We meet a songwriter who’s put his entire life into song, and is releasing it as a 22-track magnum opus
atharis is a concept we’re all familiar with. Writing about times of trauma or heartbreak can be useful in helping you to get through those times – writing therefore becomes “a mechanism that generates the rational control of irrational emotions” (Aristotle via Wikipedia) – while conversely great art, so the conventional wisdom goes, is often born of great suffering.
Then again, there’s catharsis and there’s catharsis. We’re sure many Songwriting readers will have composed a song or two mourning a lost love… but when we heard that New York-based singer-songwriter David Bronson was releasing an entire 22-track, two-album project called The Long Lost Story inspired by the breakdown of a relationship 11 years previously, we had to get him on the phone and find out more…
First of all David, tell us how the Long Lost Story project ‘works’, given that it’s being released as two separate albums?
“Okay, well it’s one piece of work in two halves, but the second half came out first. So Story came out in the US last summer and has just been released in the UK, which is the second half of the story, and then The Long Lost will be out later in the year, and that’s like the prequel, the first half of the story chronologically.”
And all 22 tracks are inspired by one failed relationship? Isn’t that a tad self-indulgent?
“It certainly would be if all the songs were only about that relationship, but they’re not. Really that was just the catalyst: that’s what triggered the songwriting in the first place. But overall I’d say it’s more a tale of growth, or the outlining of an emotional journey. It’s about becoming an adult, basically – which is why it took so long to write! I’m in my early 30s now and I started writing these songs when I was 20; the writing of the last one was completed maybe three years ago or so now..
“So it started with the crumbling of this relationship from the inside, while it was still happening. I started documenting that, and after a while it started to grow into a coherent body of work, and it’s grown into a document from beginning to end, the arc of the entire thing. So it’s getting released now, but I’ve already written and have begun the recording of the next two albums, both also documents of sorts, and one telling how I met the woman who’s now my wife. So there is a happy ending.”
“It’s been a long but enjoyable process”
Speaking of endings, let’s go back to the beginning… of your career, that is. You were in a band before this, weren’t you?
“Yeah, me and my brother Jeremy (who drums on this album) had a series of bands, which culminated in a prog rock-type band called Readymaker. We both went to the University of Michigan together, then moved to Boston, and we formed Readymaker in about 2001, 2002. But Boston wasn’t quite the right scene for us, so we moved back to New York and formed teh second version of the band. We had a female singer, which worked well as I had begun writing for male and female vocal parts, and songwriting duties were shared between me and our keyboard player Christian McCleer, who’s a notable composer and concert pianist.
“Once I started writing the songs that would become The Long Lost Story, and I realised I needed to be alone, creatively-speaking, for awhile, so I left the band and I kind of went inward for a few years, working on songs while first working as a pre-school teacher and then going off to art school to study film. I did that because for a time I wanted The Long Lost Story to have a visual element and I’m not a painter, illustrator or sculptor. In fact, for my master’s thesis I wrote made a feature-length script based on the songs and shot and edited a large section of it.
“Since then I’ve worked in the film world as an editor and in post-production, and I make all my own videos. So some of that film will no doubt get revisited in the videos, because it got shown in a few art galleries and at private screenings but I was always kind of sad it never got to reach a wider audience.”
“Well for a long time it was going to be a double album, but logistically that was difficult. It was a slow process because I’d have to keep working for several months to be able to afford the studio time. At a certain point I just wanted something out in the world, and it was easiest to focus first on the songs that were more current. I started working with [Lou Reed and Aerosmith producer] Godfrey Diamond, and we’re now finally coming to the end of getting the first half mixed down and looking back, it’s been a long but enjoyable process.”
Tell us about your songwriting technique… do you have one, as such?
“Not really, I just like to write whenever and wherever I have the time – it’s my favourite thing to do. Writing songs is the biggest constant factor in my life: I’ve been doing it since I was 14 or 15, it’s something I’ve always loved in the most extreme degree.
“Typically, a song will start with me strumming a guitar, finding a chord progression I like. Then a melody will spur from that, and then typically the lyrics will come last. There are exceptions to that – sometimes a line will just pop into my head and a song will come from that – but it’s rare.”
And given your history, presumably you prefer to write on your own?
“I generally do write on my own, I’d say 99 per cent of the time. Occasionally I’ll be in a studio and I’ll be playing something and someone else will start something and we’ll, quote unquote, write together. But with my songs it’s just me. Back in the Readymaker days, me and Christian would both come in with songs and we’d all wrangle with them together. And that was a good experience, and I enjoyed the whole thing of ‘being in band’ for sure… but I don’t really miss it.”
“It’d be great to play Madison Square Garden!”
So what are your hopes for the future? You’ve described Beck as being a big influence on you – would you like to become a superstar singer-songwriter in the Beck mode?
“Well, I hadn’t really thought of Beck as a role model for my career but of course, yes, I’d love that if it happened, sure, it’d be great to play Madison Square Garden or Wembley. But certainly, and I know it’s probably a bit cliche, the art is always the top priority… but I don’t think anyone makes art, whether it’s writing songs or painting pictures or making movies or whatever, without wanting people to experience it, and as many people as possible.
“Meanwhile in the short term… a lot of recording and a lot of playing, is what the immediate future holds! Touring is a big priority for 2013, we’re talking to booking agents right now about shows both in the US and, hopefully, in Europe and the UK. And then working on the next album – it’s all written, I’m going to be working with Godfrey Diamond again and we’ve just started demo’ing some of the tracks.”
Finally, with 11 more years’ songwriting experience under your belt than when you started writing The Long Lost Story, any advice for aspiring songwriters who are just starting out on their own journeys?
“I’d say the most important thing – and it sounds clichéd but it’s the only reason I developed any confidence, which is crucial – is find your voice. Find your style, the physicality of the way you work, the way you hear things. Develop your voice as an artist that’s a full and natural extension of you as a person.
“For me, it was the initial trauma of that relationship that thrust me into writing the way I write now. I don’t think you need that, necessarily, but a lot of great art does come from great emotion. You need to be able to access the deepest places inside yourself that you can get to.”
Interview: Russell Deeks
Story by David Bronson is out now, with The Long Lost to follow later in the year. Below, you can watch the video to Watch The Sun (October Reprise). For more information, visit www.davidbronsonmusic.com.