Brad Meador
     blog       music       about
Nov 13

Songwriters on Songwriting

Filed under: books | Back to: Homepage

image I’ve been reading a really interesting book.  Paul Zollo was the editor of SongTalk magazine for a number of years and had the opportunity to interview some of the world’s greatest songwriters.  Songwriters on Songwriting is a compilation of his interviews from the past 20 years or so.  He sits down with the likes of Bob Dylan, Paul Simon, Randy Newman and many others to talk about the craft of songwriting.  I’m about 3/4 of the way through the book (730 pages and 62 interviews!).  Here are some interesting notes that have stuck in my head:

  • Paul Simon seemed to dismiss all of his work with Art Garfunkel as immature.  Most of the music for Graceland was completed in the studio before he started actually writing the lyrics.
  • There doesn’t seem to be one “right way” to approach songwriting, with one exception – almost all songwriters talk about carving out regular time every day to craft music.  This reminds me of a recent interview with Ryan Adams.
  • All writers agreed that songwriting is hard work, but most referred to the occasional song that seemed to come from somewhere outside of them in an inspirational flash.  I have had this happen on a few songs – nothing left to lose is the latest.  I’m not sure that I buy into these songs as gifts from a higher power, but I do think that if you are constantly thinking about this stuff and you’re listening for good ideas, you’ve set the stage to allow inspiration to grab you.
  • That said, Townes Van Zandt dreamt he was playing a new song on stage, liked it so much that he played it again to teach it to himself, and woke up the next morning able to play it for his friends (Guy and Susannah Clark).  Wow.
  • On the other end of the spectrum, Sammy Cahn, who wrote many timeless classics for the likes of Frank Sinatra, did so mostly on spec (i.e. Frank’s got a movie with title The Tender Trap, I need you to have a song of that title written by this afternoon).  His joke – Q: “Which comes first, the lyric or the music?” A: “The phone call!”
  • Finally, I really have no idea what Bob Dylan was talking about in his interview, but it sure sounded beautiful.

If you’re interested in songwriting as a craft, I highly recommend putting Songwriters on Songwriting on your reading list.

Jul 22

Firecracker – So Long Someday

Filed under: albums, books | Back to: Homepage

I don’t feel music like I used to.  In high school and college I would get albums that I would listen to over and over and over and over again.  Stuff by Lyle Lovett and Cowboy Junkies and Dwight Yoakam and Chris Isaak and whoever else really grabbed me wound up in high rotation for months before I even thought about listening to something else.

But as an adult, that doesn’t happen to me that much any more.  I have a lot of theories for it:

  • Too many albums at my disposal
  • More discriminating
  • Not enough time to absorb new material

Daniel J. Levitin has a better theory in This Is Your Brain on Music (great book!).  I’m paraphrasing, but one of the points he makes is that teenagers’  brains are better wired to be overcome by the effect of music – to really feel the sound in a way that adults can’t.

image I would buy into that theory except for the fact that occasionally an album comes along that I play all day, every single day, for months on end.  Firecracker – So Long Someday is one of those albums.

I picked up So Long Someday after finding out that a Rhett Miller song was on the album.  The music is right up my alley – pop/rock songs above love lost with a little grit thrown in on the side and some great lead guitar work.  Scout, the lead singer and songwriter, has an appealing voice, his lyrics are heartfelt, and the sound crafted on this recording is soothing.

The sad thing about all this is that these guys are local and were playing gigs right down the block at the Hotel Utah.  By the time I became transfixed by this album, I only caught a few acoustic gigs before they seemed to disappear.  I still hold out hope that Scout or the band will resurface in some form somewhere in the City.

Note to self – go see more local, live music so that I don’t make this mistake again.