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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
Songwriting Session with Mike Vial
CATEGORIES: Songwriting Session

Mikevial_PressPhoto2small_PhotoCredit_AnneGlista

Credit: Anne Glista

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, Mike Vial shares what he has learned as a songwriter.

 

Mike Vial has had a whirlwind six months. Days after the release of his new album, A World That’s Bigger, the Michigan-based singer/songwriter was hit by a car as he was walking to play a show. Vial soon found himself hobbling on crutches and lucky to be alive. He admits that, thankfully, his guitar has more cracks than him. Now fully healed, Vial chatted with me over the phone about his new album, his journey to becoming a full-time musician and some of the stories behind the songs on the record, which details the birth of his first daughter and the loss of a family member.

Vial has been a songwriter for as long as he can remember. The 35-year-old began writing poems and playing guitar in high school. He’d continue crafting songs as an adult in between his day job as a high school English teacher where he taught for eight years. In 2011, he decided to quit that job to focus more time on his artist career. Six years later, Vial continues full speed ahead with his songwriting and looks back on how it all began.

“I do remember the first song I wrote, and it was when I was a freshman,” he recalls. “I wrote a bunch of crappy songs that were more like the terrible poetry you would read in high school. I had a whole binder and I threw it away. I wish I still had it. The first song that I ever kept was when I was leaving for college. One classic breakup song. It was the first time I was singing.”

Vial admits that he had always pictured himself as a guitar player and not the frontman. During his senior year of high school, he and his friends were showcased as part of their school’s talent show where they performed three songs. Since no one could sing harmony in the band, Vial sang and he remembers it going pretty well.

“Finding my voice as a singer has been a very long journey. I think writing the song gave me another step in that direction that I was going to be the singer, and then I was going to be the artist in the front,” he admits.

While college mostly involved him reading books and teaching classes, he made some time for playing guitar and writing songs. He says that there were many little victories along the way that kept reminding him once he graduated that music wasn’t just a far off dream.

Years into his professional career, Vial often found himself playing bar gigs throughout Michigan after a long day of teaching. It was the steady money that eventually convinced him to finally leave his teaching job after eight years.

“I’m learning that there is no clear transition. It wasn’t like I had the perfect sign that it was right to quit my job. I just had to take the leap,” he explains. “It was the little victories along the way, and just in knowing I had to give it a shot. I think one thing is, and now that I’m a dad I definitely can relate to this whole thought I had. I needed to give myself time to figure out what music was going to look like before we started a family.”

As he approached his eighth year of teaching he realized it was “now or never,” explaining that the more comfortable one is in his lifestyle, the harder it is to leave. He describes music as a calling and says that when crafting a song, the music often comes first for him before the lyrics.

“There’s a moment in songwriting for me, where I feel like there’s enough development and there’s enough to go on, where the song is going to get finished, and it’s going to be pretty good,” he shares. “I know when I have the feeling, and I can’t explain what exactly it is. There’s enough structure there, there’s enough interesting parts. For the first set of lyrics, they usually come in the process when I’ve got a set structure of music and then I start humming and finding melodies. Then I find some lines, and the lines usually lead me to an idea. Then I’m off to the races.”

Vial adds that songwriting for him is “very chaotic.” He says the chaotic and messy process is the fun part for him.

 

 

“A World That’s Bigger” is the first song that Vial wrote as a father and is the title track to his latest release. He said it started with a Neil Young-esque riff that he jammed to before stumbling upon some melodies. He recalls humming as his daughter, Ginny, was sleeping in her bouncer.

“I was playing as quietly as possible. She’s just a baby, she can sleep through anything. I was lucky to catch that idea of the first verse, which is the first thing that I wrote lyrically for it during the processes of finding the chords that I was liking,” he recalls. “I was thinking about Ginny and I walking to this historic one-room schoolhouse down the street from our house and the baseball field and the church there. Then the theme of the weight of responsibility as a parent took over. Once I had the first verse and the chorus done, I knew that that was going to be a song.”

“Burning Bright,” meanwhile, was inspired by his late relative, David Plawecki, who started a pay-it-forward movement where he would give away $100 to everybody he knew for them to then give that money away to somebody else. Vial says he tries to write songs that are universal and this song embodies a universal theme of loss and death.

 

 

“I’ve learned I have to write about what I know,” he shares. “The way in which I approach is totally up to me because I’m writing the song and I’m not writing a memoir. That is another key balancing act of what’s going to do the song justice versus what’s going to do my ego justice. I have to be writing about what I know to get to the part where I don’t get stuck in a loop and I have enough to go on and I have enough interest to explore it.”

Vial admits that he’s been wanting to write a murder ballad but if he’s writing one, he needs to know that he’s relating to the speaker in the song.

“If they’re angry, I have to feel that anger. Fortunately, I’ve never hurt anybody but I’ve got to relate to that anger to get that song done,” he explains. “When it’s a relationship song, I’ve got to relate to them on a very personal level to get the seed of the song. It might grow in a different direction, but my seeds have to be really personal to get to the end. Otherwise, I just don’t feel like I have enough to go on.”

One song that has struck a chord with listeners is Vial’s “Girl On the Mountain, Boy On the Beach.” It’s a song for refugees that was entered into the Grassy Hill Songwriting Competition. While it didn’t win the prize, it did allow Vial to travel to Connecticut and play the song for the folk community there. He says it was a victory for him as a songwriter as so many people came up to him following his performance explaining how moved they were by it.

“It was the kind of song that gave myself permission to go in the folk direction,” he concedes. “Anytime we get to go to another city and play for a small or large audience is a win for the artist. That’s a part of the challenge. It’s a dream to just keep writing, let alone trying to play to people.”

 

For more on Mike Vial, visit his website or stream his latest album below.

March 26, 2017 | | (0) comment comment
Songwriting Session with Steve Moakler
CATEGORIES: Songwriting Session

Steve-Moakler

Courtesy: Essential Broadcast Media

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, Steve Moakler shares what he has learned as a songwriter.

 

Steve Moakler released his fourth album, Steel Town, on Friday (March 17), but he admits it feels like it is his first record. The singer/songwriter co-wrote 10 of the album’s 11 tracks, which he says makes for a personal release. As he explains, Steel Town has so much “chapter one information” and as a result, many of the songs vividly paint the picture of his roots. On “Steel Town,” Moakler discusses what life in his hometown south of Pittsburgh was like and how it shaped who he has become.

“In a steel town you learn how to bend and not break / How to hang in, how to cut loose, how to find a way / How to start from nothing and build it from the ground / Everything that matters most I learned about in a steel town,” he sings on the chorus.

“There are a lot of songs about looking back, and also a lot of songs about trying to be in the moment and appreciating the moment,” he tells me of Steel Town. “All those looking back moments come from my roots in a steel town. And I think it’s taken me, really, 10 years of being gone to really understand how much I’m a product of that place and how much it has given me that I bring with me everywhere.”

Another personal song is the rowdy “Siddle’s Saloon,” where Moakler pays homage to his grandfather’s home bar. Located in his grandfather’s basement, it’s a place his family still gets together to reminisce about old times. “Siddle’s Saloon” is a song that marks new territory for Moakler and one that he can’t wait to play live.

“It’s a very personal song but it also is the most up-tempo, rocking [one],” he says. “It sounds honestly like a Celtic bar blue collar anthem. It’s got a great energy to it and I think it’ll be really, really fun to play live, and should add a lot of energy to the show. That, paired with what it means to me, probably puts it in the running for the song I’m most excited to play.”

At heart, Moakler is a songwriter first and foremost and fans get a glimpse into his life throughout the entirety of Steel Town. Well known for penning songs for other artists including Dierks Bentley’s “Riser,” Moakler says songwriting is what first brought him to Nashville, adding that it is his deepest love.

“The thrill of the chase of writing a song, the feeling that comes over a room and over you when you’re writing a song you love,” he says, pausing. “When we wrote ‘Wheels’ and when I wrote ‘Steel Town’ and really all the songs on this album, that excitement of tapping into something new and special and real, that feeling keeps me going. I really don’t know what else I would do. If I ever lost my voice or for some reason couldn’t travel anymore, I could write songs and I could still be a pretty fulfilled, creative person. That really is my first love.”

 

 

For more of my interview with Steve Moakler, visit Sounds Like Nashville.

March 19, 2017 | | (0) comment comment
Songwriting Session with Jamie Meyer
CATEGORIES: Songwriting Session

Jamie Meyer

Credit: Lukasz Malyszka

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, Jamie Meyer shares what he has learned as a songwriter.

 

Jamie Meyer describes himself as a Swedish fish in a sea full of cowboys as the Gothenburg, Sweden, native currently splits his time between his homeland and Nashville. While he grew up on an eclectic blend of music including Swedish country, Rod Stewart, Queen, Del Shannon, Bruce Springsteen and Roy Orbison thanks to his mother, he recalls frequently listening to Def Leppard, Bryan Adams and Bon Jovi.

“At the end of every month, when she got paid from work, she always promised that I could buy one CD,” Meyer recalls. “I would spend the whole month watching hours of MTV in the ’90s trying to decide which artist I wanted to buy a CD from.”

It wasn’t until his first trip to the States years later that he would be introduced to American country music. Meyer was in Chicago and he vividly remembers being in awe of the many country radio stations here as there were no country stations for him to listen to in Sweden. An early favorite for Meyer was Kenny Chesney’s “She’s Got It All.”

While Meyer raves about the music festivals each summer in Sweden, he says the live music scene in Music City is incomparable.

“In Nashville you’ll find it everywhere, 24/7, and you can’t help but rise to the occasion and push yourself to becoming better. I love that about Nashville,” he shares. “Writing songs in Nashville is different, too. You often start with a title. In Sweden, we often start with the melody. To me, that was a big challenge to navigate. Nashville has helped me in writing better lyrics, even though I will probably always be a melody writer. Marrying Swedish pop melodies with the Nashville way of telling stories has become an interesting mission for me.”

As Meyer explains, country music is not about where you’re from, it’s about “feeling it on the inside and sharing your story.” Meyer is currently sharing his story with he world in the form of his brand new EP Miss This Town, which was released earlier this month. The seven-track recording was all co-written by Meyer with frequent collaborators including Swedish producer Hakan Mjornheim, Johnny Garcia, Jimmy Mattingly, Bridgette Tatum, Steve Dean, Adam Wood and Sarah Derr.

 

The collection of songs are personal for Meyer as two of the tracks touch upon the death of his grandparents. He calls “Holy Ground To Me” the most honest song on the EP as he wrote it while struggling over the loss of his grandparents.

“Sarah Derr did a phenomenal job putting my thoughts into words. Jimmy Mattingly on the fiddle, Peter Ljung on the piano and Hakan Mjornheim’s string arrangement and production is a match made in heaven,” he adds.

The title track, meanwhile, was inspired by Meyer’s eventual move from his hometown.

“It started with a hashtag I wrote on Instagram when I was taking a photo an early morning in Gothenburg, Sweden. I lived with the title for a while and after my grandfather’s funeral the storyline of the song was obvious but it’s also a very universal song,” he explains. “I can see how it can connect with anybody leaving a place or even someone getting ready for graduation.”

 

While Meyer’s heart is showcased on every track on the EP, so is his energetic live show. “Live to Die Another Day” is a guitar-fused jam that details living on the edge. It’s the EP’s standout song that also showcases Meyer’s uncanny pop melodies and striking guitar parts.

For more on Jamie Meyer, visit his website. Stream the album below via Spotify.

March 12, 2017 | | (0) comment comment
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