Updated: Sep 30, 2019
Andrew M Pisanu on his charming Proceeed Undeterred, written for Justin David's He's Done Ever So Well for Himself.
Book trailers are a thing now, don’t you know.
When Justin David approached me to pen a song for his debut full-length novel I agreed immediately.
I love Justin’s work. I’d already read the first three chapters (they were published independently as short stories) so had a pretty firm idea of what we were dealing with here; a coming out story set in the 80s. Basically it described my life. Justin and I are more-or-less the same age. He grew up in Wolverhampton, I grew up in Essex. We could be the same person. Except for the hair.
I love working to a brief because you have license to write something that you wouldn’t normally write, or, rather, you allow ideas through that you might otherwise veto. And it often ends up being your best work! A simple um-cha-cha waltz is probably something I’d have steered clear of (Why, I’m not entirely sure; Too John-Lewis-Christmas-Advert?) but it seemed justified here. Pain and torture aside, we were ultimately dealing with a feel-good story, so John Lewis Christmas Advert was precisely what was needed. The waltz figuration stayed. If it’s good enough for Lily Allen it’s good enough for Andrew M Pisanu.
A little aside for any musos reading this; the song is in B flat. B flat is a weird key, don’t you think? Something to do with it being majority white-notes but with a black note as the tonic. Always feels a bit wonky and unergonomic. Is it just me?
But then perhaps wonky and unergonomic is also apt. “Our Jamie” – the novel’s protagonist – isn’t your typical lad.
Whenever writing – and I’d love to hear other songwriters’ perspectives on this - I always start with the musical material. The dots. Then when I have a chords-and-melody that I feel has a touch of magic I turn my attention to the lyric.
It came thick and fast. Again, something to do with having a brief (of sorts); it meant I wasn’t completely free to write anything at all. It had to be relevant.
I’d been sitting on the line “Suddenly my heart doubles in size” for several years but it had not yet found its way into a song. It fit my chorus melody almost perfectly; the stress in the word “doubles” is in the wrong place but, you know, licence to break the rules and all that, all it needed was the rhythm to be nudged about a little bit. Boom. Done. Snug as a bug in a rug.
The second verse spilled from me like it had always been there (oh, it had, it had!):
Mock me with your laughter
But everybody knows what comes after
If you’re bullied at school
You’ll turn out way cool, that’s the rule
So take all the punches
Know that each and every one
Turns into gold
Stand back and behold
Why on Earth had this never come out in a song before? Thanks Justin!
It was a joy being back to writing elemental piano lullabies. I’ve been focussing on other musical projects for the last couple of years, honing my production and mixing skills as a self-produced artist – months spent tweaking snare drums and figuring out side chain compression and the like - so to be back writing “classically” felt like coming home. I love writing like that; when the notes themselves are what matters because there won’t be any sonic fireworks to lead the show.
The song is an anthem, if I may be so bold as to bestow it that label myself; something that can’t be said about the other work under my Andrew M Pisanu moniker, my real name. The songs there are intricate, complex, classical-leaning – more concerned with Brahms than they are Adele; they modulate, change time signature. Proceed Undeterred is none of those things.
One of my most disliked things about the Singer/Songwriter genre is the diary-entry nature of the songs. Self-indulgent artists that write about their own lives without any concern for the universal, so you’re only ever looking in through their kitchen window but never in the room with them. I’m pleased to say my full-length album Collecting Diseases contains several works of complete fiction, and they are amongst the best songs on the album. If a novelist is allowed to spin a yarn and just make stuff up, and, indeed, is praised for his or her ability to do so, why shouldn’t a songwriter also be awarded the same right?
Proceed Undeterred is a ditty, but it’s more than that. It’s universal. It belongs to the underdog. If you were the popular kid at school this song does not belong to you, sorrynotsorry.
I’d be honoured if you gave it a listen. Your heart might just double in size. <3
Buy the single, Proceed Undeterred
Buy the book, He's Done Ever So Well for Himself
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Andrew M Pisanu is a multi-award winning songwriter. His works have been described as "Gorily intense, heartbreakingly beautiful" by Gay Times, and "Pure class oozing out of every note" by Under The Radar. He lives in London.