A few years ago, after I completed a large, exhausting album, I stepped back and tried to get some perspective on my own work. By observing my own process, it occurred to me that I’d fallen into a pattern of how I wrote songs. It was almost always lyrics with a hint of melody first, followed by chords, and ending with the arrangement, orchestration, engineering and studio production. I felt, however, upon finishing that big album, that I’d played out the possibilities of that particular approach and more or less knew what would happen if I set out to write more songs in that same way. So I determined the songwriting element I usually focused on least of all – rhythm – and decided that for my next project, I would start there.
Collaborating with a percussionist, I built rhythm tracks and wrote music to accompany the beats, recording and producing as I went, essentially composing straight to tape. The very last thing I did was add lyrics. I effectively inverted my songwriting process and came up with extremely different sounding material. Even the types of words I used changed – fewer syllables, less ornate or metaphoric language – since they occupied such a different place in the creative process than they had before. The music I wound up making was something I never imagined I had in me.
Songwriters often vary the types of songs they create and broaden their spectrum as songwriters, simply by varying their creative process. Bob Dylan famously headed down to Nashville and worked with a completely new group of musicians to come up with Nashville Skyline. The Talking Heads sought to break down the perceived relationship of David Byrne as frontman supported by a backing band. They experimented with new techniques and expanded instrumentation to create what many consider their best album, Remain in Light. Paul Simon first split with his writing partner, Art Garfunkel, to alter his sound, then later travelled to South Africa seeking new sounds and different creative approaches to write the wildly successful album Graceland. Read More →
Lia Rose is a singer-songwriter based in the San Francisco Bay Area. After spending some time performing in the bands Or, The Whale and Minipop, Lia branched out on her own in 2011. Artists playing on her Pandora station include Linda Eder, Shirley Eikhard and Michelle Schmitt. Lia, along with Kelly McFarling on vocal harmonies, Kyle Caprista on drums and Tim Marcus on pedal steel came by Pandora’s headquarters in Oakland and performed “That Lion.” Hear audio from the full session here.
Dresses is an indie pop duo consisting of Portland, Oregon musicians Jared Ryan Maldonado and Timothy Heller. Their vocal harmonies backed by a ukulele naturally lend well to an acoustic set. Artists such as Air Traffic Controller, Echosmith and Kodaline can be heard on their station. They came by Pandora and performed “Painting Roses” off their album Sun Shy. Audio from the full session can be found here.
O.A.R., short for Of A Revolution, formed in 1996 as a small band from Rockville, Maryland. Starting their career as an independent college band at Ohio State University, O.A.R. is now a chart-topping group, recognized for their soul-filled melodies and driving rhythms. Artists such as Dave Matthews, Counting Crows and Jack Johnson can be heard on their station. O.A.R. stopped by the Pandora, Oakland office and performed a mostly acoustic version of their song “Peace”
To be a standup comic in the San Francisco Bay Area is to live in Robin Williams’ shadow. He lived here. He came up here, performing in the legendary Purple Onion and Holy City Zoo comedy clubs. Every so often, my Facebook and Twitter feeds would light up with posts reading “ROBIN WILLIAMS IS AT MY SHOW” or “Robin Williams saw my set and told me I was funny!” or simply a photo of an open miker, beaming next to a comedy demigod who looks exactly as kind in reality as he did on the big screen in his Dead Poets Society and Good Will Hunting “inspirational teacher roles.”
I never met Robin Williams. Not once. I never found myself standing in a room with him, and even if I had, I doubt I would have approached him. I don’t take photos with celebrities, as a rule—it always feels self-serving and weird to me, a strange visual humblebrag that my Midwestern upbringing tells me is inappropriate. And what on earth would I have said to Robin Williams? “Hey, I’m a comedian, too, sort of. I have a day job, but someday I’m going to quit, and then I’ll be a real comedian, like you.” That, too, feels gross—if I couldn’t tell Robin Williams “I’m a comedian,” full stop, with no qualifications, then I wasn’t really a comedian. I would wait. I would become a real comedian. And I would run into him some other time, later.
I thought I had more time. We all did. Read More →
Hunter Hunted, formed in 2012, is an indie pop duo based in Los Angeles. Composed of Dan Chang on guitar, Michael Garner on keys and both musicians on vocals, the group’s sound is often described as melodic dance mixed with pop, rock and indie components; their station plays artists such as Coldplay, Local Natives and Keane. Hunter Hunted, along with their live band, performed a special acoustic version of “Operating” at Pandora’s Oakland headquarters.
Excellent songs can be made at lightning speed, with little intent, hardly any effort and no training, using a minimum of technical ability. It doesn’t matter how it was made. A good song is a good song, and sometimes all that’s needed are a couple chords, some very simple lyrics and a basic melody. But it’s not often the case that great songs come effortlessly, and even when they do, it’s usually because of something more than just blind luck or “natural” talent.
I started writing songs when I was a junior in high school. Actually, it’s more accurate to say, “I started writing song fragments” back then. I would write a riff (that was a direct rip-off of “Sunshine of Your Love” or “Black Dog”) or a chorus or pages of words that were neither good enough to pass as poetry or musical enough to cram into a verse.
This went on for a couple of years resulting in maybe a small handful of completed songs that time has generously erased. I studied Music Composition and focused on other musical practices before winding my way back to songs. When I did return, I wrote secretly for a few years, fortunately having enough insight to recognize that the songs were “not yet ready for prime time.” It took grinding my way through dozens and dozens of songs over more than a decade before I felt like I had something worth sharing publicly. Read More →
Perma is an indie alternative duo that combines the voices of Max Bemis from Say Anything and Sherri Dupree-Bemis from Eisley. A blend of pop, punk and acoustic elements, the band’s sound emerged as an interplay between two independent talents connected by a musical love story; Perma’s station features artists such as Lydia, Dresses and The Paper Kites. They stopped by Pandora and performed their song “Little Light”
Eric Hutchinson is an American pop singer-songwriter with roots in both NYC and LA. Distinguished by rhythmic guitar and piano melodies, Eric’s music is often matched to the works of Jack Johnson, Jason Mraz, and John Mayer, all of whom can be heard on his station. His catchy acoustic energy can be discovered in the live rendition of “Tell the World” from the most recent album, Pure Fiction.
The Dandy Warhols started making music in Portland back in 1994. Known for blending elements of garage rock and psych pop, the band can be heard on many Pandora stations including Black Rebel Motorcycle Club, The Brian Jonestown Massacre and Kasabian. The Dandys came by the office for a warmhearted set featuring Courtney Taylor-Taylor, Peter Holmström and Brent DeBoer all on acoustic guitar and Zia McCabe on keys. The band takes on their classic “Sleep” from their seminal album Thirteen Tales of Urban Bohemia in this performance at Pandora HQ in Oakland.