If everything you’ve ever read is just a different combination of 26 letters, what determines if a sentence, paragraph, or complete body of work is poetic? A generation defined by free verse, Beat poets used the written word to communicate the rebellious ideals of their gang mentality. But can literary formalism ever be escaped? Their writing was epitomised by the spontaneous prose of Cassady and Kerouac, yet Blake, Keats and Whitman notably inspired Ginsberg’s work. By rejecting the rules in which poetry is traditionally bound, their words teemed with liberalism, detachment and attitude. Once a pen is put to paper, the writer’s intent becomes an impartial entity, as the reader’s interpretation is what projects an experience, thought, or feeling.
Lyricist and guitarist of Sheffield band The Crookes, Daniel Hopewell, writes in a stream of consciousness, similar to the poets of the Beat Generation. Like the letters, essays and novels of this movement weren’t void of rhythm, The Crookes’ songs are not void of literary skill. After touring the US this year with the release of their third LP – titled Soapbox – Hopewell, George Waite (vocals and bass guitar), Tom Dakin (lead guitar) and Russell Bates (drums) lived out the dream of travelling on the road.
Clementine Zawadzki: How would you define poetry?
Daniel Hopewell: People ask me about poetry and music, and I think they’re inextricably bound. Good poetry should be musical, and good music should be poetic. The idea I can write something, and someone could feel attached to it, that’s the most pleasing thing ever. But, I really don’t like poetry in the conventional sense. I like it when poetry is lived out in actions.
CZ: In your opinion, were beat poets considered radical more because of their cultural views, or because of how they were expressed?
DH: If you read On The Road, for example, and thought it’s just a guy sitting behind a desk coming up with a fictional story, it wouldn’t be that good, it’s just ‘cause you know that it’s all true. It’s almost like the writing is just an after thought, and the actual poetic business of it was the travelling. The story is just a way of capturing that in retrospect, but it’s the actual living of it that I find interesting.
CZ: Does the tone and pace in which we read a story change the intent of the words? Is this the same with lyrics in music?
DH: It might be wrong, but I don’t really have any ownership over a song. Whoever listens to it is welcome to interpret it however they want. It’s weird, because George sings it as well, so it’s not like I have any control over it. I just write down the lyrics knowing what they’re about, and immediately it goes through a filter and he’s going to sing in a different way.
CZ: Don’t you tell him what the lyrics are about?
DH: No, I just write it down and let him sing it and interpret it. He says he’s like an actor. He has a very poetic voice though. I think I could write anything and he’d make it sound very poetic.
CZ: Do you agree that fiction is a lie through which we tell the truth? Do you find it easier to convey something heartfelt by using metaphors?
DH: I tend to double and triple code things so I don’t have to say exactly what I think, but I’m trying to stop that and be more honest and concise, but that’s the hardest thing. I think ‘Holy Innocents’ was the first song where I was just saying something and there was no hidden message, it was just to the point, but it was done in a way that was tasteful. I think the best songs are really simplistic, and you know exactly what’s being said, but it doesn’t make you cringe.
CZ: You’re releasing When You’re Fragile and Howl from your third album, Soapbox. What can you tell me about these songs?
DH: We went to this place called Hungry Wolf in Holland, and it was this little festival we were headlining in this rural area. After the festival finished, they had a massive wicker head of a wolf, howling up to the sky, which they later set fire to. We were all just standing in this field, and someone started howling like a wolf, and then all of these people were doing it. I thought I couldn’t let myself do it, but after a while I suddenly found myself howling at the top of my voice. It was really liberating to hear your voice go as loud as it possibly can. It got me thinking about how we were in the middle of nowhere, just letting everything go in front of strangers, but then in this major city, you could be sitting on a bus, or a subway, and be right next to people and never speak to them. You wouldn’t even lock eyes with them for fear they’ll think you’re crazy. It also got me thinking about the poem [Ginsberg’s Howl], like the idea, “I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness…” because we’re now getting destroyed by the fact we’re not talking to each other, and have lost the ability to communicate.
CZ: What sort of impact does a melody have on lyrical direction?
DH: I think it just reinforces ideas. It depends whether the music or the lyrics come first. Like certain melodies or chord progressions are inherently minor or major, and you can pick a certain chord that reinforces a line. I was reading about The Beach Boys’ God Only Knows the other day, about how the verse is really strange and unusual for a pop song, like the progression is almost incomplete. It’s only when it gets to the chorus that it makes more sense, so there’s something unsettling about the verse as it’s describing living in this world without someone. You get that feeling because the music and lyrical content support each other.
CZ: In what ways have you used rhythm and pace to help structure and communicate the meaning of lyrics?
DH: With Holy Innocents, it was the idea of something being cut short too soon, so we cut the song short. It’s about looking back on a relationship in the earliest stage, and the feeling you get when you first start seeing someone, when everything’s magical, and you’re constantly sharing inside jokes, and you’re in bed together and it’s in always the smallest possible corner of the bed. It’s that kind of excitement, and that just goes naturally after a certain point. People wonder where the chorus is, but it’s just all verse. It’s meant to mirror the fact you’re expecting something more to happen, but then it ends too soon. It was the same sort of concept with Soapbox when the line, “Young love screaming from the soapbox” comes in, and the guitars become really frenzied and mirror the lyrical content in chaos and madness.
CZ: What makes book or a writer appealing to you?
DH: Honesty. I don’t want to go down Hemmingway’s “the writer’s job is to tell the truth” aspect of things, but I think that’s the most difficult thing to do. At the moment, I’m fascinated by writing in the second person. I’m reading Bright Lights, Big City and it’s amazing.
CZ: What is it that you’ve loved about touring the US?
DH: My favourite places were the spaces in between the big cities, and I liken that to the spaces in between lines in books, it’s the untold stories I find really interesting. Obviously, if you go to New York or Los Angeles it’s amazing, but then you end up in a weird town in the middle of nowhere on a Wednesday night. You’ll spend a night hanging out and talking to people, knowing you’ll never see them again. I quite like that in a weird and sort of sad away. It’s nice talking to strangers, because you can lie to them, you can completely fabricate something, and they’ll never know. But, you could also tell them the truth, or something you wouldn’t tell your closest friends. I think it also depends how people listen. You could be talking, and some people listen to hear what you’re saying, and then some people are just waiting for their turn to talk. I think to be a good writer, you’ve really got to listen to people.
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