SPB: As a multi-instrumentalist, what is your composition process for a song and/or record?
Ross: While I don't have a set formula per se, I do seem to follow some familiar patterns when writing. Most of my compositions for the past number of years have a drone or repetitive phrase as the bed of the piece, and that drone/phrase is usually written first and spontaneously. From there, I will work to write either complementary parts to the phrase or the main melody, depending on where the inspiration is. The former usually comes fairly quickly. The melody almost always comes in chunks: 30 seconds here, a minute there, until it feels like it has reached a natural conclusion.
Once the melody is established, the process usually becomes less intuitive and more deliberate. At this point I usually know what the composition is about, so I'll go over the melody again to cut out unnecessary parts or emphasize something I particularly like in order to better tell the story (it's all about telling stories). I work on the piece to the point where I am comfortable playing it live by myself, then hand it off to other musicians to augment it for recording. Sometimes I have a particular feel I want them to follow. Usually, though, I let them come up with their own parts; from my experience, the final product is almost always served better by soliciting true collaboration.
I definitely write with a focus on albums, ensuring that things hang together thematically. I might be really excited about a particular composition, but if it doesn't fit naturally with an album I am working on it will be set aside for a later date, or no date at all. Again, it's all about telling stories.