Monday, June 30, 2008

Collaborations, long-distance

I love watching those movie scenes where a songwriting team sits and writes together. The composer plays chords, “la la la”s a melody and the lyricist shoots off couplets and rhymes and hooks. And I’ll bet there are people that do write that way.

Me? Like most writers I’m extremely introverted (which puzzles and baffles people who meet me, because I’ve learned how to fake being extroverted, or at least emulate it. But it’s work, and it’s not my natural state). When I write, there’s more stroking of chin and furrowing of brow and counting of beats than talking.

Writing for me is a slow, patient craft. I have to go to my worktable, mentally. Pull out my tools, clean the bench off, set my project in front of me and whittle patiently. I need quiet and stillness. Not the same as editing, when I’m crossing out two words and looking for the perfect replacement – then I can listen to any sort of suggestion and try it out.

So collaborating over the internet has been perfect. I have only spoken to two of my collaborators live, and only months after we have written something. Everything has been e-mails, private messages and MP3 files passed back and forth. I get the collaborator’s thoughts, mull them over, construct an answer, thought or solution, and write back. Asynchronously.

What I’ve missed, though, are the back-and-forth sessions, the reading of body language, the ability to hum or beat out a suggestion quickly, the demonstration “here’s what I mean”…. Also, the written word alone can lead to misunderstandings, which can’t be cleared up easily long distance.

This week I will have my first live collaboration session with some local artists, on a lyric that fits their style. They like the lyric, they want to work with me on it, and I’m going to their studio. I need to be open to their ideas, and to communicate mine and……well, we’ll see what happens. It’s a challenge and an opportunity.

Sunday, June 29, 2008

The Lower East Side

The first thing I should mention is that a "double cappucino" at Starbucks does not mean a larger serving. It means a cappucino with a shot of espresso added in. So while I intended to crank myself up for a long evening of music, I hadn't intended to zap myself quite that much.

I had an overnight in NYC recently, after seeing an entertainment lawyer to go over the basics of the business. There is an apartment I sometimes have access to on weekends, which makes city trips a little more affordable.

I had a chance to visit with heretofore online friend, jazz pianist Kerry Politzer. Kerry is a highly accomplished jazz artist (I highly recommend her Labyrinth jazz CD for all of your parties). Her latest CD, in a singer/songwriter style, is available from eMusic, along with her earlier work.

At Rockwood Music Hall, my venue of choice, I got to see Johnny Marnell, a hot young singer, and his band. His stuff was very tight, and when he announced "The F**k Song" a cheer went up among his fans. I got to say hello to him afterwards, and made sure I said hi to Ken Rockwood, the manager. Rockwood is a very small space, and they do over 8 acts a night, every night. The room fills up, empties, and fills up again every hour. And there's no cover (though you should drop something in the bucket for the musicians).

The lawyer suggested I go over to The Living Room, a larger venue, with a lounge/bar in front and a big showroom in the back behind the curtain. I saw Larune and Susan Hurtuk, who are friends and fellow performers. Larune is the stage name of Kamara Thomas, who performed a cycle of songs called "Postcards From Bulgaria" -- which on the first listen is an exploration of suicide and death (cheery subjects) but in an Americana idiom. I bought the CD and have been enjoying repeated listenings. I'm not sure if it's a work in progress or a fully realized vision yet.

I went back to Rockwood to see David Martel from Montreal. The band was quite surreal. There was the obligatory big bass player, and drummer to the side. But Martel had an almost musical theatre mien, and kept doing odd little comic takes. His backup singer, Natasha, was introverted, and stood with her hands folded, her shoulders hunched in on herself -- though she sounded wonderful. In addition, the band featured a female cellist (!) and accordion player (!!). It was a fascinating hour.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008


When you are working on the lyrics you are concentrating on the consonants

When you are working on the music you are concentrating on the vowels

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Philly Songwriters Concert

I went out to a Philly Songwriters Showcase to hear some of the other local folk, and to meet some people. The event was held at Burlap and Bean in Newtown Square, a very nice coffeeshop. I wish I could drink coffee at night, to get the full effect of the atmosphere (and to wake up my creative muscles) but coffee in the evening is something I only indulge in on vacation, when I'm by myself.

I finally made the acquaintance of Dena, who founded Philly Songwriters, and sat with her. I've talked to some other people around the country about the sorts of local groups they have. There are several "songwriter" circles in places, certainly some good supportive organizations; there are also organizations that seem to have been set up for the benefit of the founders. This is about as positive an example as you could find. Dena really is looking to give local voices a showcase, a chance to develop their sound, and to have people learn from each other.

The first act was Lee Whitaker, a folk singer with a solid presence and a strong folkie voice. His songs are plainspoken and he is one of those people who can really make his guitar "talk." He ran into a gentleman who played the harmonica, and who joined him on stage -- despite never having heard the songs before. You couldn't tell, he slipped right in.

The second act was The Lyra Project, a male-female duo who fell somewhere in the area between AAA and Adult Contemporary, with a spiritual pop bent. (Yes, tough to describe). Their sound was just perfect for a lyric I had on my site, and they've invited me to come to their studio next month to work on it with them.

Finally, a sister act, The Jones Girls, who sang lyrical songs about "mean boys" and who have trouble naming their songs, did a set. They are among the finalists for the Philly Songwriters contest next week, so I'll get to hear them again.

There's a lot of talent and lots of nice people out there....

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Rumplestiltzkin: Dead at 95

I've just posted the last of the current crop of demos. The song is Rumplestiltzkin: Dead at 95.

There's a Creativity Board at The Muses' Muse, and a thread where people write quick rhymes in response to proposed titles. One friend tried to stump everyone with this title. I quickly reviewed the story (maiden tries to save her father from king's anger by saying she can spin straw into gold, she promises her first born son to Rumplestiltzkin for the talent, the king marries her, she has a son and tricks Rumplestiltzkin by discovering his name).

So I wondered what happened to the characters over the last 30-40 years (assuming this is version of the story where Rumplestiltzkin leaves and doesn't die right away). The infant has grown up, the woman has been queen for was an opportunity to ask the question why did Rumplestiltzkin want that child so much.

It's not the smoothest of lyrics, but this is probably one of the most compact and perfect bridges I've ever written, and it makes the song work, I think.

I wrote out a melody and chords, and this is the third of the Blue Cave Studio demos, also with vocal by Lisa Gregory, and guitar by Darryl Gregory.

Everyone dies with several regrets...

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Queen of Multitasking

Some time ago a friend of mine on The Muses' Muse told me in a PM that she was the Queen of Multitasking.  I know a good title when I hear one.  I asked permission to steal it.

I wanted to write something quirky, Christine Lavin-ish.   I came up with a really baroque rhyme scheme:   ABACBCDE FGFHGHDE.

Yes it works.  And yes, I managed to hit the rhymes three verses running.    

I tried to interest some folkie types to work on the song but it never got off the ground.  Eventually I got a nagging tune in my head for it.

Now, I'm not the most accomplished musician, but I struggled to put together a melody and chord chart, with some help from Jim Chapman.    I hired Darryl Gregory at Blue Cave Studios to record it, with a female vocalist (Lisa Murray).'s up on the website now.    Enjoy "Queen of Multitasking".