On The Stereo #27

December 14, 2018 in Music

Gabrielle Aplin & Hannah Grace

Gabrielle Aplin & Hannah Grace: both have similarly immaculate voices

Our latest playlist showcases new music from Gabrielle Aplin & Hannah Grace, Ward Thomas, Omi, Danielle Bradbery and Sam Palladio

Never Fade Records

Get into the Christmas spirit with the new EP from super-duo Gabrielle Aplin and Hannah Grace. It’s hard to tell the pair apart; both have similarly immaculate voices. The title track December invokes all the usual Yuletide imagery while leaving the festive cheese solely for the dinner table. DC

Sony Music CG

Ward Thomas have released their latest single off new album ‘Restless Minds’ (out Feb 1st, 2019) and it is the absolutely sensational ‘No Filter’. This has been a longtime favourite since the girls started performing it live over the summer and studio version is divine. The lyrics are empowering and let the listener know they are worth it, while the duo’s vocal harmonies are tighter than ever. This is a real standout from Ward Thomas. LK

Ultra Records, LLC

Omi returns with another summer infused anthem in the form of new single As Long As I’M With You. Teaming up with CMC$, Omi creates a banger of a tune that makes you feel like you are back in the heat of July. Omi is a real talent and creates these tunes with ease. If you’re in a party mood then turn this one up loud. LK

BMLG Records

Danielle Bradbery has shared the vocal recording of three tracks off her 2017 sophomore LP I Don’t Believe We’ve Met and one of the major standouts on the EP is the stunning, stripped back, a capella version of Human Diary. The vulnerability and strength in Danielle’s vocal are sensational and it adds another level to an already outstanding song. LK

SP Music/Non Delux

It’s officially acceptable to play Christmas music and this original festive offering from Sam Palladio is guaranteed to get you into the holiday spirit. With catchy lyrics, and a truly Christmassy melody Palladio will get you feeling like it’s Christmas Eve. Turn the volume high and let this magical tune bring a little cheer into your life this festive season. LK

Words: Laura Klonowski, Dave Chrzanowski

Listen to these songs and other On The Stereo selections on the Songwriting Magazine YouTube ‘New Music’ playlist.

Interview: Corey Taylor

December 12, 2018 in Interviews, Songwriting Magazine Winter 2017

Corey Taylor

Our featured interview with Corey Taylor appeared in Songwriting Magazine Winter 2017

Our cover star was one of rock and metal’s shining stars – the head honcho of Slipknot and Stone Sour

He’s a man who fronts not one, but two of the biggest bands from those genres and has sold over 40 million records worldwide. He’s a singer, songwriter, lyricist, comic book author, actor, and the owner of the second-widest range of any vocalist currently doing the rounds, with his five-and-a-half octaves only beaten by Mike Patton’s six.

Who is this man? Ladies and gentlemen, we give you Corey Taylor, the head honcho of both Slipknot and Stone Sour. Taylor has been in the music industry since 1992, when he formed Stone Sour. However, it wasn’t until he joined Slipknot in 1997 that his career truly began its journey into the stratosphere. With Slipknot, Taylor has released six albums, scoring two US Billboard No 1s and one UK Album Chart No 1.

As the leader of Stone Stone, he has been a fixture in both charts, with the brilliant Hydrograd making it into the Top 5 of each. We caught up with Corey in the midst of Stone Sour’s biggest ever European tour and it is they who are the focus of our discussion. We picked his brains about songwriting, his legacy, the state of rock music, and Trump.

What did we discover? Not only is he a legend of his field, he’s also a thoroughly nice fellow. For the rest, you’ll have to read on…

It’s 15 years since the release of Stone Sour [the band’s self-titled debut LP], 17 years since you reformed, and 25 years since Stone Sour started: where do you find the inspiration to keep going?

“I just feel like there’s just so much more music to make – it’s the same with Slipknot too. The beautiful thing about Stone Sour is that there’s this whole realm of rock ‘n’ roll that I feel like we haven’t even touched on yet. We’re really starting to come into our own and it’s the same with Slipknot; there are just so many areas that I feel that we can tap into.

“I guess that’s the thing that should always keep us all going. The chance to write the ultimate song, the next big tune that people want to sing back at you. That’s the inspiration for me, trying to find that next big song that everyone’s going to love and that you always look forward to singing for everybody.”

How have you found the reception on your current tour in comparison to your previous ones?

“It’s been our biggest European run ever. Every show is sold out, we’re averaging 4,000 people a night, it’s huge, massive! And it’s only getting bigger – everything is sold out, so we have people complaining that they can’t get a ticket!

“To have that happening after this many years is a damn good feeling. It tells me that we’re still doing it for the right reasons and that we’re still doing it at the peak of our powers and our talent and our creativity. And it also means that we’ve tapped into a whole other audience who are coming along for the ride and are just as stoked as we are. I’m very, very fortunate to be a part of this right now.”

How has the songwriting of Stone Sour evolved since you began?

“I tell you what, man, I feel like I’ve gotten better, to be honest. My mind and my scope and my openness for new ideas are still there. But I feel like I’ve really come into my own with my lyrics, with the chances that I take with my music, and I like that.

“A lot of people as they get older they tend to close themselves up, they tend to close themselves off from new ideas and new experiences. For me, I remember what I’ve already written so why would I want to keep on rewriting that stuff? I want new frontiers, I want new ideas, I want new chances because that’s how you keep expanding the boundaries of the music that you’re known for.

“For me, I love that I’m balancing the same kind of selflessness and bravery with the music of the songs, with almost a refreshing maturity when it comes to the lyrics that I write.”

Corey Taylor

Corey Taylor: “Longevity, quality, and hopefully I wasn’t too much of a jackass!”

What do you do to keep things fresh and to keep things moving?

“It’s interesting. I guess I just look and go ‘what am I trying to say? And what type of song would I like to use to do it?’ Sometimes you go by your standalone. When I was writing the music for Rose Red Violent Blue (This Song Is Dumb & So Am I) I was kind of saying to myself that I would love to write a song that has kind of a 70s vibe to it. And honestly, it’s strange because it came out in a way that didn’t sound 70s at all, but it kind of has that old skool rock ‘n’ roll vibe to it.

“So the inspiration for that song for me was everything from The Clash to Cheap Trick. Those are two influences that I haven’t worn as openly on my sleeve, without people knowing, but without those two bands, I’d be nothing. So for me, being able to draw that inspiration this many years later, from two bands that have been with me my whole life, and really kind of becomes something more than I even thought it would be, is pretty badass, to be able to create something new and interesting that makes the audience go ‘Woah, where did that come from?! That’s where it comes from, that’s where it’s at. The excitement.

“So I guess it’s a lot of different things; my ears prick up when I hear something I haven’t heard before, or feel something I haven’t felt before, something that kind of draws me in. That’s what gets me excited about working on other people’s stuff. And when it comes to my stuff, it’s very much about the vibe of what I’m trying to put out. And then I just tap into it and give it to the guys and let them take it somewhere that I never thought it would ever go.”

Will all of the songwriting for Stone Sour begin with you?

“We kind of do it all. We all write individually, but we can also jam together and kind of let it happen. I know that Christian, Roy, and Chow, have done a lot of stuff together. And then Christian and Josh have done a lot of stuff together. We can pull from any realm, from any inspiration, from any type of exercise when it comes to the songwriting. For us, there are no wrong answers. It’s just music that we’re not feeling, or music that we are totally feeling.

“That’s where it comes from, man. If there’s stuff we’re not vibing on, that we’re not feeling immediately, then we put it on the backburner. And we work on it later. But we always try to focus on the stuff that’s got our attention, that we focus on, whether it’s individually, or as a band. That’s what we try and follow into the realm of inspiration.”

You were 17 when Nevermind and The Black Album were released and you started Stone Sour a year later. How influential were those records/the success that came from them in you forming a band?

“The crazy thing is that I had my feet in so many different realms musically; not only did those albums come out, but a couple of years before that you had Slave To the Grind, Facelift, and then there were the mainstays: Appetite For Destruction, obviously being a massive Mötley Crüe fan, all the thrash stuff, all the early 80s hardcore stuff, I listened to everything.

“Then plus, coming from the Midwest, you had Soul Asylum, Prince, Chicago (Big Black)… So I had all these crazy influences going around me and the thing is that Stone Sour, when it started (and don’t laugh because this is true!) I wanted it to sound like a combination of Metallica, Skid Row, and Pearl Jam. Those three bands.

“Those were the bands I wanted Stone Sour to really draw from. And our early stuff, when I was singing before my balls dropped(!) it had that kind of vibe; it was a good heavy crunch to it, and this is back when I was singing and playing guitar on everything. But there was a good alternative bent to it, but we didn’t shy away from the big, I hate to say hair rock, but big hard rock choruses, and Skid Row had that. And I’m still to this day one of the biggest Skid Row fans of all time and people can kiss my ass on that!

“That’s where we started. And I think that mindset has stayed with me all through the years – fuck what everyone says, fuck what everybody thinks, and just write what you wanna write, do what you wanna do, sing what you wanna sing and don’t let anybody tell you what’s right and what’s wrong because that’s the way to talk yourself out of a great idea, to let other people decide whether a song is good to you, you know! It’s like, ‘hold on a second. If I dig this, just because you don’t, it doesn’t mean that I have to change what I think about it.’

“It’s just one of those things where I’d rather write something I’m happy about and fail, than to write something successful that didn’t come from my heart.”

Corey Taylor

Corey: “I’d rather write something I’m happy about and fail, than to write something successful that didn’t come from my heart”

Do you think rock still has the same power now as it did in the late 80s and early 90s?

“It’s interesting. I think it’s getting it back. I think a lot of it has lost its way, in a weird way. Before it used to be that you’d write some music and you’d go out and tour. Now everything’s so complicated, it’s capitulated, it’s commercialised, it’s stuck into little boxes; it has to mean something. I get so fucking bored with rock having to mean something. It doesn’t! Write a song and put it out there. Whether it’s a broken heart or a broken foot, just put it out there and let somebody feel it – it doesn’t have to be so serious.

“Honestly that’s one of the reasons why concerts have dwindled, as far as building a new audience for new bands, it’s because everyone thinks they have to be so serious all the time. And it’s also one of the reasons why the pop and hip hop audiences have never gone away, because they’re not nearly as serious, they’re just trying to have a good time.

“Rock is sorely missing that right now and that’s one of the things that we’re trying to do, we’re trying to bring that back. Bring that good time back. There are certain songs that mean something, but they don’t all have to be a fucking thesis on the depression of the human spirit. And you don’t always have to mosh to every song. I see people mosh to Through Glass and I go, ‘what the fuck are you doing?! Are you serious?!’

“People have forgot how to act at rock concerts – you come to have a good time and to release it and enjoy yourself. But because everybody feels like they have to be an extreme metal show, they don’t know how to act at a regular rock ‘n’ roll, or hard rock, concert.

“So, it’s tough. I think that a lot of bands are trying to bring that positive spirit back, but people are so cuckolded about how they’re supposed to be at a concert that they’re having a hard time picking that up. But we’ll see how it goes. I have faith that it’s [rock] still out there, especially with all the shitty pop and hip hop that’s out there. One day people are gonna wake up and go ‘oh, that’s all garbage. Let’s go back and check out what rock n roll’s up to.”

The pinned tweet on your Twitter account was: “all that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men (and women) do NOTHING.” – Edmund Burke. With Trump in office, what do you think people should be doing? And as a songwriter do you think you should be taking a particular action?

“Especially when you’re as, sadly(!), outspoken as I am, you tend to end up on one side or the other. The thing with Trump is that he’s just getting worse and worse. I have faith that people in the right places are doing what they can. But he’s such a jackass that it’s really hard to keep up with his missteps.

“So I pinned that Tweet specifically to remind people that sometimes you do have to speak up. Whether you’re on the right side or the wrong side you just can’t stay silent. But here’s the main thing, if you’re going to speak up, please know what you’re talking about! Please just read a fucking article, do some research, educate yourself. Too many people are stuck in ignorance and with feeling instead of with information, and that’s the tough part.

“That’s one of the reasons why I just say what I say and get out of it – because I know a lot of people are going to hit me with their ignorant emotion when it comes to defending the shit that that fucking man says. And I’m not gonna have it. It’s like the facts blatantly contradict everything that you’re saying about our president. And I’m not gonna try and convince a rock that it’s a shrub.

“The worst thing you can do on the planet is try and get involved in some one-sided argument where the other person has already decided you’re wrong. It’s like, ‘Well, OK, then we’re done here.’ I just kind of stand firm, hold fast, and batten down the fucking hatches!”

Tell me about the comic book for House Of Gold & Bones. What made you decide to get involved with that?

“That was something that was actually brought to me. It was something that I was spitballing to begin with. I had the story for the two albums and I’d written the short story and put it in the album so that people could read along, to try and tie the narrative together. Then my management really were the ones saying, ‘how do you feel about coming at this from a visual standpoint?’ And I said that I would love to give it a shot. We were able to get a really good deal with Dark Horse going. I’d never written a comic book but I’d read them, I’ve read them my whole life, but never written one. I have so much respect for scriptwriters, there’s a lot of work that goes into putting those things together.

“So for me it was a real learning experience. It enriched the way that I devour my entertainment now, just the amount of attention to detail that goes into it. I’m really proud of it. I knew it was going to be a short one, Dark Horse were really cool and supportive of it and said ‘let’s do this and let’s do it right – we don’t need a long-term relationship, let’s just do something really, really, cool.’ So, yeah, I’m pretty proud of that and it is one of my favourite things that I’ve ever done.”

You’ve got many more years ahead of you, but what do you think your legacy as a songwriter will be?

“I guess I would love for my legacy to be the longevity of it. The fact that I was able to produce so much quality for so long, with so many different projects – whether it was with Slipknot, or Stone Sour, or the various guest appearances, or side things that I’ve done in the past.

“I think that’s what I would like my legacy to be. To be someone who wasn’t afraid to risk, but who wasn’t afraid to write a song. Sometimes that’s all you want to do. People just think they’re so smart that they want their own way and they’ll walk all over a song just because they think they know what a song needs. The song just needs to fucking breathe – sometimes the song just needs to be the song that it was meant to be.

“As much I’m a songwriter I’m also a facilitator. Sometimes I just get out of the way and don’t try to do too much because that might detract from what you’re trying to say. So I guess that’s really the key isn’t it, to trying to stick around as long as you can, that you hope to, by not overstaying your welcome in the medium that you’re trying to work in. So yeah, longevity, quality, and hopefully I wasn’t too much of a jackass!”

Read further artist interviews, tips and techniques features, reviews and more in the Winter 2017 edition of Songwriting Magazine > >

Interview: Damien Girling

Songs In The Key Of… Alternative Blues

December 11, 2018 in Features, Interviews, Music

John J Presley

Presley: “I love that sound and feeling of instruments being really challenged within their own limitations” Pic: Steve Gullick

Electric bluesman from Birmingham, John J Presley, shares a selection of alt-blues tracks and explains how they have influenced him

John J Presley grew up in Birmingham and after some years in London now resides in Brighton. With two successful singles and an EP under his belt, he is gearing up for the release of his debut album, which is coming out through BMG and AWAL. Presley has been honing his craft over the last few years, most notably playing as part of Duke Garwood’s live band, taking up guitar duties for the live shows surrounding Ed Harcourt’s most recent release, and supporting the likes of Jim Jones & The Righteous Mind.

“The blues is such a broad spectrum for a genre,” says Presley. “In that sense it’s almost impossible to pigeonhole any of these records, but I can say that the blues was a huge influence and foundation for me, and from that these bands and artists seemed to always be pushing forward with new ideas and reworkings, with focus on their instruments as the core statement in their sound.”

Here Presley selects 10 of his essential alternative blues tracks. To listen to them all in one go, check out the Spotify playlist.

“The guitar sound just speaks for itself really on this record. I heard this in my friend’s car years ago and I instantly thought it was the best guitar sound I’d ever heard at that time.”

“Beautiful bass line.. driving drums..Mark Lanegan and PJ Harvey..what’s not to like? Their voices work so well together and the energy captured here is extraordinary. One to drive to for sure.”

“I love this band. This song is a B-side and it’s definitely one of my favourites. The guitar sound is perfect – so dry, so primitive but with a real fuzz behind it. I still play this a lot from the seven-inch”

“Tom Waits is the ultimate showman. A master of his craft and I’d travel a long way to see him perform. Marc Ribot is on guitar here too – another maestro with such a muffled but perfected sound – it’s a sound I’m constantly chasing.”

“The textures in here are brilliant. The clanging loops – both electronic and wooden all at the same time push and pull at each other. I suppose in a way those textures and percussive elements were always a draw to me in traditional blues too – it’s such a unique way of layering up ideas but still holding that space.”

“I’m a big fan of the guitar wizardry of Jamie Hince and, in this record, I adore the durgy, dry sound he conjures… this record always reminds me of London and the amp is pushed so hard it almost sounds like it’s about to blow up. I love that sound and feeling of instruments being really challenged within their own limitations. With early blues sometimes it was as simple as a single string too – the drama it can evoke, hearing the instrument, hearing the wood and the craftsmanship through the recording. Stunning.”

“I supported the Black Diamond Heavies years ago and I was captivated by their live performance. Their musicianship on stage really taught me that I had to up my game in a live capacity. I ended up buying my Fender Rhodes of James Leg from the band which I still take on tour from time to time.”

“Another mention for Dan Auerbach here who is on guitar duties. He masters such a beautiful reverb and trem sound on this recording.”

“As with all genres sometimes an unmatchable partnership is born and the collaboration between Mark and Duke continues to this day. This particular piece of music works in both the music and the lyrics.. and the piano sound on this recording is the perfect tonic.”

“I only discovered Daniel Lanois recently but already I’m deeply entrenched with his back catalogue. The sonic texture and beauty of this playing is a testament to his art and again, if reflecting back to ‘the blues’ this is a prime example of an artist constantly weaving and propelling his ideas and style with every album. Reworking magic. Daniel Lanois.”

John J Presley’s new album As The Night Draws In is out in January 2019. Discover more at johnjpresley.com

Interview: Opeth’s Mikael Åkerfeldt

December 9, 2018 in Interviews, Songwriting Magazine Winter 2017


Mikael: “If I don’t come up with something one day, or one month, or six months, I don’t stress out about it…”

God of extreme prog metal: not just one of the most highly acclaimed songwriters of his genre, a true legend

Mikael Åkerfeldt has a unique position within music. Revered among the world of progressive, extreme, and even classic metal, he and his band, Opeth, are one of the most successful exponents of a genre littered with enduringly well-selling acts. Not only that, though, he’s known critical acclaim for over 20 years and holds the position of being one of the most highly regarded songwriters and guitarists in the metal world.

Having formed Opeth in 1989, Åkerfeldt has released 12 albums with the band (the most recent being Sorceress, which was released in September 2016) and has been the driving force behind the group’s combination of death/black metal and prog/classic rock.

We caught up with Mikael during the tail end of Opeth’s 2017 European tour and discovered that at the beginning of the band’s career, he had to commit every song to memory, as he had no method of recording them – a unique challenge, especially considering that some of the tracks were 20 minutes long…

Opeth have been going for nearly 30 years. Do you have the same fire for this now as you did when you started?

“Probably not, not on tour anyway. When we play that’s the highlight of the day, but other than that I’m not really psyched about it – it’s just the same shit different day! But we hang out and we have a good time. When I was on my first tour, I was like 20, and the first tour we did 20 years ago, I was probably more excited about it. But the creative process in the band is something that I am still excited about, at least as excited and perhaps even more so.”

How does the creative process work in Opeth?

“I write the bulk of the stuff in-between touring cycles. If we have a world tour scheduled I don’t write in-between the tours, I write when everything is done and that’s just two shows away.”

And you’re planning the next album to be out in 2019?

“Ahhh, that’s just something the manager said! He just wants to have something in the diary. When I say ‘we’re going on a break.’ He’s like, ‘you deserve it. So when are you going to do the next album? Can we say 2019?’ So I was like, ‘probably not. But if it makes you feel better then yeah, for sure.’

“But I want to take my time. Because we have been constantly touring and we started fairly late, the record had been out for a while, before we started touring. But ever since we started it has been constant touring. Then straight into writing, recording, press touring. It’s never-ending! But you come to realise after a while, especially when you are not so excited about every tour, that you have the power to say no.”

Do you treat the writing process like a full-time job, or do you have a different method?

“Yeah, I have a good work ethic. I have my children every other week and when they’re with me I leave them at school at 08:00 and then go straight to the studio and I work until… everything I write is shit! And if I don’t have the kids I tend to drop in a bit later. So I don’t force it really, I just tend to come up with something if I spend a certain number of hours in the studio. And even if I erase stuff from the day before that’s still progress.”

Any step forward is a step in the right direction…

“Yeah, I mean, I have erased half a record before. I just wrote lots of stuff and decided to erase it and people were going, ‘that’s insane!’ But that was good for me, that was still progress.”

Do you find writing easy and natural or is it a process you have to break down technically?

“No, I just sit down and I play guitar! Or whatever is at hand. I can’t play piano but I have a keyboard, so if I come up with something that doesn’t work on guitar I try on the keyboard, or I try on the drum pads, I’ll try anything out to see how it goes!

“But sometimes it’s easy and sometimes it’s hard. I try not to treat it like a job, it’s a creative process. But touring is more of a job type thing, where you do virtually the same every day. I don’t get too stressed if I don’t come up with something one day, or one month, or six months. I don’t stress out about it, I just hope hat, eventually, it will be there. I just need two chords that sound nice and then off I go. If I have that then I can wait another couple of months until I get the next idea.”

Opeth in Songwriting Magazine

“I’m not sure if it would make more sense to be around in the 70s…if we were then we would probably start with skiffle music!”

Do you hear the other parts, instruments, of the song when you are writing?

“Yeah, I guess I do, but you are romanticising the whole idea. If you could see where I actually work, it is just like ‘oh, is that it ?!’ It’s not cosy, it’s just me sitting there. But yeah, you do hear stuff in your head, I guess. Sometimes I sit in my car when I’m taking the kids to school and I have a melody in my head. I can arrive at the studio and it’s all finished. Then I record it and listen to it and… it’s not a good idea! But then sometimes it’s great.

“When I talk about me writing, because I’m thinking about my idols, like Ritchie Blackmore [Deep Prple], it’s like he’s channelling spirits and comes up with this masterpiece, or whatever. But for me, I just write and every now and then something good comes out of it.”

Who else do you look towards for inspiration?

“It’s different. All the stuff I grew up with, like, I can be inspired by a fucking soap opera! But the music that I consume is rock and prog rock, of course, and some hard rock and metal. But also singer-songwriter stuff. I’ve also started listening to classical and more jazz. It doesn’t mean that I will write classical or jazz songs, but I do try to surround myself with music all of the time and I’m very restless. I want to move on and try other avenues and make myself inspired.”

You mentioned before that you thought Opeth should have been around in the 70s. How do you think you would have sounded if you had been around then?

“Probably not anything like how we sound today because most of our influences are from the 70s. I’m not sure if it would make more sense to be around in the 70s because if we were then we would probably start with skiffle music! It’s more a case that I’m thinking that if I had the knowledge that I had today and then time-travelled back to the 70s. I think that’s basically what I meant by saying that. I think the music then was more interesting, but I think that if you grew up with it you’d find it just as piss poor as I find contemporary music today.”

Are there any contemporary artists that you find interesting?

“I mean there are bands that I respect. But that doesn’t mean that I consume their music. But Steve Wilson (Porcupine Tree), of course, everything he does I’m interested in and I love most of it. Other than that, I’m not sure! But I have so many records back home that I don’t feel that I have the time to go digging around for new music and every time that I’ve tried I’ve been so utterly disappointed, you know, it’s nothing for me. It’s almost like a thing that when I listen to a new band I start listening for the reference, like, ‘oh they have taken that from there.’

“So I don’t really hear that much that’s interesting. But I’m not saying that it’s bad, just that it’s me that is fucked up! And I find so much more from back in the day that I instantly feel is interesting – I thoroughly believe that there was a more open mind to music back then. I think people are more eager to make it.”

Perhaps people now see music as a way to live an extravagant lifestyle?

“I think with artists today that they’re treating music as a way to become famous, as opposed to having this genuine love for music in general, and treat it as a way of becoming famous. Which is fine, I suppose. But me too, when I was a child I had these dreams of becoming successful, but there was also a genuine love for music. And I can’t speak for everyone today but, I don’t know what it is, there’s something lacking for me.”

Do you have a process for writing your lyrics?

“I have different methods, depending on where I was at the time. The first couple of records I just wrote nice stuff that looked good on paper and I didn’t really understand what it meant, and I still do that from time to time. But I wrote a few concept records to get away from that and because I kind of felt embarrassed by being asked that question, because I didn’t know what it was about and I was like, ‘fuck, I have to sort it out!’ So I wrote a few concept records. And even then I was confused myself about what it meant because it’s so heat-of-the-moment and I forget what it meant. It’s not like a riff that you just don’t forget how to play and you can always pick it up.

“But with a lyric, you have to explain them and to explain them is so much harder for me. And I’m not out to blow anyone’s mind with a clever lyric, and I’m not a good writer with lyrics, sometimes I get lucky and I write something that I think is good. But I don’t have any high opinions about myself when it comes to lyrics. But I wrote a few concept records and then ended up writing about more personal stuff, from the Watershed record onwards, perhaps a little bit before that too, which actually resulted in me getting more criticism about writing shit lyrics. When they actually meant something to me! So it’s ironic, I guess.”

Read further artist interviews, tips and techniques features, reviews and more in the Songwriting Magazine Winter 2017 edition > >

Interview: Damien Girling

MOBO Help Musicians Fund doubles prize money

December 8, 2018 in News

MOBO Founder and CEO, Kanya King, is excited about the support the fund can provide. Pic: Flickr

Now, in its second year, MOBO Help Musicians Fund will back another 20 artists while increasing the grant to £40,000

Last year’s pilot to provide funding to grassroots music creators was such a success that 20 more artists have been awarded grants. The MOBO Help Musicians Fund is a partnership between Help Musicians UK and MOBO Trust, and this year the prize money has been increased from £20,000 to £40,000.

The fund is designed to offer financial backing to promising emerging solo artists, groups, producers and songwriters from across the UK. The grant can be used to support the artist’s career, from recording studio time, PR campaigns, promotion, touring and merchandise. A committee of industry experts selected the winners from almost 200 applicants. The winning artists represent a wide range of genres including pop, rock, reggae, hip-hop, soul and jazz.

This year’s successful applicants are: Afro Sam, Amahla, Arieleno, Daniel Casimir, Empress Imani, Freya Roy, Mali Hayes, Melissa James, Mercy’s Cartel, Miryam Solomon, NoTTwins, Omahrose, PYJÆN, RUE, Saie/The Afro Romantic, SERAPHINA, Shunaji, Strange Bones, TrueMendous and YUN SEN.

“Supporting the next generation of exceptional talent across diverse genres is a huge part of achieving HMUK’s vision of a world where musicians thrive,” said Claire Gevaux, Help Musicians UK Director of Programme. “Because of the success of the pilot, we’ve been able to double the size of the MOBO Help Musicians Fund so that 20 artists can take their careers to the next level. We would like to thank our partner, MOBO Trust, for working with us again for this incredible second year and congratulate each and every artist recipient. We hope that the funding will truly make a difference to growing and developing their music careers.”

MOBO founder and CEO Kanya King CBE said: “We are very pleased with the fantastic work the judges have done. They have chosen a variety of fresh talent representing all these music genres which is a great reflection on the UK music scene. We are especially excited to see a higher level of entries coming from a wider range of artists from diverse and often underrepresented backgrounds.”

Interview: Vagabon

December 7, 2018 in Interviews, Songwriting Magazine Winter 2017


Vagabon: a featured interview in our Winter 2017 edition

Infinite songwriting wisdom: at the end of last year we highlighted the brilliant Laetitia ‘Vagabon’ Tamko as a breakthrough artist

Having released her brilliant debut album, Infinite Worlds to widespread acclaim earlier that year, Vagabon became one of the breakthrough artists of 2017. It’s no surprise either that Vagabon achieved such success. Her wonderful brand of bedroom indie-rock/folk, laced with electronic tinges, marked her as one of the most exciting artists to emerge from the scene in recent years.

As an artist who writes the parts of each instrument to feature in her music, Vagbon is a writer who truly takes responsibility for all parts of the songwriting process. And it shows. Her music is uniquely personal, tender, and refined.

We caught up with Vagabon during her European tour and asked her how her writing is affected by taking such an involved role in the songwriting process.

You were last in Bristol for Dot-to-Dot festival?

“Yeah, that was the first time that I was in the UK.”

How was it?

“It was amazing, I think that it spoiled me! It spoiled me for sure. People always come here, all of my friends and the musicians I know come here!”

How is your tour going?

“The tour is good. It’s stressful, I’m on month eight of touring this record. At this point you start to feel it [in your bones] and the things you have energy for are few and far between almost.”

Are all the things that used to be exciting now sort of a drag?

“No. That part, the things that are exciting are still exciting. I think what it is is that you’re too tired or stressed to enjoy a lot of things. And I’m all about the small wins – there’s my favourite flavour in the green room, that’s a win. So those things start being like, ‘Oh, yay!’ It all starts to become like an unwatered plant!”

The small wins are important, though, to keep you going. Mark Twain said, ‘start with the worst thing and then everything gets easier from there,’ but perhaps the opposite is true…

“That’s funny. I think I started with the most difficult thing, but then I’m also still finding difficult things. Maybe I should write a rebuttal to that theory.”

Do you find the time to write when you’re on tour?

“I try to. I’ve been playing some new songs on the US tour that I just got off and then went directly into this one. So, I’m gradually doing it but I’m also definitely looking forward to sitting down and getting reacquainted with the way that I write music, which is not in a van, and having time to let it marinate.”

What’s the process that you go through with writing: do you have a set way of going about things, or do you do it in a different way each time?

“I think that it varies. I only just released my first record this year. So I think that with time, with growth, and with changing, that there’s so much room for growth that I can go through. So nothing is a hard yes and nothing is a hard no.

“Right now I am writing very little because I am always in a van and am starting to get acclimated to writing in a van, and the kind of music that you can write in a van is very specific.

“So I think that it’s kind of an adjustment period. I know for next year that I need to have time off and I am a person that’s really into nesting, and self-care. I think that once I start to feel shaky that it’s time for me to sit down.”

How did you write Minneapolis?

“That’s actually the funniest story. I was writing a lot of songs in my bedroom and the songs on the record are ones that were conceived in my bedroom late at night. And that kind of didn’t start to show until I started to rearrange them, until I added drums and a cool bassline.

Minneapolis is one of the few songs that I didn’t write in my bedroom, I wrote it in my practice studio with amps going and a very defined tone. So those things didn’t come after, like all the other songs.”

In what way did that influence the sound of the song?

“I’m really particular about tone, and volume, and effects, right down to my live band. Like my live bassist, before she got hired she had a very specific tone. And I think that one of the perks that I have of knowing all of the instrument, of having played all of them, is that I know exactly what I want. That’s another reason that I hired musicians rather than being in a band, because I just already know how I want it to sound.

“So Minneapolis is the one song where, there’s this incredibly skilled bass player in New York and she played bass on this track, and I don’t let anyone touch my songs! But it just gravitated so much and even the scary guitar line where it stops and then counts to six.

“The setting just made it a different song. Like I had access to a different room and I could be really loud and experiment, and do all of this stuff and Minneapolis came out.

“Usually, in New York, I don’t have access to a room where I can be really loud and wail on drums. So you write the song and then you’re like ‘OK, I’ll practice this later.’ But it still has this vibe of working in closed spaces, with restrictions, and I like restrictions. I think that sometimes there is too much access and that equals too much of everything and everything then becomes boring if you have too much access to everything.”

You play all the instruments on Infinite Worlds. How does playing everything affect your writing?

“I taught myself how to play drums and bass and synth, and, I guess, how to use Logic. It was incredibly ridiculous to take all that on, but I’m really glad that I did. Because I knew what kind of musician I wanted to be and I needed the agency to be that kind of musician – if I wanted to tell people how to play then one I needed the language, two I needed the knowledge, and three I needed the respect, from myself and the person that I’m delegating to, to be able to do that.

“It was, of course, really difficult and trying, but I’m really proud of what I’ve done. I’m really proud that some of my favourite drummers cannot play a beat that I wrote, or that they have a hard time with it, because it’s the instrument that I’ve been playing for the shortest amount of time and it shows me that I’ve really put the work in.

“For me it was more about having creative control and agency that no one can take away from me, so that even if all my equipment broke (though, I’d be upset) I could just go out on the stage and play. I have a set that I can play by 39 myself that I’m completely ready to play and which I feel great about.

“It was really important to me to have that, where I knew that my career as a musician, as Vagabon, is me – you hear about too many bands that break up and I didn’t want that. So I just did it in the most stubborn way that I could which was teach yourself everything and then it’s yours!”

Do you get a different, lesser, or greater enjoyment out of playing on your own, as opposed to being in a band?

“I get greater enjoyment most of the time. And you might be getting this answer because you’re asking me at a time when everything is breaking! The one thing that I have which I feel like I can connect with people is my singing, so when I get frustrated that all these robot machines are breaking I just crave that simplicity. And I always mix playing solo into my set, even when things are working, and play at least three songs on my own because I just enjoy the intimacy and hear the songs played in the way that they are meant to be heard.”

Interview: Damien Girling

Read further tips and techniques features, artist interviews, reviews and more in the Songwriting Magazine Winter 2017 edition > >

Interview: DeVotchKa’s Nick Urata

December 5, 2018 in Features, Interviews

DeVotchKa. Pic: Jen Rosenstein

Nick (centre-left) and DeVotchKa: “I always dreamed of writing scores and used that as an influence.” Pic: Jen Rosenstein

The Colorado-based quartet’s frontman talks about making their cinematic indie music and scoring award-winning movies ‘Little Miss Sunshine’ and ‘Paddington’

Originally a backing band for burlesque shows, the genre-defying ensemble from Denver, DeVotchKa, broke out in 2006 when they scored much of the Academy Award-winning movie, Little Miss Sunshine. The opportunity led to a run of critically acclaimed albums and sold out shows across the US and Europe, including performing to 80,000 people at the Stade de France in support of Muse.

The band’s multi-instrumentalist frontman and founder Nick Urata has also gone on to score more than 25 films including Paddington, Crazy Stupid Love, Whiskey Tango Foxtrot, Ruby Sparks, and Focus. Nick recently collaborated with Neil Patrick Harris to create the theme song for Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events, as well as several other original songs performed by the cast.

As DeVotchKa announced the UK release of their latest album, we took the opportunity to chat with Nick about making music with the band alongside working on soundtracks. But it turned out he was visiting our country for a different reason…

What brings you to London?

“It’s been a long time in the making, I was very blessed to land the gig of scoring the movie Paddington, which is near and dear to many. The producers always wanted to perform the score live, so we’ve been working on it for a couple of years now, and we’re going to debut it on Sunday at the Theatre Royal.”

Is this a one-off event or a series of performances?

“This is the premiere and we’re going to take it cities around Europe and Asia. If it goes well!”

I’m sure it will. We’d like to talk more about your recent film work, but first take us back to your earliest memories of writing and composing music.

“I’ve always been attracted to music and fascinated with it. I was lucky enough to come from a musical family and I started banging on the piano as early as I could – I was four or five years old. I started studying music in school and I was always trying to come up with my own sound, and come up with stories. Part of it was because I wasn’t very good at playing other people’s music! Then I got into rock bands when I came to high school age and always served as the arranger in all the bands I’ve been in. Like many songwriters probably say, the first 100 or so songs are pretty awful!”

Do you remember being influenced by movie soundtracks at that point?

“Yeah, I think that was my early attraction to music. I always loved soundtrack music. In fact, I used to buy soundtrack albums when I was a kid. Laurance Of Arabia was probably my first one, I loved that. I also used to sit in front of the TV with my cassette recorder and record my favourite movies for the score. I remember The Guns Of Navarone was an awesome one that I loved. So I always dreamed of writing scores and used that as an influence for our sound when I got to be in DeVotchKa. The rest of the guys in the band are also huge soundtrack fans, and we always aimed to let that guide our recording and writing styles. I don’t know if it came through, but some people have described us as ‘cinematic’ so maybe we got some of the ideas across. We must’ve done something right because our third self-released album [How It Ends] was when we attracted the directors of Little Miss Sunshine.”

Were you trying to get the attention of the film industry at all with your earlier releases?

“Oh no, we really just wanted to apply our love for soundtracks. As I said, I always dreamed of writing scores and directing films, so I figured we could make little films without a camera.”

DeVotchKa. Pic: Jen Rosenstein

Nick (far right) and the band: “We’ve dragged in many talented people to help us!” Pic: Jen Rosenstein

So how did it happen with Little Miss Sunshine?

“That was really lucky. Early on we found a friend at a non-commercial public radio station called KCRW, based in Los Angeles, and they’re a great supporter of all music. They started playing our record and the directors happened to hear it one Saturday morning, and something sparked in their mind about the sound of the film. So we became friends and started collaborating.

What was it that they heard first?

“They told me it was You Love Me, and I guess they must’ve spied on us at a few gigs without introducing themselves, which is pretty funny! I’m glad because we would’ve blown it if we knew there were Hollywood directors in the crowd!”

So that became your first shot at writing a movie soundtrack. How did you approach it, collaborating with composer Mychael Danna?

“Luckily, of course, Mychael is hugely experienced and generous, and guided us through the hard learning curve from being in a band and having nothing but time on your hands, to all of a sudden having very hard deadlines and strict confines, sometimes. So he was very helpful in guiding us through the process.”

What did you learn from that process? Is there anything you know now that you wish you’d known then?

“I’d say, don’t wait around for someone to come knocking. I guess that was the best thing we did, despite playing my first few recordings to some friends – who were actually in the music industry – and them saying, ‘Don’t quit the day job!’ That being said, go out and make your own records. I think, since we started it’s become easier to make your own record, and one of our blessings was the internet, sharing and social media. For all indie bands, that’s opened it up – you don’t need the traditional record labels. So just get your stuff out there and if you have friends making short films or student documentaries, score whatever you can and say ‘yes’ to every opportunity.”

When you’re scoring for different films, is the process very similar, or does each movie involve a different approach?

“The basic framework is pretty much the same. The funny thing is, the score is always the last thing to be done, so it’s usually given the least time and resources. So you have that extra pressure. But basically you get a rough cut that they’re still editing, they show you where they want music and what kind of music they’re thinking of, then it’s up to you, you’re off to the races. It’s a very collaborative process: at that point, the director and everybody are so immersed in the film, you can’t just come in and bang out some stuff on the piano without paying close attention to the story, the performances, the dialogue, and the tone of the film.”

How about when you’re writing music to record and release as a band? Is that a collaborative process as well, or do you tend to get together when you’ve got a finished song?

“It varies. There are some songs that you get attached to and they’re completely finished, and then there are some that are completely collaborative. I have great collaborators, so it’s been a healthy relationship that way.”

Has that relationship evolved over the 18 or so years you’ve been together?

“Yeah, I think in the beginning I was leaned on a little bit more, but then as the others felt more confident in their contributing roles it became more productive.”

Is DeVotchKa still mainly you, Tom, Jeanie and Shawn?

“That’s the core, but we’ve certainly opened up to a universe of friends and collaborators along the way. We’ve dragged in many talented people to help us!”

DeVotchKa. Pic: Manmade Media

Nick (far left) and DeVotchKa: “Go out and get yourself djembe or anything that’s new to you.” Pic: Manmade Media

Tell us about the latest album, how that came together. How do you find it jumping into different projects?

“I guess this album is a great culmination of my foray into scoring films, the reality of that, and the reality of keeping a band together. It definitely clashed in the last couple of years when I was trying to finish these songs, so it sort of became an amalgamation of the two, where I realised if I was ever going to finish this, I would have to somehow join the forces. So at the same time I was arranging for films, I’d slip in arrangements for DeVotchKa, and kept developing that. It took a little longer than usual, but I think the results are pretty unique.”

Your style is still pretty distinctive and cinematic – the album could very easily be a soundtrack – but it manages to stand alone as a piece of music. Is that a tricky balance to strike?

“Well, yeah, I’m glad it came across that way. You never know from our perspective how it’s going to be received, but that was the hope: that it wouldn’t be too ‘soundtracky’ or too poppy! I’d always had the best luck when the lyrics drove the song, and where the music went together I wanted to be sure that each one of these was the same. From my experience, with the band, that’s been the best way to let the lyrics pave the way for the music. It just happens better and people seem to connect with it a little bit more – I spent a great deal of time editing and waiting for the right lyrics to come along. For me, it’s a very hard thing to force; lyrics are such a tricky part of this.”

Does that mean there’s a clearer narrative running through those songs?

“Yeah, yeah, I mean that’s the goal: to have a clear narrative and story. I ran into this problem where some of the songs were languishing because I couldn’t finish a certain line, or find the right word, which is probably my biggest flaw. So that’s something I haven’t learned yet, but I do find if you show up every day and try, whatever that benevolent force is that feeds you good stuff will throw you a few crumbs every now and then!”

Where do you like to write and compose?

“You always dream of being at a desk or in the studio, or someplace comfortable, but inspiration sometimes strikes at inopportune moments. I used to sometimes call my voicemail and leave songs there, or scribble it on cocktail napkins. I find the best stuff comes to you when you’re ill-prepared – you’ve got to be ready somehow. My biggest fear is you’ll forget something cool that comes to you.”

How about when you’re developing an idea? How do you set up your environment to help you create?

“I do like to sequester myself. That’s what’s so great about touring – as much as you go kicking and screaming once you’re outside your confines and comfort zones, some creative stuff starts to happen. I don’t know why that is, but I find that travelling and walking always seems to enhance that.”

You can play a long list of weird and wonderful instruments – have you ever written a song with anything crazy like a bouzouki or a theremin?

“That’s one of the reasons why I dabble with other instruments. I think that’s another key if we’re talking about inspiration: go out and get yourself djembe or anything that’s new to you. If you’re stuck in a rut, I always find that if you go to junk shop or garage sale and pick something up that you’ve never played before, it helps to get things going.”

And finally, if you could’ve written the score to any movie, or if there was a dream movie that hasn’t been made yet that you could write the soundtrack for, what would it be?

“Oh man! I guess the dream movie, er… I guess the last film that Stanley Kubrick never got to finish, starring Marlon Brando or James Dean, or Gregory Peck. To work with those heroes that are gone, that have shaped all of our landscapes, I think would be a dream for anybody.”

Interview: Aaron Slater

DeVotchKa’s new album This Night Falls Forever is out now. Watch the lyric video for the lead single Straight Shot below. Find out more about Nick and the band at devotchka.net

Don’t diminish the use of diminished & augmented chords

December 4, 2018 in Songwriting Magazine Winter 2017, Tips & Techniques

DIM & AUG chords

James Linderman coaches songwriting over Skype and is an Academic Ambassador to Berklee College of Music

Songwriting coach James Linderman advises on the best use of these lesser-known chords, and how they can ‘augment’ your song

Contemporary songwriters sometimes come to hear about diminished and augmented chords… and some even know one or two, usually because at one time or another they had to play a ragtime styled piece or a holiday classic like Frosty The Snowman. And there it was, a G#dim in bar six of the eight-bar bridge.

In this article, we are going to have a look at the role diminished and augmented chords might play in writing a contemporary song and how they can help the right section of your chord progression really make a bold and evocative statement.


To get started, it helps to have a bit of an understanding of what diminished and augmented chords even are, and also how they fit into the understanding of chord chemistry that you might already possess. There are four basic chord qualities, or chord personalities if you will!

  • Major – happy
  • Minor – sad
  • Diminished – anxious
  • Augmented – the sound a hangover might make (if a hangover was a chord!)

The two-chord qualities from the above list, that you are probably most familiar with, and use the most are the major and minor chords. They are a songwriters bread and butter and they help the lyrics and melody create a mood that is either happy or sad or a nuanced blend of those two broader feelings. A great use for a diminished chord in your progression would be something like this from a song in the key of D.

G / A / A#DIM / BM

This example comes from the Orleans song Dance With Me and interestingly enough, just like in Frosty The Snowman, this diminished chord can be found in the 6th bar of the eight-bar bridge section. This four-bar section provides a lift that can be attributed, firstly, to starting out on the G chord, that then lifts to the A chord which is dominant in the key of D and creates a lot of initial tension. That tension, however, is then made greater by the A#dim chord lifting chromatically from the A bass note to the A# bass note before resolving to the Bm with a B bass note.

Play through this set of four chords repeatedly and listen for the rise in tension and the release of that tension on the Bm and then project how you might use this chord change in one of your own songs, maybe by taking a song that is already written and inserting an A#dim between an A chord and a Bm. In the Orleans song, this chord section is played under a melody that rises with the increase in harmonic tension and then falls with the Bm resolution and the lyrics are about being taken “where you want to go” which is an uplifting sentiment. This has all of the elements of the song; lyric, melody and chord progression all working together for a single unified effect on the listener. That is the goal!


Augmented chords can be great in what is called a ‘vamp’. There are some confusing, and sometimes even conflicting, explanations for what a vamp might actually encompass but for our purposes here we are going to use the most widely agreed on definition and that is (paraphrased) that one or two chords (or a small number of chords) move back and forth in a short time frame. A two-chord vamp is considered the convention, so it is what we will look at here.


This vamp gets repeated for a majority of a songs section, such as six bars of an eight-bar verse frame. This example is taken from the Danny O’Keefe song The Road that was more famously recorded by Jackson Browne. The song is about how life on the road for a musician is an unreal world and this “hangover” sounding vamp helps create a backdrop that is supported by the melody and lyric content. Try and extend and contract the duration of each of the chords changing them slower and faster and see how easily they can be extracted from this source song and made adaptable to another songwriting opportunity. Of course, Danny O’Keefe did not invent this chord change and so, just like you, he has come across it and found a new use for it back when he wrote The Road.

He follows this six bars of vamp with two bars of a dropping bass movement that walks through chords from the key (key of C) and it is interesting to note that O’Keefe alters his chord system substantially for the refrain bars at the end of the verse. So, just as he moves towards the title of the song he adds this new chord system and larger chord movement to get the listener’s attention pulling them out of the kind of hypnotic tunnel vision effect that a two-chord vamp has created.

Read further tips and techniques features, artist interviews, reviews and more in the Songwriting Magazine Winter 2017 edition > >

On The Stereo #26

December 3, 2018 in Music

Gum Takes Tooth

Gum Takes Tooth: stir us from our collective malaise. Pic: Al Overdrive

We single out new tunes from Gum Takes Tooth, Dolly Parton, Ariana Grande, Mandarin Orange, Pace and The Burning Hell

Rocket Recordings

A manipulated drumbeat that’s dragged from a dystopian nightmare propels this scuzzy call to arms. It’s a bludgeoning electro-psych alarm which is strangely pleasing to be battered by. If Gum Takes Tooth’s purpose is to stir us from our collective malaise, you can consider us roused. DH

Universal Records

2018 has been absolutely massive for Ariana Grande and she is rounding out the year in style with her stunning new release. The track has struck a chord with fans all over the world and proves she has one of the finest voices in the industry. This is a compelling listen and one that highlights Grande’s overall appeal. LK

Melody Records

At the heart of this catchy indie track is a welcome reminder that we should all appreciate the little things we have in life. The infectious melody and Jamie Ley’s uplifting vocals carry the message home and Bernard Butler brings some serious pedigree to production duties. We’re certainly cherishing this one. DH

Yep Roc Records

Golden Embers expresses the pain of grief and the frustration born from putting on a brave face for the people around you. The song explores those emotions and the journey of rebuilding fractured lives and relationships in the face of death with an Americana-folk backing track and exquisite vocal harmonies. DC

RCA Records Label Nashville

Country legend Dolly Parton has released a stunning new version of her worldwide smash hit. The lush string arrangement adds another layer to what is already an iconic track and proves Parton has still got what it takes to impress. This new version will blow you away. LK


With parent album Baby being given a 10th anniversary reissue, now is a perfect chance to remind ourselves of the strengths of Mathias Kom’s songwriting. Over a galloping lo-fi track (complete with 8-bit SFX) his humorous lyrics are enough to make you look forward to the approaching end of days, almost. DH

Words: Laura Klonowski, Duncan Haskell, Dave Chrzanowski

Listen to these songs and other On The Stereo selections on the Songwriting Magazine Spotify ‘Music Reviewed’ playlist.

What to do when the muse goes missing

December 2, 2018 in Songwriting Magazine Winter 2017, Tips & Techniques

When The Muse Goes Missing

Great when you’re in a relationship with your muse and ideas are flowing but what do you do when the muse goes missing?

Nashville songwriter and mentor Mark Cawley shares some tactics for reviving those elusive creative juices when you’ve lost the flow

It sucks when you sit down to write, you have the time, you have the will, you have the tools and… nothing. Nothing for hours, nothing for days. You beat yourself up and the critic takes centre stage. “How did you ever come up with anything in the first place?” “What makes you think someone will actually want to record your song?” “You call yourself a songwriter… really?”.

Lots of names for this, probably the most familiar is writer’s block. You’ve also heard writers refer to their “muse” usually talking about it as if it were a woman who provides inspiration. Great when you’re in a relationship with your muse and ideas are flowing but what do you do when the muse goes missing?


First of all I would say, if you’re depending on inspiration in the form of a muse, you’re already in trouble. You may be inspired sometimes and come up with something that feels almost like you were guided but the truth is if you plan to do this as a career you can’t depend on the muse being around 24/7. So what do you do? You prepare. You prepare for the times that you want to write but don’t feel that divine inspiration. Great when inspiration shows up but you can get old and poor waiting!


Over the years I picked up lots of tips from writers and artists I’ve worked with about this subject and ways to deal with it. For instance, deciding to be intentional in your search for lines and titles. Things that could make their way into your writing at a later date. Wandering down bookstore aisles, watching TV and movies with a pad and pen waiting for that one great line. Taping the smallest of ideas, snippets of melodies, conversations, anything that might take the place of the muse for a day and get you writing. Keeping a running list of lines, titles and ideas and keeping it nearby can get you unstuck and the truth is, if you like something enough to write it down or record it in the first place, there might just be some magic there that you can tap into later. Thinking of your path as a writer’s life instead of a day at a time, more like a marathon than a sprint, can begin to ease the pressure of a bad writing day. It’s hard enough looking at a blank piece of paper but if you’re waiting on your muse to show up to get you going it can be a loooooong day.


Try using some tools to get you unstuck. Switch instruments, try creating your melody away from your instrument, deconstruct songs you love, spend a day just listening, immersing yourself in one artist. Once you decide this stuff is every bit as valuable as the days in front of your computer, keyboard or guitar it actually starts to be freeing. Less pressure. I might not be telling you anything you don’t already know, but putting these things into practice and perspective is the deal. It’s a revelation to find that the muse is just one of the tools available to you as a songwriter. I promise if you focus on learning more and more tools, the next time the muse goes missing you might not even miss her!

Read further tips and techniques features, artist interviews, reviews and more in the Songwriting Magazine Winter 2017 edition > >

BST Hyde Park festival announces headliners for 2019

December 1, 2018 in Events, News

Neil Young

Neil Young will headline BST Hyde Park 2019 alongside Bob Dylan. Pic: Press shot, The Outside Organisation

Organisers of British Summer Time Hyde Park promise ‘historic night’ as they reveal two music heavyweights will share headline slot

As 2018 draws to a close, next year’s festivals are already on the lips of music fans everywhere. British Summer Time Hyde Park has added to the excitement by announcing Bob Dylan and Neil Young as joint headliners for 2019. The show will take place on Friday 12 July, with plenty more acts to be revealed in the coming months.

Bob Dylan is a 10 times Grammy Award winner, including Album Of The Year for 1997’s Time Out Of Mind. While Neil Young’s classic albums include Harvest, After The Gold Rush and On The Beach. Both artists are still attracting fans with new music. Both artists released albums in 2017 to critical acclaim, with Young’s Hitchicker peaking at No 6 in the UK album chart.

Returning for its eighth year, the event has solidified its reputation for booking the world’s biggest artists. Last year saw The Rolling Stones grace Hyde Park, once again. Carole King performed her classic album Tapestry in full, while there were comebacks for The Strokes and The Libertines, with The Cure, Roger Waters, Bruno Mars and Eric Clapton making up the numbers.

“Barclaycard presents British Summer Time has always tried to deliver the greatest possible one-off live experiences for music fans in London,” said James King, AEG Presents Senior Vice President. “Being able to bring together two of the biggest cultural icons together for this historic day of music counts as possibly the biggest event we have ever delivered in Hyde Park.”

Tickets are on sale now with prices starting at £75 per person. For more information visit bst-hydepark.com

Ask The Experts: Paul Gray of the MU

November 30, 2018 in Interviews, Songwriting Magazine Winter 2017, Tips & Techniques

Ask The Experts - Paul Gray

We put your frequently-asked questions to industry specialist, Paul Gray

We put some frequently-asked questions on royalty splits and songwriters’ rights to The Damned bassist and Musicians’ Union regional officer

While the title ‘songwriter’ can often conjure images of a solitary writer-for-hire, it can be a collaborative process and we all know of the many famous partnerships such as Elton John & Bernie Taupin. But what about when the people you are writing with – and perhaps for – are also the people you will be spending cooped up in a tour van with for days, weeks or even months and years?

To help explore the do’s and don’ts of songwriting in a band, who better to share their insight than Paul Gray of the Musicians’ Union (MU). As the MU’s Regional Organiser for Wales and South West England, Paul advises musicians on all aspects of their career on a daily basis. Paul is also an accomplished musician in his own right having been a member (and writer) of legendary bands Eddie & The Hot Rods, UFO and The Damned…

Are there any particular pitfalls to watch out for when it comes to songs and bands?

Songs are really your babies so it’s easy to take negative comments personally. Most bands fall out because someone has earned more from writing or got more credits than someone else and unfortunately it can become pretty poisonous. It can also be down to “well if they’ve got x amount of songs going on the album, then I want x amount too”, irrespective of the fact that they might not be as good or suitable… that’s where strong characters can become damaging to band dynamics. There’s no easy answer to this other than trying to be as open and honest with each other in a constructive way. If things deteriorate to the point of arguments of ownership of band assets (merchandise, amps, branding) then the MU has trained Officials who can offer mediation provided you’re all members.

Should I always focus what I write on my current band’s sound?

I’ve always written for myself, sometimes taking into account the band I’ve been in at the time, but often not. Funnily enough songs I’ve written whilst in one band have often been used in another – for example, I wrote a song called Hit Or Miss whilst in Eddie & the Hot Rods that had a fairly loose bluesy Stones-type feel to it. When I later joined The Damned they took it, sped it up a considerably and put their own inimitable interpretation onto it which changed the feel completely. Likewise, songs I wrote with The Damned in mind – but were turned down or never used – subsequently ended up on a UFO album.

Is there a ‘right’ way for songwriting royalties to be split between bandmates?

Writer contributions can actually be one of the hardest areas to agree on in my experience and are often overlooked or not asserted at the time of writing.
In my period with The Damned we split every song four equal ways. We all had lots of ideas as writers, distributed songs we’d recorded on our four-track recorders to each other in advance of studio time, and made a pretty unique band sound between the four of us, so it made sense to share in the spoils and stopped those “he’s got more songs / making more money than me” arguments arising. That only really works if everyone is contributing and if you think you have something really special and of value going.

When should credits on a song be agreed?

Often bands will have little idea of the value of copyrights in the early days – it’s only if and when a song may later become successful, and possibly earn a considerable amount for the writer or writers credited, that someone else who may have contributed to the process realises that they’ve really lost out. I’d always strongly advise that as soon as a song has been written as a collaboration that the writers involved use one the MU’s free Songshare Agreements so that each writer’s contribution and share in that song is agreed at the time of writing. Those shares can later be used to register with PRS and MCPS and will avoid future contention over the far too common “who wrote what” scenario.

We’re recording an album, should the producer be entitled to a share of the writing royalties?

For artists starting off this can be a difficult area to understand and agree on, especially if the producer is also the studio owner, as is often the case, and there is a fall-out, and the producer demands a share of writing before releasing the WAV files or master tracks. You need to consider what exactly is the producer’s role in the process and what are they bringing to the table? I have a Jane’s Addiction album where Bob Ezrin is credited as co-writer on every track. Conversely, Steve Lillywhite is quoted as saying he’d never ask for songwriting points or credit, even though he’s a very energetic and hands-on producer – probably the most hands-on I’ve worked with in 40 years. These things need to be discussed and put clearly into writing at the outset of any relationship which is where the MU can assist.

How can I best protect my rights?

Musicians are great at the creative side but not great at the business stuff – that’s when trade union membership is crucial. If the services the MU offers had been available when I started out in the mid-1970s, I’d have been able to get free legal advice before signing all the terrible contracts myself and my bandmates ended up agreeing to without a clue what the implications were and would be considerably better off as a result. They’re often unaware of how all the bits of the music industry jigsaw fit together, and even that the copyright in your words and music lasts for your lifetime plus 70 years. Get that wrong at the start, and you’ve potentially signed away a fortune.

Find other artist interviews, tips, reviews and more in the Songwriting Magazine Winter 2017 edition > >

How I wrote ‘MMMBop’ by Hanson

November 27, 2018 in Interviews, Songwriting Magazine Winter 2017

How I wrote 'MMMBop' by Hanson

Hanson on how they wrote MMMBop: “It was a thing that we all kept coming back to”

Isaac Hanson, the eldest of the sibling trio, tells the story of his group’s chart-topping blockbuster with the super-catchy chorus

When you think of the band Hanson, the first song that springs to mind is MMMBop. Having crashed into our musical consciousness in April of 1997, this catchy pop brainteaser quickly took on a life of its own, reaching No 1 in 27 countries. In the UK alone it sold over 700,000 units – thus making Isaac, Zac and Taylor, the three Hanson brothers, household names.

Few could have predicted the impact this song would have had around the world, especially the brothers themselves, and after 20 years its melody and chorus remain as catchy as ever. When you study the melancholy nature of the lyrics it’s hard to believe that it was actually written in 1993/94, before any of the band had even entered their teenage years.

We chatted to the eldest Hanson bother Issac about how the song originally came together…

MMMBop single cover

Released: 1997
Artist: Hanson
Label: Mercury/PolyGram
Songwriter(s): Isaac, Taylor & Zak Hanson
UK chart position: 1
US chart position: 1

“Interestingly MMMBop kind of came together in a very similar way to Thinking About Something, which was written in 2007 during the writing of our album The Walk. We were just goofing around and this idea came about, we originally thought about it being a 50s vocal group style thing in the way that it had been arranged. It was just this fun little passing idea but it just stuck in our heads and then fans would come up to us and say ‘you guys really need to put that on the next record.’

MMMBop was the same kind of process, it was an idea that we had when we were making our album Boomerang back in 1993/1994. It was a vocal idea we thought was going to fit in another song called Boomerang, but it didn’t fit. It was too complicated, it wasn’t a background part it was a foreground part and so it got put to the side, but it was a thing that we all kept coming back to.

“Interestingly, and this would be the only degree that I could take credit for this process moving forward, I was definitely the one who kept bringing up the idea, ‘hey remember that idea, that was really cool.’ By saying that enough times Taylor then went ‘you know the idea that you keep bringing up? how about this?’

“We had talked about the idea a bunch and were talking about making another independent record, we were starting to get things together and that idea came up again. Taylor said ‘you know that background part, hey what if you did this with the first verse?’ and I was like ‘dude that’s really cool.’

“I remember really clearly Taylor sitting down in our living room at the keyboard as I was walking. It was late afternoon and the sun was still up. Taylor was sitting at the piano and he basically played what was mostly the first verse for MMMBop, and it was like ‘ok, that works, that makes sense.’ But he was like ‘you know we’ve got to start it out slow because its a bittersweet idea, more melancholy, and then we work our way to the chorus.’

“In its original form, it was a little bit more campfire and a little bit more bittersweet. That original version is on MMMBop [demo album released 1996] and 3 Car Garage: The Indie Recordings ’95–’96. When we did the final version it was very clear that it was very catchy and really stuck out as an idea and melody that was going to stick in people’s heads. It stuck in our heads, so it’s reasonable to think it would stick in other people’s heads too. But knowing whether or not it was going to have the level of success it had, there’s no way anyone could have predicted that.

“Also in addition to that, at least for me, especially at the very beginning, I remember still feeling that even though I was very happy with the final version I did find myself wishing that we had more of the tempo swell from the beginning. By starting off at the full BPM right from the beginning, there was a little bit of, well people won’t fully understand the message of the lyric and I remember feeling that people wouldn’t understand what this song is about and all they’ll hear is the chorus.

“To some degree that is true, which is that the chorus is such a specific thing because it’s scatty it’s not a lyric. It goes back to what I was saying before, unfortunately, the lyric in the verse gets lost because the lyric in the chorus is just a vocal riff.

“I think a lot of the music that we make, despite its pop and R&B roots, there’s a lot of different songs that a lot of different people have connected with over the years. We feel very happy with everything that we have done, whether it’s MMMBop or anything else.”

Read more artist interviews, tips, reviews and more in the Songwriting Magazine Winter 2017 edition > >

On The Stereo #25

November 26, 2018 in Music

Me And My Friends

Me And My Friends: infusing styles from around the world from West Africa to the Carribean

Me And My Friends, Brad Paisley, Daniel Steinbock, Society Of The Silver Cross, The Yada Yada Yadas and Vic Allen

Split Shift Records

Shakers at the ready: the latest single from this eclectic outfit is a carnival of sounds. Infusing styles from around the world from West Africa to the Carribean; the sensual draw of the cello and graceful vocals are enticing and addictive. This song will warm anyone’s cockles this winter. DC

Arista Nashville

The golden boy of country returns a guitar driven country track filled with a lush arrangement and standout lyrics. Paisley’s one of the most talented artists around and this release showcases his talents to the max. Bucked Off will be on heavy rotation for some time. LK


There’s a sense of peace and spirituality about this laid-back number which makes perfect sense when you discover that it was written while Daniel Steinbock was travelling in the Himalayas, visiting Buddhist temples. The backing vocals of the Rainbow Girls only enhance the good vibes. DH

Silent Kid Records

The Yada Yada Yadas return with a barnstorming, anthemic new single, guaranteed to gain them a whole host of new fans. It has a rather old school Busted vibe and it’s a real standout from a band well and truly on the rise. It has compelling lyrics and a thumping bass beat that has hit written all over it. LK


Layers of instrumentation ebb and flow to mesmerizing effect on this debut song from the Seattle-based band. Joe Reineke’s recurrent vocals become part of the ensemble as they emerge from within the swell on a cyclical basis. We’re intrigued to hear more in 2019. DH


Vic Allen is an exciting new UK country talent and, with the release of this stunning folk-infused single, she breaks new ground and puts herself on the map as the next big thing. Gorgeous guitar riffs and country lyrics overlayed with Vic’s powerful lyrics should make this an instant fan favourite. LK

Words: Laura Klonowski, Duncan Haskell, Dave Chrzanowski

Listen to these songs and other On The Stereo selections on the Songwriting Magazine Spotify ‘Music Reviewed’ playlist.

How I wrote ‘Boogie Wonderland’ by Allee Willis

November 25, 2018 in Interviews, Songwriting Magazine Winter 2017

Boogie Wonderland

Allee Willis on writing Boogie Wonderland: “In our heads it wasn’t really a club but a state of mind”

The disco classic from Earth, Wind & Fire might have sounded very different if it wasn’t for Allee Willis’ insistence

To sum up the career of Allee Willis is a daunting task. Her life in songwriting is impressive enough, having sold over 50 million records with tracks for Earth, Wind & Fire, Patti LaBelle, The Pet Shop Boys and more, as well as co-writing I’ll Be There For You, the theme to the television behemoth Friends. But Willis’ achievements don’t end there. She has also co-authored a Broadway adaptation of The Color Purple and worked as an artist and designer (often under her alter ego ‘Bubbles’). Her most recent project was to create a new theme song for Detroit, the city of her birth. Called The D, it was recorded over the course of five years and features contributions from over 5000 of the city’s natives.

To focus on just one of those achievements seems slightly wasteful, but that’s exactly what we’re doing in order to learn the story behind the disco classic Boogie Wonderland. Though the song is now synonymous with Earth, Wind & Fire things could have been very different had Willis and co-writer Jon Lind liked the version originally cut by Curtis, The Brothers. Thankfully though, it was left to Maurice White and his band to create the version of the song that we all know and love.

So it’s over to Allee to take us through the creation of her disco anthem and the struggles she had with a hi-hat-happy drummer!

Boogie Wonderland single

Released: 1979
Artist: Earth, Wind & Fire
Label: ARC/Columbia
Songwriter(s): Allee Willis and Jon Lind
UK chart position: 4
US chart position: 6

“I co-wrote the song with Jon Lind. I’m a fanatical archivist and I save everything, so I know it was actually written on March 27th and 28th of 1978 and we demoed it the next week. We wrote it at my place in LA. I’ve always collected a lot of pop culture stuff from the 50s, 60s and 70s, so the atmosphere in
my place is always a very fun environment to write in. I always wrote both music and lyrics and like working with people who would also write both music and lyrics and you just sit there and pound it out. I don’t play an instrument though, so I hear everything in my head, but it was definitely written on Jon’s acoustic guitar.

“The word ‘boogie’ was everywhere in pop and dance music and we wanted to write a song for Earth, Wind and Fire which used that word but not in the way that everyone else was using it – which meant to shake your booty. I had just seen the movie Looking For Mr Goodbar with Diane Keaton. She’s a lost soul who doesn’t really have a great sense of herself. She goes out to the disco and picks up a different guy every night. At one point in the movie, she’s so reckless that she brings home a guy who the audience is led to believe could be a serial killer. We decided to make the song about someone who does not have it together during the day but at night they walk into the disco and their life miraculously changes. They can lose themselves in dance for as long as they’re at the club. I felt like that was a fairly typical situation for a lot of people who were going out to dance every night.

“In our heads, it wasn’t really a club but a state of mind, but we got out the phone book and started looking up names of clubs and bars to try and get a cool name. The original one that we used was ‘Johnny’s Casino Lounge’ and that actually was the first line of the chorus. We thought that the song sounded so incredible but didn’t have an incredible title. Neither one of us remembers who stumbled on Boogie Wonderland first, but it was one of those things where the second someone said it, it was like ‘oh my god!’

“We decided to make the verse very dark, like there was something haunting about it, and then when it gets to the chorus it should sound happy, bright and uplifting. It’s almost like a very profound mood shift. People tell me that it’s a song which makes them very happy. I always say to them ‘well have you listened to the lyrics because it’s actually a very deep and depressing song?’ I always loved to take very poppy dance music and put really heavy lyrics into it. It never really mattered to me whether people got that or not. I’m proud because it really is a song that appears to be one thing but is actually something else. And I think the mood that we wanted to convey is definitely there.

“When we went into the studio to make the demo I was adamant that I did not want that typical hi-hat anywhere in the song as I didn’t want it to sound like a typical disco record. The drummer we had was pretty famous and he would not keep his stick off the hi-hat. He would not listen to me even though I said it 15 times, ‘do not go to the hi-hat!’ Finally, Jon got up and walked into the studio and physically removed the entire hi-hat so the guy could not play it. So the whole rest of the session he was giving me the evil eye. When that song became a hit without that stupid hi-hat on it I thought ‘I showed him.’ I only realised years later that he wasn’t listening to the women, that the women couldn’t be the producer, it had to be the guy!’”

Read more artist interviews, tips, reviews and more in the Songwriting Magazine Winter 2017 edition > >

Taylor Swift Joins Universal Music Group roster

November 24, 2018 in News

Taylor Swift

Taylor Swift: The new deal marks a new chapter in the singer’s career. Pic: Bserin/Wikimedia Commons

The ‘Shake It Off’ singer leaves Big Machine for Universal Music Group, ending a relationship that spans over 12 years

Ten-time Grammy Award winner Taylor Swift has signed a record deal with Universal Music Group. The powerhouse label will take care of the Swift’s global releases, while Republic Records, a division of UMG, will serve as her label partner in the US.

The deal means a move away from country specialists Big Machine, the record label Swift has been associated with since her debut release in 2007. Big Machine has a long-standing strategic partnership with Republic, whose roster includes Ariana Grande, Florence + The Machine, Liam Payne and Family Guy creator Seth MacFarlane.

“Few artists in history approach Taylor Swift’s combination of massive global hits and creative brilliance,” said Sir Lucian Grainge, Chairman and CEO of Universal Music Group. “She is so multi-talented, she can achieve anything. Because of her commitment to her fellow artists, not only did she want to partner with a company that understood her creative vision and had the resources and expertise to execute globally on her behalf, she also sought a partner whose approach to artists was aligned with hers. With these shared beliefs, there is so much we can accomplish together, and all of us at UMG are enormously proud to be embarking on the next chapter of her career alongside her.”

Taylor Swift is one of the most successful artists of all time, being the youngest singer to win the prestigious Grammy Award for Album Of The Year. In 2016, Swift became the first female solo artist to win the award twice with the album 1989.

RuthAnne’s 10 tips on transitioning from songwriter to artist

November 23, 2018 in Features, Interviews, Tips & Techniques


RuthAnne: “People need to buy into the whole package, who you are and what you have to say.”

This successful Irish songwriter is making her move for solo stardom. Here are her tips on how to change lane

RuthAnne is a songwriter best known for her contributions to songs for the likes of Niall Horan, Britney Spears and Martin Garrix – that is, until now, for the writer of smash hits like JoJo’s Too Little Too Late is branching out as an artist in her own right. The release of new single, It Is What It Is, provides early evidence that she has made the right decision, showcasing her own stirring voice and elegant pop stylings.

Here, the Irish songwriter provides her 10 essential tips for making that transition from songwriter to artist…

1. Find your own voice & perspective

“As a songwriter, you spend a lot of time in a room with artists trying to help them tell their stories, with the end game being to give them the biggest songs of their careers. This is pretty confusing as an artist; you’re jumping around so many different genres, which makes it really hard to pin down your own sound.

“As an artist, the main thing I focused on was finding my own voice, sound and lyrical perspective – without that there is no identity, it’s just songs. People need to buy into the whole package, who you are and what you have to say.

“All my favourite artists have a lyrical perspective that I connect with. For me, being truthful about my experiences living in LA, enabled me to write very personal and authentic lyrics. That was how I cracked the code for understanding who I am as an artist.

“When I left LA for a three-week writing trip, I just went in and wrote whatever I wanted and it was incredibly liberating. Just me and the producer, not thinking about anything other than being honest and singing in the way that was most natural to me. I wrote most of my first album in those three weeks. You can’t force that process though, let it come naturally and when it does just go with it.”

2. Know what to expect

“It’s so important when transitioning from songwriting for big artists to manage your expectations and understand that you are starting from scratch as an artist in your own right. You don’t have the same platform or fan base as the artists you’ve written for.

“For example, I wrote Slow Hands for Niall Horan and In The Name Of Love for Martin Garrix and combined they have over a billion streams, and on the first day of release will get a few million. For me to expect the same for my own artist releases, would be setting myself up for failure and disappointment. You have to forget about that and remember that those artists built their fanbases first and spent years building up to that level, it doesn’t happen overnight. So manage your expectations and don’t get down on yourself because your first song hasn’t reached a billion streams yet!”


RuthAnne: “Songwriting artists need to forget about the stigma, judgements and opinions and just be themselves.”

3. Shaking the ‘stigma’

“Over the years, especially my early days as a songwriter, I’ve found that there was a massive stigma around songwriters becoming artists. Almost like, ‘Well she’s JUST a songwriter.’ Just a songwriter? Hang on a minute, aren’t we the ones writing songs that people all around the world are singing?

“In meetings, I’d be asked, ‘So you wanna be an artist?’ I’d think, I don’t want to be, I am and always have been an artist. I believe everyone who creates music is an artist. We are all creating art. Some people want to stay behind the scenes, some want to perform and put themselves out there. No one has the right to tell people who and what they are.

“I realised I had to find the people who believed I could go out there and do it myself. Songwriting artists need to forget about the stigma, judgements and opinions and just be themselves. Nowadays with indie artists becoming huge success stories without being tied to a major record label, more and more songwriters are out there making music for themselves and I couldn’t be happier about that. Rightly that stigma is diminishing, and songwriters are getting the chance to step out from behind the scenes, to front and centre and have success in their own right, as well as continuing to write songs for other artists.”

4. Do both

“I’ve found that by releasing my own music, building my own fanbase and connecting with people all over the world, I’ve been exposed to even more opportunities as a songwriter. Some people come to me for the hits I’ve written for other people, but now certain artists are interested in working with me based on my music as a solo artist.

The Vow was the first single I released as an artist and is a great example. I was at an event in LA and Yebba, a new artist who I adore, was there too. I went over to say how much I loved her and how I would love to write for her. I named some hits I’d written to help my case and well, she just didn’t care about any of those songs, but then said, ‘Wait a minute, what’s your name again?’ She was elated and said, ‘OMG RuthAnne! Like The Vow RuthAnne? I love that song, let’s do something together.’ That moment was so huge for me as an artist and I realised that doing both was so important. Being both an artist and a songwriter will create opportunities for each other. If you can balance both, always do both, be a brand, be a queen.”


RuthAnne: “If you are transitioning from songwriter to artist, get ready for a whole other set of hours!”

5. Find your teams

“This part is so important. Find people who champion you as an artist because if they are just interested in your songwriting you will never fully have the support you need to move forward. I have an amazing management team who help with both parts. They got me in the room with John Legend to write No Place Like Home on his latest Christmas album, along with opening for Alanis Morrisette on her tour and performing on Jimmy Kimmel.

“You need teams that will help move your career forward, get the best for you and can manage your schedule in an effective way for both your songwriting and your artistry. Also, when I was transitioning to focusing more on being an artist, I chose my writing/producing teams because they understood my vision and believed in me as an artist. I have other great songwriting partnerships that I work with for other artists, that’s all kept separate for clarity. I’ve kept it that way to this day.”

6. Another set of hours

“If you are transitioning from songwriter to artist, get ready for a whole other set of hours! As a writer we show up, we write the song, we go home. We don’t have to do anything to promote the song, our job is done. As an artist, you have to be on call 24\7, especially the type of artist like me who is running the ship. I am involved in everything: the production, the mixing, the artwork.

“Every decision is ultimately mine, after talking it over with my team. Then there’s the promo, the interviews, photo shoots, social media, spending time with your followers, talking to them, building your fanbase, shows, performing, touring… It’s changed my lifestyle in the way that I have to take really good care of myself, so I’m healthy and can give good performances.

“Luckily, I love all this extra stuff, but it’s definitely something you have to be prepared to do to get your music out there as an artist. I have so much respect for artists and the amount of energy and work ethic it takes to be one.”


RuthAnne: “The best piece of advice I’ve been given… ‘If you can write one great song, you can always write another.’”

7. Don’t take back songs

“So, I’ve always had a rule that if I go in to write with an artist, producer or another writer for pitching to other artists, I’ll never take the song back for my own project and say, ‘Oh actually I want this for me’. This will obviously create a lot of tension within your teams. I am always very clear about who we are writing for at the beginning of the session. The only time I would ever consider taking a song back as my own, would be if the song is getting no bites, or if the artist doesn’t want it anymore. I’ll then be like, ‘I think I’ll keep this one,’ but I always check with my co-writers first and get everyone’s blessing.

“If I happen to write the biggest best song ever, that would be so perfect for me, but I’m in the room with Kelly Clarkson and she loves it for her and it was written with her, for her and it wasn’t meant to be for me, I stay true to that. Keeping your relationships good in the industry is so important. And the best piece of advice I’ve been given as a songwriter is, ‘If you can write one great song, you can always write another,’ and that’s so true.”

8. You have to live to write

“It’s so important to take time to live and be inspired. Constantly working with no downtime, with no time to see the world and have those conversations that turn into songs, is not good for your artistry, or your songwriting. So many songs I’ve written come from life, from those moments out with my friends, from taking the time to go for a walk or see a movie. As an artist you never want to burn out, where you feel you have nothing to say, nothing to give.

“I used to feel so guilty taking any time off until I realised that most of my songs that are successful come from moments I experienced when I was just living my life on days off. Make sure you leave space to fit that time in.”


RuthAnne: “It’s impressive having a lot of streams, but it’s more impressive filling a room.”

9. The greatest show

“Transitioning from a songwriter to an artist involves being a performer. It’s always a goal of mine during my show to shut the entire room up and have a moment where it’s completely silent and my voice takes over the crowd. And then a moment where I grab the audience and have them singing along with me, I want my audience to feel something.

“It’s so important these days to not only release great music but have a great show, a show that people will talk about for days after. For 50 people, 500 or 50,000 it doesn’t matter how big or small the show is, that’s your chance to shine as an artist. Whether you’re the supporting act performing in front of new audiences or you’re headlining, connect with your fans and make a name for yourself as a great live performer, that will create a lifelong career as a live performer. Give your followers a reason to get out of the house and come see you play live. It’s impressive having a lot of streams, but it’s more impressive filling a room. Make your show something people wouldn’t want to miss.”

10. Trust the process

“Don’t force anything, take the opportunities you feel are best for you, trust your instincts, create an artist brand that’s true to who you are. Keep the things about yourself that people tell you to change. For example, Ed Sheeran was always told to dye his red hair, but that was one of the things that made him stand out. Keep that special unique thing about you, find your audience and play to them.

“Write songs forever and keep being inspired. Never let the business side of the music industry get you down; keep it about the music, the music will always win in the end. It’s about the song! As an artist, it doesn’t matter how beautiful you are, how quirky you are, how great you sing – the main thing you need is THE SONG.”

RuthAnne’s new single It Is What It Is comes out on 23 November via The Other Songs. For more info, head to thisisruthanne.com

Songs In The Key Of… UK Garage

November 23, 2018 in Features, Interviews

Shy Cookie

Shy Cookie: his House & Garage Orchestra plays reworkings of classics from the scenes

DJ and producer Shy Cookie takes on a journey through a genre which dominated the charts of the late 90s

Shy Cookie’s relationship with UK garage stretches back over two decades. Thrust from college into the studio aged 17, after DJ Luck heard him play his first dubplate on Lush FM (Luck’s station), he ended up producing for DJ Luck and MC Neat for over 15 years. Cookie continues to produce his own house and garage music for his label Audio Intuition. His latest project is as a producer with The House & Garage Orchestra, a collective playing reworkings of old garage classics alongside a live orchestra. Soon to release their debut album, they are currently on tour across the UK.

Here Shy Cookie selects 12 of his essential tracks. To listen to them all in one go, check out the Spotify playlist.

“A track known for its blend of Wookie’s production and a live guitar hook, this is the instrumental version – and original release of what then became Wookie’s Back Up To Me featuring Lain Gray.”

“This track remains one of the best from the late 1990s. From the strings and various other silky synth sounds to the warm but punchy bass and light drums, this track was and is a soulful garage gem.”

“This is arguably one of the tracks that got a lot of people into garage during the 1990s. It’s still a favourite to this day, and a great example of phenomenal vocal range and power from the legendary Rosie Gaines.”

“It’s the first track on the Red Rose EP release in the late 1990s (kudos if you still own the red vinyl), and the track that sent DJ Luck and MC Neat into the stratosphere. A simple but hypnotic chant from MC Neat that remains irresistible to sing along to. Coupled with 2-step drums (sampled from the underground hit Hype Da Funk) and a bassline sampled from a Suburban Base drum and bass track are those haunting synths and you have a track that has stood the test of time and remains a garage raver favourite.”

“A true garage anthem; epic strings and drums that build to a huge chorus. Shelley Nelson’s vocal is really something on the track – a powerful hook delivered in a way that only she can do. One of my personal favourite garage tracks from the late 1990s.”

“If you know garage music, you will know Flowers. Though the chorus hook is infectious in itself, the track is literally littered with catchy hooks that have had, and continues to have, ravers up and down the country singing their hearts out to the song in clubland.”

“Arguably one for those with slightly more matured tastes, you will find no big bassline drops here. Instead, this track is one for the clubbers as well as for ‘easy listening’ when chilling at home or driving. Along with the beautiful vocals, the melody has an angelic, almost Christmas-like feel.”

“Originally released as an R&B track, Shola Ama left a significant stamp on the UK garage scene when this remix was released. Uplifting chords and a really nice love song, delivered effortlessly by Ms. Ama, this is another anthem that stands the test of time.”

“The second DJ Luck and MC Neat track on the list, this cover of a Stevie Wonder classic earns its place as its journey saw it pay dues on the underground before being thrust into the mainstream through the word on the street. MC Neat once again delivers timeless bars, and the rolling backing track, different from Stevie Wonder and Bob Marley’s versions, kept the track (at the time) modern and fresh. Still a massive crowd pleaser whenever dropped in a set.”

“Kele Le Roc is, in my humble opinion, UK garage royalty. Simply put, this track is one of the reasons for that bold statement.”

“A house track that is loved by ravers from both the house and garage scenes, Crystal Waters’ massive hit from 1991 remains one of the best house tunes ever (in my opinion). A very simple keyboard riff that is still sampled to this day, this track has been one my personal all-time favourites since its release and has influenced producers from many of the sub-genres of house in one way or another over the years.”

“A track I produced a UK garage cover for, along with DJ Luck and the Corrupted Kru (Scott Garcia and Mike Kenny), which went on to tear the roof off of many garage events for well over a decade. Still loved by ravers, and though never released to the mainstream, this track was still able to make a massive impact on the scene. Also featuring MC Neat, this track is a cover that retains many elements of the original Bel Biv Divo R&B production, and captures the collaborative spirit of the music scene that pushed things forward a the time.

Shy Cookie is producer, DJ and host of The House & Garage Orchestra. To pre-order their debut album head to smarturl.it/THGO

Frank Turner’s Songwriting Survival Kit

November 22, 2018 in Gear, Interviews, Songwriting Magazine Winter 2017

Frank Turner's Songwriting Survival Kit

Frank Turner’s Songwriting Survival Kit in our Winter 2017 edition

From his beloved Gibson acoustic to his Clive James books, these are things that the folk singer-songwriter can’t do without

Sharing is caring, which is why we’ve been encouraging you all to share your #songwritingsurvivalkit with us on social media. Whether it’s the tatty notebook that’s attached to you or your trusty old guitar and amp, we want to see those pieces of kit that are essential to your songwriting life and will be re-posting all of the images that you hashtag.

For this issue, singer-songwriter Frank Turner talks us through the items which make up his #songwritingsurvivalkit from his beloved Gibson acoustic to his Clive James books, these are things that he can’t do without…

I bought this guitar a few years ago, it didn’t come cheap, but it’s in absolutely mint condition, and I absolutely love old Gibsons. Something about a guitar that plays easy, that has a great sound and has age and wisdom, helps my fingers find the right places for new songs.

My mother got an upright piano from her parents for her 21st birthday, and it was in the house when I was growing up. My sisters and I used to argue about who would inherit it, but one day my mum was moving house and just decided she didn’t need it in the new place, so I snaffled it. “It’s not the best piano, but it has charm and memories. I’m also not the best pianist, but when I get stuck in a rut musically, shifting to a different physical layout often helps me find my way through to where I’m going.

I have quite a complicated and arcane system of notepads. Currently, I’m running about five. I have a couple of small Moleskines and some larger, cheaper ones. Some of them were gifts – from my partner, from a friend. Different types of words go into different notebooks, it’s difficult to explain what the breakdown is, it’s instinctive. A few years ago I ditched computers and typing for writing lyrics, apart from for final drafts. I find the physical act of writing much more satisfying, and I like being able to look back through my crossed-out edits.

I carry my MacBook and my audio interface with me pretty much everywhere I go. I use a simple SM58 for vocals and DI my guitars, and use Logic to put together demos of new songs. They’re very rough sketches, structural mostly, with basic arrangement ideas, which I then take to my band, The Sleeping Souls, to work up. It’s good for me to get my basic arrangement ideas down first so the others can see where I’m heading. Technology has made all this so insanely easy these days. I used to have a Tascam 4-track, and I don’t miss it.

I read voraciously, and that helps keep my mind ticking over when it comes to writing. I read a lot of poetry, novels, literary and artistic criticism (especially Clive James). I don’t regard myself as a poet – lyrics are a separate discipline, to me – but keeping a steady diet of interesting words and ideas coming in pushes me to be more ambitious in my own wordsmithery.

Actually, songwriting remains an entirely ephemeral act for me. Some of the best stuff I’ve written has been jotted down on a supermarket receipt, hammered out on a broken ukulele at a friend’s house. I don’t get much say over how and when the good stuff comes, you just have to be ready for it. Afterwards, you sit down and build songs from the nuggets of inspiration, but that central moment, when things just arrive, is delightfully ineluctable, and always will be.

Read more artist interviews, tips, reviews, gear and more in the Songwriting Magazine Winter 2017 edition > >

Interview: Cass Lowe

November 21, 2018 in Features, Interviews

Cass Lowe

Cass: “50 percent of this industry and this kind of ‘game’ is hustling and then 50 percent is blind chance.” Pic: Daniel A Harris

After working with everyone from Take That to Rudimental, the acclaimed songwriter-producer shares his insight into successful modern pop co-writing

Cass Lowe is a multi-platinum selling British musician and producer with almost two decades of experience, writing for and with the likes of Take That, Jess Glynne, Lily Allen, Alison Moyet, Chance The Rapper, AlunaGeorge, Fifth Harmony, James Arthur, MØ and Gabrielle Aplin. In 2016, he won the Ivor Novello award for Best Contemporary Song with Snakehips for co-writing their Top 10 hit All My Friends and bagged Songwriter Of The Year at the A&R Awards that same year. In 2017, he co-wrote and co-produced Charli XCX’s Boys, and he’s credited on Rudimental’s upcoming 2019 album Toast To Our Differences.

So, on hearing that Cass was lined up to speak at the Ultimate Seminar in London this week, we jumped at the chance to chat with him and get some advice from one of the hottest songwriters in the pop scene right now…

Take us back to the beginning.

“I think I first tried writing songs when I was 12 or 13, I got a little acoustic guitar. I think a huge amount of my writing was as an ‘imitator’ – just me looking at songs and going, ‘Oh I want to be able to do that,’ and then trying my hand at it. Not really knowing what I was doing for a good 10 years, then occasionally stumbling on something and then I was like, ‘That’s not too bad, is it? That’s probably worth putting in someone else’s ears.’”

What took you from there to collaborating with other songwriters and getting cuts? I see from your discography that the Diana Vickers song You’ll Never Get to Heaven was your first release, but I imagine there’s more to the story that got you to that point.

“Yeah, it’s been a kind of long and winding road, in a weird way. I’ve always been one of those people who are completely obsessed with music and songs. When I was a teenager I was a crazy consumer of all different genres and loved acoustic, metal, rap and dance. I think I just fell into it because I left school and there were a few things that I could do, but I wasn’t sure what I was going to do as a job. The only thing that I really loved was music, so I gave myself 12 months as a classic British gap year thing, and went around with a guitar. I could play the guitar and sing a little bit, but I didn’t know what I wanted to be, so I started doing some open mic shows and I got some support slots.”

Where were you at this point?

“I grew up in South London, so I was going around all the standard places. Somewhere along the way I got spotted by a manager and they wanted me to sign a development deal, and suddenly I was doing an ‘artist’ thing. But I wasn’t really cut out for that. I signed a deal with Universal, but it was too nervous and anxious, and too self-loathing a person, to actually do that. And we found out in that process that I didn’t really want to be doing it, so I took a bit of time off.”

How long ago was that?

“This must have been like 2008 to 2009. It was all part of the learning curve really, so I took a bit of time out. I felt a bit deflated for a little bit and then released that music is the thing I want to be doing, so I thought that maybe I could work with other people. So I started co-writing and slaved away for like five years – I was terrible at it and didn’t really know how to interact with people, or how to make a song and build something together. I had so much to learn about production, and melodies and lyrics, but then at some point I became okay at it! It’s not the sexiest of stories, but it’s been a long learning curve, like a lot of music is.”

So what was the breakthrough? When did you see that getting your music cut might be possible?

“It’s probably not even to do with cuts. A lot of it has been about self-belief, in a weird way. Since I’ve had the success, my self-belief has been renewed and I’ve had some flattering and amazing moments, like winning an Ivor Novello – for a song that I wrote with Ollie [Oliver Lee] from Snakehips. The idea of winning that award, the absolute dream of an award to win, was amazing and then to suddenly win it without really aiming for it, with a song that meant so much to me – it’s a very personal song to me and very much my writing, it’s indicative of my thoughts, style, chords and melodies.

“Once I had that little bit of self-belief you feel rejuvenated, and you think, ‘Oh I can do this.’ I think it’s like all those moments earlier than that, like when your teacher or your friend or your girlfriend tells you, ‘That’s really good,’ or playing live and seeing a reaction. It’s all those bits of reassurance that are like a thumbs up to tell you, ‘This is good, you know, you’re not terrible at this!’

Cass Lowe at the Ivors

Cass Lowe [left] clutching his Ivor Novello award for Best Contemporary Song with Snakehips

Looking again at your discography, you’ve worked with a wide range of co-writers and artists. How do you end up collaborating with these different people?

“I find that 50 percent of this industry and this kind of ‘game’ is hustling and then 50 percent is blind chance and luck, basically. The people I’ve worked with the most are probably Snakehips. I love the idea that when you combine two people in a room you get something that neither of them could have made on their own. And sometimes it’s a battle because one person believes, ‘No, this is how I want to do it,’ and you’re like, ‘Well we’re here in this room together; it’s not about how you want to do it. It’s about how we’re going to do it together.’

“So I love working with new people and there are so many incredible people out there that I want to get the chance to work with. But yeah, I’ve never been one to have a real routine, and I don’t go in for pitching – I like getting in a room with an artist like Jess Glynne and Lily Allen and trying to understand them, or whoever it is, and seeing what I can bring to their table.”

Was it like that earlier in your career as well? Were you put in a room with artists or were you ever just pitching tracks to be placed?

“In the early years, I did a lot with other ‘baby’ writers and producers, and just trying a song or a pitch. We’d give a Little Mix song a go or give a Rihanna song a go and see what comes out of it. I found it, probably, 95 percent fruitless! But you learn as you along, you learn discipline, some tricks and ideas – you learn from the people you work with – and you also learn what’s wrong, what’s bad about what you do.

“So my preferred way to do it is with the artist, with someone who’s got a bit of a vision and a goal that they can bring something to. I don’t really like to sit down and go, ‘Let’s write a Britney song,’ because… I just tend to turn out terrible songs if I do that!”

What else have you learnt about writing pop music?

“I don’t know. I spent a while chasing big artists like Backstreet Boys and Take That, and it’s fine to get solid tunes out of people, but I always thought that was going to be the thing that I was really proud of. Then once it was done, all the stuff that was way more true to me and genuine is actually what resonates – not just that it makes me feel better – it resonates with the listener more. It’s changed how I write and stopped me from second-guessing the audience too much. A lot of people go into pop and they think it’s simple and they look down on it, but to do great music you have to love the music you’re making. You can’t have any cynicism; you have to be obsessed with it.”

Tell us a bit more about your approach. You clearly don’t have a formula you follow each time, but what are looking for in a session to give you the right environment to create?

“The vibe just needs to be okay. I need to be ready to work with whatever the situation is, so I actually try to train myself not to have ideas, tracks or beats beforehand. It’s so important for you to be able to evolve and adapt, and duck and weave, so I don’t want to be reliant on one track. I have a couple of little things floating around in the back of my head, just in case. But also try not to be too nervous, try to be confident and relaxed.

“Also I try to be prepared about the person I’m going to work with. I make sure I’ve done a bit of research so I know who I’m with. Quite often I’ll do a session in the States and they’ll just slam a stranger in, so you then have to spend 45 minutes chatting to them and working out what they do, where they’re from and what they like. That can cause some bruised egos as well because you don’t know who they are! So it’s really important to know what you’re going in for and be open.”

How do you deal with awkward situations like that?

“Erm, well, it’s only happened to me a couple of times. So much of it is about being nimble and sometimes you just have to be able to pull new things out of your arse! Get something on the table and move on. If the idea’s not working, just go, ‘Try this…’ But if you really believe in it, then you can say, ‘No I want to drag this out and see where it goes.’”

Are you always writing with other producers and artists now?

“Most of my life is co-writing; I don’t write very much 100 percent on my own anymore. When I signed to Universal it was all stuff that I wrote on my own. The thing I found with the solo thing was I didn’t know what to write about. When I was sitting on my own going, ‘My life’s kind of fine, I’m living in my dad’s house, my girlfriend’s nice, I haven’t got any problems…’ It took me a long time to start putting myself into character writing, and I love that.”

Interview: Aaron Slater

Cass Lowe is a speaker at the Ultimate Seminar at the University of Westminster in London on Saturday 24 November. Find out more at cre8ingvision.com/events/ultimate-seminar-2018/ and to discover more about him at casslowe.com

On The Stereo #24

November 20, 2018 in Music

Andy Brown

Andy Brown: has once again showcased his gorgeous vocal tone and standout writing abilities

Another crop of fresh sonic goodness from Andy Brown, Ciircus Street, Steve Aoki, Jade Helliwell, Deanna Petcoff and Ward Thomas


The Lawson frontman has once again showcased his gorgeous vocal tone and standout writing abilities with this breathtaking ballad. Keeper is his best release to date and the country track highlights everything that’s good about Brown. This has the potential to be huge. LK


Broken might be yet another breakup song of the acoustic variety, but the honey vocals of singers Jim Crowder and Sam Brett come together, forming tantalising harmonies that are both sweet and addictive. So, don’t be put off by the bleeding hearts, the energy this pair put in is impressive. DC

Ultra Records, LLC

In a collaboration we never saw coming renowned DJ Steve Aoki has teamed up with the country superstars Lady Antebellum for this latest release. Our Love Glows has been penned by Lady A and lyrically it’s a country ballad. However, the EDM production leads it into new territory. Hillary Scott’s vocals are incredible and it’s something fresh from the trio. LK

116 Records

Jade Helliwell is the latest in a long line of homegrown British country artists taking the genre by storm and with the release of her stellar new single Drive she has showcased her effortless pop crossover style. Her voice has a very pure almost angelic vibe and this combined with pop style production and country lyrics make this track a real standout. LK


We’re always impressed when a songwriter can match a down lyric with an up melody and that’s exactly what Petcoff does here. That she sings like a 2018 version of Eddi Reader only adds to the appeal. DH

Sony Music

Ward Thomas have shared another track off upcoming album Restless Minds and it has a much more pure country sound compared to other releases this era. With steel guitar, divine harmonies and poignant lyrics this is a real standout from the UK duo who once again prove they are two of the most talented musicians Britain has ever created. LK

Words: Laura Klonowski, Duncan Haskell, Dave Chrzanowski

Listen to these songs and other On The Stereo selections on the Songwriting Magazine Spotify ‘Music Reviewed’ playlist.

‘Natural Rebel’ by Richard Ashcroft (Album)

November 19, 2018 in Music, Songwriting Magazine Autumn 2018

Songwriting Autumn 2018 music reviews

Natural Rebel: very much an album of two halves

Songwriting Magazine Autumn’s album of the issue is the fifth solo long-player from the former Verve frontman, released on RPA/BMG

Natural Rebel is the fifth solo album from the former Verve frontman. Ashcroft’s previous efforts have been well received and, for listeners of those albums, this will contain few surprises. All of the songs were written by Ashcroft, and it was co-produced by Ashcroft, Jon Kelly and Emre Ramazanoglu. Aside from the vocals, guitar, bass and drums, most of the tracks have the backing of a subtle string section.

Things start in familiar territory. The opening song, All My Dreams, kicks off with a jaunty, upbeat guitar strumming over a steady beat. The first half of the album carries on in the same fashion, and the pace is unvaried. When listening, therefore, with no deviation in the tempo, the songs can seem middle of the road and the production uninspired.

Things then pick up on the second half of the album. Born To Be Strangers contains a simple, but glorious, riff. Ashcroft’s percussive vocal cut pounces over the guitars, singing off the beat. As soon as the song starts, you can sense a change in the record’s direction. The string section has been dropped. That’s When I Feel It – possibly the standout song – energises the listener once more before things slow down for We All Bleed. This variation of speed and instrumentation works, the production is slicker, the songwriting is powerful.

Scattered throughout the second half are beautiful phrases and rhymes. Contained within Streets Of Amsterdam Ashcroft sings, “You could be Yoko/and I could be John. We’ll stay in bed/and they’ll ban the bomb.” Natural Rebel closes with a blast… Money Money, with its overdriven guitar, played in a Keith Richards-esque style, is surely designed to ignite any stadium into a frenzy.

This is very much an album of two halves. The second, stronger half has everything a listener would need: fast rock, softer and subtle songs, crafted with strong, witty songwriting. That’s not to say there is something wrong with the opening half of the album: there isn’t. It just isn’t quite as exciting.

Toby Sligo

Read more music reviews, news, tips, interviews and gear in the Songwriting Magazine Autumn 2018 edition out now > >