More Disjointed Thoughts

Ohio Spotlight - Real Lulu 

The song is called "You".  That's the first  I heard of Real Lulu, late at night, driving home, listening to the radio.  Catchy, and those were some really high notes sung there at the end.  Eventually, I got the album on CD... this one:

 

 

We Love Nick, released in 1996, which was before I had started going to local shows.  When I did get around to attending local shows, I made sure to go see Real Lulu as often as I could.  In these days, Jim Macpherson was the drummer accompanying Kattie Dougherty and Sharon Gavlick.  (You might know him better from his other band.)  There weren't very many bands in the area fronted by a woman, let alone two... this made Real Lulu unique among their contemporaries... and really, it's too bad that's notable. The songs are hooky and punchy.  My favorite of their songs to hear at the shows was always "Bobcat", probably because of the bass part.  I also really love "Let Me", which ended up on a movie soundtrack.

Alas, Real Lulu are no more.  I am fairly certain they released another album, but I don't have a hard copy of it, and couldn't find it after a cursory search on Spotify.  Perhaps there may be a reunion some day.  In the mean time, do try to find this album and give it a listen... also, check out Kattie's current project, Somersault.

 

 

 

 

Thoughts on the Major League Baseball season thus far 

Let’s veer away from the topic of music for just a moment.  I’d like to briefly talk about one of my other interests, baseball… but first, some history. 

I suppose I love baseball because my dad loved baseball at some point.  As he got older, he stopped watching baseball in favor of golf for some reason, but I remember watching many games with him as a child.  Something about the cat-and-mouse game between pitcher and hitter appealed to me… I liked that unlike most other sports in this country, there is no clock… I imagine that like a million other boys and girls, I played catch with my dad whilst pretending to be one of the pitchers I would see on TV. 

Speaking of TV… this particular device greatly increased my love of the game.  The closest Major League Baseball franchise to where I grew up is the Cincinnati Reds… and of course, going to school, just about all of the other kids were Reds fans.  Not me. See, we had cable, and just about every day during baseball season, the Atlanta Braves were on our cable, because their owner also owned his own TV station. I watched the games just about every night… clearly, when the Braves were on the West Coast, I couldn’t watch the games that were past my bedtime… but I watched just about all of the home games.  Now, this was in the 80s when the Braves were awful. Awful teams, hideous uniforms, but I loved them anyway. I remember watching Dale Murphy (he used to be my favorite), Bob Horner, Kent Oberkfell, Rafael Ramirez, Ozzie Virgil, Zane Smith, Rick Mahler, Bruce Benedict, Glen Hubbard, Deion James… so many mediocre players, but I didn’t know it at the time. 

Ok, enough of the past, let’s talk about NOW.  I am still a Braves fan, and although I like to travel and see baseball games, I don’t think I’ll be seeing them at home anymore.  See, they moved out of town a couple of years ago, and their new ballpark is way out in the suburbs in a very high-traffic area without public transportation, which makes it very inconvenient for someone to fly in to catch a game.  That’s ok, the last couple of times my wife and I went to see the Braves, they were in Toronto or Milwaukee or elsewhere. 

Currently, the Barves (sic) are 18-20, and sit 4 games out of first place.  The offense is pretty good. Some of the young starting pitchers are pretty good.  The bullpen is a dumpster fire, and the front office didn’t do anything in the offseason to improve it.  The lack of quality relief pitching has cost them several games this year already. It’s a long season, but I think I’m already running out of patience. 

Some positive things about the baseball season… Mike Trout is fantastic.  This is something that you already know if you watch baseball, but I love to see him play.  Back over in the friendly NL, I love watching Acuña hit...I love watching Albies hit, but I wish he would be a bit more selective at the plate… I love watching Freeman hit...I very much love watching Christian Yelich hit. 

This past weekend, I was able to cross another ballpark off the “baseball parks I’ve seen a game in” list… it was Coors Field in Denver.  It isn’t my favorite park, but it is a very nice place to catch a game (even if that game happens to be between the Padres and Rockies as ours was), and I recommend stopping by if you have the chance.

Songwriting Story - "North of Sixteen"  

Hey, here’s another new theme for a series of blog entries.  This is the first Songwriting Story, in which I open the curtain and let you peek into my songwriting process.  Now, I won’t do this for every song, as some artistic ambiguity is sometimes something desirable, but on occasion I’ll share some information about how a song came to be.  Today we start with “North of Sixteen”, which is track 7 on Echo in the Crevices. 

This is a song I wrote a dozen times, several dozen times.  I had words, I would discard the words. I had music, I would discard the music.  I wrote this song over and over again, year after year, and eventually, this particular iteration stuck.  I tried to write a bass line cool enough to obscure the sadness of the lyrics… indeed, this is my favorite bass line on the album.  Do people even pay attention to the lyrics anyway? 

March 1995.  My junior year of high school.  I was 17. Like many high schoolers my age, I had a part-time job… I worked at a grocery store.  The store wasn’t in my hometown, so many of the teenagers who worked there attended different high schools in the area.  At that age, you spend a great deal of time with your coworkers… four or five days a week, a few hours a day… longer on weekends… it’s natural that you develop some camaraderie and bond with them.  As I recall, I got along well with all of the other high schoolers who worked with me… the public school kids, the private school kids… we all spent plenty of time socializing at work. 

Susan went to a high school in a neighboring town.  Cheerleader. Honor Roll. Student Council. Exemplary. Intelligent. Talkative. Friendly. Sixteen. She was part of a group of coworkers who I was especially fond of… we’d take the 15 minute work breaks together when we could… there would be laughing and stories and jokes… sometimes about school, sometimes about life.  I think one of the interesting things for all of us was the chance to interact with a bunch of peers that you wouldn’t see the next day at school. Below is a picture of her that I found online. Mind you, this is not necessarily the way I remember her, at least not this particular dress… but the smile is exactly the way I remember her.  She always had that smile. 

 

For safety reasons, one of the male employees would walk the female employees to their car if the shift ended at night.  We all did this for all of the young (and not so young) ladies that we worked with, but I seemed to end up walking out with Susan somewhat regularly… in fact, it was often enough that if she arrived at work after I did, she would try to park next to me, or at least tell me that she tried to park next to me.  She would tell me “I parked next to you again, guess you have to walk me out”. 

You came to me on a cool March night like any other 

I don’t remember what day of the week it was.  I remember it was March, and it was before the suicide, and I was at work.  I was, specifically, outside at work. See this particular grocery store had a carport where the customer’s groceries would get sent through a conveyor.  We young guys liked to work in the carport loading groceries into cars, because we got tips that way. This particular day, it was my turn to be outside. It was late enough to be kind of dark outside, this was before daylight saving time started back up.  Susan came to the store with her folks… they were going shopping. She walked over to where I was standing outside to chat. 

Your laugh for me was just a mask to hide the maelstrom 

At the time, I didn’t notice anything out of the ordinary.  Ah, the power and clarity of hindsight. We had a nice conversation.  She smiled the same smile as always, and laughed at my occasional awful joke (usually of the self-deprecating variety).  I asked if she had to take care of anything work-related, and she said she might run into the store for a few moments, but that she had come specifically to see me.  I remember being quite flattered, because teenage boys feel flattered when intelligent, pretty young ladies say nice things to them. We talked about an upcoming Cranberries show that I was planning to attend… the show would be in April.  She expressed interest in joining my group. When I balked at that - not knowing how exactly to set that up - she made an offhand comment about maybe not seeing me ever again. Again, I didn’t attach any significance to this… until… you know. 

Didn’t hear what you meant to say 

She talked about feeling sick… like a cold was coming on.  I told her to keep her chin up and repeated the old adage about chicken soup.  She said that was probably a good idea. Looking back, this conversation was her way of saying goodbye… but it was also a cry for help.  I would like to think that I would notice that something was wrong if we were to have a similar conversation today. I would like to think that I’ve learned a bit more about reading people and empathy.  This is not to say that I wasn’t empathetic then, but I was 17, I was surely not emotionally equipped to do what I have always thought should have been done. Anyway, when she had to run into the store, she gave me a hug… she came out a few minutes later with her parents, and I ended up loading groceries into their car.  As they were pulling away, she turned and waved to me from the back, and I shouted “chicken soup!” in the general direction of the car. She flashed that smile in response. This was the last time I saw Susan alive. 

Bathed in exhaust / closed your eyes and went to sleep 

I found what I think is an archive of a newspaper article online… 1995 was so long ago that there isn’t much on the Internet about these kinds of things from that time period.  It’s not like I need any of the personal details, I remember all of those, and don’t think I could ever forget. It’s haunting. No, I wanted to look up some of the facts… find something official.  The article I found is here. This is an excerpt: 

The vibrant and popular Fenter, an honor roll student herself, placed frozen shrimp on the counter to thaw, fed her cat Dusty and walked into the garage. She then climbed into her car, turned the ignition and read a suicide prevention pamphlet she received at school. Three hours later, Barbara Fenter pulled into the driveway, opened the garage door and smoke billowed out. She found her daughter slumped in the driver's seat, dead of carbon monoxide poisoning - the pamphlet by her side. On her bed, next to a list of "final things to do," Susan left a suicide note. 

Since I didn’t go to the same high school as Susan, I didn’t hear the news during my day.  I found out when I got to work. I was actually up in the upstairs break area, early for my shift, and about to start.  My dad found me (he worked in management there at the time) and asked me “did you hear about Susan?”, but he had THAT look on his face… the one that speaks of no good.  If you read the article I linked to, you’ll notice that there was another suicide of a student in her school earlier in the week, and that story had gotten plenty of local media coverage, so it was on everyone’s mind, and when dad asked me that question with that look on his face, that conversation Susan and I had came flooding back and I KNEW.  I knew. I said “suicide”? Dad nodded and left the room. It’s hard to describe what that felt like… punch in the gut, kick to the ribs… something like that. My first reaction was angry. Anger at her for not asking for help, then quickly anger at myself for not realizing that she asked for help and also said goodbye. I punched a wall. My hand hurt for a few days afterwards. 

Somber day at work.  Grocery store where much of the staff was kids.  Everyone knew. It was on the news. Work was so perfunctory.  The customers noticed. The really regular customers knew she had worked with us.  Several of my coworkers spent most of their shift in tears.  I can’t describe how work itself felt for my coworkers, but for me, work felt completely pointless.  I wanted to scream with rage, I wanted to break things, I wanted to cry… but no, I went ahead and bagged those groceries and mopped those floors and faced those shelves and was polite to the customers.  As I talked to my coworkers, it became clear that Susan had carefully planned this. For instance, she had called someone earlier in the week to cover her weekend shift. She didn’t plan on being alive when the weekend came around.  Several of my coworkers had similar stories about getting visits… and when we compared our stories, the thing they all had in common was that air of finality. 

The article I mentioned previously has a sample from her journal. 

"My life is just one big nightmare. I can't get over how stupid I am," Susan wrote five months before the suicide. "Maybe I'm book smart, but I sure can't handle the things I feel inside....I think I'm going to die of a broken heart....No one can understand how I'm feeling...I can't deal with this anymore, with this pain and hurting I feel." 

That’s not the Susan I knew.  Ok, that is the Susan I knew, I just didn’t pay enough attention.  We were teenagers, we were all broken and messed up in our own ways.  Some of us still are.  I always thought that she had stuff figured out.  It happens that she apparently thought the same of the rest of us. 

I wrote “North of Sixteen” so many times… so many words, so many names.  This song you hear today is the one that made it, a testament to the profound and crushing guilt I have felt for more than 24 years now.  What could I have done? What should I have done? What if? This song comes from a dark and painful place.  Lyrically, it is as honest as anything I’ve ever written. Musically, it’s in a minor key… that’s appropriate. 

Never could you find your way north of sixteen.

April 2019 Album progress update 

I mentioned in a previous blog post that I am working on my second album.  I figured I would provide a brief update to current progress.

There are drums tracked so far for 13 songs.  Now, not all of these are destined for this album... in fact, two of them are for a different project.

I have tracked bass on 6 songs so far, and 3 of those have some guitar work done, but there is always room for more.

So far, I feel like this is progressing in a somewhat more organized manner than my first album.  Part of that is due to me being just a bit more experienced now.  A major contributing factor is also the pre-production session that happened before we started tracking... and I'm trying to be careful with making sure I document everything that happens and note all of the little ideas that come to mind during the sessions.  I can almost see the outlines of an album beginning to take shape.

Of course, I have many many more songs than will fit on one album, but this is a bridge to be crossed later.  For now, please be assured, dear reader, that I am satisfied with the current progress, and that some very nifty sounds have been recorded.  I think you'll enjoy this one, whenever I can get it to you.

Concert Memories - Muse at tiny Top Cat's in Cincinnati 

Time to fire up the wayback machine again, and indulge in another concert memory.  Feast your eyes on this well-loved ticket stub. 

 

 

Fifteen years ago this week.  Saturday 24th April 2004. Muse.  This was just after the release of their third album, Absolution.  The album had come out in late 2003 over in the UK, but in the United States, it came out in March 2004.  By this time, Muse were already selling out arena shows in Europe, being seen by thousands of people… but they hadn’t blown up on this side of the Atlantic yet, and they were playing rather small venues on this tour.  At Top Cats, I got to see them with about 300 other people. To the credit of the good folks of Southwest Ohio, this show sold out in a matter of minutes. One of my close friends was standing at Ticketmaster right when tickets went on sale, and he bought a supply for our group. 

There are probably only a couple of shows in my life that I was more excited for than this one.  I really loved the first Muse album, Showbiz. I thought the second album was good as well, though I didn’t have quite as much affection for it.  By the time of the show, Absolution was on near constant rotation in my collection. This was before Muse went on their Queen-influenced big grandiose rock star stadium strutting journey… I mean, the band they are now was surely in there somewhere, but they seemed somewhat more down to earth then…still tight and loud and melodic, and there were only three of them. 

I remember how the crowd was packed into the venue.  Moving around was quite near impossible, let alone trying to fight one’s way to the bar for a beer.  I remember the booms for the microphones resembling a futuristic erector set. I remember that opening riff to “Sunburn” being played on piano as it should be, when I had seen it played on guitar the previous time I had seen Muse live.  I remember a light show that seemed way too advanced for a tiny venue like this. I don’t remember a song called “The Groove”, but the Internet surely does, and when I watch this video, I try to find myself and my friends.  (Also, not a mobile phone in sight.)  I mean, look at this video.  Doesn't seem like the same band, does it?

The setlist spanned all three of the albums they had released to that point, heavily leaning toward the most recent one, of course. This was a great rock and roll show from a great rock and roll band, arguably at the height of their powers, and in a venue that was too small for them. 

Matthew Bellamy sang during the show opener, “I’m breaking out / I’m breaking out”... truer words were rarely spoken.

Music as a Time Machine - Part 2 

Chris Cornell - Euphoria Mourning

This album was released in fall 1999.  If you happened to have bought it back then, you might have noticed that the title as printed on the disc was Euphoria Morning, as shown above.  Apparently, someone at the record label thought that Cornell’s original title was too dark.  I have restored the title here as originally intended by the artist, and really, it fits the music better. 

This was my favorite singer.  I don’t know that I had a favorite band at the time, but as far as vocalists were concerned, this was my guy.  Such range. Such emotion. From quiet to loud. I mean, the only person I can think of that sounds even remotely like Cornell is Ian Thornley from Big Wreck… and he’s just kind of in the same neighborhood. 

I bought this album nearly immediately after it was released, but at first I didn’t listen to it much.  Then I noticed that Chris Cornell would be playing a show in Paris at the same time that I would be there.  Ok, now it was on. When I went to Paris for the first time in October 1999, I only had 5 discs with me for the trip.  Euphoria Mourning was one of them.  (I would tell you the others, but that will steal the thunder from future blog posts.  I think they call this “a tease” in the radio industry.) See kids, back then we had a thing called “Discman”, which was a CD player built by Sony.  It could play one disc at a time, and it was small enough to fit in your pocket. Well, it fit in my pocket, I’m a big guy. 

I was in France for three weeks.  Three weeks, five albums. Think of it as kind of a miniature version of the age-old “desert island album” question.  I listened to this album every day. Every day. I listened to it in Paris while walking around, on the train between French towns, in Amboise, in Lyon, in Avignon, on the Métro, in the rain, in the dark, and whilst falling asleep.  I was struck by the quality arrangements, and delighted at the departure in sound from Cornell’s work with Soundgarden. This is not to say that I didn’t like Soundgarden; on the contrary, I loved Soundgarden… I was just open to accept a change of pace.  These songs reminded me of “Seasons” from the Singles soundtrack and “Sunshower” from the Great Expectations soundtrack… but they were more layered, more textured, and more nuanced.  (The exception here is “Sweet Euphoria”, which Chris recorded by himself.) This album was my first exposure to Alain Johannes and Natasha Shneider, two great musicians who co-wrote many of these songs, and who played on the album.  (This reminds me that I still need to look into their old band, shame on me for not doing that.) 

This album has meant a great deal to me over the past nearly 20 years.  The lyrics from “Preaching the End of the World” that go “I’m 24 and I’ve got everything to live for”... well, when I was 24, that took on a new meaning.  The sentiment in “When I’m Down”... I feel like that every day, and that’s one of those songs that I wish I had written, it’s so good. I’ve really felt “Wave Goodbye” many times in my life as friends or family members have died.  So yes, I still love this album… but when I listen to it, I without fail remember that first trip to France… I hear a song from this album and I remember trying to figure out how to work the machines in a Paris laundromat. I hear another song from the album and I remember strolling along the Rhône on a dark night in Arles, nearly out of money, feeling so very alone, and considering jumping into the dark waters below.  I hear another song from the album and I remember that awful awful cold I got while I was in Lyon. 

“I’m a wreck when I look mighty”.   

Thank you Chris.

We Met In Paris 

How many of you remember the year 2000?  It was a simpler time. (Looking at you, Kent Montgomery.)  You didn’t have to take your shoes off to get past airport security.  As I recall, you didn’t have to pack your liquids in a clear plastic bag either.  Twitter wasn’t a thing. Facebook wasn’t a thing. Fountains Of Wayne were still a thing… they had been a band for five years and had already put out two albums, but were somehow still three years away from getting nominated for a Best New Artist Grammy. (?) 

I went to Paris in December 2000.  I had been before, and wanted to go back to spend time with the friends I had made on my initial trip… and also to do touristy things and drink wine and eat baguettes… as one does.  Paris in December is rainy and chilly (for them) and perhaps a bit dreary at times, but it’s still, you know, PARIS. 

One evening, my friends invited me along to drink at TGI Fridays.  That’s not what I understood at first… upon receiving the invitation, I was perplexed as to why any French person would set foot in an American fast casual joint, let alone wish to eat food that was frozen and shipped and microwaved.  “On ne mange pas là-bas”, I was told - “we don’t eat there”. No, apparently, this place had a happy hour with cheap drinks, and since it’s quite expensive to drink in Paris, some of the young locals liked to stop by for what we might call “pre-gaming” these days.  With that explanation in hand, I was more than willing to go along. 

We get to TGI Fridays.  We head to the bar. At the bar, there is a friend of my friends.  We greet each other, cheeks are kissed. This particular friend (who is still a friend and whose name is still Greg) has two English speakers with him… an Aussie and a Brit.  Their names are Cerys and Ruth, and they are cousins. Ruth has red hair. Now, I hadn’t spoken English in a few days, and while I could manage just fine in French, it was nice to get a little mental break and spend some time with fellow anglophones.  By the time I left the bar, I had new friends. 

I just looked at the neighborhood where this took place thanks to the bird’s eye view of Google Maps.  That TGI Fridays isn’t there anymore… it would appear that good happy hour prices do not make up for American fast casual cuisine… or, I’m probably wrong, because in the same location there appears to now be a Chipotle and a Starbucks.  Grumble. Things change. What has not changed is that Ruth and I are still friends and she still has red hair. What is more, it turns out that she is an extremely talented musician. 

I was thinking that it would be nice to have Ruth sing on my upcoming solo record, so I started sending her my home demos.  Eventually, I sent her a home demo that I had completed without lyrics or melody… couldn’t manage to put anything I liked to it… imagine… a completed song structure-wise… chord progression, bass line, verse, chorus, bridge, all of the parts… but no lyrics and no melody.  Shortly, she sends the demo back with great lyrics and a great melody and all right - now we HAVE to write together. So now we write together, despite living on opposite sides of the Atlantic Ocean. As of now we have 14 songs in varying stages of life from “demo complete and ready to track” to “idea so nascent that it can’t even be considered half-baked”.  What matters here is that it feels good. It’s nice to write with another person, as that can take a song to a place that otherwise it would not have been. It’s even nicer to write with someone who has been your friend for nearly 20 years. We are making art that I believe in. I can’t wait for you to hear it. 

Our band is called We Met In Paris.  It works because it’s true.

Concert Memories - Elbow in Detroit 

Tuesday 7th November 2017.  This wasn’t a great time in my life… sure, my wife and I had recently returned from a fantastic trip celebrating our ten year anniversary, but my dad had been in the hospital, and this particular week, he had taken a turn for the worse.  (He would eventually die a little more than two months later, but that’s another story.) However, we had those Elbow tickets for months and months and months. Just about immediately after I learned they would be coming back to the United States, we looked for a show we could fit into our schedule.  I love this band. 

We had seen Elbow twice before.  Once in Atlanta. Once in Washington DC.  When they tour the United States, they only do a few shows… maybe a dozen, maybe a few more than that. They only play big cities.  There is no way they are stopping through Ohio (please?), so if you want to see them, you have to be willing to travel. We cashed in a free hotel night for a very nice place to stay in downtown Detroit, and drove on up there to attend the show. 

 

The venue was Saint Andrews Hall.  It’s a charming little venue, exactly the kind of place I like to visit for a show. The set got off to a great start, as they launched into Side 1 Track 1 from their debut album, a song called “Any Day Now”.  I don’t think they had played that the previous times we had seen them. Alas, this was the only song from the album they would get to on the evening.  I kind of understand, after all, they were touring in support of their newest album, Little Fictions, and as one might expect, they played more songs from this one than any of the others.  After this trip back in time, they tore into “The Bones of You”, a solid track featuring a deep synth bass from the outstanding album The Seldom Seen Kid

 

You can see the full setlist here, so I won’t talk about every single song they played.  I will mention that two of my favorite songs in their entire catalog, “The Birds” and “My Sad Captains” ended up being played consecutively, and that was the highlight of the night for me. 

Elbow’s longtime drummer left a couple of years ago, but as far as their performance is concerned, they are unaffected.  Guy Garvey’s pristine voice and reassuring stage presence lends warmth to their performance, as he implored the audience to sing along time and again, even if we didn’t know the words.  He needn’t have worried, we all know the words. The Potter brothers wove interesting guitar and keyboard riffs around Pete Turner’s solid bass work. On this occasion, Elbow only brought two violinists with them, which was adequate, but made a song like “Magnificent (She Says)” much less full than it sounds on the album.  I would like to see a 30 song show by Elbow… on this cold Midwest night, we had to settle for 16. I shouldn’t complain though, for as Guy sings, “looking back is for the birds”.

Ohio Spotlight - Captain Of Industry 

Welcome to the first Ohio Spotlight post, where I will briefly talk about Ohio musicians.  You might think this is an excuse to mention John Legend in the hopes that he would write with me someday… and while I would certainly be amenable to that idea (please), my motivation is somewhat more altruistic.  Simply, I want to mention artists that I currently enjoy or have enjoyed in the past, and would like all of you out there in the land of the Internet to discover them as well. 

We start with Captain Of Industry.  As I am not a reliable Dayton music historian, I can’t tell you what year they began, though if I were to hazard a guess, I’d say 2002.  They released three excellent albums, Captain of Industry (!), The Great Divide - my personal favorite of the three - and The Bronze. There is also an EP out there full of what seem very much like B-sides, which is odd and different, and then some of those songs ended up on The Bronze.  (One of those songs that didn’t end up anywhere else is “Plastique Bones”, which is way too catchy for its own good, and is one of my favorite songs in their catalog.) 

 

This group of talented musicians wore their influences on their sleeve.  Brainiac, clearly. Radiohead, most definitely. There are plenty of quirky, odd, experimental songs here… but I can’t listen to their hooks or harmonies without also thinking that these fellas all spent plenty of time listening to the Beatles and Beach Boys. 

There was some national touring done, and I will always be curious how they were received by audiences who were strangers to their sound.  I would like to think the quality of their songs and energy of their live show won people over. As a bass player, one thing I try to take with me from their albums and their shows is Ian Sperry’s patient approach… he never overplays.  Several of the moments in their songs that I find most interesting are when the bass is resting… when Ian stops playing. For a good example of this, check out “Quiet Zone”... apologies to the rest of the band, but the bass MAKES that song. 

Alas, Captain Of Industry are no more.  Life, uh, gets in the way. There are the very occasional one-off reunion shows, and there are the albums.  I let someone borrow my copy of The Great Divide and never got it back, but hey, I have the other two around here still, and can listen to those songs via streaming these days. 

Nathan Peters sings “no one really cares what town you come from”, and I humbly state my disagreement here.  If these guys weren’t from Dayton, I strongly doubt they would have developed a similar sound without the combination of gray Midwest winter, rust-belt city despair, and rich local music heritage.  Friends y’all, they’re from Dayton, Ohio. Find them online and give them a listen.

5 in 5 Song Challenge 

I saw Chelsey Coy from Single Girl/Married Girl mention something about a songwriting challenge.  It seemed interesting, so I went after more information. It seemed even more interesting, so I joined.  Today, I get to tell you about the 5 in 5 Song Challenge. 

This challenge is sponsored by Song Fancy, a website run by Nashville based singer/songwriter Sarah Spencer.  The website itself is designed to reach out to other songwriters, to help them when the obstacle of writer’s block rears its ugly head.  The site says it is specifically for the “contemporary lady songwriter”, but there are no barriers to entry for this challenge. Plenty of male songwriters joined.  Prior to this challenge, I had never stumbled across this website, so I can’t comment on the sense of community there, nor can I comment on the effectiveness of the songwriting tips shared.  I will say however, that I think this is a fantastic idea, and very altruistic of Sarah Spencer to share ideas that have helped her to be a better songwriter with others. 

What exactly is this challenge?  Well, it consists of five days… and it consists of five songs.  Those of us who signed up for the challenge are expected to write one song each day for five days.  That seems daunting, doesn’t it? If you aren’t feeling particularly inspired, it can be hard to write one song in two weeks, let alone a song each day for a business week.  The task is a little less scary than you might think, because each day comes with a song prompt. 

For Monday 11 March, also known as Day 1, we were given a list of ten words.  We had to use five of them in a song. For Tuesday 12 March, which was Day 2, we were given a phrase to use as a jumping-off point for the song.  For Wednesday 13th March, something that we call Day 3, the prompt was phrased as a dare… a dare to complete an unspecified action… but the song had to be written from a specific point of view. On Thursday 14th March, which as you might have figured out by now, was Day 4, we were given another list of ten words... but they were ten different words than Monday's list.  Finally, on Friday 15th March, which you surely realize was Day 5, we were given a specific two-word phrase to use as a song title.

Speaking personally as a songwriter, on the occasions I feel blocked, it is because I don’t have a place to start.  Maybe I’m not particularly moved by anything in the moment… no recent life tragedies, no recent life victories, and a general feeling of "meh". Some days I might have something to say, but can’t exactly find the motivation to write.  I found that this challenge solved both of those issues for me. Each day, here’s a new topic… something specific. Where to go with that topic, well, that’s in the hands of each songwriter. If you give 50 songwriters each a list of ten words and tell them to go write a song using five words from that list… well, you’ll get an incredible variety of styles and feeling.  The same can be said of the other prompts. In addition to the topic, having the expectation up front that YOU MUST COMPLETE THE SONG TODAY really helped me to get the songs finished. Nothing like a deadline to inspire urgency… 

Looking back at the challenge, I can’t say the songs I created were my best work.  (This means that you probably won't be hearing them, even if you ask nicely.  Ok, maybe one of them might see the light of day eventually, but not in its original form.)  Normally for me, I write and re-write and re-write a song before I bother recording a home demo of it.  Only the strong survive long enough to get recorded. When you are tasked with writing and recording a song each day, the ability to self-edit like that goes away.  That being the case, I didn’t come up with anything that I would consider “polished”... but there are some tiny moments in each of the songs I wrote that I think I will excise and use again somewhere else.  I think that having these songs be so raw and unpolished is part of the point of the challenge. The daily deadline forced me to step away from my natural tendency to immediately judge my own art, and to simply create. 

In order to keep us all accountable, this challenge came with a private Facebook group.  This is where we received the song prompts. This is where we shared our songs with the other writers.  This is where we gave feedback. This is where we got feedback. This is a good idea, but it is only as useful as the community involved can make it.  For the first couple of days, I tried to listen to every song that was posted to the community. On the first day, I think I left feedback on three of them.  On the second day, I left feedback on two of them. As the challenge moves on, trying to keep up with the submissions became overwhelming for me… especially since this challenge is happening in the middle of a normal work week in my daily life, and, oh yeah, I have to step back and CREATE something each day as well.  The challenge serves the two-fold purpose of (1) pushing us to write even when we might not be comfortable doing so that day, and (2) also getting us feedback from our peers. In my experience, the challenge was successful on point one, and not successful on point two. Even though it is art and a creative endeavor, a songwriter should treat it like a job and set aside specific time to work on the craft... this challenge forced me to do that.  As for point two...  the song I submitted for Day 2 didn’t get listened to even one time.  All of the others were listened to at least once, but feedback was minimal.  (Again, that's my experience.  Some of the writers in the group got plenty of feedback.  This may be related to genre.)

My final verdict… if you are a songwriter and you struggle with what to say or how to say it or where to start or how to get something finished… go visit the Song Fancy website and sign up for this challenge the next time it is offered.  It is a great mental exercise. It will enable you to stretch out your songwriting skills in a way you might not have considered before. Most importantly, even if you don’t come out of the challenge with anything you feel like keeping or sharing, I truly think this sort of thing makes us better at our craft.