Throwback Thursday: Dan + Shay

For as long as I can remember, I’ve always been fascinated by songwriting. Who or what inspired a songwriter to write that song? What happens behind the scenes in the writing room? What’s the most personal lyric in the song?

I’ve had several songwriting columns for various publications over the years, including You Sing I Write. This week’s #ThrowbackThursday is with Dan + Shay during a chat for CBS Radio in May of 2015 when the pair taught me how to write a song. The article never made that publication due to a layoff. When a new editor asked me the following year to start a monthly column I knew I wanted mine to highlight songwriters. That chat with Dan + Shay in 2015 became one of my first features for Sounds Like Nashville’s The Writers’ Round series, which you can read below.

Dan + Shay met in the unlikeliest of places: underneath a tent at a party in Nashville, Tenn. nearly 10 years ago. The two immediately hit it off and met the next day to write and have been co-writers and band members ever since. In our interview, the duo share their tips on songwriting and walk us through a typical co-write.

As Shay Mooney explains, it’s important to be open when writing a song. He says he and Dan Smyers work so well together because they’re not afraid to say something stupid. He also likens songwriting to a puzzle. “When you go into a co-write everyone brings in their own little piece to the puzzle,” he shares. “It’s a lot of fun.”

Being descriptive is key and Dan + Shay often rely on specific visuals that allow their songs to stand out to listeners. On “Nothin’ Like You,” they sing of a girl with “purple untied shoestrings” who is also “rockin’ that rock ‘n’ roll t-shirt.” Their single, “From the Ground Up,” gives the visual of “a painted pink room” as they sing of a baby girl on the way for the couple in the song.

While Dan + Shay say there is no set formula to writing songs, they always aim to pen “something fresh,” or a perspective that hasn’t been used before. They admit that sometimes it takes them hours to settle on a hook and say that they often try to start with a song title or concept in mind.

Settling into a conference room atop a bustling street corner on Seventh Avenue in New York City, Dan + Shay admit that the Big Apple is an inspiring and mesmerizing place for them. New York is a cultural center that has every ethnic food imaginable and for many is the land of opportunity as far as career choices. This is not lost on the duo. In fact, it inspires them to start writing a song.

“A concept if you were going to write a song — thinking of something different that might not have been said — I was walking down the street and there’s so many beautiful girls here,” Smyers observed. “Everybody here is good looking, everybody is dressed well, and when you’re living here it’s probably tough to find the perfect person, because there’s so many people. It’s like that scene in the movie The Butterfly Effect, where two people are passing each other on the street and they lock eyes, and you fall in love with somebody like that.”

He pauses before he continues what soon becomes a song idea.

“Out of all the millions of people here in this one place, you’re walking by and you fall in love with one person. Of all the people in New York, how do you find that one person?” he asks.

A unique concept, he and Mooney decide to elaborate on this and a title eventually emerges from his observation: “Walking By.” In doing so, Dan + Shay walk us through a typical co-write as Smyers explains that in Nashville songwriting is a 9-to-5 job. Most of the time the writers meet around 10 a.m. and chat about song ideas over coffee.

“The best way to do it, without going in circles, is coming up with a concept or a title. Say we were doing a title, for example, ‘Walking By.’ If we were going to sing about that concept — whether it’s you pass someone and they catch your eye, they’re pretty, might that person be the one — you want to get a title. If you don’t have a title, at least a strong concept to write around,” Smyers explains.

As Mooney takes out a guitar, he starts fiddling around on it, humming to himself, trying to come up with a melody while Smyers wraps his head around the lyrics. Eventually, the lyrics pour out as the duo decide to start with the first verse, explaining that it’s often easier to start from the beginning of a song and paint a picture. Smyers adds that it’s more important to flush out a concept than to worry about rhyming because working on the latter will often result in a finished song that has no meat to it.

Smyers says they always strive to have something visual in their lyrics. While writing a song about New York, he references Ryan Adams’ “New York, New York” as one example that vividly describes specific places in the City.

“Whether somebody has been there or not, it’s still good to throw something in like that, because it paints an honest picture of ‘they were really there,’ rather than ‘two busy streets, walking through,’” Smyers advises.

Realizing they’re high above Seventh Avenue, the lyrics start falling out.

“There she was, Seventh Avenue,” Mooney sings before Smyers cuts in.

“There she was, walking by. Seventh Avenue baby blue eyes,” Smyers continues.

Mooney then hums a few more lines as Smyers explains why he includes the title, “Walking By.”

“We always like to start with something simple, like if that was the first part. ‘There she was, walking by. Seventh Avenue baby blue eyes. Busy street. Green light. Her and me locked, eyes.’ Then you try to pick it up and build a little more energy dynamic-wise coming into a chorus,” Smyers shares. “Painting that picture of what’s going on.”

He adds that as a writer, you don’t want to give away what you’re doing too soon to the listener because then you don’t have anywhere to go. Case in point: the guy in the song probably doesn’t walk right up to the girl in the first verse.

“The chorus, since you’re going to repeat it throughout the song, it could be more generalizations. ‘What if she’s the one?’ Then in the second verse you stop her on the sidewalk and ask her name,” Smyers says. “Then you could still repeat that chorus. She might be the one, and if I never did this, never took this chance, I’d never know.”

Mooney then suggests, “what if she was thinking what you were thinking?” Then he hums a few words, singing she was “running around like a hurricane” while Smyers continues to fathom the vastness of New York.

“That’s the crazy thing about this city, what if you passed your wife on the street [and] you didn’t say anything and lost that opportunity? That’s a crazy concept about being here.”

Mooney says as a songwriter, he always wants to know how his song will conclude while he’s writing it but that doesn’t always happen. “You can’t force it. You never know really where you’re going to end up. Sometimes you do, and hopefully you do. If you do, you can write the song a lot faster. Sometimes you’re writing a song and you have no idea where you’re going to end up. It’s always interesting to see,” he says.

Meanwhile, band mate Smyers explains that while he doesn’t know how this particular song will close he wants to prevent it from being cheesy so they’ll avoid lines like “she gave me her number!” and “we got married!”

“I’d probably make it, you walk by and maybe time has passed and you never said anything. Maybe you just said hello, but you’re still thinking about that person, to keep the concept of ‘what could it have been,’” he explains.

Dan + Shay call songwriting a “crazy, chaotic process” and advise that there’s no right or wrong way to do it. They say they typically start with a concept like they did above with “Walking By.”

“Luckily there, we did have a title. Sometimes you don’t, but if you have a strong concept or an idea, somewhere to go, it’s a little bit easier,” Smyers shares.

So what’s the best advice Dan + Shay have received on songwriting? Mooney says it’s to keep writing.

“I think the most important thing you can do as a songwriter is just to write a million songs. You have to move here, you have to work really, really hard because there are 50 million other people that are trying to do what you do, and they’re probably working just as hard or harder than you are,” he says. “You have to completely sacrifice everything and go for it, and write as many songs as you possibly can.”


Dylan Jakobsen’s ‘Six’ Lyric Video Revisits Singer’s Musical Beginnings

Credit: Matt Bacnis / Classic 77 

Dylan Jakobsen knew from a young age he wanted to be a musician. The Seattle native started playing guitar at age eight and was writing songs by the time he was in the seventh grade. The summer before eighth grade, Jakobsen’s parents convinced him to perform at an open mic at their local mall and he never looked back.

“I was one of those kids all through middle school and high school who just wanted to grow up to be a rock star,” he says.

By the time he graduated high school, Jakobsen booked his first tour and found himself on the road regularly much like his songwriting heroes Bruce Springsteen, Tom Petty, John Mellencamp and Bob Seger. He moved to Nashville three years ago and says it was important to be in the city where the music is getting made.

Jakobsen never forgot where he came from and fondly recalls locking himself in the music room of his Seattle home after school where he wrote songs and played guitar. He still handwrites all his songs and has kept a box of lyrics which includes all the songs he’s written since childhood. Current single, “Six,” is one of those songs.

Jakobsen wrote the autobiographical song in 2019 by himself. While the final product is an uplifting tune that tells of his passion for music, “Six” actually started from the disappointment of his previous single “I Am” and its chart standing.

“I was upset because we were pushing a song of mine to radio, ‘I Am,’ and it was in its final push week and it was sitting at No. 16,” Jakobsen recalls. “It was set up to make the top 15 on MusicRow and we were so excited! And then there was one station that dropped the song. We came up six spins short.”

Instead of focusing on the disappointment of his single not hitting the top 15, Jakobsen saw the silver lining. So, he decided to spin the idea of the number ‘six’ into a positive.

“When you’re six years old you feel like you can do anything,” he says. “Then flash forwarding to my 26th year, we were out — me and six of my best buddies — touring the country going 60 miles an hour, 600 miles to go play for caller six on the radio station. You almost get that feeling that you do when you were six years old. You get that feeling of you can take on the world, anything is possible or the magic is there. It completely took a different meaning then.”

The lyric video, out now, includes home videos of Jakobsen around age six playing guitar and singing into a microphone. His parents found the footage, and his team made it into the music video. An extended version is included in the new lyric video, available below.

“Before I even played guitar, I was just sitting there holding the guitar dancing around and singing into this little microphone from one of those toy karaoke machines,” he says. “It’s definitely a special video for me that we were able to put together.”

Jakobsen says the idea to release a video exclusively of clips from his childhood came from his fans. They wanted to see all the home footage, as the initial “Six” video has the singer performing in present day at a theater with video snippets in the background. So, he decided to release that footage as a lyric video giving the song added meaning.

“There’s so many special moments in this song for me,” he says. “If I had to pick one, the first line of the song: ‘When you’re six years old/ You believe everything that you’re told/ Like the moon it follows you/ And you can do anything you want to.’

“That whole phrase is really special to me,” he says. “I remember growing up and I’d be riding in the back seat of my mom’s car. Driving down the road at night she’d be like, ‘Look, Dylan the moon is following you.’ That holds a special place in my heart.”

“Six” is featured on Dylan’s 2021 album, Set Fire to the Night. He says the record as a whole is about taking the darkness from the pandemic, being able to navigate it and seeing the silver lining in it all.

“One of the reasons that we felt ‘Six’ was a great song for this project was because that’s exactly what I did when I was writing it,” he says. “It took a whole new meaning, and it went from this negative scenario, and I was able to flip it into something really incredible.”

Jakobsen has had more time to write during Covid-19 and says he is continuing to spread a message of positivity within his music.

“I was writing to help other people and inspire them, but along the way it’s almost been a form of self-therapy for me,” he says. “We wanted to continue to put out that kind of music and continue on setting fire to the night and having light prevail.”

For more on Dylan Jakobsen, visit his website. “Six” is now available on all streaming platforms.


Dan Harrison Releases Feel-Good “Can’t Take You Anywhere”

Credit: Jonathan Galletti 

Nashville-based singer-songwriter Dan Harrison has released his new single “Can’t Take You Anywhere.” The feel-good, radio friendly track has the singer crooning about a girlfriend he can’t seem to take anywhere without craving some one-on-one time together. Written in April, Harrison discusses the decision to release new music in a pandemic and what Zoom co-writes are really like.

“I pitched the idea early on in quarantine to some good buddies, and we quickly realized we needed to put a positive spin on it as an antidote to this year’s negativity,” Harrison tells You Sing I Write.

Listen to “Can’t Take You Anywhere” below and learn more about the song with You Sing I Write’s Q&A with Harrison.

Tell me about writing “Can’t Take You Anywhere.” How did the idea for the song come together?

It was an idea I’d had for a while but wasn’t quite sure what to do with it. Once the shutdown hit, and we literally couldn’t go anywhere, it took on a whole new meaning. I pitched the idea early on in quarantine to some good buddies, and we quickly realized we needed to put a positive spin on it as an antidote to this year’s negativity. We knew we had something special pretty soon after.

The song is very descriptive. Is there one line you’re particularly proud of?

I’m proud of the whole song, but I particularly like the shoulder strap line in the second verse. We had a different second verse originally, but after I made the demo we felt it wasn’t strong/visual enough. I’m pretty happy with how it turned out.

Has the song changed at all in meaning since writing it?

It resonated with me right away because it’s definitely how I feel about my girlfriend. Unfortunately, I haven’t been able to see her since the pandemic started (that will be changing very soon), so when I finally do see her I would love just some one-on-one time, we don’t need to go anywhere. I think it’s sort of grown to remind me of Aerosmith’s “I Don’t Wanna Miss A Thing” and Thomas Rhett’s “Die A Happy Man,” which are two of my favorite songs. It’s that simple truth that there may be experiences/things I want, but I really don’t need anything else, just her.

How has your writing changed during the pandemic?

Writing has changed a lot in many ways, and in some ways not at all. I’ve been doing the vast majority of my writes virtually, which was not new to me as I write with friends who live in Canada/other parts of the country, however the balance shift to almost exclusively Zoom did take some getting used to.

On one level, it’s nice to not commute and I think it forces you to kind of get down to business quicker, and I’ve written some of my favorite songs over Zoom. But when your Internet is being wonky or you’re just not vibing, there’s really no substitute for the kind of energy that being in the room with people can create. Also, Zoom makes track writes much, much harder.

The song has a radio friendly vibe. Why the decision to release it now right before the holidays?

It was sort of just the timetable that materialized. I wanted to get something out this year, and this felt relevant, but it’s taken some time to get everything together with everything else going on in my life/the world. I feel like I’ve heard in the past anyway that a summer radio hit is often released in the winter, and it can take them until summer to really reach a bigger audience. Fingers crossed haha.

When can we expect new music from you?

I have a lot of plans in the pipeline that this song is just the beginning of. I’m working on an EP that I hope to release sometime in the summer of 2021, I haven’t announced anything yet but there’ll be more coming soon.

How have you navigated songwriting and being an independent musician in 2020?

I don’t think it’s been easy for anyone at any level of the industry, but it’s been especially challenging trying to stay afloat as an independent artist when you can’t make a living off of what you normally do every day, and there’s no real passive income yet. So trying to balance survival with keeping the momentum for your career goals. I’ve been fortunate to have some socially distant/safe gigging opportunities, and doing demo work for various clients, but it’s been inconsistent even for an industry already known for its lack of stability.

This business is all about weathering the storm, and 2020 has just been a very big test of that. But I really believe in the music I’m creating and what I need to say as an artist; I think there’s a space in country music that hasn’t been addressed yet, and I want to be the one to do it. So whatever obstacles have come/are coming, I’ll get around them. 

First Person

You Sing I Write Says Goodbye To NYC

A Thousand Horses

(Posing with A Thousand Horses after an interview at New York’s Bryant Park)

I vividly remember my first time visiting Nashville. It was the summer of 2009 and my two friends, Deana and Wendy, convinced me to join them on a trip to Music City for the annual CMA Music Festival. I must admit, I had little knowledge of country music back then besides Taylor Swift, Rascal Flatts and Keith Urban. Midway through the festival, though, I was sold on country music. So much so, I remember telling one freelance writer I met that I wanted to move to Nashville ASAP. Her advice to me: build your career and reputation in New York first. In Nashville everyone covers country music and it’s much harder to break into the field but in New York, I’d be the big fish in a small pond.

Looking back on a blog post from 2009, that initial spark and desire to move to Nashville is apparent:

Being in Nashville for CMA week really opened up my eyes into the country music realm and I was so glad to be a part of it. Somewhat of a newbie to the genre, what I saw this week were some of the most down-to-earth, appreciative and welcoming people in the business and it’s so refreshing to see the stars so receptive and engaging with their fans. I just may have to make a yearly trip to Nashville from now on!

Little did I know that yearly trip would turn into a desire to pack up all my things and move to Tennessee! When asked how I, a Jersey girl, first got into country music I always tell the story of this first trip to Nashville and my first experience attending a press conference at CMA Fest. Definitely a fish out of water, I had little knowledge of the country community and press conferences. I had never attended a press conference before and I didn’t realize you had to shout at the artist to get your question answered. Darius Rucker was the first artist to come through the room and as all the journalists yelled to get their questions answered I simply sat there with my hand raised. In that moment I felt so out of place and questioned my even being there. The last question was asked and Darius was being ushered off the stage by his publicist. But then he stopped and looked right at me.

“You have been so patient this whole time. What is your question?” he asked, pointing to me.

Darius Rucker

(Darius Rucker after he answered press questions in Nashville during CMA Fest)

I didn’t even realize he was talking to me so I turned to look behind me but sure enough he was addressing me. In that moment I was sold on country music. Having covered pop music for years, I really don’t think Lady Gaga or Justin Bieber would have even noticed me, let alone asked what my question was as sincerely as Darius did.

Since 2009, I have covered the country genre for Marie Claire, AOL, Rolling Stone, Billboard, Country Weekly and CBS and have gained some of my favorite New York memories thanks to the genre. Meeting Lady Antebellum at a Miranda Lambert concert at Terminal 5, then my first interview with Lady A a week later at City Winery. Kenny Chesney and Zac Brown Band being my first concert review for Rolling Stone. Spending the day with Keith Urban. The list goes on and on.

With all that said, I think it’s safe to say I built up my country music cred in New York and now it’s time for my next adventure — moving to Nashville. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t nervous. Every morning I wake up at 4 a.m. with a minor freakout. Is this the right decision? Am I going to get work? All I know is in New York and New Jersey! While all my family is up here, I won’t grow as a writer and as a person unless I jump out of my comfort zone every once in a while. So, I am moving out of Brooklyn July 31st. I’ll head down to Nashville mid-September after spending some time with friends and family in New Jersey. It’s a huge leap for me, having grown up and gone to college in New Jersey and not knowing many people in Nashville but it’s something I have to do. I know I’ll always regret it if I don’t.

To celebrate, and say proper goodbyes, I’ll be doing it the only way I know how: by hosting a concert! Next Thursday, my roommate Leah Taylor and I will be putting together a show at Arlene’s Grocery in the Lower East Side from 7-9pm including performances by Hide & Seek, Eugene Tyler Band and Leah Taylor. Come by early for happy hour and stay and enjoy some free live music. The night will be bittersweet for sure, but I have good reason to believe Nashville is the best decision for me career-wise at this moment. In the meantime, I aim to update this blog more often on my adventures, bands to watch and interviews. Stay tuned for another exciting chapter for You Sing, I Write!

Song of the Week

Song of the Week: “Whatever She’s Got”


David Nail will always hold a special place in my career. In 2009, I flew to Nashville to cover CMA Fest for the first time. I instantly fell in love with the city, the music, and every artist I met. I was very much a country newbie and a bit intimidated but everyone I met was so incredibly friendly my nerves quickly disappeared.

I headed over to a stage right off the main strip of downtown Nashville to see Nail perform right before I interviewed him. I figured it’d make good research and it did. At this point, he was about to release his debut album and was pitched to me as being one of country music’s latest heartthrobs. He was.



It’s been fun to watch his success over the years and his singles climb to the top of the country charts. He has such a distinct emotive quality in his voice. Whether he’s singing of heartbreak on his first single “Red Light” or cheating on “Let It Rain” you can’t help but feel for him and take his side in every song.



His latest single, “Whatever She’s Got” shows a different side of him, though. More upbeat, he said it’s the first track of his that he’s ever seen his wife dance along to. That has to tell you something. Listen below and stay tuned for new music from him later this summer.


Interviews Q&A

Q&A with Griffin House

Well respected for his honest and heartfelt lyrics, singer-songwriter Griffin House is currently on an East Coast tour with friend and fellow musician Matthew Perryman Jones.

“We’re both going to be playing acoustic sets. That’s kind of rare for both of us because we generally either take a band out or have some kind of accompaniment with us,” House said. “We’re looking forward to stripping it down and having some conversation with the audience just playing solo.”

House moved to Nashville in 2003 to pursue music. Since then, he’s been traveling the country and moving audiences everywhere with his confessional and relatable music. I chatted with him before the start of his current tour to find out more about his songwriting process, the stories behind the songs and what’s next in store for Griffin House.

It’s been a while since your last release, has your songwriting process changed at all?
I think the songwriting process has remained the same. Life affects the subject matter. But in terms about how I go about writing, it’s the same way.

Does a song come out better when it’s based on real life or fantasy?

There’s always a little bit of both. A lot of the true stories that I’ve written have been based on real life and then they’ll take maybe a slight fictional turn for the sake of the song, to make the song work better. That’s usually how I go about it. I think a lot of times when you talk in first person people assume that it’s autobiographical but that’s not necessarily always the case.

Are you ever afraid to reveal too much in a song about your own life?
I’ve never been afraid to do that. I think in the beginning when I was writing, I used that more often. I think it was almost extremely confessional and revealing in a way and I think that’s part of what made the songs stick; their vulnerability. It’s a very tricky thing to do. Anybody can be vulnerable and say, ‘This is how I’m feeling and this is who I am.’ If you don’t do it in the right way it comes across as very trite. It’s something I’ve had to learn to work around but I also think that maybe I don’t hold back as much but I’m more conscious of what I’m doing.

Is there a song that means more to you now than when you first wrote it?
“Better Than Love” is a song that has turned out to be something that I play almost every night. At the time when I wrote it, I didn’t really want to write any songs that dealt with love or relationships and it just came out of me. It wasn’t what I was intentionally trying to go after. I was making a record in California with some of the guys in the Heartbreakers and some other really good musicians and I was trying to make more of a rock & roll record.

I wasn’t really all that excited about recording that song. Even when we w ere recording it, I just wanted to get it over with. It turned out to be one of my best songs for sure and one that I think has meant a lot to a lot of people. It just goes to show you that a lot of times the artist has no idea whether or not what he is creating is good. He or she may think that they’re creating the best thing in the world and it turns out to not be so special and other times they don’t think what they’re doing is anything and it turns out to be something really valuable.

“The Guy That Says Goodbye to You Is Out of His Mind” is one of my favorite tracks on that album. What is the story behind it?
That song was written in a way that was inspired by a girl that I just wanted to take out. We were out on a semi-date together and joked around that she’d marry me if I wrote her a song so I went home and wrote her a song. It was something that started obviously with a sense of humor but it really ended up incorporating a lot of heavier things that were going on under the surface too. It started out as a joke and then it took a multifaceted turn after a while. That song came out of nowhere. That was the same story, I didn’t know what I had until I played it for somebody else later and they said, ‘Oh man, that’s a hit song.’ I had no idea.

I was reading the stories behind some songs on your Website and “Heart of Stone” sounds like it was written subconsciously and after you wrote it you figured out more about your life. Does that happen a lot?
What happens is, a lot of times I see how maybe in my subconscious or underneath the surface I really know what’s going on but I won’t admit it to myself or maybe I’m in denial. So, when I write the answers all come down on the page but I might not see them until after, way after. Maybe a year down the line I’ll look back and go, ‘Oh I really knew what was going on I just wasn’t admitting it to myself in my conscious brain.’

How is the music scene in Nashville different from the rest of the country?
I think there is a sense of community here. First of all, it’s a smaller city so it’s become over the last six or seven years more densely populated with musicians so it’s easier for everyone to know one another. There does seem to be a sense of community. Everybody moved here to make it and a lot of people don’t mind helping each other out along the way and becoming friends and working together. While there’s always probably competition going on, maybe the Southern hospitality thing plays into a little bit where they don’t mind helping out a little bit.

It’s changed a lot since I moved here. When I moved here in 2003 I literally felt like one of the only people doing what I was doing which is an alternative style of music in Nashville, just a songwriter with a guitar. There were a lot of people in the country world and Christian world doing that but I felt there were only a handful of people doing what I was doing. Now, since I’ve been touring over the last five or six years I’ve come back to Nashville and have seen hundreds or thousands of people who have flocked here from all over the country to start doing music and I think it’s really had an influx of a lot of people since I moved here under that demographic.

How do you stand out being one of so many?
I don’t try to at all. First I moved here and tried to play as much as I could and tried to stand out as much as I could. Now I’m not on the scene at all. I’m actually not even that social. I have a routine where I go and I work on my hobbies that I do in my spare time. I’m a dad and I spend time at home with my wife and I do some yoga. When I go out on the road I’m in front of people. I don’t really mix it up in Nashville a whole lot.

What do you wish you knew before perusing music?
I don’t know. I was very green when I got here. I didn’t really know anything about the music business. It’s easy for me to look back and say, ‘If I had this bit of information then I would have done this differently.’ There’s really no telling where that would have taken me. It’s not like you can know what would have happened if you would have made a different choice. You just know it would be different. A lot of the learning I’ve had, I’m thankful I moved down here a long time ago and I’m still playing music and still enjoying it and still making progress. I can’t really ask for anything more than that. It’s been good.

What can fans expect from you in the next few months?

Well, I’ve been doing this for a while now and I’ve been thinking about maybe compiling a “Best of” record that has 10 or 12 songs that are maybe the most popular ones. Putting them on a record and re-releasing that so that other people can hear my music and have a better idea of what I’m about and what I’ve done over the last decade. That might come first before a brand new record. Maybe there will be a new song on that or something. That’s just an idea but that can very well happen.

What’s going through your mind while you’re onstage performing?

Sometimes you’re a million miles away in the middle of the song. You just get lost and forget where you are for a minute. A lot of the songs have been played so many times that you’re really on automatic. I try to think about singing the words and hitting the notes. It’s pretty simple. I try not to think about anything else other than what I’m doing at the moment and not get ahead of myself, what I’m going to say next or what happened a few minutes ago. It’s a good exercise in really being in the present moment and that’s usually when performances are the best, when you can do that well.

For more on Griffin House and his current tour dates, visit his Website.

Song of the Week

Song of the Week: "These Times"

Just over two years ago I caught SafetySuit’s impressive set at Bowery Ballroom and quickly became a fan. Their powerful live show had me wondering why I never heard of the talented Nashville-based act before. Last week, the band released their sophomore album, These Times. They enlisted the help of fans for the music video and title track and the album.

Of “These Times,” frontman Doug Brown says it was written out of a social need.

“As a band, we were talking a lot about the songs on the record, and obviously, a lot of songs are gonna be about relationships, love and loss; that’s the most common emotion people have. But as we were looking at the track, we felt like something was missing: what the pulse of the nation is right now,” he said. “When we started thinking and talking about that, ‘These Times’ sprang out of that. The chorus goes, ‘Sitting alone here in my bed/Waiting for an answer I don’t know that I’ll get/I cannot stand to look in the mirror I’m failing.’ You just get tired of being on the short end of the stick; I think a lot of people feel that way.

“There’s a lot of people out there who would kill to just have a job so they can provide for their families. It’s tough, man—it’s tough for people, and that sucks. But we didn’t want to leave it at that, so we wrote, ‘These times are hard/But they will pass,’ and that’s important to remind people of. We’ve made it out of bad times before, and we’ll make it out again.”

Watch the poignant video below and for more on the band visit their Website.

Interviews Q&A

Matthew Mayfield

I witnessed Matthew Mayfield live for the first time last October during CMJ when I stumbled into Rockwood Music Hall in between a few band interviews. Alone on acoustic guitar, his deep, rustic vocals and emotion-fueled lyrics echoed throughout the silent room and blew me away.

After the show, he said his debut solo album would be released in a few months and I scoured the Web to find out more about this artist who I was certain I heard before. His former band, Moses Mayfield, was signed to Epic Records in 2005, released an album and toured with major acts. A few years later, though, they broke up and Mayfield found himself questioning his next steps.

“When the band broke up there was a six month period where I debated whether or not I was going to keep doing it. You have to pick up the pieces and start all over, write all new songs, a new band, a new everything. It’s been a hell of a lot of work, but if I wasn’t doing it I’d be super unhappy,” Mayfield said.

Mayfield’s solo album, Now You’re Free, was released earlier this year and encompasses 11 tracks of impeccable songwriting, standout musical accompaniment, and impressive collaborations. Singing of love and heartache, the listener can relate to every track. Songs like the powerful “Fire Escape,” written with John Paul White of The Civil Wars, and the poignant “Element” showcase his remarkable talent. A track he originally wrote 10 years ago and has appeared on numerous records, at a recent concert at The Hotel Cafe in Hollywood, Mayfield said, “I put this song out a few times but the best version to date is on this new record.” A longtime fan favorite, the song was received with much excitement at the packed venue.

I chatted with Matthew earlier this month while in California right before his intimate performance at The Hotel Cafe. He filled me in on many of the stories behind his songs as well as the struggles he has faced as a musician and collaborating with friends The Civil Wars and NEEDTOBREATHE. Read the complete interview below and be sure to check him out on tour this August.

Now You’re Free is your first solo LP. Was the recording process any different than with your previous band, Moses Mayfield?
Yeah, it was different. This time around, I think the songs are stronger and the players I was playing with in Nashville were some good friends and also super pro guys. We tried to make it a band thing. We were in a room, in a circle, and we wanted it to feel alive and have that energy that a big, anthemic rock record would have. The process was similar in terms of going through the motions and making a record, but at the same time, we tried so many new things which was cool. I’m excited about people hearing us in a studio where there were bells on a song or there’s cello or weird toy piano. Whatever it is, that kind of stuff is fun for us.

Why did you decide to use Pledge Music to fund your album?
At the time, my manager suggested it to me. It was cool. I looked at it, but I was kind of hesitant because I really didn’t want to ask people for money but then I realized it was a win-win. They get things that they want, whether it was handwritten lyrics or a house party, or we’ll play at the wedding. There were all kinds of weird stuff; microphones and gear. Everybody gets something which is really cool. We raised $14 grand for the record.

“Element” is my favorite track of yours and you wrote it a decade ago. Why did you decide to add it to this album?
We had the album down to 10 songs and I just felt like there was something missing. I feel like it’s one of those songs that I keep wanting to put onto a record because every time you take a step forward, that’s one I want to bring with me. The guy that produced the record and my management said, ‘This song is so strong, I really feel like it should come with you.’ I thought about it for a long time and I thought it was a great idea.

What’s the story behind “Element?”
I wrote that song when I was 18 and I was in this long distance relationship with a girl. I was just a kid. I think it’s very honest. It doesn’t feel particularly young, but it was very honest, from a very honest place. I feel like a song like that, that just comes from the heart, there was nothing about it that was forced. I sat down with a guitar and wrote it. It wasn’t in pieces. It all came at once.

Do you get tired of playing it?
Sometimes. I feel like with anything, sometimes there are songs that are going to be a little bit of a chore to play. It depends. If the crowd is great and they love it and you can see it in their eyes that they’re enjoying you play it, then it’s great.

What is your typical songwriting process like?
It usually starts with a guitar and a melody and I bring the lyrics in when I feel like I got the vibe down. There are times where the lyric is the inspiration. It changes quite a bit. I’d say 90% of the time it’s me and my guitar singing, humming things. It’s a strange thing, chasing songs.

Do you feel a song comes out better when it actually happened to you? Do you always write from firsthand experience?
Pretty much. I think everything on the record is firsthand. There are a couple that are hypothetical I guess, but I certainly can relate to the things that I’m singing about. “Can’t Change My Mind” is hypothetical in a sense to me. I wrote it from the perspective of that person who’s sold. I know that feeling; to be sold. You write it from the perspective of somebody that’s found something that you want to find.

Are you ever nervous to reveal too much in a song, like “Fire Escape?”
Yeah. Honestly, that’s probably the hardest one. I’m never scared because it’s like therapy for me. I need to do it, to get it out. I don’t know. I feel like there’s a release that you get from putting it on paper and singing it in a song that’s healthy. It’s always been an outlet for me since I was a little kid.

Are there nights you don’t want to play a certain song because it’s too personal and brings back a specific relationship or memory?
It can be. It depends on the night and it depends where my head’s at and if I was thinking about it before a show or not. Sometimes it can sting a little more than others. Sometimes you just do it because it feels good to know that you’re helping somebody else out. I think that’s the reason why the sad songs resonate more with people. I’ve noticed that. People love the upbeat stuff, but when it’s real heartache people are like, ‘Yeah, I know what you mean.’ More so than, ‘I’m really happy, everything’s great.’ That’s pretty rare. It’s good to write a song about it when it happens.

Isn’t that depressing though? When everyone’s like, ‘Yeah! That’s real heartbreak. We love that you’re depressed.’
It’s a weird world. I just write it from wherever I can find it. So if it’s sad, it’s sad. If it’s happy, it’s happy. If it’s confusing, it’s confusing.

Is there a song that means more to you now then when you first wrote it?
Yeah, there are a couple. I really like a song called “Her Name Was December.” That song, we don’t play it a lot live, but when I hear it on the record I’m like, ‘Man, we’ve got to get that one back because I love that song.’ I feel like the lyric and the melody, everything about it is special to me and came from a really real place.

You collaborated with NEEDTOBREATHE and The Civil Wars on a few tracks. How did that come about?
I co-wrote “Fire Escape” with John Paul [White] of The Civil Wars. He’s fantastic. And Joy [Williams] sang on “Can’t Change My Mind.” They’re some of the sweetest people in the world and certainly in this business it’s so hard to come by people who are so kind and just easygoing. There are no egos. They’re just great people and I’m super happy for them that all the stuff’s happening. It’s good to see that happen with good friends. Same thing with NEEDTOBREATHE. Those guys are coming to the show tonight, they’re in town. I’m super happy for them. They’re so good. Their live show is killer. It’s good to see good things happen to good people that you’re friends with.

Is co-writing an entirely different process for you than writing by yourself?
Usually with me, if I co-write it’s like I have a chorus that I love or a verse that I love but I just can’t find a chorus or I can’t find another verse. Or I’ll have a melody that I really like. Usually it has to be someone I really trust like John Paul or Paul Moak, the guy that produced the record. There has to be that feeling of trust where you’re like, ‘I can let you in on this secret.’ “Fire Escape” was a touchy subject, but John Paul was so cool about talking to me and hearing me out; kind of getting inside my head. We wrote the song really quickly, in a couple of hours and it’s one of my favorites on the record.

Your music has been featured on “Teen Mom” and “Grey’s Anatomy.” Have you noticed more fans from different music placement?
I have. Those “Grey’s” placements were really big. I feel like I noticed a big spike in sales but also noticed it helped put me on the map which was funny because I made that record for under $1,000 in a basement for myself. I wasn’t doing it in hopes to get a sync or get on TV and it ended up being a huge thing for me. Those little things are special because you have so many slaps in the face as you’re coming up and it’s cool. When you get a win in a world full of losses it’s something to be celebrated.

What has kept you motivated all these years to keep pursuing music?
I don’t know. I think it’s just that underlying passion for writing songs and playing rock & roll. I’ve always just loved it since I was a little kid. When the band broke up there was a six month period where I debated whether or not I was going to keep doing it. You have to pick up the pieces and start all over, write all new songs. A new band, a new everything. It’s been a hell of a lot of work, but if I wasn’t doing it I’d be super unhappy. It isn’t easy. We push ourselves in every aspect so I feel like it’s hard work, but it’s really rewarding. When the rewards come around, which is not that often, they’re sweet when they do.

Do you think a band needs a record label today to survive?
I don’t. There are some labels that are doing some cool things, some indies that are really smart with their money. But no, I don’t think you need the big machine until you are at a certain level. If you can get to a certain level and you need that monster, mainstream push then you get it when the time’s right. Getting a record deal is definitely not what any band’s goal should be, especially with a major. You may be their favorite band one day and literally the next week they don’t remember who you are ’cause they had a change of regime, they fired everybody and brought on new people. I definitely don’t think you need a label in 2011. At the end of the day, you have to do it all yourself.

What’s the best and worst thing about being a musician?
The best thing is seeing people sing your songs at shows, for me. If I see two or three people, or 30 people or 100 people singing the lyrics to a song, that’s as good as it gets. The worst part I think is a lot of times not feeling like your hard work is being rewarded. You really have to keep on even if you’re not getting any affirmation that what you’re doing is working. But, it’s always like that in music. When you do get those placements or whatever it is, your song is on a TV show or commercial, you play a great show and have a big turn out; those little things add up.

Do you have any advice for other singer-songwriters trying to make it in the industry?
One thing I have to say is don’t expect anyone to do anything for you starting out. You have to hustle and do it yourself. I made that record in my basement just because I wanted to for me. I didn’t have a manager or an agent. I just put it up on iTunes and it got a couple lucky moments and placements. It was fresh enough too, where people knew about the band. You just have to be persistent. As lame of a word as it is, you have to persevere. I started doing this when I was 18 and now I’m 28. I’m not some big, famous rock star. You want to play arenas, but you have to start somewhere. Tonight, if I play for 200 people that’s a huge deal. You just can’t expect it to be fast. That would be my advice.

Related Links:
Artist of the Week: Matthew Mayfield
Matthew Mayfield Debuts New Video, Plus Free Track
Song of the Week: “Element”
CMJ 2010: Five Artists to Watch


Watch CMA Music Festival Tonight on ABC!

If you weren’t able to make it to Nashville for the CMA Festival in June, you can watch over 20 performances tonight on ABC. Join host Tim McGraw as he introduces sets by Jason Aldean, Billy Currington, Alan Jackson, Lady Antebellum, Miranda Lambert, Martina McBride, Reba McEntire, Brad Paisley, Rascal Flatts, Taylor Swift and more.


If you haven’t seen Taylor Swift’s latest music video for “Mine,” you can below. Do you think she’ll perform it tonight? Tune in at 8/7C to find out!

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Video Interview: Jake Owen

One of the most comical musicians I’ve interviewed, Jake Owen sure knows how to make those around him laugh. When asked about his dog touring with him, he informed the CMA press room that his dog was just neutered, adding, “I realize I need to get neutered. I would probably chill out a lot if that happened.” The room erupted in laughter.

Whether it’s his heartwarming ballads or edgier tracks, Owen brings his diversity to the table. After he hurt his shoulder wakeboarding, he picked up guitar during rehabilitation and the rest, as they say, is history. I chatted with Jake last summer about his writing process, the stories behind his songs and what he thinks about while onstage performing. Some of his answers may surprise you.

Watch the video below and read the complete transcription here.


Video credit: Wendy Hu