IN THE WOODS
The stereotype would have you believe that us New Englanders are hardy and self-sufficient. We aren't always the most outgoing folks, and we take a lot of pride in our rugged individualism and independence. After all, one of the most quintessentially New English characters was Henry David Thoreau, most famous for what he wrote whilst holed up in a cabin in the middle of the Walden woods.
There might a grain of truth to the exaggeration, but I have found this Yankee stereotype definitely rings true when it comes to songwriting, or more specifically, co-writing. Though traditional songs made a big comeback in the wake of "O Brother, Where Art Thou?," for much of my formative years on the scene it was original material that was most celebrated, particularly so if the introspective and personal perspective of the writer shone through. Every new singer/songwriter was hailed as an "exciting new voice," emphasizing the singularity of their vision.
I too started out with a bit of disdain for co-writing, thinking it primarily for those who needed help with writing or for industry towns like Nashville, where everyone is desperate for a hit. Like many of the deeply-held yet barely-tested ideals of youth, my derision of co-writing softened fairly early in my career. Many of my initial artistic and financial successes came through co-writing, when folks like Jonathan Kingham and Catie Curtis had the good sense to enter our jointly-written compositions (Take My Ashes To The River, Here & Now, Passing Through, People Look Around) in contests that we actually won. Sure, for every grand prize winner of the International Songwriting Competition, there were several others that went nowhere (Double-Wide Bride, anyone?), but overall co-writing was a gamechanger.
Though I have since traveled to far-flung places like Nashville and San Francisco with the specific intention of writing with others, much of it now happens closer to my New England home during an annual June retreat on an island in New Hampshire's Lake Winnipesaukee. There are about 15-16 artists on an island with cabins that sleep nearly 10 times that number, so we each have the mental and physical space to work in the manner that suits us best. Upon arrival, I typically light a campfire and park myself in front of it--alone with a guitar--for six or seven hours. However, after a couple of days, that solitary approach gets...lonely. I find myself seeking out other artists, trusted collaborators and fresh blood, in hopes the union will prove more fruitful than our individual voices.
As many of our grandparents would counsel us to do everything in moderation, I too find that a blend of the solitary and collaborative approaches works best. I don't think I'd want to write every song with a partner, or two, but I have been long liberated from the notion that I have to do everything by myself. It might not take a village to write a song, but having a friend chasing one with you can be an invigorating and rewarding experience.
After all, if a song is written all alone in the middle of the woods, does anybody hear it?
MP3 of the MONTH: This month's track is, of course, a co-write. "The World Is A Beautiful Place" was composed with Nashville-via-Australia songwriter Phil Barton. It's a good example of how the process can be artistically successful, and I feel like Phil was able to take some of the honeymoon feeling I had as a new dad and help me package it in a succinctly catchy way that might appeal to others. I got a little excited about my slide guitar playing on this one, so apologies for how loud it is and not being able to change it at this point."The World Is A Beautiful Place" has never been cut by myself or anyone else, but someone is free to have a hit with it, if so moved. It's available as a free download for the month of July. Enjoy!
No concerts of my own this month, but I'll be very busy as a sideman for Lori McKenna and Josh Ritter (see below).
July 1 - Greenwich Odeum, East Greenwich RI^ ^with Lori McKenna
July 13 - Green River Festival, Greenfield MA* *with Josh Ritter
July 14 - Red Wing Roots Music Festival, Mount Solon VA*
July 15 - Maplewoodstock, Maplewood NJ*
July 18 - City Winery Boston, Boston MA^
July 20 - City Winery, New York NY^
July 21 - World Cafe Live, Philadelphia PA^
July 22 - City Winery Washington DC, Washington DC^
July 29 - XPoNentional Music Festival, Camden NJ*
ON THE HORIZON:
Sept 22 - Princeton Coffeehouse, Princeton IL
July 2018 Newsletter
Monday, June 18, 2018
updated: 2 weeks ago