Blog Archives

John Legend on songwriting…

“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.”
–John Legend

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Sturgill Simpson on songwriting…

“Songwriting… there’s no wrong way to do it.” –Sturgill Simpson.

Songwriter interview: Dan Knudsen

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 djknudsen@hotmail.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.

Jack Ingram talks about the great Guy Clark

Wade Bowen speaks about the great Guy Clark

Chris Stapleton talks about how he writes songs…

Eric Church 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 freezingprocess.net, 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.