Inside Song: The Enduring Appeal Of A Sad Song

Some years ago, I went through a low period as a long-term relationship came to an end. I was living in a tiny apartment in Paris, a city where I knew only one other person. I was broke, of course. It was winter, and my music–the whole reason I’d moved to Paris–was going nowhere. I subsisted on espresso and Gauloises cigarettes, long walks around the freezing, empty city, and Radiohead’s Kid A and OK Computer. Cliché, I’m aware, but forgive me. I was young.

photoMy point, however, is that rather than seeking out some positive, inspiring music that could have helped shake me out of my gloom, I gravitated toward the saddest sounds I could fill my head with. And I know I’m not alone in this behavior.

There’s something about sad songs that holds a strong appeal for us as listeners. The pining vocals, the grand weeping sweep of strings, the dark shadow of the minor key and shattered glass spill of acoustic piano, they scratch some itch deep inside that the bounce and whirl of a chipper ditty can’t reach. Read More →

Pandora Whiteboard Sessions: The Wood Brothers, Russian Red, Slow Club and Kevin Devine

The Wood Brothers are brothers Chris Wood (upright bass) and Oliver Wood (guitar), and multi-instrumentalist Jano Rix. A blend of folk, rock, and country sweetened with vocal harmonies comprise their Americana sound. Other artists that can be heard on their Pandora station include The Avett Brothers, The Black Keys and Old Crow Medicine Show. The trio came by the office and played “Sing About It” of their latest album The Muse. Read More →

Pandora Whiteboard Sessions: The Autumn Defense performs “Every Day”

The Autumn Defense is a band formed by Wilco members John Stirratt and Pat Sansone. The multi-instrumentalists have a mellow rock and folk influenced sound. Other artists that can be heard on their Pandora station include Elliott Smith, The Decemberists and The Jayhawks.

The duo stopped by the office and played “Every Day” off their album Once Around. Audio from the full session can be found here.

Pandora Whiteboard Sessions: Run River North performs “Growing Up”

Run River North is an indie pop group with strong folk influences. Guitar-driven at heart, their sound is fleshed out by soft vocal harmonies and a variety of instruments, including violin, melodica, tambo. Other artists that can be heard on their Pandora station include Of Monsters & Men, Lord Huron, and The Head & the Heart. The six-piece came by the office and played “Growing Up” off their self-titled debut album. Audio from the full session can be found here.

Pandora Whiteboard Sessions: Los Inequietos Del Norte perform “Caiga Quien Caiga”

Los Inquietos Del Norte are a conjunto norteño, known for their aggressive style of corridos and high energy performances. Their sound is characterized by the vocal duo of brothers, José and Rosalio Meza and features rapid accordion lines, driving bajo sexto licks and a high-powered rhythm section. Other artists that play on their Pandora station include Gerardo Ortiz, El Komander and Voz De Mando. They came by the office and played “Caiga Quien Caiga” off their album Los Psychos del Corrido los Psicópatas. Read More →

Inside Song: Mixing It Up

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.

Screen Shot 2014-08-28 at 10.51.35 AMSongwriters 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 →