The Tour Bus: Orchestral Indie-Rock Band The Family Crest on Songwriting and Creativity

June 27, 2017 | by Jon Simmons

The Family Crest by Keith Stein

The Family Crest | Photo by Keith Stein


The Tour Bus is an ongoing series featuring musicians talking about staying creative while touring as well as offering mobile recording tips from the road. In this installment, Liam McCormick, multi-instrumentalist and frontman of orchestral indie-rock group The Family Crest, gives his take.

Where do you find inspiration for songwriting on the road?

Traveling has always been massively inspiring for me. Every new place has a different vibe, which leads to me producing different sounds and different styles of music. Currently, a lot of my inspiration has come from the friends I’ve made on the road over the last few years. Every time I hang with one of them, I learn of some new artist or am taken to some new spot with a new feel—a new source for inspiration. All of my ideas come when I’m out and about. I always have to pretend that I’m talking on my phone, when in actuality I’m desperately trying to sing a bunch of different parts into my phone's recording program. “Starts with bass… dun dun dun… then clarinet comes in… or maybe saxophone… oh yeah, the drums go like this…” I probably look like a nut to passersby.

How has touring affected your songwriting?

I write a lot of ideas constantly, but I usually don’t go back to them right away. Sometimes I won’t go back to a sample or demo for as long as a year or two. Touring and traveling have always put me in a space where I can sit and listen to all of the things I’ve written and break them down. I think a lot of the lyrical content makes more sense that way, as I can listen to it as a person not in that specific moment during which it's written…almost like an outside observer (or self-therapist).

It’s interesting, The Village was only made because I was traveling across Europe, and I decided to break into my catalog during a week-long drive around Norway. It gave me the time to actually listen to all of these things that I’d been screaming at myself for years, but I didn’t hear because I was creating in the moment without a chance to reflect. Most of the music since then has been conceived on the road. Touring has been a way to meet a lot of new people, experience a lot of new sounds, and find inspiration in new places.

What mobile recording challenges do you run into, and how do you work around them?

There are endless things that can go wrong when recording. The chances of that grow when you are not in a controlled environment like a studio. My first piece of advice is to have a backup for everything. Another mic that will work, another cable, a way to record without a specific preamp or compressor if the one you wanted to use is on the fritz.

My second tip is to keep your equipment clean and organized. There is nothing worse than needing something, thinking you’ve lost it, freaking out, and then finding it deep in the crevasses of your car or rig.

Lastly, don’t freak out when something goes wrong, because something is always going to go wrong. Just do your best to be prepared for it, like knowing where the closest music store is or having a friend that can lend you a piece of gear on the fly.

Anything else you’d like to add about staying creative and songwriting/capturing ideas while touring?

Be open to the ideas that are bubbling up to the surface. You may not love the idea at the time, but record it anyway. Worst case, it’s something that you can skip over every time you go through your catalog. Best case, in a month or a year you write a masterpiece based on it.

Lastly, don’t freak out about writer's block. I know it’s hard. We all feel like we’re never going to write again when it happens; like we’ve been tapped out. But eventually music will come. When you’re being honest and open with yourself, and not forcing it songs have a tendency to reveal themselves.

Be ready to record your song ideas when they hit. Download the Spire app, a free, multi-track recording app for iPhone.

The Tour Bus: Orchestral Indie-Rock Band The Family Crest on Songwriting and Creativity