John Foxx on songwriting and lyrics

Once you spend time to listen to the song, you find it can be a vehicle into other areas of imagination and emotion.

“Communicating a message to people that don’t pay much attention to lyrics is always going to be a problem. A lot of people don’t listen to words at all, even when they are speaking to each other! That seems to be just the way we live. At this stage in our evolution we are very visual people… and we like images. What I want to do is make images, but using WORDS. I like to trigger off images and scenes in people’s minds by saying a few words. Once you spend time to listen to the song, you find it can be a vehicle into other areas of imagination and emotion.

“I’ve always liked good words in songs. Ones that give you a new way of looking at something. The lyric is there for people to take if they want it. I wouldn’t do a song with indifferent or bad words. I couldn’t do that. If I can’t get the words right, or if they aren’t necessary, then I will record an instrumental. But if I do write words that I’m disappointed with it can put me off the whole song and I don’t like it any more after that. That’s why I work on things to make them as good as they can be.

“I don’t like to be too specific. If I speak about an island (for instance) someone who is listening will already have a particular island in mind that they have perhaps been to themselves. I would never actually name a place. I want people to remember their own island… their own experience of it. For example, if I mention maybe a blue room, then everyone who listens to it can will have their own image of a blue room in their mind.

“That’s the wonderful thing about words. They seem to be specific, but they’re not really… I especially like to find words that can easily be specific to different interpretations. Everyone brings their own experience to them, and I find that tremendously exciting. For everything you say or refer to, people will bring their own version of it to the song.

That’s why I thing songs are a bit magical. They do things that other mediums can’t do. If you show a blue room or a TV screen in a cinema, that’s it. It’s one particular situation… but in a song, using words and music, it can be a million different rooms depending on the number of people listening to the song. This works with everything or describe in a song. If you talk about ‘a lover’ rather than someone specific then people can imagine their ideal lover, or their particular lover. Again, you can find suddenly that the song becomes about 10 million different lovers.

“That’s one of the functions of songs that I am in awe of.
It almost scares me to think about that kind of dimension to songwriting.”

Extract from IN MYSTERIOUS WORDS by Carlo Adan, 1985



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