Kevin Godley: The Consequences of Remote Collaboration (Part 2 of 2)

Continued from Part One

Submissions took the form of rough instrumental audio mixes. Each time Godley came across one with potential, he took things to the next step. “If I liked it, I’d just pull it on to GarageBand [digital audio workstation software], and sing over the top of it, straight into a computer.” That done, he’d send that combined audio file – a demo, not a finished track – back to his potential collaborator, seeking creative feedback.

“And in every single case,” Godley says, “they were really pleased with what I’d done, and said, ‘That’s great. We like that. Carry on.’” After receiving the stems (individual audio components) for the selected tracks, Godley set about making proper, polished recordings of the collaborative songs.

Remarkably, Muscle Memory is the debut solo release from an artist who’s been making records for 50 years. In his earliest days, Godley worked with Lol Creme in an obscure duo called Frabjoy and Runcible Spoon. Later, the two joined forces with hit songwriters Graham Gouldman and Eric Stewart as Hotlegs; that group soon changed its name to 10cc, going on to release a string of critically and commercially successful albums and singles.

Godley and Lol Creme left 10cc after 1976’s How Dare You!, relaunching their career as a duo. Godley & Creme released six albums through the ‘80’s, beginning with the highly idiosyncratic cult classic, Consequences. After the duo split, Godley continued his work as a highly sought-after music video director, working with artists including U2, Boyzone, Rod Stewart, Bryan Adams, Eric Clapton, Jean-Michel Jarre, Phil Collins, Band Aid 2 (“Do They Know It’s Christmas?”) and the Beatles (“Real Love”).

Kevin Godley – who as a songwriter has always worked in one or another collaborative format – says that in many ways, making his solo album wasn’t all that different from how he’s always worked. “It was like sitting opposite someone who plays an instrument,” he says. “Because that’s what I usually do: just write and mumble whilst somebody plays.”

And Godley found the Muscle Memory project a liberating experience as well. He says that a “normal” collaborative writing session features interaction along these lines: “Well, I like that. Why don’t you try this chord? That doesn’t fit. Let’s switch that bit and put it there.” And while that back-and-forth can yield good results, there’s a downside. “It can go on for fucking days or weeks!” Godley says. “The discipline of not doing that – and also not having anybody looking over my shoulder at what I was writing down in notebooks, and not having to answer to somebody until I had something that I thought was worthwhile sharing – was great.”

The 11 songs that make up Muscle Memory are a varied and eclectic collection, but Godley emphasizes that he didn’t consciously set out to make that the case. “The material dictated it,” he explains. “There were so many different styles of music coming my way: country, blues, electronica, punk. You name it, it came.” Yet the new songs all have the signature blend of melody and weirdness that characterized Godley’s work with Lol Creme on “Under Your Thumb” and “Wedding Bells” – both hits in their native UK and throughout Europe – and the MTV-era worldwide smash “Cry.”

Still, as good as the individual songs on Muscle Memory are, Godley admits that initially, he wasn’t at all sure they would hang together as a whole. “I didn’t really know if it would function as an album until I recorded and mixed everything and we started putting it into some kind of order,” he says.

Sequencing is an often overlooked part of making an album. Godley likens sequencing album tracks to constructing a sentence. “It’s a bad sentence if you put the ‘the’ over there, and the ‘all’ here,” he says. “It may make no sense whatsoever. But move a few words around and it could become beautiful. Or shit, depending on what the words are.”

The overall lyrical tone of Muscle Memory is a bit dark, as titles like “The Ghosts of the Living” and “Song of Hate” would suggest. “I think the things that are maybe somewhat darker than usual are because the world we live in today is very much darker than it was,” Godley suggests. His lyrics must meet a standard he set for himself long ago. “You want to say something, but have you said it well enough? Have you said it subtly enough? Are you beating people over the head, or does it work? And does it match that original thought you had about this track and what it could be?”

The cohesion of the Muscle Memory tracks owes itself to more than just the song order and the common thread of Godley’s vocals. “I think there’s something else going on,” he says. “I maybe gravitated toward a certain sound, a certain set of chords. I don’t know if it’s just my taste buds or my memory working in a certain way, but it does feel like an album to me.”

Rather than release an entire album at once, Godley is taking a different path. Beginning in July with the debut of “Expecting a Message,” he released a new track one at a time, about twice a month. The eleventh track, “Bulletholes in the Sky,” was scheduled for release on December 3, with the full album – on CD, vinyl and in digital format – becoming available in mid-December.

It happens that Muscle Memory’s measured rollout wasn’t Godley’s idea at all. “This was the label’s idea,” he says, admitting that while the idea confused him at first, he’s on board with the strategy. “It’s not throwing the full package at you from the word go, and bracketing it, shutting doors behind you and in front of you,” he explains. “It’s saying, you know, ‘Here’s some stuff. Get used to it. There may be something in here you like. And if you do, here’s a full thing.’” Godley has faith in the people at State 51 Conspiracy. “This is the business side, which I can’t really argue with,” he says. “So I’m going with their plan.”

With Muscle Memory, Godley has only scratched the surface of the solid material submitted by potential collaborators. “There’s enough material there to probably make another dozen albums,” he says. “But whether I want to or not, I don’t know. I at least have to see if Experiment One worked before trying Experiment Two.”