new zealand electronic poetry centre


 Capital of  the minimal
M a r y r o s e   C r o o k


Interview | Lyrics


How has your first musical memory influenced you?

That's a weird one - I can't even think except maybe my sisters, Christine and Annette singing We're All Going on a Summer Holiday and Travelling Man in the car on the way up to Nelson for summer holidays. I feel like I was about 5 but there was a lot of singing in the car on trips like this, and we went away every year. But also I remember singing hymns in church. The car memory is probably the better one - I do think it made me realize you could have fun with music. Later I would sing all the time very quietly. I didn't really have any confidence about my voice but I found singing really soothing and would work my way through whole albums of the stuff we had around at home. This was things like the soundtrack to Hair (which I was very keen on I must admit) and the Beatles and lots of 45s - most of them British - like the Kinks, Herman’s Hermits etc. I guess from an early age music became a kind of mantra to get me through not so good times - a kind of imaginary friend since I went about it so quietly.

What got you started writing songs?

The first song I can remember writing was a nonsense tune that a friend and I came up with when we were on a school fieldtrip in the 4th form. I can't remember anything about it except that it had a few "oh baby's" in it and we were pleased in an offhand kind of way - we sang it all day and drove the rest of the class crazy.

Over the years how has your approach to songwriting developed?

When I first started writing songs they were pretty wordy affairs - this was back in Bambi's Lunch, which was a band from about 1984. We just all sat round with acoustic guitars which none of us could play and strummed A for ages - then I went to E and my friend Roger Browning, who couldn't play either, stood up and said "that's brilliant!" - which just about sums up the atmosphere. We had tons of fun and wrote some really silly songs looking back; we all wrote our own and played them together, with simple chords. I think we performed live twice, then we just drifted apart. It made me realize there might be a way....

When I started writing for The Renderers it was also wordy - there was a sense of having to get a lot of information across in EVERY song! Brian would berate me about it. Then I would work like mad to write a song and, out of a lot of failures, there came the ones that ended up on the first album. Now I think that my songwriting falls into various categories. There are ones that come out of the trance thing that Brian talked about - must be a writers’ thing or something, it's very familiar to me - and these are usually my favourites since they don't even seem to be written by me and often need very little work later. Darkest Way is a good example. They have a long shelf life for me for the reason that I haven't had to live with them too long before the final writing. In this case the tune always seems to come at the same time as the words.

I also find that I often come up with melodies when I'm doing other things - walking, grocery shopping or whatever; when my brain is switched off work-mode things filter through. In this case I usually think of some totally banal lyric to remind me of the tune. Then I try and come up with words for it later, although it's not always easy; I can get fixated on a certain rhythm or whatever and find it hard to get words that will work.

Broken Banks
is a song off Dream of the Sea that I wrote the words to first but that's unusual for me - I had a feeling I wanted to convey, which was of being lost and dislocated from parts of myself, and somehow the only way I could write it was to work like mad at it for weeks - it was a hard slog and I was very surprised that anything came out of it at all. I suppose what was going on really was a block and I was trying to get through to myself through writing the thing.

I guess over time that my lyrics have become more complex - the early stuff was very innocent somehow and I haven't really got back to that. My themes became darker and more melancholic and they've stayed there to a degree. Lately I've written the odd almost happy/celebratory song but I can't exactly see it taking over. I still use rhyme, which makes the lyrics not so great to read, and I think that's why I haven't included lyric sheets with albums.

What songs are you most proud of?

Darkest Way
, off Surface of Jupiter, was my favourite for a long time - but I wore it out playing it live so much. I always managed to get to a degree of intensity playing it - partly because the words just kind of appeared out of nowhere, but also because the tune wasn't pinned down in the way that the more country stuff can be. I Hear the Devil Calling Me, off the first album, Trail of Tears, was another one that I always enjoyed doing live. I guess that's the test for me: if I want to play it and sing it a lot.

Currently I'm really enjoying Ghosts of Our Vegas Lives and Sea of Total Darkness off the new album. I know I was very pleased with Unforgiven as well, off That Dog's Head in the Gutter Gives off Vibrations - I loved the way the band played it for one thing, and Brian's guitar, but I was also very pleased with the tune and words that I came up with. Looking at these choices I can see that a lot of them were written in that unconscious state - I Hear the Devil with a crippling hangover, ditto Unforgiven - I get into this state sometimes after a really late night when I can't sit still and have to do something. I'll write a song – it doesn't always end up being any good though. But I’ve stopped drinking and the new songs have been written since I got out from under that.

How does a song develop through writing, rehearsing, performance and recording?

This is hard to answer since a lot of the writing feels unconscious - it's like asking one part of a personality to report on another they've never met. But I can remember a bit of what went on with Ghosts of Our Vegas Lives. I started writing that on a mission, which is unusual for me. It began as a kind of letter to a friend that I was worried about. There was something about it that I liked from the start. I had a tune and some very bad lyrics; I sang it to Brian and got no reaction (which annoyed me...). I kept coming back to it and finally realized it was the tune I really liked. Then I remembered an idea I'd had for some paintings I was calling Ghosts of our Vegas Lives and I wondered if I could get that in there somehow. As soon as I thought about it, it just fell into place as a chorus line; then the rest of the song obviously had to go. In the end I came back to the biggest thing in my life at the time, which was a big loss in my family that I needed to find a way to express, and then it just pretty well wrote itself. I just needed to realize what it was going to be about.

Mostly I find something will spark me off - going to a film or seeing a live band, reading a good book or whatever. Walking is good to get tunes moving around. Then, if it interests me, I'll write enough in a diary to come back to it and remember the original concept. These days I often leave it there, letting it percolate until I feel inspired to actually write; in earlier times I was writing all the time but most of it didn't make it to the band. I sometimes start writing thinking I need something loud and fast that I can really yell over the band - but when I write like this it nearly always ends up being the opposite of what I planned. I do love that thing of hearing something vaguely from another room - like the neighbour’s music up loud, although you can't work out what's actually playing; that's what I try to capture with songwriting, something I can't quite hear and can't quite understand.


Darkest Way   (Maryrose Crook)

Long ago
before you drowned in a drain the last time round
I knew you as an evil soul
who drew me slowly round the bend
who knew me as more than a friend

Long ago
before you flung my remains into the ground
the future was all set to go
fixed as the stars when I was born
written in blood when they were formed

A killer is the last to know his prey
and he wipes all the rest away
the past and the future must obey
must go down must go down must go down
the darkest way


Right From Wrong  
(Maryrose Crook)

I went looking for you in the fields of my father
under skies blank and huge where the pain goes on forever
straight to the mountains leading your eye ever outwards
away from the truth and into a landscape of shimmering fragments
he told me to stay young for him
so I wasted away my food became poison
high on a wire I hear beasts in the darkness torturing others
licked by a fire that blackens and scours as onward it smoulders
I have lived forever to regret
to suffer inside till there's nothing left
because the past is a mire of filth that lives outside of every law
I don't know right from wrong anymore

Right From Wrong [mp3 : 5.3MB]

Storm from the East
  (Maryrose Crook)

uneasy spirits dreams that wake the dead
a curtain blowing between this world and the next
even in daylight a door torn from its hinge
beating senseless like a huge and broken wing
blown before us carried out of sight
seeds unnoticed bursting in the night
barren flowers winding through the trees
gathering darkness
borne on a storm from the east
don't know where I'm going
and the sky behind is black
but I've crossed over
there's no going back
and I know he's out there and I feel his eyes on me
I feel the pain he's feeling but it isn't mine to feel
there in the distance the eyes that won't release
falling behind me
borne on a storm from the east

Storm from the East [mp3 : 5.3MB]

Ghosts of Our Vegas Lives
(Maryrose Crook)

where the speedway rumbles out across the silt
and the lights still creak on a lonely wind
in an empty ballroom the gleam of glass
the smell of dust where the shadows pass
ghosts of our vegas lives
a casade of fading lights
and all the creatures nature hurt
in a jet lagged fever crying for a drink
no legs to move no brain to think
and in all the world the only thing
I only want to hear your voice again
ghosts of our vegas lives
red in the lost whites of their eyes
and all the creatures nature hurt
I was rebaptised out past the world
where the air is white and the islands move
and the terraces sank without a trace
the mountains only speak their name
ghosts of our vegas lives
they took the last light to the sky
all of the creatures nature cursed


©Maryrose Crook 2004


Last updated 13 August, 2004