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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.