This second episode of the Composer Quest World Tour is all about school. Should you go to undergrad or grad school for an artistic field? What do you learn in school that you couldn't on your own?
Bubba Hollenhorst is a songwriter friend who I often only chat with during loud concerts or on the dance floor. In this episode of Composer Quest, I get to know Bubba a little better. He shares stories from his albums Enter the Enchanted Whiskey Forest and Space Love, along with tips on writing a post-apocalyptic space-themed musical. I also ask him about the dozen or so hilarious jingles he's written for segments on his podcast The Weekly Awesome.
At Berklee College of Music, Pat Pattison created the world's first songwriting major. He has taught a host of talented songwriters, including Grammy winners John Mayer and Gillian Welch. I was introduced to Pat through his free online Songwriting course (check coursera.org), and his method of "preserving the natural shape of the language" has really helped me analyze my own lyric writing. In this episode of Composer Quest, I ask Pat about his theory that our language can be interpreted like a piece of music, with a tonic note and harmonic structure. I also share music from The Happiness Project, in which Charles Spearin wrote music to match up with the speech patterns of his family and neighbors.
Poet Brian Laidlaw has been teaching songwriting at McNally Smith College of Music, where he challenges students with assignments like writing from the perspective of a murderer. In this episode of Composer Quest, Brian shares some of the best lyric-writing tips you'll ever hear on the podcast. We also talk about his Internet Cat Video Festival performance, which aired on Animal Planet. As a special treat, Brian premieres a powerful new song called "One Tree Falling."
My cousin Joe Graves' songwriting skills somehow flew under the radar in my family, until he finally performed some of his songs this past Christmas. In Composer Quest Episode 36, Joe plays and talks about the music he wrote for his band Goodnight Gorillas. He was inspired to make dark music by his older brothers Matt and Nate (Ep. 4), but he's been developing his own singing and songwriting style. Joe shares some of his lyrical inspiration, including a story about a famine in North Korea that forced some people to dig up dead bodies for food.
For wordsmith Jenny Katz, writing lyrics feels like rolling marbles around in her chest. I can't say I've ever had such a physical reaction to words, so it was fascinating talking with Jenny in Composer Quest Ep. 34 about how she approaches songwriting. For her, even the meaning of a song is subservient to the sound of words that feel physically right to her. Jenny also shares stories behind her new Kickstarter-funded album Galaxies.
In episode 31 of Composer Quest, songwriter Matt Leavitt of the indie band Emot talks with me about his belief that the very first time you work on a song is often where the best ideas come from, and anything after that is just trying to recreate this spark of initial inspiration. We also get to hear Matt play a couple new tunes live from Emot's upcoming album, which they've been working on with producer Brian Moen (of Peter Wolfcrier and Laarks).
Rapper and poet Dessa somehow found time to join me over the phone for Composer Quest Episode 21, in the midst of her nationwide tour (SXSW, New Orleans, Nashville, etc.). I was honored to talk with Dessa about her creative process of writing and arranging hip hop songs.
Guitarist and songwriter Mike Nilles has a secret method for writing melodies: dreaming them up! In episode 17 of Composer Quest, Mike and I swap stories about our dream-inspired songs. We also talk about a few of the groups Mike has played in over the years, from his 70s St. Paul band Smart Alex, to an Italian blues band, to his latest project, The Badinovs.
Matt Schubbe, the graphic designer behind our 8-bit Composer Quest art, is also a songwriter himself! In this episode, we talk about how he writes songs for (and with) his wife, Donna. Matt tends to choose strange lyrical topics, like a kid getting his head stuck in the banister, or the 1739 invention of a pooping duck automaton.