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Songwriting Session with Nicolle Galyon
CATEGORIES: Songwriting Session

Nicolle-Galyon

Credit: Jessica Steddom

Songwriting Session is a column that goes behind-the-scenes with artists and songwriters. Each Sunday, a new songwriter will share their journey and provide lessons they’ve learned along the way. This week, Nicolle Galyon shares what she has learned as a songwriter.

 

There’s a very good chance when you turn on the radio one of Nicolle Galyon’s songs will be playing. Ten years since signing her first publishing deal, the songwriter currently has five singles at country radio including Kenny Chesney’s “All the Pretty Girls,” Lady Antebellum’s “Heart Break,” RaeLynn’s “Lonely Call,” Florida Georgia Line’s “Smooth” and Lee Brice’s “Boy.”

The Kansas native’s songwriting journey is more than a decade in the making as she moved to Nashville in 2002 with the plan to pursue a career in artist management. During her time as a student at Belmont she worked as a personal assistant for Greg Oswald at William Morris Endeavor Entertainment (WME) where she was frequently surrounded by music and industry professionals. She recalls being mesmerized while attending guitar pulls her first year in Music City and it’s there that she was first hit with the songwriting bug.

“I was like, ‘Wait, this is a job? You can do this? I think this is actually what I should be doing,’” Galyon says over the phone.

Galyon grew up around music and played classical piano. Her real passion was country music though and somewhere between classes and acting as a personal assistant, songwriting spread like wildfire in her heart and overtook all the things she previously thought she’d pursue. By the time she graduated from Belmont her dream of a career as an artist manager changed to becoming a songwriter. She took all the lessons from working for a booking agent with her and admits that one of the most important things she learned was to have thick skin.

“It really taught me to not take anything personally and to have a thick skin and to see behind the curtain of how deals get done and how business really goes down,” she explains of her time shadowing Oswald. “That perspective has really helped me, even as a songwriter, when something doesn’t go my way or my song isn’t a single or my song doesn’t make a record. That job gave me the 30,000-foot perspective to realize it’s not all about you and it’s not about the song. There’s a lot of moving parts here that has to go right in order for something to happen.”

Her time as Oswald’s assistant frequently had her in the presence of other songwriters, publishers and producers. Galyon vividly remembers parties where she’d be cleaning up and someone would ask her to play them a song she wrote. She says it was in these moments that she earned her stripes in bravery and thanks to Paul Worley, one of the people in the room that heard her songs, she was introduced to BJ Hill from Warner/Chappell Nashville where she signed in 2007.

“I met so many people through that job,” Galyon reflects. “I say I got my degree from Belmont, but my education from working for Greg Oswald.”

In 2013, Galyon saw her first taste of success when Keith Urban recorded “We Were Us,” a song she co-wrote with longtime collaborators Jimmy Robbins and Jon Nite. Galyon recalls writing the No. 1 song shortly after she came back from her 10-year high school reunion. Robbins and Nite had written with Thomas Rhett earlier that day and played her an idea that they didn’t wind up using. She says they had the beginning of the song’s chorus, “Back when that song was a song I could sing along.”

“They had the top of the chorus written, but they didn’t know what the title would be. There was really no idea yet. Because I had just come back from my hometown, this little rural farm town in Kansas, all of this small town imagery started coming out of my mouth. Then I started singing some of the verses,” she recalls. “I was really nostalgic thinking about my whole class because I had just seen all my classmates. We’re all married and some are pregnant and have kids and I’m just looking at us going, ‘Man, that’s when we were us. Now we’ll never be us again, me and my class. You can never go back to that time.’”

 

For more of my chat with Nicolle Galyon, visit Sounds Like Nashville.

February 25, 2018 | | (0) comment comment
Songwriting Session with Tim Nichols
CATEGORIES: Songwriting Session

Tim-Nichols

Courtesy: THiS Music

Songwriting Session is a column that goes behind-the-scenes with artists and songwriters. Each Sunday, a new songwriter will share their journey and provide lessons they’ve learned along the way. This week, Tim Nichols shares what he has learned as a songwriter.

 

Tim Nichols is the newest member inducted into the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame. The hit songwriter says that the way he initially came to Nashville was not by doors opening, but by doors closing. “That’s how I got here,” he tells me. “Ultimately, there’s no misfortune. It’s all part of the plan. There’s always something you can learn from the journey.”

A sentiment he shared at great length during his Hall of Fame induction speech in October, days before the ceremony he sat down with me at his publishing office, THiS Music, to discuss his decision to pursue a career in songwriting and the ups and downs he faced along the way.

As Nichols settles into a chair in a writing room on Music Row, he gets nostalgic as he recalls the first song he wrote when he was 19. Titled “I Miss You Already,” he says it was a simple, straight-ahead country song. He pauses before noting that the songs he now writes — 30 years later — remain simple, straight-ahead country songs.

The Springfield, Missouri, native was in a band in his late teens and around that time was trying his best to figure out how to write songs. He moved to Music City when he was 21 hoping to be a singer, admitting that at the time he didn’t realize you could make a living writing songs.

“I didn’t know that was an option or a job possibility even,” he shares. “Then I started going to the Bluebird and the industry here really values and respects the craft of songwriting. There’s a strong sense of community among songwriters which I think is the coolest thing ever. It’s more so here than in any other music center.”

For his first few years in Nashville, Nichols was pursuing a career with his band and found himself constantly on the road. By 1983, the last incarnation of the band broke up and he was trying to figure out a way to stay in Nashville. So, he decided to audition for a local theme park, Opryland USA, which had music show productions on a daily basis. He hoped getting the job would keep him in Music City but once again, it didn’t work out exactly like he had planned. While he did get the job, they asked him to relocate and host the show in Branson, Missouri. Fully aware of the opportunity at hand, he spent some time back in his home state before being re-hired the following year for the park in Nashville.

Once he was back in Nashville for the amusement park gig, Nichols would spend his days off writing with various songwriters he met at writers rounds and through networking. One of his first collaborators included Gilles Godard, a Canadian with whom he found much success writing for Canadian acts like Ronnie Prophet and Tommy Hunter.

“The songs were okay,” Nichols says with a laugh, “but because he would come down here and record them with session players they sounded amazing. I would pitch those songs as I was going around getting appointments.”

For more of my interview with Tim Nichols, and to learn the stories behind some of the hits he wrote including Tim McGraw’s “Live Like You Were Dying,” Dustin Lynch’s “Cowboys and Angels” and Jo Dee Messina’s “Heads Carolina, Tails California,” visit Sounds Like Nashville.

November 19, 2017 | | (0) comment comment
Songwriting Session with Heather Morgan
CATEGORIES: Songwriting Session

Heather-Morgan

Credit: Blythe Thomas

Songwriting Session is a column that goes behind-the-scenes with artists and songwriters. Each Sunday, a new songwriter will share their journey and provide lessons they’ve learned along the way. This week, Heather Morgan shares what she has learned as a songwriter.

 

From a young age, Heather Morgan caught the music bug and she nostalgically recalls making up songs when she was just five years old. There is even a home video of her a few years later where she confidently introduces herself before singing a song she wrote. “This is a song by Heather Morgan,” an eight-year-old Morgan boasts in the clip.

“I’m waiting for the perfect moment to pop it up on Instagram one day and show off my horrible hairdo and teeth and songs,” she says laughing.

The Texas native confesses that her mom still has all the scraps of paper and paper towels that she scribbled her early song ideas on. Years later, her mother would urge Morgan to write a song for a creative arts contest at her elementary school. Morgan went on to win the contest in the first grade and was undefeated throughout the remaining years she was eligible to apply.

“I would win every year, because nobody else entered, and I don’t know that I knew that,” Morgan tells Sounds Like Nashville over the phone. “So I just thought I was really great at writing these songs.”

As a child rehearsing for the contest, Morgan remembers setting up her boom box in her family’s dining room where there were good acoustics. She’d stay up late recording her song idea over and over again until she got the perfect take. Her wins gave the budding songwriter more confidence and soon she’d embrace performing at school talent shows and various establishments around Texas where she’d frequently run into fellow Texans Maren Morris and Kacey Musgraves.

By the time she got to college, Morgan had a band and she’d spend her weekends traveling the Texas circuit opening for acts like Randy Rogers Band. She’d also expand her writing palate, as Morgan became the person to run to after you had a bad breakup. She remembers girls in her dorm frequently knocking on her door saying, “I have a song for you.”

“They would tell me what happened and then I would try to write them a song to make them feel better. All the girls in the dorm would come to my dorm room and listen to this new song, so I always had an audience,” she explains.

Morgan soon found herself with a manager and released a record with her band. When the gigs got longer, instead of playing cover songs she’d simply write more songs to perform. In her senior year of college she had several shows with Radney Foster, who told her about the songwriting community in Nashville. During one trip to Music City she was invited to play at the Bluebird Café for a special showcase of Texas artists. It was that trip in 2003, and some convincing from Jody Williams of BMI, that she knew she had to relocate to Nashville. When she returned to Texas, she worked several jobs to save enough money to make the move.

An early champion for Morgan was A&R professional Joe Fisher, who was Foster’s publisher at the time. Already having written 400 songs, Morgan was asked by Fisher to play him her favorites during their meetings. Impressed, he soon scheduled her first co-write with Jeremy Spillman (Eric Church’s “Country Music Jesus,” “Sinners Like Me,” “Before She Does”).

“I remember Jeremy sat with me for a couple hours after we were done with the song and gave me all this great advice. [He] told me what to be cautious of and what was important as far as enjoying the songwriting process,” Morgan recalls. “I still remember the curb we sat on and talked before anyone got in their car. It was so awesome to have that experience on your first day.”

Morgan heeded that advice and by 2005 had her first publishing deal with Warner/Chappell. Things came full circle in 2008 when Randy Rogers Band recorded her song “This Is Goodbye” for their self-titled album. From sharing the stage with RRB to having them record her song, Morgan was well on her way to a successful songwriting career.

 

 

For more of my interview with Heather Morgan, visit Sounds Like Nashville.

October 22, 2017 | | (0) comment comment
Songwriting Session with Luke Dick
CATEGORIES: Songwriting Session

Luke-Dick

Credit: Suzanne Strong

Songwriting Session is a column that goes behind-the-scenes with artists and songwriters. Each Sunday, a new songwriter will share their journey and provide lessons they’ve learned along the way. This week, Luke Dick shares what he has learned as a songwriter.

 

Luke Dick’s passion for music began at a young age. He vividly remembers hearing music wafting through his house in Oklahoma from his family’s record player and by the time he was in the fifth grade he picked up the drums for the school band. He worked all summer so he could buy a drum kit of his own and when his mother refused to let him bring it into the house, he created a makeshift studio in a chicken coop they had outside. He laughs as he recalls setting up his boom box and the speakers he bought at a garage sale so he could play along to his favorite bands on the radio.

Years later, after honing his craft, he’d find himself playing in various rock and alt-country bands and touring throughout the country. During his travels, Dick met a publisher based in Nashville and after visiting he decided to move there for the first time in 2006. However, he admits that his first stay was a little rocky.

“I didn’t really understand the lay of the land or how the business worked or anything,” Dick says over the phone. “I was just playing my own music and luckily one of the musicians, Kenny Greenberg, took me under his wing and I started making records with him and a lot of his friends. We made a good record and tried to get a record deal, and nobody was really interested in what I was doing and I decided I didn’t fit. Whatever I was doing was not what people wanted.”

After five years of little success in Nashville he decided to get his Master’s in Philosophy and began teaching. Dick says he figured he could eventually get a PhD and become a professor and play music on the side. So, he moved to New York where he planned to get a PhD and became an adjunct professor. Along the way he met fellow creative-types who spent their days as copywriters for advertisers and through their help he began making music for commercials and various advertisements like Hilton Hotels and Sweet ‘N Low.

While Dick explains that the work wasn’t the most glamorous thing for an artistically minded person, it was the first time he ever made money with music. He also set aside time to make documentaries, record his own solo project and play music while living in New York.

“When I was making a silly little ditty for Sweet ‘N Low I had fun and I wanted to make it as great as I could. I wanted to make it exciting in some way, so I didn’t find it to be any kind of a sellout whereas maybe five years ago I would have,” he admits.

Soon after, he was signed to a publishing deal with BMG. Eventually, he began traveling to Nashville but this time around things were different. About to have a child, he convinced his wife to try Music City one more time because he didn’t want to be traveling back and forth with a new baby. Nothing happened in his first year in town but when he signed another deal with Arturo Buenahora Jr., who he met years prior while pitching his previous solo work, things slowly began to pick up. Buenahora and Eric Church’s publishing company, Little Louder Music, signed Dick and early into his stay he’d see a cut on Kip Moore’s 2015 release Wild Ones with “Magic” and soon after with Church on “Kill A Word” and Miranda Lambert’s “Pink Sunglasses” and “Highway Vagabond.”

“It all started snowballing a couple years ago. More people wanted to write with me and I was able to find people that I write well with and not just have my calendar filled up with people I didn’t know or didn’t understand creatively or didn’t jive with creatively,” he explains. “That experience of getting a few cuts and then moving up the chain, writer-wise, opens up your relationships. You inevitably find people who are working at a really high level [and] it becomes this exciting thing.”

Now living in Nashville for the second time since 2014, Dick admits that he still feels new to town and remains eager about the next song he’s about to write. One of the songs that continues to increase in meaning for him is on Moore’s new project, Slowheart. A song called “The Bull,” Dick wrote it his first time in the room with Jon Randall and says Moore’s take on the song is a powerful one.

“Kip was the first one to take a chance on my songs. He said, ‘Man, you got anything weird or outside? Show it to me.’ So, he cut this song called ‘The Bull’ that I just love. That one, it was a fun write. When Jon Randall and I write, we’re sort of meandering around. It’s a weird spiral,” he explains. “It’s not exactly a set out path. I came in there one day and I was like, ‘Man, I had this dream. This dream was, I said to myself, ‘Thanks to the bulls that bucked me off.’”

 

 

For more of my chat with Luke Dick, visit Sounds Like Nashville.

September 24, 2017 | | (0) comment comment
Songwriting Session with Laura Veltz
CATEGORIES: Songwriting Session

Laura-Veltz

Photo courtesy: Big Machine Music

Songwriting Session is a column that goes behind-the-scenes with artists and songwriters. Each Sunday, a new songwriter will share their journey and provide lessons they’ve learned along the way. This week, Laura Veltz shares what she has learned as a songwriter.

 

For ten years, Laura Veltz was in a band with her family where she made music with her parents, brother and sister while touring the country. Veltz describes herself as the utility player — whatever instrument was needed she’d pick up and play. While she loved making music, she didn’t enjoy being in the spotlight. In fact, she said being the front woman made her feel anxious. It took her years before she was finally able to admit this to herself because she didn’t want to disappoint her family.

She was 21 when she wrote her first song after picking up a guitar. She laughs recalling the experience, saying the song made no sense lyrically and had no Nashville elements to it. Her family happened to be touring through Music City shopping for publishing deals when her dad suggested she play her new song during a meeting with Windswept Pacific Music. A man at the publishing company told Veltz that she was going to be a songwriter and that moment stuck with her throughout the next seven years as she contemplated what a career as a songwriter could be like.

“I just started writing, really out of stress,” she tells me over coffee at hip East Nashville cafe Dose. “I was trying to find something that felt like mine.”

After talking with a family friend, Nashville Songwriters Hall of Famer Kye Fleming, Veltz decided to give Nashville a try. Before quitting the band though, Fleming advised her to visit Nashville first to see if she enjoyed co-writing. Veltz immediately took to Nashville, saying it felt like home. Her first co-write with Skip Black (Craig Morgan, Gary Allan, Tyler Farr) went well and the song they wrote together wound up on his next session. She’d soon find herself writing with Edens Edge, helping to shape their sound, and years later would have cuts with artists like Jana Kramer, Eli Young Band, Chris Young and Maren Morris. It was her early success with Edens Edge that ultimately convinced her to quit the family band at 28 and move to Nashville in 2008.

Veltz knew success wouldn’t come overnight so she bartended and waited tables, all while writing songs. She slowly paid her dues and by 2011 she was signed to a joint publishing deal with Big Machine Music and Warner Chappell Music. By 2013 she had her first single on the radio with Eli Young Band’s “Drunk Last Night.” The song would soon become her first No. 1. Written with Josh Osborne (Sam Hunt’s “Body Like A Back Road,” Kenny Chesney’s “Setting the World On Fire,” Blake Shelton’s “Sangria”), Veltz vividly recalls writing another song first that day. The song they were working on was inspired by a quote she heard from Garth Brooks at the NSAI Awards earlier that year where he discussed an event in his life and said, “God did what God does.” A cool concept for a song, she and Osborne immediately began writing the blueprint of that sentence and were getting real deep when Veltz paused.

“At some point, I was just like, ‘I’m sorry. I’m really hung over. I got a little drunk last night,’ and he just went straight for it,” she recalls. “He hardly even said, ‘we should write that.’ He just started singing, ‘I got a little drunk last night’ and I think it wrote itself in 45 minutes. It was such a beautiful co-writing experience. It was the first one where I felt like I was in the level of room where there was a seamlessness. Nobody was frustrated.”

 

 

For more of my interview with Laura Veltz, visit Sounds Like Nashville.

July 23, 2017 | | (0) comment comment
Songwriting Session with Luke Laird
CATEGORIES: Songwriting Session

Luke-Laird

Credit: Spencer Combs


Songwriting Session is a column that goes behind-the-scenes with artists and songwriters. Each Sunday, a new songwriter will share their journey and provide lessons they’ve learned along the way. This week, Luke Laird shares what he has learned as a songwriter.

 

Throughout most of junior high, Luke Laird enjoyed writing songs. A fan of all genres, the Pennsylvania native cites his first concert as an introduction to country music. Witnessing Randy Travis live had the young songwriter paying close attention to the lyrics within each song and growing up in rural America, to which he could relate. A family vacation to Nashville between his sophomore and junior year of high school forever cemented his decision to become a professional songwriter. As Laird recalls, he was immediately sold on Music City during that first trip after catching a show at the Bluebird Cafe and witnessing writers perform the songs he heard on the radio.

“That really triggered, ‘Oh, this is really, actually a possibility,’” he tells me, seated comfortably in his upstairs writing room at Creative Nation on Music Row. “My mom found out about MTSU and the recording industry program and that’s the only school I applied to. Fortunately, I got in and that got me down here to Nashville. Once I finally had a car my junior year of college I would drive up here and do writers nights and open mics.”

In 2000, while still a student at Middle Tennessee State University, Laird met Chris Oglesby from BMG. Two years later he’d find himself signing his first publishing deal with Oglesby and BMG where he’d stay until about six years ago when he and his wife, Beth, opened their own publishing company Creative Nation.

Before he signed his deal, Laird worked as the tour manager’s assistant to Brooks & Dunn. His first job out of college, he learned about the inner workings of the industry and what it’s like being on the road. He also made sure to find time to write in the mornings and on his days off.

“My ultimate plan was to get a publishing deal but at that point nobody had offered me a deal. It was an awesome first job in the music business,” he reflects. “When I was in town I’d be trying to get meetings with publishers. There was a guy I knew who had a publishing deal named Bill Luther and he’s the first writer who really encouraged me to shoot for it and believed in me. I’ll never forget that. He introduced me to his publisher at BMG at the time. That’s who eventually ended up signing me.”

It would take years of writing before he saw his first chart topper in 2007 with Carrie Underwood’s “So Small,” the lead single off her sophomore album Carnival Ride. Laird vividly remembers hearing the song on the radio for the first time while driving in his truck to a co-write.

“It was very surreal to hear that. It was like, ‘Wow!’” he recalls nostalgically. “The most surreal part for me writing songs in the beginning was if I would go back home for Christmas and hear a song I wrote on the station I grew up listening to. That’s when it’s like, ‘Wow, this is crazy!’ Still, it’s such a thrill when you get to hear the song on the radio. For some reason, they always sound better on the radio.”

For more of my interview with Luke Laird, visit Sounds Like Nashville.

July 9, 2017 | | (0) comment comment
Songwriting Session with The Wild Now
CATEGORIES: Songwriting Session

TheWildNow1

Courtesy: Noisy Ghost PR

Songwriting Session is a column that goes behind-the-scenes with artists and songwriters. Each Sunday, a new songwriter will share their journey and provide lessons they’ve learned along the way. This week, Taylor Baker of The Wild Now shares what she has learned as a songwriter.

 

Taylor Baker and Drew Walker first met while watching Local Natives play a set at SXSW in 2013. Shortly after, the two musicians began writing songs together and formed a duo called Taylor & the Wild Now. In 2016, they changed their name to the Wild Now and charged full speed ahead playing shows and recording new music.

Their latest five-song EP Afterglow, released on Friday (May 19), showcases a new sound for the band as the duo have embraced the trumpet within their recordings. In an interview over the phone from her home in Austin, Texas, Taylor discussed the band’s evolution and shared some insight on songwriting and how she battles through the difficulties of writer’s block.

On Afterglow, Taylor says she and Drew made a conscious effort to transition to a newer sound. While it’s still the indie-pop music fans know and love, she says their songs have matured as they continue to push boundaries and themselves out of their comfort zone. One song in particular, “Tongue Tied,” shows this evolution. Drew wrote the instrumentals for the track and Taylor explains that it was this song in particular that prompted the decision to add trumpet features over the guitar parts and production.

“We really wanted it to be a song that people could listen to and escape,” Taylor explains. “It’s about letting go and living in the moment.”

While Drew writes the majority of the music first, Taylor will then add lyrics and melody to the song. She admits that lately she’s been having difficulty feeling inspired and her favorite songs are the ones that flow out of her. When she’s dealing with writer’s block she tries her best to sit down with her guitar and write, but not have too many expectations.

“I feel like when I put more pressure on myself then it’s stressful and nothing good really comes out of it,” she shares. “I’ll carry around a notebook, write down lyrics when they hit me and quotes that inspire me that I could maybe add to a song. Sometimes if I really feel stuck I’ll learn a cover of another song that I love, just to get ideas.”

Taylor says she always tries to write from an honest place. It’s advice another songwriter gave to her and something she has taken to heart, noting that the most popular songs are often the most relatable. Since she and bandmate Drew are currently dating she admits that this can sometimes be hard.

“I’m always in my head and [my] thoughts are all over the place. So, when I write, I discover the meaning after the fact and then I’m like, ‘OK this makes sense that I wrote this song,’ when at the time I wouldn’t really know exactly why,” she explains. “Me and Drew, my guitar player, we’re dating so I guess in some ways that does give me pause when writing because I don’t want to be too honest.”

The two songwriters never ask each other too much about the stories behind their songs and instead focus on writing the best song they can for listeners. Taylor describes Drew’s music as peaceful and beautiful, noting that some tracks have a more beachy vibe to them.

“It’s music you could listen to all the time,” she adds.

Their new single is “Afterglow” and Taylor says it’s the most unique track on the EP. Her airy vocals are accentuated by Drew’s musical production and she says the song hints at the direction their band is moving toward. Music fans will get a taste of this transition on the band’s current tour, which runs through June. The duo are set to play Austin City Limits in October and the Austin natives hope to connect with those in attendance.

“When I see somebody live, I get a connection more with the music than if I were to just listen to it [on a recording]. As a singer and being in a band myself, I love to watch their stage presence and get ideas of my own.”

Taylor says her favorite song to perform these days is “Run For Your Life.” Watch the music video for the song and stream their new EP below. For more on The Wild Now and upcoming tour dates, visit their website and follow them on Instagram.

The band is set to play Nashville on May 25 and May 26 at Cobra and The 5 Spot respectively. They head to New York on May 29 and May 30 to perform at Pianos and Rockwood Music Hall.

May 21, 2017 | | (0) comment comment
Songwriting Session with Tommy Lee James
CATEGORIES: Songwriting Session

Tommy-Lee-James

Credit: Olivia James

Songwriting Session is a column that goes behind-the-scenes with artists and songwriters. Each Sunday, a new songwriter will share their journey and provide lessons they’ve learned along the way. This week, Tommy Lee James shares what he has learned as a songwriter.

 

It took Tommy Lee James 30 years to record his first album, The Wontons, which he released in March. The Nashville-based singer/songwriter moved to Music City in 1987 thinking he’d see fame and an artist career within six months but this was far from the case. After a failed record deal he found himself writing songs for others and would soon garner cuts from acts like Reba McEntire (“And Still”), Brooks & Dunn (“A Man This Lonely,” “If You See Him, If You See Her”), Gary Allan (“Life Ain’t Always Beautiful”), Tim McGraw (“She’s My Kind of Rain”) and Blake Shelton (“My Eyes”), among others.

While his day job may be writing songs for country, pop and EDM acts, James’ current project The Wontons shares his love of Brit pop. Some of his early influences include R.E.M., The Cure and Television and he channeled these acts when sitting down to write the record solo.

“In Nashville, except for a few times in 30 years, everything’s been a collaboration co-writing,” he tells me. “So this was 100-percent just sitting at my desk at my laptop working on the songs myself. I would work on them over the course of a few days in my head while I was doing other things, which is a nice luxury to have.”

Songs on the album include “Shoot Me Down,” which details James’ realization that there is often safety in numbers when co-writing. He lost that security blanket on the record and admits that writing by himself was daunting at first.

“It felt like, ‘Wow, I’m really putting myself out here, writing these songs by myself.’ Even after all these years it’s a little bit intimidating. ‘Shoot Me Down’ is about that, it’s about going out on a limb and just going for it, without fear.”

Other songs dig deeper. “Sometimes I Cry” has James’ grappling with the death of his father and the reality of our sometimes short life cycle.

“Some of those songs are about taking emotional inventory a little bit. It’s a luxury to write songs like that, it’s good therapy,” he reflects. “I don’t necessarily get that personal when I’m trying to write for the country market, or the pop market.”

James found success early on within the country genre. He recalls Nashville being a smaller town in the ’80s where he knocked on doors his first day in town with a backpack of cassettes and publishers let him in the door and listened to his songs. After two years, he signed his first deal with McEntire’s Starstruck Entertainment company and laughs as he remembers writing “a lot of really bad songs for them.”

His first cut was a song called “I Don’t Love You” that Conway Twitty recorded in 1993. McEntire would record another song called “And Still” two years later, which became James’ first No. 1. He’d soon find himself signed to an artist deal with RCA Records but was eventually dropped before he released an album.

Thanks to a tour with McEntire, he met Brooks & Dunn who soon needed an acoustic guitarist and singer in their band so James joined them on the road and began writing with Ronnie Dunn. The two penned “A Man This Lonely” together which would give James his second chart topper. His next hit would be “If You See Him/If You See Her,” which he co-wrote with Terry McBride and Jennifer Kimball. It became a duet between Brooks & Dunn and McEntire.

“We wrote it as a duet and we wrote it specifically for Brooks & Dunn and Reba McEntire,” James recalls. “We had the title, ‘If You See Him,’ and then we decided to make it ‘If You See Him, If You See Her,’ to make it a duet. We actually talked about what he would say, what she would say, and how they would say it. We were really focusing on that. I was so proud of that [song]. There was so much excitement around it because you had two major artists at the time on the record so I felt pretty good about that one.”

 

 

For more of my interview with Tommy Lee James, visit Sounds Like Nashville.

May 14, 2017 | | (0) comment comment
Songwriting Session with Wendy Sweetlove
CATEGORIES: Songwriting Session

Wendy Sweetlove


Songwriting Session is a column that goes behind-the-scenes with artists and songwriters. Each Sunday, a new songwriter will share their journey and provide lessons they’ve learned along the way. This week, Wendy Sweetlove shares what she has learned as a songwriter.

California-based singer/songwriter Wendy Sweetlove grew up in the church and vividly recalls always having music around her home as a child. An avid reader, she was enamored with stories and did a lot of journaling and wrote poetry as she grew older. It wasn’t until after college, though, that she decided to place her poems to music after being prompted by a friend.

“There is something about music and good writing that moves you on a different level,” she says.

After college she began attending poetry readings. Transitioning through the aftermath of college is often difficult and she found herself often writing about her feelings. Soon after, she met a guitarist who she began co-writing with and realized that songwriting was something that she could do for a living. Now, Sweetlove is readying the release of her debut record. Ahead of her forthcoming album preview show on May 12 at Molly Malone’s in Los Angeles, we chatted with the singer about her songwriting process and music.

The lead single on the project is a sultry track called “Delilah” that tells the tale of temptation. When Sweetlove sits down to write she normally starts with lyrics and an idea of what she wants to say. This time around, however, her co-writers started the song by jamming on guitar. She took the music home and sat with it for a few weeks trying to figure out what the song was trying to say.

“I think because of my background in the church I’m fascinated by the concept of temptation, which is kind of who Delilah is — this symbol of temptation and yet, to think about the actual story from her perspective. That notion as a woman, I think temptation can be delicious. And, something that you can enjoy and savor and yet some things are better to save the temptation than to give into,” she explains.

Sweetlove said it was the guitar lick that first started the song and she began to ask herself what does temptation mean? What does it look like? And where’s the line? She said she was hoping to capture the back and forth of how life can be so joyful in one moment and painful in the next.

The intriguing rhythms and backing vocalists help to get the story across within the song and she says it is often the musicians that help her take the song to another place in the studio.

“I’m not a great instrumental player and I’ve just found that when I collaborate with people who really know their instrument, they just take the song to a better place for me,” she explains. “I’ve come to the place where I actually love the collaboration because it’s fun and I’ve had the good fortune to work with kind and talented and lovely people. But also, I feel like it makes the songs better. I feel like it just sharpens [them].”

Sweetlove wrote all the lyrics on her forthcoming project herself and says one piece of advice she has taken to heart on songwriting comes from a friend who told her not to be precious about her songs and to just write the song and let it be.

“I really think about that because what am I afraid of, really? Maybe, if I write a song that isn’t the best song in the world? I’m going to survive. I’m going to be okay. Now that I trust myself more and I trust my co-writers more it’s so much more fun for me,” she admits.

Sweetlove promises a personal release and says she makes a point to also incorporate playfulness into her writing. Her hope is that people who attend her live show will walk away feeling different experiences and emotions, but most importantly feel connected.

“Every single one of those songs has a story. A very personal story in some [situations]. I want them to come and feel like they’ve connected with something real, that I am really trying to share something of my experiences with the world [and] that it can get better. That you can find joy in places where you didn’t think you could and that we’re all so much more connected than we sometimes feel.”

For those in California, be sure to catch Wendy’s preview release show on May 12 at Molly Malone’s in Los Angeles. To hear a preview of her forthcoming album, visit her website.

May 7, 2017 | | (0) comment comment
Songwriting Session with Barry Dean
CATEGORIES: Songwriting Session

Barry-Dean

Credit: Spencer Combs

Songwriting Session is a column that goes behind-the-scenes with artists and songwriters. Each Sunday, a new songwriter will share their journey and provide lessons they’ve learned along the way. This week, Barry Dean shares what he has learned as a songwriter.

 

Barry Dean was in his mid-30s when he started writing professionally. While he dabbled in songwriting throughout his teens and continued to make up songs while mowing the lawn as an adult in Kansas, it was never something he considered chasing after. In a candid hour-and-a-half interview in his writing room at his publisher, Creative Nation, Dean reflects on his long journey to Nashville. As he recalls, it all started one afternoon while having lunch with his wife.

“We were looking at what to do for a living, where I should go and she said, ‘Well, what’s your passion?’” Dean remembers with a smile while seated in his office surrounded by guitars, keyboards and inspiring quotes hanging from the ceiling light fixture. “I laughed about it. I said, ‘I don’t think mid-30s is the time to be chasing passions.’ I had kids.”

Dean then told his wife that he wanted to be a songwriter when he was a kid and often dreamed of being around record labels and musicians. When prompted by his wife about why he doesn’t write songs he admitted that he did, often while mowing the grass or in his journal. Surprised at her husband’s secret passion, songwriting was something she kept in mind when asking if he would take her on a cruise for their anniversary the following month. He obliged and as it turns out, Dean’s wife found a songwriting cruise hosted by Nashville Songwriters Association International (NSAI).

The cruise hosted discussions about songwriting in the morning and the remainder of the day would be a typical vacation setting. It was on this excursion that Dean wound up performing and was invited to Nashville for a song camp. Soon he’d find himself traveling back and forth from Kansas to Nashville throughout the year, booking co-writes and taking songwriting seminars.

While picking up a guitar, he describes his early songs as “weird because I was learning to play the guitar.” He then begins to play one of the first songs that garnered him attention from a publisher, “The Boots of Sunny Red.” A story song told from the perspective of a boot, the music could be featured in a Western movie. He says his future publisher knew the song wasn’t a hit, but he liked the way Dean was thinking.

One piece of advice that Dean has taken to heart came from Mike Reid, who often tells songwriters to ask, “what’s the next truest thing I can say?” Dean relates this to several of the songs he’s written including Little Big Town’s “Pontoon,” Martina McBride’s “God’s Will” and Tim McGraw’s “Diamond Rings and Old Barstools,” which garnered Dean his first Grammy nomination.

“It’s a pretty big deal to me to be allowed in this community at all. I really admire these writers. Getting nominated for a Grammy is really exciting,” he says, becoming reflective. “For a guy who never thought he’d get to do it at all, that is amazing that it’s possible that it can be done. I’ve been watching that show since I was a little boy and I got to go and we got to get dressed up and be with our friends and somebody liked the song, that’s pretty cool.”

“Diamond Rings and Old Barstools” was a co-write between Dean, Luke Laird and Jonathan Singleton and almost wasn’t recorded. The three friends spent most of the day working on something else but didn’t feel like they were getting anywhere so they switched gears. Dean remembers Laird playing a guitar riff first and the song was written 40 minutes later. He admits they didn’t think many artists would be interested.

“It’s really country. There was a discussion, ‘do we even demo it because it’s so country?’” he says. “We decided we would do it because we wanted to hear Jonathan Singleton sing. They played it for George Strait and thought he would cut it and then he didn’t and we thought, ‘Well, that’s probably about it.’ Then McGraw cut it. That guy, he’s a song connoisseur. McGraw has an understanding of his audience and himself and songs. It’s just amazing, really. To think of his catalog… to be a part of that catalog of songs is a big deal.”

 

 

For more of my interview with Barry Dean, visit Sounds Like Nashville.

April 9, 2017 | | (0) comment comment
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