“I have a structured songwriting process. I start with the music and try to come up with musical ideas, then the melody, then the hook, and the lyrics come last. Some people start with the lyrics first because they know what they want to talk about and they just write a whole bunch of lyrical ideas, but for me, the music tells me what to talk about.”
“Songwriting… there’s no wrong way to do it.” –Sturgill Simpson.
Dan Knudsen is a Maine-based songwriter who is very active on the local live music scene. Dan has released many albums over the years and is about to release another one. You can learn more about Dan and listen – and purchase! – his music on his website: http://www.DanKnudsenMusic.com . For booking inquiries, please message Dan at email@example.com.
1. Please share whatever biographic details you feel comfortable sharing:
Inspired as a teenager by folkies John Denver and Gordon Lightfoot and soft rockers Bruce Springsteen and Jackson Browne, I took guitar lessons and started writing songs and performing by the time I was in high school. My recording career began in 2000 with the release of my debut album “Sunsong.” Subsequently released studio CDs include “Grass, Grain, & Appleseeds” Beaches And Zoos” and “Outer Space.”
2. When it comes to songwriting, is this something you always did even before you were involved in gigging?
I had about 12 years of experience practicing songwriting before I got my first paid gig.
3. Do you write the lyrics first, then the music, the other way around, or is there no set formula?
Usually I write the words first and then the music. That is my typical formula. The lyrics are really just a matter of writing poetry that touches on topics I know and enjoy and subjects I find interesting. As for composing and arranging the music, I get my ideas from simple things like chord patterns. That’s all songwriting is as far as I’m concerned. If I like any such things, I use them.
4. Given a choice, would you rather write on your own or co-write?
Back in the early years of my career I sometimes asked other songwriters for help with filling gaps in my lyrics as I needed options for words to put in. Nowadays I write on my own without needing any assistance of that type.
5. As a songwriter, who is your main influence?
I would currently have to say Bob Dylan, because I’m at a point in my career where, like he’s done, I’ve covered just about everything in terms of music genres, musical instruments, and subject matter of songs. I’ve pretty much gone over all the attributes of popular music like Dylan did.
6. Is personal experience a main driver of your songwriting?
Personal experience about life, work, love, and loss drives a lot of my songwriting but not all of it. Other drivers include political and religious issues , environmental themes, warfare, Satanism, criminals, space aliens, and monsters.
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?
Since I’m an independent DIY songwriter, the nice thing about that is the ability to set my own hours to write at my convenience whenever the fancy/inspiration strikes me. I like working a schedule for it that is irregular and unpredictable. That’s the way life is for a musician anyway.
8. On your latest album, you wrote a song about your father. Was it a difficult song to write?
On some levels yes. The viewpoints from which I wrote my dad’s song “For A Ragtimer” were a bit painful and sad but also heartwarming and touching because I was worried for a while that I wasn’t going to get the chance to write that for him while he’s still here with us. But I lucked out once I got the right idea when I felt it was the right time to do it. It was either then or after he’s gone. I’m really happy that I chose the former and not the latter and I’ll always cry inside with joy about that.
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?
I have to say “I Won’t Hurt You.” In my spare time I watch a lot of movies, especially of the action/adventure and sci-fi/fantasy genres. I listen to the lines spoken by the main characters, the heroes in the films and I turn it into lyrics. So that would be an example of a song that I put around people just talking in a given way.
10. Do you write all your songs on a guitar, or do you also write using other instruments?
Songs that just use three chords I’ve written and recorded on instruments that were not guitars such as the mandolin, banjo, ukulele, autoharp, and piano.
11. Is there a song that came together in less than 30 minutes from original idea to finished product?
No because I wouldn’t want to be put under that kind of pressure to write a song. When I do I like to challenge myself and set my own pace and not follow that of anyone else. I refuse to be a follower. I won’t be one in my personal life or professional life.
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”?
What makes me think that is that it is consistent with what I believe in and it doesn’t contradict the messages I send out in other songs. What I don’t care about, however, is if the song pisses some people off.
13. How important is song editing to you? Do you tend to write and leave the song alone once it’s done, or do you come back time and again to adjust a word here, a note there?
Song editing is important to me perhaps more so than to other songwriters. I honestly cannot count how many times I’ve gone back to adjust words and notes in my songs over and over and over here and there everywhere. Some of my early tunes I must have started writing ten to fifteen years before I recorded them as they’re known now. They had to evolve greatly before I got them done professionally because I had some maturing to do as a songwriter until they were ready for that.
14. Which songwriter out there, local or otherwise, do you think doesn’t receive enough accolade for his/her work?
Glade Swope. There’s a lot that I’ve learned from him because even though he’s the same age as me he started recording and releasing albums earlier than I did so he’s been doing it longer than I have. He’s had a very prolific music career and his discography is about the length of my arm. I think he deserves much more recognition for his work than he actually receives.
15. Do you ever use tricks to “prime the pump” when the inspiration well has run dry? If so, what are they?
So far I haven’t had that problem and therefore it’s been unnecessary to use any such tricks. I don’t even spend much time looking back on what I’ve achieved. There is no shortage of ideas for new songs brewing in my mind. I’m already working on ones for my next two albums. That’s just how forward-thinking I am. So don’t expect me to slow down anytime soon.
16. Do you have any advice for beginner songwriters?
Just start banging it out, man. And then keep working on writing your songs and write some more of them. Keep it up.
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, a word processing program on a computer, and a dream.
18. Owning most of your CDs, it’s hard to not detect that themes are important in your work. What are your favorite themes?
Themes I didn’t mention previously in #6 include the romance of relationships, the beauty of nature, and mankind going awry.
19. Please finish the sentence: Songwriting is…
Songwriting is one of the biggest, best, and most meaningful things to do because people who do it are creating something that is fresh and pure in their own style, using it as an outlet for self-expression, entertaining people by making them feel various emotions, and making the world go round. Those are all reasons why we do music and what it’s all about.
20. What should be know about upcoming Dan Knudsen music?
My next studio CD, “Psychos,” will be coming out in the summer of 2019, followed by a spring 2020 release of a new compilation CD that will draw from that record and the three previous records and will also contain a couple of brand new bonus tracks. That year will also mark my twentieth anniversary as a recording artist. So this is a very exciting time for me right now.
“I wrote this song about two Mexican bandits I saw on the TV two weeks after I wrote this song.” – Townes Van Zandt, about the song Pancho & Lefty.
“I just take a lot of notes, whether it be on my phone, laptop or actually written down in a notebook. I’ll revisit those when I get time to sit and write. I try to be really observant and play close attention, because people say things that are really poignant all the time. Most of it just slips in one ear and out the other.
“If you learn to focus on those things and pay attention to the world around you in a different way, the inspiration is always there. Then it just takes a lot of work really. Some songs come quicker than others, but most of them I’ll spend a lot of time on just to make sure I’m saying exactly what I want to say and there’s no dead weight; any floral language that doesn’t really serve a purpose. And clichés; that’s the first thing I do when I’m editing, try to find clichés. If I’m not using them in an original way then I won’t use them at all.”