February 5, 2006

Well, I promised at least some more discussion on the songwriting progress here in Nashville, but I have to begin by saying my precious Seahawks lost the Superbowl a few short minutes ago, and I'm sad. They played very well though, and the teams were evenly matched. I don't have any hard feelings against the Steelers, but as much as everyone raved about their defense, I have to say that Seattle's defense was great too, and there were some bad calls made tonight that hurt them pretty badly. BUT....no dice this year. My boys in blue did their best. I've never been a big sports fan, but the '05 baseball season was exciting as I was allowed to be an honorary Sox fan for Michael's sake. Then, when the playoffs started for football, I was rooting consecutively for the Bears and the Seahawks to do well (Not to be sexist but I guess it seems like women can get away with having such traitorous feelings, our ambivalence is more 'allowable' - men are more die-hard about their teams!?) and I was pleased they made it to the Superbowl at all.

On to music. The writing process, as I think I mentioned a bit in yesterday's blog, is very different when writing with someone else. I've always written my own material exclusively, and the only person I've ever used as a sounding-board on a few occasions is Michael. I never thought that co-writing would allow for songs to remain personal, since no two people can share the exact same experience, or view something exactly the same way. However, having said that, there's a beauty to the discipline co-writing requires. The one goal Matt and I are trying to achieve with these songs we are doing is to push me into popular territory so that once I've been noticed or established on a larger scale, my other original songs can gain a wider audience as well. Wrapped up inside that goal is the absolute intention to retain my artistic integrity, which is a dime-a-dozen term that is thrown out there a lot these days, but which is the best term I can think of to express what I'm feeling.

When we start a song, we actually go for a rhythm track first. We're using rhythm samples from the best programs in the world. We layer and edit them for a precise feel, even choosing a tempo for the loop. Honestly, as the songs are now, they remind one more of Moby than, say, Sarah McLachlan. We're using a lot of inorganic sounds to create an intense feel, but when the songs are actually recorded, most of the tracks we are writing will be re-recorded with acoustic instruments, so the drive will remain, but the feeling will become more organic. The rhythm tends to draw a certain 'feeling' out, leading us to either pick up a guitar, or lean into the keyboard. Once the chord progression starts to take shape, we tweak it little-by-little as each of us come up with ideas. Generally, Matt will sit and play our chord progression over and over again, as I start taking notes on lyrical ideas and I pick up the little hand-held tape recorder and hum melodies into it as they come to me. Concurrently, we're building the format for the song. NEVER before have I worried about song format. I understand various song formats, I've read about them, analyzed them, and basically thrown them out the window when it comes to my own music. My songs speak through me - I've never been all that disciplined about tearing them apart and shuffling them around to fit the commercial format. However, amazingly, it does lend a certain freedom to the process when you start only with a musical concept, and immediately force yourself to decide how many bars of a certain theme you're going to allow for a verse, whether you're going to put in a bridge or simply tag a different theme onto the end, etc. Depending on how long your melodic ideas are, much of the format 'places' itself. Once things feel right, (and keep in mind we're checking the 'clock' to see if we sit in prime radio-length real estate) you start finalizing and refining the melodic ideas you've been tossing around. The lyrics have been coming last. I had thought that lyrics would be the most difficult, and in some ways they are, but NOT for the reason I had anticipated. Generally I have been throwing out a nearly completed line, and then we refine them together. I've enjoyed the way that having another person there allows you to discuss the direction of the song, make sure you're sticking to the theme, etc. It's been interesting, and incredibly enjoyble. I can't believe how different and yet still MY style the songs are...I am really glad I'm having the opportunity to do this with Matt. I've probably made this sound like a science, not very romantic at all, but for all my worries about being stymied and feeling like these songs have no hart, I find the creative thrill is very much alive even in writing songs this way.

The differences in the above-described process from my usual process are: I never worry about form when starting a song; I almost always have separate lyrical and melodic and chordal concepts running around separately in my head and marry them later when something suddenly 'clicks'; I never take notes or discuss my ideas or themes, lyrics usually are spit out of me rapidly after an experience or feeling occurs about which I feel compelled to write; and I never worry about how long or short the song is. I find value in both methods, structured, unstructured, disciplined or entirely free.

We will probably have most of three songs done and a fourth song started by the end of this trip. On my next trip, which will be either late March or early April, we will finish writing, and also start laying down the final tracks on these songs. I have a feeling things will continue to be altered long-distance as the songs have a chance to sit like a good stew. The lyrics, in particular, will probably go through several more iterations.

Well - I'm off to get a good night's sleep. I am so energized during our sessions and then all of a sudden my body lets me know I've been using more energy than I thought I had. Good night....

February 4, 2006

Wow! Here I am in Nashville with some time to spare between writing sessions, thinking about how amazingly this year has begun.

The first thing that comes to mind is the show we played in Versailles, MO at the Royal Theater, which I don't think I will ever forget. If I could spend an entire year travelling to little cities of this size and play shows for crowds this friendly and appreciative, I would actually consider it an ideal way to tour. I've played for bigger crowds (the theater holds 300 and was nearly full) but rarely has the entire experience seemed so...easy, and completely centered around the art.

When we arrived, we met Elvin, who helped us load in our gear, and along with his son and daughter, mixed our sound. His family is full of accomplished bluegrass musicians, so we were working with people who understood our needs, were efficient and responsive, and utterly friendly. The theater, which was a converted movie theater and still had the decorative neon lights along the aisle walls and a big black velvet curtain in front of which we played, was beautiful. It is now a playhouse and performing arts theater, so we had a huge green room/dressing room, (hot water from the sink to warm our hands!) and was connected to a large storefront next door where they do art shows and community events. There was a stained glass art exhibit the night we played so all the season ticket holders browsed through the art next door and partook of snacks and beverages before heading to our show.

We planned an intense two hour set. The crowd was also interested in hearing a little about me, where my career is headed, where I'm from, and the stories behind my songs. It was such a refreshing change of pace to play to an audience where - no exaggeration - you could hear a needle drop. It was also - no kidding - a bit disconcerting. Every slip of finger on string, every flick of the Djembe, every step, every sniffle, every cough, every whisper of my breath, was heard. As a performer you become more conscious, and it draws more out of you, but you also have to be careful not to become SELF-conscious in the extreme, which is difficult when suddenly everything that is normally muffled by the drone of clinking classes and filtered through the haze of cigarette smoke is suddenly crystal clear and Dolby.

I played only with Michael and BA, and we really played to each other's strengths. The songs were allowed to beathe in that sparser surrounding, and the recording of the night turned out really well. I wouldn't be surprised if some of those cuts end up as bonus tracks on the fan club site or elsewhere.

The trip itself was memorable, because we also had our photographer Kevin Dingman along for the ride, and his sense of humor lends a whole new ambience to the experience. (And let's not take for granted the fact that he continually and uncomplainingly donates his time to photograph us - any of you who've visited the website have seen much of his work). Three of my longtime listeners (and now friends) from Columbia, Mark, Melissa, and Jeannine, went out of their way not only to attend the show but to sell merchandise for me. I KNOW I'm not very good at selling and promoting my own music - I don't know what that says about me, but I have a hard time doing it for some reason - but these three are a force to be reckoned with. Since many in the audience were of an age where I didn't anticipate they'd feel the need to take the CD home with them, I was pelased and surprised at the great sales, and it's due to Jeannine, Melissa, and Mark. I know I say it ad nauseum, but I am blessed beyond measure for the people who surround me and believe in me.

Perhaps the most enjoyable part of the evening was finding a little local restaurant at which to eat dinner. It's the type of place where you've got to try the special because you know you've never tasted anything like it and never will again - each small town seems to have a slightly different take on something you've eaten thousands of times in your life. To the rear of our table sat Elvin and his family, so we ocassionally bantered over our shoulders at them. Right as we got up to leave, a group of four friendly retirees at the table to our right who had been eating their dinners unassumingly said to me, "don't start the show before we get there!" I figure about half of the people eating there that night were headed to our show afterward (and yes, they knew who I was)! You can't PLAN that kind of experience....it was too cool.

This year is also starting out well, as we got booked to play Senator Chuck Graham's birthday party at MoJo's, started a new recording project with the Hilary Scott Band, and finalized the publishing deal (which I am this very day working on) in Nashville with Matthew Wilder, among other things. I am hoping to write about our first recording session at the Bridge Studio and the current Nashville project today or tomorrow when I get more time to blog; you might hear more blabber from me than you have in a while, which could be good or bad, you choose. Right now I am planning on watching a brainless flick so I am fresh for tomorrow. We've been spending 8 hours each day writing, finishing a song a day - and laying tracks at the same time. It's intense, but invigorating. I never knew creativity 'on demand' could actually be so nearly effortless. Ironic, eh?

GO SEAHAWKS! (I might be watching the SuperBowl with Nashville singer-songwriter Steff Mahan who I just met at the recent Columbia show she played at MoJo's - she's a peach to invite me when she doesn't know me from Eve, but hey, I can't celebrate alone!)