The art of love songs and breakup songs for Valentine's Day

The art of love songs and breakup songs for Valentine's Day

This past Christmas, Gimme Noise asked a handful of local musicians to help us make sense of a holiday where the accompanying songbook seemed to be guided by all things commercial. Valentines Day has those talking points a bit reversed.

There's no magical tradition built around Valentine's Day. Many young-at-heart couples will likely spend the next February 14 with someone else or alone. Singles may wallow around to a Magnetic Fields record or go out and try for a lay, but both the depressives and libertines would still likely root against a repeat for the following year. So while the day itself may feel forced or manufactured, the day's soundtrack can be personal or intimate even if you're home alone drinking and eating for two. 

Since today's iPod playlist may be filled with songs either swooning or spurned, Gimme Noise checked in with Pony Trash frontman Neil Weir and The Current's David Campbell to touch upon the finer art of both heartache and adoration.

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Neil Weir of Pony Trash

The Love Song: "Right Down the Line" by Gerry Rafferty 

City Pages: This is an older one. When did you first hear the song?

Neil Weir: It's a song that I remember hearing on the radio when I was a kid -- usually on oldie stations -- and kind of forgot about for years. I think four or five years ago Colin from Vampire Hands mentioned something about it being such a good song, and so I've been hooked on it for the last few years. 

CP: I was curious about when you connected with it, because it's one of those golden oldies you would likely hear as a kid but its a very profound song for a child to connect with?

NW: Yeah, it's kind of hard to talk about a song in that sort of literal way. What's happening there with his attitude and songwriting is so good that it has this kind of mysterious and convincing quality to it that I think kind of hooked me in before I even totally digested the lyrics.

CP: It's a deceptively dense song too. There's five verses and each one is pretty loaded. It's pretty different from Pony Trash's style. I feel like you often let your guitar do most of the talking.

NW: Even these more direct lyrics in something like a love song is kind of interesting to me. A lot of times the love songs I'm drawn to almost have a level of inappropriateness in the situation or some sort of dramatic irony where you as the listener knows something more than the character does. But then you'll hear something so direct and so good that it kind of blows all that stuff away like the "Right Down the Line" lyric. Or like "I Want You" from Blonde on Blonde. In those structures, they're so great melodically and they're so straight-forward but very powerful at the same time. As someone who writes songs, I would love to be able to do that. It happens so rarely when something can be that direct, and that's where it's strength is. 

CP: So why are these simple love song lines like "Right Down the Line" or "I Want You" so hard to stumble upon as a songwriter? 

NW: I don't think it's just the simplicity but the fact that songs like "Right Down the Line" or "I Want You" have this feeling of finality to them that's kind of interesting and hard to make work. The finality is hard to execute confidently without being terrible.

David Campbell of 89.3 The Current

The Breakup Song: "You Fucked Up" by Ween

CP: People tend to gravitate towards weepier stuff after a breakup. This Ween track is nice and vitriolic. Did you gravitate towards these kind of kiss-off tracks growing up when you were on the romantic mend?

David Campbell: No way, man. That's when I listened to OMD and that kind of stuff when I was younger. But I remember hearing this song from a Ween record, and that's what I kind of like about it. It's something that I would never do or say. It's totally wrong. It's like the worst behavior ever. It's unreasonable. It's pure vitriol and probably unwarranted vitriol. But that's what's appealing about Ween. They do the things that I could never do. They the stuff that I would never say and probably wouldn't ever want to say. There's a line in there, something like "You fucking nazi whore." You also never know whether or not to take Ween seriously either. It's always hard to tell if they're joking or if they're being serious.

CP: That sincerity issue is always a dilemma with Ween. Would you ever feel comfortable putting a Ween track on a mixtape? I feel like there's a lot of room for misinterpretation here. 

DC: I would put Ween songs on a mixtape, but not those kind of Ween songs. I'd go with their softer, psychedelic stuff. If I were to use that one, it would be for a friend who's having problems standing up for themselves a little bit. You know, like when the relationship fails people can beat themselves up and say, "I did this. I did that." Sometimes you just want your friends to have a little bit more of a spine. And that's when a song like that helps a bit. It gives people a kick in the pants. 

CP: Your annual Valentine's Day show with Lucy Michelle and the Velvet Lapelles is also touting a mixtape theme this year. Is "I'm gonna make you a mixtape" an old fashioned sentence yet?  

DC: I still do mine on cassette, and I love doing it. You put it all together on paper as you come up with ideas. With CD-Rs, you can just assemble it in iTunes and gauge how it's going to sound pretty easily. You know your timing exactly. But there's a certain amount of guess work to doing them on cassette. What if you run out of tape four seconds before the last song? It's collage art. It's been a while since I started dating someone, but the words, "Let me make you a mix" would still come out of my mouth in this day and age. 

Lucy Michelle and the Velvet Lapelles are in Big Trouble again; The All-Time Greatest Valentine's Day Mix. All Ages, $14-$16, 7 p.m., Thursday, February 14 at Cedar Cultural Center. Click here.

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