Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Every Girl You Meet

I pretty much have to write this post backwards, because while there’s a long and winding backstory, there’s a more exciting ending. “Parentheses,” a song I cowrote with Jen Foster, was featured in an instrumental on the online series “Venice,” and is now available on Jen’s website for download. And frankly, I could stop typing right there and that would be blogworthy.

“Venice” is a spinoff-that-isn’t-a-spinoff from the cancelled soap THE GUIDING LIGHT. But even if you’re not a soap fan, the circuitous new-media route “Venice” has taken is an object lesson on how the television business is changing before our eyes.

THE GUIDING LIGHT featured a budding romance between two female characters, Olivia (played by Chrystal Chapell) and Natalia (played by Jessica Leccia). Neither character was identified as gay (as a matter of fact, they were in love with the same man). But the producers decided to bring them together, on a very long arc, so that their relationship grew naturally, over time. They never quite got to being a couple on GL, as it was cancelled two years ago.

However, Olivia and Natalia had a huge fan base (google “Otalia” and you’ll see what I mean). There were a lot of women, gay and otherwise, who watched in amazement as a mainstream soap showed a realistic incipient romance between two women, that wasn’t portrayed as sensationalistic or unhealthy. Fans wanted to know that “Otalia” finally got together.

So actress Crystal Chapell and writer Kim Turissi decided to “put on a show.” They created a web-only series taking place in Venice Beach, CA, with the two actresses from GUIDING LIGHT playing two totally new characters (Gina, an artist, and Ani, a photographer). In this series, both characters are gay, and have a history, but as the series starts they are breaking apart.

“Venice” was done on a shoestring, with actors and technicians donating their services for a while, just to get it done, with the hopes it would become a viable entertainment in time, finding its way to cable or even network. The first season had short (ten minute or so) episodes, filmed in peoples’ homes.

Season 3 is now started; the production values are way up and the storylines are coming into focus, Music plays a big part in “Venice” and the fans follow every artist whose music is featured, including my friend Coles Whalen. The show is supported in part by selling subscriptions to the series – you need to pay for access, but it’s only $10 for the whole season.

But the main musical voice belongs to Jen Foster, whose song “Venice Beach” was chosen to be the theme song. Jen’s music appears often on “Venice” and when she performs, the fans come out to hear her. (Jen deserves – and will eventually get – a blog post of her own. )

So in Episode 2, which was posted tonight, Gina and Ani have a big scene on the beach, where Gina discovers that Ani’s current lover may have hit her. The music underscoring the entire scene is the arrangement for“Parentheses” featuring my lyric and Jen’s music (with some collaborative overlap). The music fit the scene like a glove, and the lyric (which wasn’t used on screen) could be their theme song.

It’s wonderful to watch the song finally see the light of day. Available now at!

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Long(ing)ley to Nashville

A few years back, when I was looking around on the International Songwriting Competition site, listening to past winners, I saw an irresistible title. The winner in 2006 for Americana was “Girls With Apartments In Nashville” by Joy Lynn White and Duane Jarvis. It’s a little lyric about the flood of young, pretty things who flock to Nashville, ready to take the town by storm with their voice, their fretwork and their songs. Film actors to LA, stage actors to NYC, country singers to Nashville.

And when someone tells you they’re making that move, gonna make it in the big city, you want to wish them well, you hope the best for them, and at the same time you wince inwardly, knowing the odds, and how ruthless a dream can be in cutting down sensible advice.

But I think Liz Longley has a better shot than most. I had heard about Liz for a while, as she’s originally from Philly, and her name comes up from time to time (“oh, she’s great!”) but I hadn’t made it out to one of her gigs. Last night, my friends Seth Glier and Ryan Hommel were back at the Tin Angel, and they were opening for Liz. Liz and Seth went to music school together, are good friends, and are currently touring to raise awareness of food banks – on the “Food For Thought” tour, they are collecting non-perishable foods for delivery within the community. (I made sure I brought a nice full bag, which of course broke while carrying it out to the van).

But as I say, she a lot working in her favor. Her songwriting is quite good – humorous at times, creative, a knack for phrasing, and with the crucial knowledge of when a song happens…what events, sent through the prism of what notions, crystallize into a few verses and chorus that say a little and resonate.

And she’s young, which is a two-edged sword. Young people flock to Nashville, and most will be chewed up by the system because of their lack of life experience. But you have to be young, and stay young, to attract any attention from those who shine the spotlights so many want to feel on their faces.

More to the point, she has a fan base already, built up with care from Philly out to the rest of the country. People in Nashville don’t want to figure out what they can do for you – they want to know what you can do for them. You can’t build a fan base in Nashville, just about everyone there is a fellow songwriter. But it’s a smart place to be – for collaboration, networking, studio sessions – if you have musical life outside. Relationships with songwriters and venues all over the map – something to offer, something that means something.

And her boyfriend, Gus Berry, who plays guitar and sings backup with her, is mainly into production and engineering, which is where actual money is being made these days. So they won’t starve. And knowing your way around a studio is crucial for the do-it-yourself-ness of today’s market.

So, with a solid fanbase, a studio guru, a few CDs in the can, a catalog of songs, a record of co-writing, plus youth and good looks and a sweet voice – there’s not much more you can pack in your trunk before heading to Music City USA. I was glad to meet Liz last night, and wish her and Gus well in Nashville, I hope the best for them, and I didn’t even wince inwardly when I said that.