Our favourite podcasting duo spoke with a superb songwriting pair who came together after years working separately as solo artists
Anglo-American duo Teddy Thompson and Kelly Jones are a songwriting partnership that was birthed on this year’s album Little Windows, having each come from long backgrounds of writing as a solo artist.
London-born Teddy is the son of folk songwriters Linda and Richard Thompson, along with being the older brother of songwriter Kamila Thompson. He released his self-titled debut solo album in 2000 and has since released a further four albums as a solo artist, with his 2008 record, A Piece Of What You Need, making it to No 10 in the UK album chart.
Kelly Jones is an American songwriter (not be confused with her Stereophonics fronting namesake) who has worked with Adam Viola and Fountain Of Wayne’s Adam Schlesinger on a number of projects. She’s released two well received solo albums, 2006’s Handle with Care and 2008’s Shebang! and has many songwriting credits to her name.
The pair came together after performing a George Jones song together during a show in 2011. Soon after they began collaborating together before releasing the UK country album chart topping Little Windows this April.
Thompson and Jones co-wrote Little Windows with Nashville-based songwriter Bill DeMain and, speaking to our friends at Sodajerker, they explain what it’s like to work as part of a songwriting trio.
The line: “Life is full of little windows that open now and then” is a lovely way of describing life’s opportunities. Did that come from Bill DeMain?
Kelly: “It was Bill. Bill was such a pinch-hitter for this project. Because in my opinion, when you’re writing with other people, especially when there’s three people involved, it can be very challenging to agree on the lyric. It’s quicker to agree on a great melody, but a lyric that really resonates with all three people, that’s more challenging. I think that’s one of the areas in songwriting where he really shines, just writing a classic lyric. So yay to BD!”
It must be an unusual dynamic when you have a third person that has to be on board with the ideas?
Teddy: “Well, I’ve had threesomes before so I knew how to do it. It’s very important to make all participants feel comfortable and wanted, otherwise one of them’s gonna go: “you’re just spending all your time with her” and then storm out and demand her money back. And I’m just not going through that again.
“But yeah, it can be challenging. Although in this group, in this instance with the three of us, our personalities worked really well and Bill DeMain was almost an adjudicator or the go between almost. Not that he wasn’t doing tonnes of the work, but because Kelly and I are the singers, the artists, it was nice to have an almost impartial third party who was not going to be performing the songs and just really wanted them to be good songs.
Kelly: “He could hear more objectively maybe.”
Did you have the luxury of a lot of time together or was it a bit more regimented than that?
Kelly: “No we didn’t have all that much time together. Because Teddy lives in New York, I live in Los Angeles and Bill DeMain lives in Nashville; we hit all three major music cities in the US! But yeah, we had to be very deliberate with the time that we had together. So it was very structured, we like to say in the vein of the Tin Pan Alley era. I remember the goal of: ‘Let’s try writing two songs a day.’ So we came with ammunition and did our best and we were pretty successful with that goal I think every day.”
Teddy: “Yeah we didn’t have that much time together in actual days, it was only nine or ten days total that we wrote all the songs.”
Is treating your songwriting like an office job is an approach that you’ve used before?
Teddy: “Yeah, but the difference between then and now is that I went to an office and wrote just to try and get things done. Because when you’re at home you’ve got the TV and the couch and all that stuff. It worked for me with regards to finishing up ideas. It works even better when there are other people around, because then you can’t slack off because there are other people around and you can’t just keep taking breaks and stopping, because there are other people there keeping things moving along.”
Are you both generally quite good at finishing songs, or are there a lot of casualties on the way?
Teddy: “I’m terrible at finishing songs, I don’t finish anything unless I absolutely have to. So instead of writing 50 songs I’ve only written 10 and I definitely have 40 that I didn’t finish because I just can’t be assed!
Kelly: “Yeah it’s hard and that’s where the work comes in. It’s easy to get inspired and maybe write a chorus, or a first verse, but then the professional part comes into it when you actually have to finish it, that’s the work”
Little Windows was recorded mainly in a live setting. Do you think that there is a certain advantage to that approach?
Teddy: “Oh it’s the greatest. I could go on and on about it, but there’s lots of advantages. It sounds really good, we recorded live to tape, so there were no pro-tools going on, just the tape machine whirling around and everybody playing at the same time and in the same room. It just makes everybody play better, even the best musicians – because of the way of digital recording and the way it’s been going for so many years – tend to be in recording mode a lot of the time when they’re in the studio, as opposed to live mode, because they know that they know that they can fix the little mistakes. But if that’s not an option, people just play differently, they play like their lives depend on it and it’s just great. There are also lots of other advantages. I think that it’s the way forward, abandon digital.”
Kelly: “Yeah, you have to be willing to let go of the perfectionism though, but to the benefit of the music. I sometimes struggle with “ooooah, that note wasn’t quite right, it was a little sharp or a little flat.” But as time has revealed, it’s those little imperfections that make the whole thing sound human.”
What are you guys up to next? Teddy you’ve got another solo album on the way?
Teddy: “I haven’t quite started it yet, I’ve almost started it a few times but now I think I’m about ready to start it. But it won’t be out until next year, no matter what.”
Kelly, what about you?
“The same here. I don’t know when, I don’t know how, but I’ll do it. I’m also doing a Masters degree; I’m doing a juggle right now and I’m hoping to get a lot of things done by next summer.”
Do you think you can both handle working together on another record at some point?
Teddy: “I’m just hoping to live until 2017, I can’t believe you’re making plans for that far away. I guess it’s only next year but it sounds like the future! But yeah we’d do it again. Like anything there’s a certain level of success that we need in order to do it again, we’d have to sell enough records, even in this day and age, to make the money back that we spent. So we’ll see how it pans out.
Kelly: “But we’ve got ideas, I’ve got ideas!”
Internationally renowned songwriters are queuing up to be interviewed by Sodajerker, who now have over 90 episodes under their belt. Established in 2012 by Liverpudlian songwriting duo, Simon Barber and Brian O’Connor, the Sodajerker On Songwriting podcast has welcomed guests including Paul Simon, Ben Watt, Justin Currie, Willy Russell, Lamont Dozier, Neil Sedaka, Johnny Marr, Ben Folds Five, Billy Bragg, Richard M Sherman, Neil Finn, Suzanne Vega, Jimmy Webb, Rufus Wainwright, KT Tunstall, Dan Gillespie Sells and many more.
To find out more about Sodajerker and their work, or to download their podcasts – including the full 40-minute interview with Teddy Thompson & Kelly Jones – go to www.sodajerker.com. You can also connect with them on Facebook or Twitter, or download the podcasts from iTunes.