Songwriting Interview With Paul Kleff
Ryan Buckner: Welcome to another great songwriting interview for SongwritingLessonsOnline.com, today I am talking with the very talented songwritier and guitarist in metal band Firewölfe, Paul Kleff. So without further adieu, let’s get right into it.
RB: Here is my first question for you Paul: What is your general songwriting process?
Paul Kleff: It varies and usually depends on what the “seed” of the song is for me. By that I mean whether I am starting out with a melody, rhythmic or chordal/harmony progression type of part. I think initially most songwriters start out just kind of “noodling” on whatever their primary instrument is until they come up with something interesting—and there’s nothing wrong with that but it’s just one approach. And I still do that, too—just playing the guitar and things start to flow and song parts start to happen.
Through the years, though, I started using a little bit more of a structured approach. Once I have an idea I will start to develop it while thinking about multiple things. For example, if I have a melody idea I will think about what type of harmony or chordal possibilities that I can use as well as how the melody will fit into the overall song structure—verse, chorus and those types of song parts. So even though I am working on developing a specific part I am always thinking about the whole of the song and the arrangement at the same time.
Most of the music I write falls into the hard rock/metal genre so there is usually a type of formula for the arrangement of the song that I already have in mind depending on whether it is a fast, heavy song as opposed to a ballad, for example.
Most of my composing and songwriting takes place at the computer with my recording software. From there I work out ideas and arrangements and shape the song. I think it is really important to have a decent grasp of music theory so that you can get right to the sounds you are hearing in your head..
You don’t have to know everything there is to know about theory, but a good working understanding of the theory components of your chosen genre makes things much easier. It’s a lot like a carpenter knowing how to use his tools and knowing how to select the right tool for the job so he can get the desired result—using a screwdriver to pound a nail doesn’t work very well!
So my process usually involves coming up with a musical idea and working out the rest of the components and parts of the song and the arrangement using my computer and recording software.
RB: Who inspired you most to start writing music?
PK: I don’t think I have any one single major inspiration. For me, it evolved from just being a guitar player. I was inspired by people like Edward Van Halen, Randy Rhoads, Jimmy Page, Pete Townshend and the inspiration of their guitar playing naturally evolved into looking at their songwriting as well. It’s not just them but many artists—everything from Motown, the Beatles, lots of classic rock and metal artists as well. But it definitely started with my guitar heroes.
RB: How much time do you spend planning out your songs ahead of time?
PK: More now than I used to. I have a pretty definite idea of what I want to do with a song in my head most of the time before I sit down with an instrument in hand.
RB: What is your favorite instrument to write for and why?
PK: Being primarily a hard rock/metal guitarist, I am geared toward those genres. But the cool thing about composing with the computer and with all the software is I can also write drum, bass and keyboard parts and vocal melodies as well.
But, I am a guitar player—I love playing the guitar and creating guitar-oriented music.
RB: What do you seek to accomplish as a songwriter?
PK: I want to create music that I like and that moves me, first and foremost. I listen to music a lot—many different styles and genres and I know what inspires me in the work of other artists or creates feelings in me with their music and that is what I want to do with my music—to communicate feelings and evoke those feelings in my listener.
RB: How did you get involved writing music at a professional level?
PK: Primarily through the evolution of my own guitar playing and working with other professional musicians. For me, I love the collaborative aspect of composing within a band format as much as composing on my own. I have had the opportunity to work with some really great and creative musicians—it really makes things easy when the people you are working with have the ability to write and create music well, too.
RB: What is your favorite topic to write about in your music, and why?
PK: I don’t have a topic, really. I don’t write (or at least I haven’t yet) written lyrics. But it is something I think I will get into eventually. As I said, my primary genre is rock/metal so you could say that those styles are my favorite “topic.”
RB: Do you recycle old ideas from songs that you never finished or do you start fresh each time?
PK: Yes, definitely recycle ideas. I have many song ideas on my hard drive—probably hundreds of different parts and arrangements—some very basic and some pretty well developed. I will work with ideas from there as well as starting from scratch. It’s kind of cool to write a song that has a verse part that was created in 2008 and a chorus from 2013. It’s neat to go back and listen to the stuff that I have—sometimes something that initially was not all that appealing can be slightly modified into something really cool.
RB: Do you have any unfinished goals for your songwriting?
PK: To continue to evolve and grow as a composer and musician. I really like what I do, the styles I play and write in now. For me, writing and composing is as important to me as developing and maintaining my technical skills on my instrument. I write on a regular basis just like I practice—don’t wait to get inspired, just make writing music part of “what you do.”
RB: What advice would you give to anyone who is looking to make writing music their career?
PK: Study the music, bands and composers that inspire and move you. Figure out WHY certain songs make you feel a certain way—study those component parts. If you can learn how they created their music—the basics like the melodies, chords, rhythms and so on—you can learn to create those musical feelings and ideas yourself.
Study the music theory that is pertinent to your genre. Much of music theory crosses all genres and a good knowledge of theory is essential. It’s your set of musical “tools,” just like the carpenters toolbox. Always keep learning, experimenting, writing and creating. Be true to yourself and create the music YOU love. If it moves you, it will move others, too.
RB: Excellent, thanks for sharing your insights Paul!
PK: Thank you, Ryan.