be hard work finding the angle, the lyric and the form.
FW: Do social issues have a large influence? SH: It's that need to express social commentary that comes when people are politicised. The Iraq war made many people political. They became intrigued and gripped, and tried to see the truth behind the spin. Song writers write as a result and what they write is often at odds with the established order (and it has always been so).
FW: Is there a definition of folk music wrapped up in social commentary? SH: If you go back to the time of the travelling minstrel, he was the carrier of news. And although he sang songs to please all or many, it was reasonably clear to see where the writer stood on a particular subject. And generally such writers were a small group of people. Most of the people around didn’t have time to write social comment.
It's important to break down the phrase 'social commentary'. Is it making judgement and comment about situations and personal ideals? Or is it taking a political stance? I think in many cases it’s not so much taking a political stance as commenting on social life at the time. It’s telling the story of a common person's life – what it means to be an ordinary person living in this life – at this moment in time. It’s social observation. It’s people communicating with one another, to know about and hear about other people.
It’s people commenting on what moves them because they are incapable of affecting the world - the world just does it to them. I don’t know any politicians, kings, princes or powerful men that can influence the world around them, who write folk music. But I do know many poor everyday folk who write songs about what’s happening to them because it’s the only recourse they have.
FW: So are folk songs manufactured? SH: Absolutely they are they don’t just happen like rain and wind. However, the fact they are manufactured detracts not one bit form the song because the spark that caused the manufacturing process to begin was far more fundamental than ‘a good idea’ one morning over breakfast.
© FolkWords - 2011