The Writer’s Block: Gareth Dunlop Releases New Single ‘Animal,’ Talks the Craft of Songwriting

Singer/songwriter Gareth Dunlop, whose songs you’ve heard in shows like Nashville, Lucifer, This Is Us, and Boneshas released the title track of his upcoming album, Animaldue out April 22, along with the accompanying dreamlike video.

The new track is inspired by Dunlop’s thoughts on songwriting and the strangeness he sees within the craft. “A great piece of advice I once received was to ‘write like no one will ever hear it,’ Dunlop says. “It tricks my brain into being more honest with myself than I normally would.”

The only time that I believe in God is when you throw your hair back tie it high / The only time I believe in God is when you’re driving me wild like an Animal / like an Animal,” he sings in the chorus.

The video, shot in a secluded mountain top forest, sees Dunlop walking through the forest passing out-of-place furniture randomly located throughout. “The song carried a paradoxical quality to it but also had something that felt inherently tribalistic to me and I guess there was a marriage of all those things to finish the storyboard,” explains “Animal” video director Jamie Neish. “The physical scenario was bizarre, bringing living room and bedroom setups into the forest – but it’s a rare chance to make something unusual seem usual, even if it’s just for a few minutes.”

On the same day Dunlop released “Animal,” he announced that he will head out on tour this spring w/ fellow Northern Ireland artists, including Foy Vance and Lee Rogers. The tour will kick off on May 6 in Woodstock, New York, making stops in Philadelphia, Boston, Cincinnati, and Chicago before wrapping on May 31 in Los Angeles.

American Songwriter caught up with Dunlop to talk about all things songwriting, including his writing process, the hardest part of songwriting, and some tips for writing hit songs. Check out the interview below.

American Songwriter: How did you get started in songwriting?

Gareth Dunlop: I think I got into songwriting because I was captivated by other songwriters. When I started out, I just wanted to play electric guitar as loud and as fast as possible; back then I was listening to mostly guitar based rock music. It wasn’t until I got turned onto songwriters like Bob Dylan, Tom Waits & Joni Mitchell that I flirted with the notion of writing my own words down. Writing songs quickly became a kind of tool I could use to express myself and secretly put the world around me to rights.

AS: Can you share your songwriting process? (Do you have a specific formula?)

GD: Before I had kids I used to write late in the evenings… quiet house… glass or two of Whiskey. These days I try to make appointments with myself whenever there’s a window of opportunity. I usually bounce between three separate pages: The first page gets filled with rough ideas, no structure or rhyme, and usually no music. The second page is kind of like a net where I’ll try to catch and formulate some of the rough ideas. I’ll usually have the guitar or piano at this point to mess around with the shape of the melody and the harmony. The third page is where things come together in a clearer structure. All that said, there are also times when a song falls out onto a single page. Or I’ve started with a musical idea that informs the lyric.

AS: What is the hardest part about writing a song?

GD: Knowing when it’s done and when it’s not. Like a lot of writers, I think I suffer from always thinking the newest song I’ve written is the best. When I get something I’m really happy with, I try to get a version of it recorded as soon as I can, then I put it away for a week or two before I go back and listen with fresh ears. If I’m still happy, then I walk away and call it done and if I’m not, I’ll start tweaking and try to figure out what’s bugging me.

AS: Have you ever experienced writer’s block and how did you get past it?

GD: I’ve had periods of what I would call writer’s block. They’ve usually happened after intense spells of writing & co-writing. Something that helped me massively was a book called The War Of Art. In the book, they talk about being ‘okay’ with not getting anything written and finding the contentment in just turning up to try. That shift in thinking really made a difference in how I view the overall process of songwriting. Learning how to feel gratified not by the end result but the act of sitting down to create was a game-changer for me personally.

AS: What are your best songwriting tips for aspiring writers?

GD: Here are a few things said to me that have helped:

A lot of the time we’re all writing and singing about the same big themes in life: Love, loss, joy, sadness, hope, despair… Being painfully true to how you’ve personally felt, feel, and want to feel about these big subjects is where true authenticity lies.

Make appointments with your own creativity and learn to be okay about not writing anything good… or anything at all. Find the joy in just turning up to the blank page.

Write like no one is ever going to hear it. This one helps me get honest.

AS: Talk about your new single “Animal” – can you give a little story behind the song, how it came about?

GD: ‘Animal’ was one of those songs that fell out onto the page very quickly. I started with the repetitive left-hand bass line on the piano… it was a melody I’d been humming all day. The first verse came out in its entirety which is kind of rare for me. I remember looking at the first verse scribbled down and thinking what the hell is this? And do I want anyone to hear it?

The verses are kind of like a magnifying glass held up to all my hang-ups and oddities. The chorus is about the person who brings me back to the center and strips all that stuff away.

When I finished writing the lyrics I knew two things: I hadn’t written anything else similar and I wanted to see if I had more songs like it in me.

It became the first song written for the Animal album.

US TOUR DATES WITH FOY VANCE:

May 6 @ Levon Helm Studios – Woodstock, NY

May 7 @ Levon Helm Studios – Woodstock, NY

May 8 @ Theater of Living Arts – Philadelphia, PA

May 10 @ Birchmere – Alexandria, VA

May 11 @ Webster Hall – New York, NY

May 13 @ Royale – Boston, MA

May 14 @ Center for the Arts – Homer, NY

May 17 @ Memorial Hall – Cincinnati, OH

May 18 @ James K. Polk Theatre, Tennessee Performing Arts Center – Nashville, TN

May 20 @ The Cedar Cultural Center – Minneapolis, MN

May 21 @ Athenaeum Theater – Chicago, IL

May 26 @ Neptune Theater – Seattle, WA

May 27 @ Aladdin Theater – Portland, OR

May 31 @ Regent Theater – Los Angeles, CA

Photo Credit: Daniel Morton / ShoreFire Media

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