Liv Greene’s Songwriting Survival Kit
The Boston-based artist shares some of her indispensable items with us, including her guitar collection and own community of songwriters
2019 was a great year for songwriter Liv Greene. She won the Kerrville Folk Festival’s New Folk Competition for Emerging Singer-Songwriters, was selected to participate in the Savannah Music Festival’s Acoustic Music Seminar and named the first alternate in the Telluride Bluegrass Festival Troubadour Contest for songwriters. She’s continuing that run in 2020, first with the release of her folk anthem New York’s Arms and then by bringing out the song’s parent album Every Bright Penny in a few month’s time.
Charmed by Greene’s caramel-coated vocals and classic songwriting, we wanted to learn all about her essential gear…
1. MY INSTRUMENTS
I am lucky to have some beautiful instruments that I really really love and that inspire me every day. I have a Gibson J45, a 1967 Epiphone Cortez, and a Pisgah Dobson Rambler banjo. Playing both guitar and banjo is a big part of my process because sometimes, if I am feeling stuck, switching instruments will give the song new life. New York’s Arms, my latest single, was finished that way.
I started writing the music on guitar, and something about that never really clicked. When I put the song on the banjo, it instantly felt like it was meant for banjo all along and from there the rest of it, arrangement and missing lines, kind of fell into place. Sometimes I will even mess around on an instrument I don’t even play, like piano or mandolin, to try and find a cool harmony I wouldn’t otherwise or to keep from redoing the same things I do when writing on my main instruments.
2. ADVICE/WISDOM FROM OTHER SONGWRITERS
When I was around 14 years old and first getting into songwriting, I heard one of my favourite writers at the time, Kina Grannis, say that songwriting is like panning in a river for gold: most of the time, you are gonna get a ton of weird rocks, and only occasionally will you get gold. But the important thing is that you show up to the river every day and do the work.
This really stuck with me and the concept of showing up has remained one of my favourite motivators. It also gives me an extra sense of pride when I write songs that I would deem “weird rocks,” as every bad song penned gets me closer to the next piece of gold (ha!).
Wisdom like this helps guide me in my process and over the years I have collected dozens of quotes from songwriters about songwriting that I look to when I’m feeling uninspired.
3. VOICE MEMOS APP
I am one of the thousands of writers who swear by the Voice Memos app, but for good reason. Sometimes inspiration strikes at strange times – while driving, in the shower, in the middle of the night, etc. I think it crucial to pull over, hop out of the shower, or jolt out of bed and capture it. Often my first instincts – for melody, lyric, and form – are right and the song just comes out if I let it.
4. MY RECORD COLLECTION
Studying my favourite songs written by other artists is a huge part of my process. You are what you eat, as they say, and I firmly believe you write what you listen to. Often, if I want to write like someone, I will start by trying to cover one of their songs. It’s also just a really nice break from playing original material. Sitting in my bedroom learning and playing songs I love can be really inspiring. Transcribing another artists’ guitar voicings or trying to emulate a picking pattern adds more and more ideas into my toolbox to be able to twist into my own thing. Trust me, it’s not theft!
While not a concrete thing, variation is one of the best tools in my kit. Some of my favourite songs I’ve ever written came from me switching things up. My usual routine is to improvise on guitar or banjo, improvise a vocal melody, then start drafting lyrics from whatever I rambled on about in my improvising.
I find that if I stray from this routine, and say, write lyrics first, I end up less likely to get stuck and can explore new ideas more freely. I did this for New York’s Arms, my latest single, and because of that, I ended up writing this really cool rhythmic patterned melody. Varying my process frees me up and is my favourite tool for when I am feeling uninspired.
I am super lucky to have an incredible community of unreal songwriters that I call friends all across the globe to keep me inspired and give feedback. In Boston, I even started a group a couple of years back called Lady Songwriter Hang where some friends of mine come together at someone’s house to have brunch and share what we’re working on. It is often the feedback I get from my peers that allows me to finish a song. Regardless of feedback, sometimes just the mere practice of playing a draft in front of a songwriter I really admire gives me perspective on my own opinions, like which lines I love to sing and which ones still feel like filler.
New York’s Arms is out now and Liv Greene’s new album Every Bright Penny will be released in May. All the latest info can be found at livgreene.com