“I liked songs with the names of towns in them and I liked songs with weather in them and something to eat (laughs). So I feel like there’s a certain anatomical aspect to a song that I respond to. I think: “Oh yeah, I can go into that world. There’s something to eat, there’s the name of a street, there’s a saloon, okay.” So probably that’s why I put things like that in my songs.”
Have you ever gagged on chlorine in a swimming pool?
Smelled rubber as you closed your lips around the thin throat of a balloon?
Swirled a glass of red wine to release complex scents of licorice, dark chocolate, and cinnamon?
Stepped out onto the lawn to inhale the smell of freshly-cut grass?
Today we’re going to zero in on smells and tastes.
When we talk about imagery, it’s easy to forget that imagery isn’t just visual–it can stimulate any of the senses. Unless you’re a wine taster or a chef, you probably don’t spend a lot of time thinking consciously about your senses of taste and smell. That’s about to change.
Ready to get a little weird in pursuit of lyric ideas?
Good! Because in case you haven’t guessed it yet, I’m about to recommend that you run around sniffing and licking things.
Any experience, however small, draws upon a complex web of memories and associations you’ve built up over the years. The bitter taste of black coffee. The chilly scent of peppermint. The burning pain of a chili pepper squeezed between your molars. The meaty, savory taste of an heirloom tomato. The stifling smell that greets you when you open the attic door. The scent of mildew and concrete in a cool, damp cellar.
Any one of these small observations could trigger more sense memories. That attic smell might remind you of a dusty chest of drawers and moth-eaten dresses. The peppermint taste may remind you of candy canes. Or maybe it reminds you of nervously crunching an Altoid just before an important business meeting.
When you focus on simple things–when you listen to what your senses are telling you about the world–you discover ideas. Stay alert for the opportunity to spin these smells and tastes into your lyrics, too, because they often impact listeners just as strongly as they impact you.
In a mad quest to perceive and describe smells, wine tasters deliberately train themselves by creating “aroma study kits”. They carefully bottle the smells of honey, smoke, melons, pears, black pepper, chocolate… on and on. Later, when they’re actually tasting wine, their training will make it much easier to recognize those scents and flavors in the wine itself.
You don’t need to take it that far. But at the very least, pay attention to smells and tastes–and stay alert for opportunities to use those senses to stimulate and captivate your listeners.
Carefully selected smell and taste images really draw your listeners into the world of your song—and because most songwriters rarely or never include smell and taste in their lyrics, it’s a great way to stand out from the rest of the guitar-toting, piano-rolling crowd.
(visual) image by elisa piper