Posts in Fat Possum Records
Courtney Marie Andrews

Courtney Marie Andrews needs to be alone.

That is, she needs complete solitude when she writes. Where other songwriters thrive on a bit of commotion or even chaos around them, not Andrews. She needs solitude because it provides her the best chance for self-reflection and an "uncluttered headspace" in the songwriting process. And she has to know that she's alone too. But she doesn't necessarily need to be at home when she writes: in fact, she often prefers someplace new. "I think it's more that I like to travel and feel out of my element, and I think my best songs come from that space. I lean towards writing songs in unfamiliar places," Andrews told me. Her process also involves what she calls "chunk writing." She doesn't like to write on tour; that's where she collects all of her notes for the later songwriting process. But when she gets off tour, she blocks off a two-week chunk on her calendar and does nothing but write.

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Alaina Moore, Tennis

The story behind the creative process of Tennis' debut Cape Dory has been told ad nauseam elsewhere. Make that "everywhere else"; the internet seems incapable of mentioning the band without talking about The Trip. And in that narrative, you'll see words like beach and sunny to describe the music of this Denver-based couple (Alaina Moore and Patrick Riley are married).

But that's not what Moore and I wanted to talk about. 

I remember an interview with an author who said that the term "beach read" is an insult because it implies that the writing has no depth and can be consumed with little effort. As you'll see, Moore's songwriting process--really, her life--reflects the anxiety behind that idea. When descriptors like that follow your music everywhere, I imagine it must be frustrating to Moore, whose songwriting has far more depth than that. 

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Ben Bridwell, Band of Horses

Oh, to be a young and single songwriter.  There are no limits to your creative process: without family commitments, you can write anywhere, anytime.  And that's what Ben Bridwell, singer and songwriter for Band of Horses, did.  He went to cabins and cabooses, from mountains to ocean shores.  Bridwell craves that isolation to write, and he thought it was a necessary component to his process. And that isolation, he believed, couldn't be a quiet room in the house. It had to be far away. (Not all songwriters need solitude, though; many have told me that they prefer to be around at least a little bit of action.  There's Cory Branan, who wrote his first two albums in a mall food court.  And there's Rhett Miller, who likes venue stairwells, where it's quiet but he not too far from the hustle and bustle of load in.)

Three daughters and a wife later, Bridwell can no longer pack up his notebooks and head to the hills to write like he used to.  He's got a family now.  But he's found the perfect space: his garage-cum-studio.  No one bothers him there, though admittedly they stay away for more practical reasons: according to Bridwell, "it's dark and there are lots of bugs."  Having this space made Bridwell realize that it's solitude that matters, not where the solitude is.

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Hamilton Leithauser, The Walkmen

It wasn't easy to talk at first with Hamilton Leithauser of The Walkmen about his creative process. There was something else on our minds: we spoke on the phone the same day that RGIII, the quarterback of the Washington Redskins, had his reconstructive knee surgery.  And since Leithauser and I are both Washington DC natives (I still live here while he now lives in New York), we are Redskins fans.  So what you won't read here are the first ten minutes of our interview, which reads like an ESPN amateur hour.

Much has been made of the growing maturity of the the members of The Walkmen, friends since childhood who now have families and who are settling into a bit of domesticity. Leithauser has a 21 month old daughter, whom he had just put down for a nap before we talked.  He gets his best writing done early in the morning. Early, as in after he gets up at 6am, not early as in 1am or 2am before many songwriters go to bed.

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Matt Iwanusa, Caveman

Back in February, I got an email from Dylan Von Wagner of Linfinity.  I interviewed Von Wagner for this site a while ago and reviewed the band's album Martian's Bloom for the Washington Post.  His email carried a sense of urgency: You've gotta check out this new band Caveman, he wrote.  He told me how talented they were and that Matt Iwanusa, their songwriter, would be a good interview for this site.  I liked what I heard and filed that thought away.

The music blogosphere is littered with failed "the next big thing" or "these guys are gonna be huge" tags.  Most of these promises never pan out, of course, which is why I'll never say that.  But I will say this: Caveman are good.  Really good.  Their debut album CoCo Beware comes out September 13, and they are on tour now with The War on Drugs.  Read my interview with Matt Iwanusa after the video, where he talks about how both walking the streets of New York City and the video game Galaga influence his songwriting process.  Naturally, he talked to me while walking those streets. 

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Max Bloom, Yuck

After talking to guitarist and songwriter Max Bloom of Yuck on the phone recently, I have an image in my mind: Bloom and his bandmates jamming loudly in his parents' house, so loudly that they wake the neighbors, who come out and shout up at the bedroom window, "Turn that f***ing music down!"  Typical young kids, I guess.  It's almost a stereotype.

Only it's true.  Bloom and co-songwriter Daniel Blumberg write and demo all the Yuck music in Bloom's parents' house.  And when they play, the neighbors get angry. This house is also where they recorded the album.  According to Bloom, it's the only place he feels comfortable enough to write; it's clearly where he gets his best writing done. So while Bloom is at the age when most young adults (at least here in the US) would do anything to get out of their parents' house, Bloom wants to get back in.  Though he still has some trepidation about the neighbors' reaction when the band starts recording new material...

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Cullen Omori

f you happen to be in Chicago and see Smith Westerns’ Cullen Omori out at night—which isn’t very often—send the man home if you’d like to see the band’s next album be as good as the new release, Dye It Blonde, released January 18 on Fat Possum Records.  By his own admission, Omori’s hometown isn’t that fun, so he tends to stay in a lot and write songs in his room.  For inspiration, he listens to other bands—four different songs from four bands, to be precise—and thinks about incorporating those ideas into a song for Smith Westerns. But listening to other bands has its limitations: sometimes he’ll hear something so good from another band that what he subsequently writes just can’t compare.  And that leads to writer’s block.  What I found most interesting about the band’s creative process is their willingness to put song fragments aside, sometimes for months, then return to them with a new outlook. Sitting on songs, in Omori’s eyes, makes the band more confident in their songwriting.

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Sonny Smith, Sonny and the Sunsets

It would be a gross understatement to say that Sonny Smith of Sonny and the Sunsets is merely a songwriter.  The man writes everything: novels, short stories, poems, plays, songs.  Even comic books and illustrations.  And what's interesting is that all these genres are linked.  He might start writing a short story, and that eventually becomes a song. Or a song might become a comic book.  Regardless, it's obvious that his many different creative outlets impact each other, and he is good precisely because of his talents bleed all over each other.

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Are you in the market for a  great songwriter who doubles as a fantastic cleaning lady?  If you need someone who can clean your cabinets and pen a mean chorus, look no further than Lissie.  You see, Lissie likes organization.  She needs things to be clean and orderly in the space around her.  For example, she likes to put things in pouches.  Then she puts those pouches inside other pouches.  

The irony in all of this obsession with order is that her writing process is anything but organized.  Lissie is all about the stream of consciousness process, where she just lets everything flow out in one giant mess that she organizes later.  For thirty minutes, she'll just write, with little regard for how it looks or what's coming out.  For someone who insists on the proper placement of the salt and pepper shaker at the dinner table, this can be surprising. 

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