Launched a new band: the LoFi Decibels

Featuring all original songs in the Americana genre, the LoFi Decibels provide songs that are introspective with an emphasis on story telling and whiskey.

You can watch a video of several of our songs here

Eric Church on songwriting

Bruce Springsteen on songwriting

Songwriter Interview: Trent Gay

It’s always neat when you’re a fan of a musician, and then you get to know them personally and you’re even more of a fan of theirs. No disappointment.

I’ve had some very interesting conversations with Trent over the past couple of years about music, musicians, songwriting, songs. One such conversation took place in the context of Trent’s music blog, – the Freezing Process. So it was only a matter of time before I’d ask Trent if he would agree to do this interview, and I was pumped when he accepted to play along.

Trent is a member of several bands, and just last year, one of them – Paranoid Social Club – hit the road and played a whole bunch of dates in a whole bunch of states around this great nation. One reason why I look forward to our conversations is because Trent is that music lover who doesn’t just focus on one genre of music. He’s a also a great Twitter follow, for those of you who are into that sort of thing, at @TrentTZA.

Without further ado, here’s the interview:

1. Please share whatever biographic details you feel comfortable sharing:
I currently play music with Paranoid Social Club, Anna Lombard and Arc Of Sky, though I write only for Arc Of Sky. I also co-host, a podcast about Maine music.

2. When it comes to songwriting, is this something you always did even before you were involved in gigging?
Yes. I started writing songs in my teens and playing at open mic nights as soon as I turned 21.

3. Do you write the lyrics first, then the music, the other way around, or is there no set formula?
Usually I start with a bit of music, just enough to get a vocal melody going. Then I work on all of it together; music, vocal melody and lyrics. Most of the time I develop the vocal melody before I put lyrics down but there are times when both happen simultaneously. 

4. Given a choice, would you rather write on your own or co-write?
I haven’t done much co-writing and what little I’ve done I’ve found challenging, though I’m certainly open to it. [editor’s note: anytime you want to give it a shot, you know where to find me!]

5. As a songwriter, who is your main influence?
Favorite songwriters are Bob Dylan, Morrissey, Elvis Costello, Kurt Cobain, and Kanye West among many others, though I never think about them when writing. I just try to write the best melodies and lyrics I can. 

6. On “How Long”, which is my favorite song of yours, there’s an ache and an urging. May I ask if the song came from a personal experience? For that matter, is personal experience a main driver of your songwriting?
All my songs come from personal experience. Through the writing process those experiences are tweaked, embellished, diminished, inverted, contrasted, imagined, mixed up or whatever and the song itself becomes the most important thing, rather than accurately chronicling any real life story. Once the writing is underway, I take whatever license I feel works for it. So while I always start from a personal experience and feeling, the end result is a song, not a biography. What’s that quote about art being a lie that tells a greater truth? 

7. Do you believe in scheduled writing efforts – like every morning from 1000 to 1200hrs without fault – or do you prefer a more organic solution where you write whenever the fancy/inspiration strikes you?
Scheduled writing doesn’t work for me. To me, the point of songwriting is capturing a moment of inspiration and sharing an emotional connection with others. That’s what I want as a listener and I don’t know how to schedule it. Wish I did. 

8. How did Radio Silence come to be? [Listen to the song here]
I was strumming a chord progression I liked with that Cmaj7 and A9 and thinking about someone with whom I wasn’t speaking and then that pre-chorus came up. I spent a lot of time honing the vocal melodies and lyrics for that one, going through it note by note and word by word many times over before it was finished. 

9. Have you ever said or heard someone say something and thought to yourself “There’s a song in that”, and then wrote the song? If yes, which song is that?
No. I’d love for that to happen some day. 

10. I have seen you wield a guitar fearlessly on stage many times; do you use other instruments to write songs?
No, I don’t play or write on anything but guitar. 

11. Is there a song that came together in less than 30 minutes from original idea to finished product?
Yes. A Thing Like Mine from the Arc Of Sky EP was one of those. Thirty minutes total is pretty close. That’s a great feeling. 

12. When you write a song, what makes you think “Yup, that one will be on the CD” as opposed to “I like you, I’m happy I wrote you, but you won’t end up on the CD”?
I dunno, it’s either good enough or not. I’m not happy to write anything that I don’t think is good enough to release and I’ll immediately forget those songs and never play them again. Might remember a part to use later in another song. 

13. When you write a song, if you write it with just an acoustic guitar, how much of the final arrangement as a full band enters into the equation?

None. I write on acoustic guitar and the full band arrangement doesn’t enter my mind other than a general vibe, if that. Then I bring it to people I trust and am open to whatever they feel, even if it’s a direction I hadn’t considered. In many cases those surprises from other people are some  of my favorite parts of the process. That’s when a song becomes something more than what it was when I wrote it, through a creative contribution from someone else. 

14. Which songwriter out there do you think doesn’t receive enough accolade for his/her work?
That’s a tough one. There are so many amazing writers who never really get their due. David Lowery of Camper Van Beethoven and Cracker is one of my favorite writers who kinda flies under the radar. Jesse Lacey of Brand New is another. Jay Farrar of Son Volt is one of my favorites. Doug Martsch of Built To Spill. The list goes on. 

15. Do you ever use tricks to “prime the pump” when the inspiration well has run dry? If so, what are they?
No, I wish I knew some. 

16. Do you have any advice for beginner songwriters?
Melody, melody, melody. And be honest. 

17. If I told you can have three things of your choice to go write a song… what would those three things be?
A guitar, beer and cigarettes. 

18. When do you know that the time to stop tinkering with a song has come?
When every note I sing is the note I wanna sing and every word is exactly the word I wanna say. I play the whole thing through and finally, there’s nothing left to be done. Play it a few more times to be sure. Now I’m done. 

19. Please finish the sentence: Songwriting is…
The most enjoyable and rewarding pain in the ass I know of. 

20. What should be know about the upcoming Arc of Sky CD? 
I’m very proud and extremely honored to have had the kind of talent I had contribute to Arc Of Sky. To have people like Jon Roods, Anna Lombard, Ray Suhy and Jonathan Wyman work so hard and with such enthusiasm to bring my songs to life was an amazing experience and I hope that energy comes through in the songs. Also proud to have Anna [Lombard] contribute the first song she has ever written entirely by herself to the project. I feel like it’s the best work I’ve ever done and am excited for people to hear it.

Will Hoge – Even If It Breaks Your Heart

Sure, the Eli Young Band made the song famous, but “Even If It Breaks Your Heart” is a song written by Will Hoge and Eric Paslay in April 2009 and originally recorded by Hoge on his seventh studio album, The Wreckage.

Bruce Robison – Angry All The Time

Before this song was made famous by Tim McGraw, it was written by the very talented Bruce Robison. His wife Kelly Willis is also featured on the track – and is a fine singer/songwriter herself.

The song reached Number One on the Billboard Hot Country Singles & Tracks.


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Songwriter Interview: Jay Basiner from This Way

1. Please share whatever biographic details you feel comfortable sharing:

I was born into a very musical family. My dad, the son of a conductor on the railroad in Massachusetts, was brought up learning countless American folk songs. Traveling songs, hobo songs, train songs, drinking songs, love songs, etc… My father was and still to this day is always singing and playing the acoustic guitar.
Songs were a second language in my home and music was a mandatory part of my upbringing from violin and piano lessons starting at age 4 to drum set instruction starting at age 12 to guitar playing in college. The guitar is my primary instrument today, but it was the last one I picked up and the only instrument I play regularly that I received no formal training in.

Likewise, my mother’s side of the family was filled with music. Because they were Italian, many of the songs I remember at family gatherings during the holidays were in Italian, accompanied by my Uncle Benny who was an accomplished accordion player.

I was always a drummer in bands growing up. In college, I started playing guitar and started the first edition of the Jay Biddy Band with Dave Patterson who is the bass player in This Way. Dave and I have been playing music together for something like 12 years. I remember the first edition of the band played a lot of Paul Simon, which still to this day is one of my biggest influences.

I received an electric guitar for Christmas one year and my musical life became infatuated with louder rock & roll music rather than the more folksy / country music I grew up with. The Jay Biddy Band took our cues from bands like the E Street Band, Rolling Stones, The Beatles and Tom Petty to name a few.

The Jay Biddy Band, which was always a cover party band, took on a new persona as the Crossfire Inferno and we recorded and released an album called “Restless” which was a 3-piece garage rock/punk/alt country project.

The next project was This Way, which included Crossfire Inferno drummer Seth Kearns, guitarist Max Cantlin, keyboard player Jeff Merrow, Dave Patterson on bass, Anna Patterson on background vocals and myself on guitars and vocals. That version of the band was as close to the wall of sound type E Street obsession as I will ever get. The songs were anthemic, big and boastful with soaring guitar licks and solos, thick harmony, pounding drums, lyrics about liberation and a very schticky stage show with myself really trying to be a Springsteen like figure. That band released a record called “We Could All Make History”.

In my spare time, I was writing a lot and the songs were much different than the songs on WCAMH.
My interest in the whole rock atmosphere began to diminish and I took things back to the basics of my childhood. The acoustic guitar, the voice and simple, honest lyrics were really all that mattered again. Simplicity was key and the over the top stage performance style seemed to be rather trite and forced and not what I felt was my most authentic musical self.

The reconstruction of This Way happened much more organically than a planned course. Max, Seth and Jeff had all left the band and we were in very much of a transitional period and we had considered dissolving the band. I had continued to write, though when Andrew Martelle showed up from Nashville to live back in Maine where him and his wife are from, it felt like we had a considerable band again. And we did.

2. When it comes to songwriting, is this something you always did even before you were involved in gigging?

I began songwriting around the same time I started playing guitar. I had grown up playing violin, piano and drums and never wrote any music per se, rather just played music. When I started playing guitar, I used songs to teach myself the guitar. I would learn a song and then apply it to songwriting. For me, songwriting never was something I did for thoughts of doing it as a career. I just wanted to express myself through music and lyrics. The more I did it, the better I became at writing effectively.

3. Do you write the lyrics first, then the music, the other way around, or is there no set formula?

There needs to be a spark for a good song to be born. Sometimes that spark is a phrase or single word I found intriguing and pregnant with creative possibilities at a certain moment. Often times that spark is a chord progression or guitar lick that is unique and not obviously clichéd. After gigs, I often will decompress by picking a guitar quietly in my living room. Because my gigs usually have me performing some of what I consider the finest written songs, I feel like I am at an able place after gigs to create something new and clever.

If the spark that starts a new song is a musical one, I force myself to compose as much as I can until I’m out of ideas and I record all of these ideas. Inspiration comes in such spurts that you must seize it when it knocks at your door.

If I just came up with a cool chord progression, then I can probably come up with an equally unique melody. If I am able to come up with a melody too, then I’m probably at a good place to arrange the form as well.

So I’ll work on one of these ideas for as long as I can until I’m either finished or out of ideas.

The next day, I will go back into my enormous list of lyrical ideas and emotions and try to find a lyrical spark that will make the melody and chord progressions a song.

4. There is often a nostalgic, nod-to-the-past flavor in your songs. How important is that to your songwriting?

I’m inspired by pushing the genre in which I work further–adding something to the fabric of Americana music, which is where I feel I am my most creative and honest. I love folks like Avett Brothers, Gillian Welch, Ryan Adams, Mumford and Sons, The Civil Wars… Those guys aren’t reinventing a musical wheel, they are using a familiar wheel to drive a vehicle that will carry new and urgent emotional sentiments of the here and now that have the potential to deeply affect people’s lives.

5. Do you write with Andrew (Martelle, mandolin & fiddle player) & the rest of the band, or usually alone?

I have written a bit with Andrew and I will continue to do so I’m sure, though when I write, I need to take myself into a very deeply personal and vulnerable place to dig out something real and not contrived. I like being alone at my most vulnerable so I can really let my feelings breathe.

6. How do you feel that Bruce Springsteen’s songs have impacted your songwriting?

I think Bruce is one of these American artists that have effectively written timeless rock, pop, folk and country songs. The Pop Springsteen is the most recognizable, but not the most inspiring for me. I love his solo records the best – Nebraska, Ghost of Tom Joad, Devil’s and Dust. I think he can be his honest and least clichéd away from the confines of the E Street Band, which is a pretty rigid institution and rightly so.

As a writer, Bruce was the one who first gave me the nerve to be an unabashed and prolific songwriter.

7. Do you believe in scheduled writing efforts – like every morning from 1000 to 1200hrs without fault – or do you prefer a more organic solution where you write whenever the fancy/inspiration strikes you?

I would love to sit and write every day at a designated time and place, but because of the time demands of the music business and life in general, it just ain’t possible. I think a good songwriter can sit down and get some valuable songwriting done whether they are particularly inspired or not. I recently took a personal writing retreat where I forced myself to write as much as I could. I didn’t go there particularly inspired or with specific things I wanted to work on. It was tough at first to churn out anything of worth, but I kept at it and finally stuff started flowing out of me. I wrote what I believe are a few of my finest songs by forcing myself to write during that week.

8. On the song New York City, it seems that you personify the city itself. Is this a stylistic device you enjoy? Do you use it often?

I love to travel and experience new cities, dig deeper into the essence of ones I love and to imagine stories of folks from cities I have never been to. The song New York City is a love affair with the city itself, which takes on the role of a woman. I feel very inspired by New York and its history. I feel it is the quintessential American city and so many Americans were first New Yorkers immigrating through New York. I just finished a song about Tulsa, Oklahoma, a city I have never been. We have a song called Greetings From St. Louis, a song called Ol’ Mister Drifter about a man encountering all kinds of cities across America. Sense of place is a major idea that I draw upon in my songwriting.

9. Have you ever said or heard someone say something and thought to yourself “There’s a song in that”, and then wrote the song? If yes, which song is that?

All the time. For instance, my father always tells me “you living out your daddy’s dreams” regarding my work in music and his inability to ever really break career wise. I loved that line and the feelings that arose from it. It’s part of the chorus of “The Balance Beam”, one of This Way’s newer tunes that we play at every live show. My buddy Bob Hole was going through a breakup once and we were talking about it. Somehow the words “you can take it all or leave it all behind” came up in that conversation and I immediately wrote it down because I loved that imagery and how that could apply to so many life occurrences. We got a good song out of that one.

10. How, if at all, does being a multi-instrumentalist impact your songwriting?

Because I play lots of instruments, I am able to realize much of the arrangement and instrumentation ideas either in my head, on a demo or in rehearsal. Rarely do I come to a session with no idea of what I want the drums to sound like. Because of my years playing drums, often times a rhythm is the spark that fires an entire song. In demos, I often play a bass line (be it very rudimentary), or sing or play out melody lines that I have in mind. Many of the songs on Goodbye Forever were written on piano.

I write very differently from instrument to instrument. The melody and feel that comes out of a tune I write on piano is often very different than what I would come up with on guitar. I’ve written songs on accordion, which is cool because my knowledge of that instrument is very rudimentary and so I have no choice but to keep things very simple, which can be harder for me on guitar or keyboards, which I have far more experience with.

11. Is there a song that came together in less than 30 minutes from original idea to finished product?

These days, I tend to really labor over songs. I’ll write something, sometimes quickly, and think it’s the best thing I’ve ever written, and then I’ll listen to the demo in the morning and think it needs tons of improvement. Most of my songs go through loads of rewrites until every melody, every word, and every chord change ads something unique to the work. My earlier songs would come out quicker. I think I wrote Riding Through the Courtyard in about 20 minutes. Lots of the stuff off the Crossfire Inferno record was written very quickly because I wasn’t into over thinking my writing at that point. I do believe that if a song is taking a very long time to complete, perhaps there’s something not quite right with the foundation of it.

There are a few songs I’ve written that took nearly a year to be happy with and they are songs that don’t really get played much because all that time created something that was perhaps too complex and over thought to be effective.

Then again songs that seem to ooze out of you are usually from a kind of place of divine inspiration of sorts. I remember Can’t Take This Away coming out very quickly and no rewrites were ever made which is very rare for my writing.

12. When you write a song, what makes you think “Yup, that one will be on the CD” as opposed to “I like you, I’m happy I wrote you, but you won’t end up on the CD”?

I go through that a lot. I try to write all the time. Some of the songs are very meditative singer songwriter affairs that don’t quite fit in the This Way lexicon and those I am keeping for perhaps a different kind of project down the line. Some songs are more fit for the North of Nashville style of heavy simple outlaw country influences. Then of course, most of the songs I write are what This Way does best.
It’s a tough position to get into thinking “this song could be a hit” or “this song will really get a club moving” because you can be ignoring emotions far more valuable than instant gratification which is a lesson I’m trying to improve on. I have a lot of songs stockpiled that I’m not sure what to do with them, but if I bring a song to This Way, I feel that it is a song that needs to be heard by as many people as possible and one that should be recorded and released.

13. When you write a song, if you write it with just an acoustic guitar, how much of the final arrangement as a 5-piece band enters into the equation?

I generally have ideas for the entire ensemble when I write it though the band really brings the arrangements to life and I’m generally not one to tell anyone exactly what to play unless I have a very strong conviction about it. But I certainly have ideas that I hear in my head of what the bass and drums might be doing or if it’s a fiddle or mandolin song. I generally always write the harmonies in Garageband, but often times those change in rehearsal.

14. Take it all (or leave it all behind) is a great tune, both on CD and on stage. How did it come to be?

That was one that came to me after a gig one late night. I was watching the Woodstock ’69 documentary and just strumming my nylon string guitar. I had started experimenting with capoing further up the neck as it made the guitar sound almost like a different instrument, which really sparked something. I have all the steps of that song on recordings, from the riff at the top to singing dummy lyrics, to trying different capo positions, to different form ideas up until the finished product that is pretty much exactly what you hear on the record and live. Andrew and I started playing the tune with North of Nashville (which is often times how I like to test out new tunes on audiences before I bring them to This Way). It killed every single time, even more than some of our most memorable covers. We both knew we had something very strong.

The tracking of Goodbye Forever was complete before the song was written. This Way was playing the song live and it was the highlight of our shows from the get go. We realized it would be a shame if we couldn’t place the song on the record. We had to pull some very tight strings and push forward our mastering and duplication dates to get it on the record. It was recorded in one day in a marathon session with very little overdubs and edits. As we get ready to get back in the studio, we’ve all decided that our recordings should be modeled after the Take It All session, as it’s the best thing we’ve ever recorded and it was so close to never making it on Goodbye Forever.

15. Do you ever use tricks to “prime the pump” when the inspiration well has run dry? If so, what are they?

There’s an ancient plant that, when inhaled, can put you in a very magical place creatively. Other than that, playing along to music, reading as much as possible and watching stimulating movies and programming are all great ways to spark some new creativity. I have written some really cool songs from an idea I saw in the old Twilight Zone series. That’s kind of my go to show when I’m looking for some inspiration. My Netflix account thinks I’m a 75-year-old man with some of the old stuff I watch. And when I watch or read anything, I always have either my phone or my notebook around to jot down something that has a song in it.

16. Do you have any advice for beginner songwriters?

You have to learn the craft, pay your dues and constantly be in a state of becoming. Learn the songs of the artists that inspire you — songs are the great songwriter’s mentor.

Do the research; dig deep into the stuff your family listened to if it inspires you because that’s where you often find your voice amongst the millions of people doing the same thing. And then just play as much as you possibly can.

Don’t think of a cover as “just a cover” think of it as a piece of your essence and find yourself in the characters of the songs you’re playing. The songs that you close your eyes to are often the ones you have a personal connection with. Make a list of those songs and try to build your own narrative using the tools of those songs. This won’t work for everybody, but it certainly works for me.

Your best song is always the one you have yet to write so get working on it.

17. If I told you can have three things of your choice to go write a song… what would those three things be?

Pencil, paper, guitar.

18. When do you know that the time to stop tinkering with a song has come?

When I have played it live a few times and it feels complete or if, after listening to the demo and read the lyrics several times and it feels right.

19. Please finish the sentence: Songwriting is…

an expression of the truest and best side of me.

20. What should we know about your latest CD?

It’s the best work we have done up until now.

You can buy This Way’s Goodbye Forever album here

Follow This Way on Facebook!

You can also listen/buy This Way’s latest album, published 9/2012, entitled The Story of Simon Pure.

Calvin Russell: Crossroads (acoustic cover)

An acoustic cover of Calvin Russell’s Crossroads.

Just learned today that Calvin passed away back in April. I met Calvin some 20+ years ago at a concert. He graciously jammed with me after a show on a couple of old Gibson acoustic guitars. We did some of his songs, and we did covers of other Texas songwriters’ tunes.

Calvin was a fine man parading as a tough hombre. And in many ways, he was that tough hombre as well. But he took the time that night to be kind to a young fan from France, to share songs and conversations about guitars, whiskey and women.

I saw Calvin many more times play live after that, and a friendship developed, one that goes uncultivated for a while but remains simple and true.

You will be missed, my friend. Be well wherever you are.

Songwriter Interview: Eric Bettencourt

If you enjoy music and you live in Maine, you know Eric Bettencourt. Either as a solo artist, or with his bands – Giraffe Attack, Velourosaurus, etc… – Eric is a mainstay of the Maine music scene. Heck, I once saw him 4 times in the same week without planning it, at four different venues! Even joked with him that if I saw him one more time that week he could start being concerned about being stalked.

Anyway, while Eric’s cover bands are what every cover bands should sound like, his songwriting is no less impressive. After short conversations with him before or after sets, it became evident that Eric has a true passion for music in general and song writing in particular, so I had to ask him if he would do an interview. He very graciously accepted, and the information below is what he shared with me.

But first, a video of one of Eric’s latest songs, “Making Your Bed”:

1. Please share whatever biographic details you feel comfortable sharing:

Grew up in Sherman Mills Maine, started playing guitar and jotting down song ideas around the age of 13. Graduated from the University of Maine at Orono in 2000. For the most part I was a frustrated musician trying to get some type of foot in any musical project I could, but nothing really worked out until 2006 or so when I started Giraffe Attack with a couple of close friends. We basically played pubs around town, mostly covers with some originals mixed in. It was around this time I acquired a small recording setup and began fleshing out song ideas with both Giraffe Attack and by myself.

I released my first album, Fine Old World, in January of 2009. The Giraffe Attack Collection (GAC) came out six months later. GAC was originally supposed to be a “Giraffe Attack” record that would have been split evenly between my and Ryan Cyr’s songs, the drummer and lead vocalist. His songs took too long to finish so I said “to hell with it” and finished a few more of my own and popped it out there.

That year I also released two EPs, one of which, This Big House, is still available. All the while my small home recording studio grew into a larger operation, now called Shadow Shine Productions (note from the editor:, and I began recording and producing other artists. Over the last couple years I have had a hand in records by Pete Morse, Amanda Gervasi, Elijah Ocean, Jesse Pilgrim and the Bonfire, and The Grant Street Orchestra just to name a few.

I have since pulled way back on the studio work to better concentrate on my own music and promotion. My latest record, Secret Songs For Secret People, came out this month.

2. When it comes to songwriting, is this something you always did even before you were involved in gigging?

Yes, but I didn’t consider myself a “songwriter”, it was just something I would find myself doing. Stringing bits of chords and riffs together with some monotone melody and too many lyrics. Early on I would write these horrid little pieces that seemed amazing to me at the time. That’s all part of the creating and learning process though; you have to cut your teeth on the crap. That sounds gross, but you know what I mean.

3. Do you write the lyrics first, then the music, the other way around, or is there no set formula?

There is no set way of writing for me. Only a few times in my life have I found myself able to apply music to some lyrics I scratched down at an earlier time. The song Mast, which will be on the new record, was one of those. I was in a laundromat and wrote what seemed like a complete set of lyrics. It was really nothing more than a mysterious little poem that I actually didn’t really understand. But it felt like it came from somewhere else and I guess I had a respect for that type of stuff. I didn’t try with that one – it just fell out. That set of lyrics has always stuck with me so eventually I married it to a set of chords and some sort of a melody.

For the most part I just start strumming and humming and it’s like my mood, or whatever is on my mind, takes over and begins articulating itself into music and words. If I hear something catchy or different I’ll do what I can to record it for later.

Writing for me is not a cerebral process; it’s something that kind of happens. And when it does you just have to step out of the way and let it happen. I try not to judge what I’m doing as I’m doing it, it tends to kill the flow. With that said, I’ve never been able to say, “I’m going to write a song today!” and then do it. I always fail miserably. It’s really a waiting game. I might write one new tune every two years or 20 in a year, the trick is being open to it when it comes. What I have found is that the best songs usually come from some type of strife or desperation – it’s a great outlet for dealing with inner turmoil.

4. On “Two Wine Glasses” from the Giraffe Attack Collection, did the song come from the opening riff, or did the riff come after the core of the song was already in place?

Listen to Two Wine Glasses HERE

It all came from the opening riff. I wrote that whole tune after learning the Band’s version of Don’t Do It with my band at the time (Giraffe Attack). We made our own arrangement for the live shows, which I was really digging. I couldn’t get that tune out of my head and I think I just naturally ended up writing Two Wine Glasses based on that vibe, not on purpose, that’s just where my heart and head were at the time. I wanted something catchy that would be great for Ryan Cyr’s (the vocalist and drummer) amazing harmony singing.

The basics of that song came really quick, the riff was first but I wanted it to be set apart from just some generic blues tune so I worked on a lot of the subtleties in the harmonies and different parts. I also threw the outro on to really bring it into a different place.

5. On the Giraffe Attack Collection CD, there are two tracks – Outdo your God & Gone So Long – that are sub-1 minute. Outdo your God obviously shows up again as part of What Works. It’s pretty neat how taking just that snippet of the song and giving it a different sonic treatment made it a different piece. What was the concept behind the decision of doing that?

I guess I was really into making the record sound like a concept album; I wanted to throw some extra sonic textures in there. Really, it’s just a way of not letting the listener feel like they are in the same place all the time.

I get bored really quickly with music that sounds the same and doesn’t change direction in some way. So many records have one vibe and it never changes. I’ve always been in love with albums like the Beatles’ White Album and Zeppelin’s Physical Graffiti, which are all over the map with their musical landscapes.

6. The banjo picking on “This big house” from the This Big House EP in many ways makes the song, the way it contrasts with both your vocals & the heavier feel of the lyrics. Did you plan on adding it from the start, or was it something that happened in the studio?

It wasn’t planned, it just seemed to fit once I heard everything else in its place. It was kind of a no-brainer once the idea came, actually. This is just the way I work in the studio, it can be a very slow and frustrating process but it can also yield some pretty cool results. I hardly ever have the whole idea in my head once I sit down to record. I’ll record the basic parts and then the ideas start rolling.

The tough part is that as soon as I get it all down to where I want it I hear all kinds of other things that could work and then I end up starting over again. For instance This Big House was completely done and a friend said, “I think it’s a bit slow.” So that comment started to eat at me and I realized she was right. Within a week’s time I rerecorded a whole new version pretty much the same as the first just 12 beats per minute faster. It made all the difference in my opinion.

I actually put the slower version on the physical CD (This Big House EP) so you can hear for yourself.

7. Do you believe in scheduled writing efforts – like every morning from 1000 to 1200hrs without fault – or do you
prefer a more organic solution where you write whenever the fancy/inspiration strikes you?

No, I can’t write on command. I do try to allow myself time to simply play for fun and that’s where most of my ideas and song bits come from. I’ll just strum and sing with no point or real focus and if it grows into something more, fine; but I’ve learned not to force writing. Sometimes I might find myself simply strumming a cover of a song I really like, other times I’ll stumble onto a cool idea for a tune or a melody and some lyrics that might or might not grow into a complete song. The hard part has been allowing myself the time – I’ve been keeping myself way too busy. This is something I’m really working to change. I’m learning the importance of relaxation time and all the different benefits you can get from “senseless leisure”.

8. The song “Liza Jane” from the This Big House EP is very much riff-driven with parts/layers coming on and disappearing – from the banjo to the hand clapping. Could you talk about how you build these layers when you create a song?

Listen to Liza Jane HERE

That song is a good example of how I tend to work when recording alone. I had the main riff and had been looking to place it in something or hoping a song would form around it, it really started as just one of the many bits of songs and riffs I have kicking around. At the time I was really digging on the Wood Brothers version of that song and for whatever reason ended up applying that riff to it and making my own version.

I recorded the basic parts in Pro Tools and experimented with layers and different instruments in it. I think at one point I even had a piano part in it, but in the end it wasn’t right for the song. The more I recorded ideas, the more the parts solidified and the more new ideas and direction came.

That little banjo breakdown at the end was totally unplanned. To double the guitar part with the banjo I had to mess with the banjos string tuning (I have no idea what it is now) and found myself kind of unearthing this cool little part in an alternate tuning. I eventually refined it and probably did a copy, paste, cut job to make a spot for it.

That’s really how most of those layers happened. I’d just mess with different ideas by working some out, recording, listening back, refining things and then trying again. Very often I’ll come up with a part and have to go back and change the original parts to something cooler and more fitting.

The same thing has happened with many of my tunes. For example, Two Wine Glasses originally had the main riff under the verses but when I came up with that Clapton-esque riff that’s there now, I had to go back and change the bass to fit that. Once that was done, I realized the drums needed to be changed a bit so I had to drag my poor drummer back into the studio to rerecord all the drums. Like I said, it can get very tedious but good things do come out of it. The trick is being aware of not beating the life out of the tune in the end. You always have to be aware of the spark that makes it a song worth working on. You have to be mindful to not to erase that part.

9. Have you ever said or heard someone say something and thought to yourself “There’s a song in that”, and then wrote the song? If yes, which song is that?

Big Nope. Choosing the content of my songs is not really a voluntary decision. External events and situations have inspired many of my songs, but I’m not always aware of what that inspiration might be.

10. How, if at all, does being a multi-instrumentalist impact your songwriting?

I hesitate to call myself a multi-instrumentalist. I can figure out parts I’m hearing in my head on most instruments and practice until I get it down but that’s not really knowing and “owning” an instrument in my opinion. Tyler Quist and Spencer Albee are prime examples of amazing multi-instrumentalists on the local music scene – I’m not close to that caliber. Like most everyone in a band, I have dabbled with most stringed instruments and drums and piano but I could never sit in with a band on anything but guitar and bass. I don’t know the first thing about wind instruments, either. I tried playing an accordion once and would rather run one over with a car than attempt that again.

Either way I wouldn’t say it affects my songwriting at all. It definitely affects my song arrangements and production. Just having the options of so many different sounds certainly widens what I can consider for any given recording.

11. Is there a song that came together in less than 30 minutes from original idea to finished product?

The Fear, This Big House, Just Walk Away, Delaney, What Works, and Fell into Place were basically 95% done in a very short time. That’s just to name a few. There is always a refinement process where I tweak lyrics and melody and add different instrumental things, but as far as the main song parts go, that has happened quite a lot.

12. When you write a song, what makes you think “Yup, that one will be on the CD” as opposed to “I like you, I’m happy I wrote you, but you won’t end up on the CD”?

I usually know when everything is done. I try my best to bring the song to life while writing and then recording – but sometimes it just doesn’t happen. I could release another full-length record of tunes that were pretty much finished but for whatever reason didn’t have the spark.

13. Many of your songs feature changes in the rhythm signatures & styles. A song like Stonewalled from the Giraffe Attack Collection is a perfect example of that. What is it about those changes that attract you, and are you using them as a way to reinforce the lyrics beyond the meaning of the words themselves?

Stonewalled is a unique example because it’s one of the first songs I actually started recording once I had myself set up with a way to record. I wasn’t really writing much (I mean, the song is about writer’s block) so I was spending my time on the technical aspect of things and having fun with the layers and arrangements and stuff. It was all new to me and I had the time at that point to mess around for as long as I wanted on small parts.

That tune, needless to say, was very indulgent in parts and layers because I was into that at the time. I wasn’t really thinking about getting to the point of the song in a neat and pretty way. I was just having a great time messing with song structure, adding twists and turns, adding instrumental parts, harmonies you name it. So I wouldn’t say that I worked on that with the message in mind. It was more an exercise in song production and learning how to use my recording software.

14. Your songs are beautifully crafted, but also expertly recorded and mixed, introducing new dynamics to the existing core songs.

Ha, well thanks, I think of myself as a studio hack. I really don’t technically know much about it all. I just push buttons till I get the sound I want. I do know the basics and I’m fine with that, I try to keep the songs at the forefront. Also, I do feel fortunate to have a very clear idea of what I want a song to sound like in the end. It’s easy to get lost in the digital wizardry of it all. That side has never interested me all too much– I just want to get a good sound down and capture a performance with a good vibe.

15. Do you ever use tricks to “prime the pump” when the inspiration well has run dry? If so, what are they?

No, I used to get a little stressed during dry spells. I think I went a few years once without really doing anything. It gets nerve racking to think that song ideas will never come back.

I have recently tried to look at the process of writing as just a part of something bigger. When I don’t have the ideas flowing it’s always a good time to work on other songs that aren’t quite done, or even learn cover tunes that might be difficult whether vocally or on the guitar. It’s a good time to widen the musical vocabulary and get your chops up. Pretty soon you find yourself with new ideas and eventually, there you are shaping songs from nothing again.

16. Do you have any advice for beginner songwriters?

Just try to write what you feel. Try to make your songs meaningful, not just in lyrics but in the overall sound. I think people are getting sick of the same old recycled shit, change up your sound, experiment – have fun with it.

Always keep in mind that the message of the song is completely dependent on the delivery. The message will go unheard if people can’t listen to it. Also the lyrics don’t mean jack if the listener can’t enjoy the actual SOUND of the song. The message won’t be conveyed if it becomes white noise or boring background static; a true music-listening audience will tune it out pretty quickly.

The melody of the song is so important and is often overlooked and underdeveloped with many artists I see that are trying to make a name for themselves. It’s the singing melody that the listener hears and that’s what sticks, it’s what they walk away humming. Lyrics are just part of it, they tell a story. The rhythm and chords and melody bring that feeling and paint a picture that is supposed to be interesting. These points align in the greatest of songs.

Always stay critical of yourself on a healthy level. There is nothing wrong with being proud of something you’ve written and executed well but keep a check on the ego, too much ego can kill an act, for me anyways. I’m personally attracted to genuine artists who write soulful, heartfelt material without trying to make it sound so; realness is something that is very hard to fake, so to say. Turn on top 40 country music for an example of songwriting that is completely contrived and easy to see through. There’s enough forgettable fly-by-night music out there, try not to contribute to it. Do something real!

Be open to learning the songs you love. If you can’t sing it, then figure it out and practice till you get it. Improve your chops by working out things you can’t do. Same with guitar or whatever instrument you play, push yourself to get better; it lends itself to better ideas and more interesting writing. This doesn’t mean be a copycat, do your own thing with it once you’ve learned a new technique. Learn lots of different styles from different artists. If you play only one person’s music, you will begin to sound like them.

Try to reach your audience on a deeper level. As I said, I feel music listeners are tired of typical one-dimensional music and there is a good market for thoughtful material that can touch someone on a deeper level. This is the difference between music that people remember and music they will be drawn to over and over again for years. The flash-in-the-pan, hot-today-gone-tomorrow junk is clogging the airwaves of what is left of the FM. Make a difference. Write from your voice; no one else can write from your unique perspective and chances are that if you have a good feeling about something you write others will too.

I’m no Bob Dylan (but who is?) but these are the kinds of things that are in the back of my mind. I’ve been told I’m too tough on myself by many friends, and maybe I am, but I also feel good about my judgment when it comes time to release a song. That’s the important thing, knowing when it’s done.

17. If I told you that you can have three things of your choice to go write a song… what would those three things be?

1.) A chunk of time to myself
2.) A relaxing place with no one around.
3.) Gear (guitar, pen, notebook, something to record with.)

18. When do you know that the time to stop tinkering with a song has come?

I just know when it’s right. I feel like most of the music I have put out I’ve gotten to that point with. Not all, but most.

There are a bunch of unfinished tunes basically sitting on a hard drive right now that I haven’t been able to get to that point. It’s a bummer when it happens, but the other side of knowing when a song is done is knowing when to move on and let it go. The hope is to revisit them sometime in the future and see it all in a different light, maybe find a new inspiration in the song. On this new record Mast and Secret Songs were really old songs that I reworked and got to the point of feeling good. You never know.

19. Please finish the sentence: Songwriting is…

…a creative outlet and a way to tell a story all at once.

Always keep the songwriting about the SONG – a good record can’t exist without good songs, end of story. Put the time and energy into making the song better, taking the time to make the content work – don’t use the song as a vehicle to get some cool studio sounds or gimmicky idea out there. That stuff fades away. Gimmickry is an everyday part of life and it gets boring. A song needs to stand on its own; it should work in its stripped down form (vocals and guitar/piano or whatever). If you can connect with an audience through a song that doesn’t rely on gimmicks and huge sounds or whatever, then it will work. I think a lot of people don’t realize the impact a well-written song can have. It’s not about what you do to it in the studio (obviously cool stuff can happen at that point) – it’s what comes before. Anything after is only window dressing.

20. What should we know about your latest CD?

Secret Songs For Secret People is a very acoustic and vocals-based record.

It’s more stripped down than the last ones. It’s also the direction I see myself going with my music in the future.

Over the last year I haven’t been as interested in layering and thick production as I was before. I guess I got that stuff out of my system for the most part. For this one, I really wanted the songs to stand on their own. It’s quick, 10 songs and only 28 minutes long. I wanted the songs to get to the point and that’s what I did. I’m sure the people who are expecting ripping guitar solos will be a bit disappointed; there is really none of the loud stuff. But the people who are into the driving, fingerpicking stuff might really dig it.

I hope so, anyways.

My thanks to Eric Bettencourt for kindly accepting to share this insight with us.

You can find Eric on Facebook here.

You can visit his website at

Please buy his records and enjoy the wonderful tunes! (click on the album covers for details…)