ReverbNation contest winner #3: Thomas Fiss
Songwriting and ReverbNation proudly present the third winner of our monthly songwriting contest – Californian pop idol and multi-instrumentalist Thomas Fiss
ith over 1,000 submissions to listen to each month, our ReverbNation songwriting competition is a tricky task, and one which the Songwriting team doesn’t take lightly. But when one song stands out as an instant hit single from the first 30 seconds, it’s a much easier job! That’s exactly what happened when we heard Thomas Fiss’ Chasing Satellites – an unashamedly catchy pop song that grabbed us by the ears from the ‘Oh uh-oh’ intro hook and wouldn’t let go for three glorious minutes.
In songwriting terms, it’s relatively simple stuff, but writers from Tin Pan Alley to modern-day hit-makers like Max Martin, will agree that simplicity is the key to creating the biggest pop classics. And we think Chasing Satellites has all the right ingredients to bother the popular music charts in the near future.
Of course, that could’ve been a fluke, and even the most perfect composition can be ruined by poor execution, but with further investigation it was clear that Mr Fiss has more well-crafted songs up his sleeve – and the vocal talent to match. So who is this month’s winner, and where did that magical pop song come from? Read on to find out…
Tell us about Chasing Satellites. What was the inspiration for that song?
“I commute pretty frequently between San Diego and Los Angeles. It’s about a two-hour drive, and during that time I do a lot of my brainstorming, coming up with concepts, titles or chord progressions. I was making that drive and those two words – chasing satellites – just came into my head and I held onto the idea for about a year and a half. I didn’t touch it, but I knew it was going to come to something. Then I started messing around with some chords and different lyric ideas and those two words fell out of my mouth again, during the chorus. It was a fluke – I was just writing a scratch topline and it turned out it fit perfectly and it was a cool vibe. The song was written in about an hour, if that. You get those interesting moments as a songwriter, when the chords and lyrics just kinda flow through you. I don’t really know how to explain it other than that.”
What do you use to write on?
“I did that song on acoustic guitar, and then a little bit on piano – I was screwing around with some topline ideas and counter-melodies with the piano. It’s pretty 50/50 between acoustic guitar and piano, and occasionally I’ll start of with some synths, just to get a bit crafty. I have a cool little writing studio at my place. Nothing where I can crank out mastered, ready-for-radio songs, but I run the latest version of Pro Tools and that’s what I do my stuff on.”
[cc_blockquote_right] IT WAS JUST A LUCKY PHONE CALL THAT CHANGED THE REST OF MY LIFE [/cc_blockquote_right] How did you get into music originally? Were you taught piano or guitar when you were a kid?
“I actually started on trumpet! During middle school I picked that because I thought that would be the easiest thing to play – I figured it only had three valves, so it’s only three notes, but I was completely wrong, obviously. So then I switched to guitar and took college courses while I was at high school to study music, production and the business side. Then I just had one of those lucky breaks where I was able to find myself in the music industry.”
What was that break? What happened?
“I was 18 years old and playing a lot of open mics and I got a call from a production company that was putting a band together. We ended up getting signed to Capitol Records. It was just a lucky phone call that changed the rest of my life, I guess.”
What was the name of the band?
“Er… I’m a little embarrassed about that one! It was called Varsity Fanclub – it was mainly a boy band, but it was one of those learning experiences. It was an amazing opportunity and it definitely led me to where I am now.”
Were you writing songs back then?
“Absolutely! I started writing songs before I could even play the guitar. I probably learned two or three chords and I played my first open mic about a year after I learnt to play a guitar.”
Have you always been a performer, or did those open mics bring it out of you?
“I’ve always been a performer in some sense – I was an actor on Broadway for a while, in a show called The Full Monty, and I’d done a few commercials. I’ve just been drawn to being on stage and performing, whether it be acting or with music. It’s definitely a part of me.”
What stage are you at with your recorded material?
“I’m just starting to write a new album and I’ve explored the idea of taking a few songs from my previous EP, but at the moment I’m just in that creative process, floating around from studio to studio and just working on songs. I’m collaborating with a lot of people, but I’m focused on finding a writer that I get a good vibe with.”
How do you approach the songwriting process?
“I take a lot of pride in my songwriting and I like to let the songs be honest and not force anything. You never know when you’re going to be inspired. I prefer to build a song from scratch and I think songs are more organic when you can write the music and lyrics in one fluid motion.”[cc_blockquote_right] IT’S IMPORTANT FOR ANY SONGWRITER TO KNOW HOW TO RUN A RECORDING PROGRAM [/cc_blockquote_right]Who are your influences and heroes?
“Top of the list would be Ryan Tedder and One Republic – especially on their last album. Also I’m really into Bastille right now – their production is really on-point. On the more mainstream side, Maroon 5 – on the poppier side they’re just spot-on.”
If you could write a song with anyone, who would it be?
“I’d love to work with Bruno Mars. He seems like such a cool guy and his songwriting ability is just out of this world, so it would be an awesome experience to be able to sit down with Bruno and crank out a song.”
Is the production side of your music important to you?
“I think it’s important for any songwriter to know how to run a recording program, so you can get yourself into the song. I don’t consider myself a full-time producer by any means, but I definitely know what sounds I want to hear, so I do my best to lay it out and put down a pretty solid skeleton. From there, I can take that idea and work with a professional producer to fine-tune it. I definitely like to sit down and make sure all of my ideas are completely out of my head. I play all the instruments so it’s pretty easy for me to lay it all down.”
What’s the plan next? Any touring?
“Right now I’m locked in a studio and focused on getting this album done. I play the occasional one-off show to keep that in my system, but at the moment I’m just writing. Once the album’s finished I’m definitely going to head out on tour.”
Interview: Alex Miles
If you’d like the chance to be featured in an article like this on Songwriting, our monthly songwriting competition is still open. To enter, you’ll need to be registered with ReverbNation, and submit a track for consideration via this link. Each month, we’ll listen to every entry and select the most promising artist, who’ll be the subject of an interview feature similar to this one. Good luck!