Posts in Hard Rock
Neil Fallon, Clutch

"I can’t imagine being a songwriter and not reading. How is that possible?"  

No truer words of wisdom have ever been uttered by a songwriter. It should come as no surprise that Neil Fallon, utterer of those words and the the singer/songwriter of the metal band Clutch, is a voracious reader. Fallon is a huge fan of Cormac McCarthy (a favorite among many songwriters I've interviewed) and William Faulkner, but he’s also devoured his share of science fiction over the years—which is why he wanted to branch out to other genres. So Fallon recently decided to tackle some light reading in the form of Russian literature.

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J.D. Cronise, The Sword (2016)

"I was just telling my girlfriend the other day, 'People don't take the words of Yoda seriously enough." And with that, J.D. Cronise of The Sword just gave me one of my favorite lines in the six years I've had this site.  Most songwriters I talk to usually can pinpoint an ideal emotion or state of mind under which they get their best writing done. To Cronise, though, it's an absence of emotion. He tries to get, in his words, into the most Zen state possible: a mind free of clutter, thoughts, distractions, anything. "It’s the non-emotional space that’s best for me. I like to be in a very Zen headspace.  Peace and calm is the most important thing to me when I write." Cronise never forces the writing process, only writing when he feels ready. In itself, this puts him in a relaxed state: there's no pressure to write, so he never gets blocked. 

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Kevn Kinney, Drivin' N Cryin'

It is a testament to Kevn Kinney's stature among songwriters that other artists like Matt Nathanson and David Bazan tweeted their enthusiasm when I announced that Kinney would be featured here.  Kinney has fronted Drivin' N Cryin' for close to 30 years now, and I've been a fan for most of those years.  Kinney is a native of Milwaukee but the band started in Atlanta, so naturally they've been pegged as a Southern rock band, whatever THAT designation is.  I prefer to see them as a rock band, plain and simple, with early staples like "Fly Me Courageous," "Honeysuckle Blue,"  and "Can't Promise You the World." The band is still active in both recording and touring, releasing one LP and four EPs since 2009. 

 

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Tom Keifer, Cinderella

For almost thirty years, Tom Keifer has had seeds rolling around in his head.  All day long. They never stop. But Keifer wants it no other way.

Keifer achieved tremendous success as the frontman for the 80s hard rock band Cinderella, selling over 20 million albums worldwide. Throughout his career, Keifer's creative process has involved the sifting of these "seeds," as he calls them. These seeds take the form of melodies and lines that he's always juggling in his mind. Those that he forgets are probably not meant to be anyway, he figures. But those seeds that stick around for weeks or even months are probably, in Keifer's view, meant to be songs. It's not surprising, then, that Keifer's songwriting process always starts with the lyrics. The guitar hooks, he says, are "the easy part." He can write those all day long. 

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Mark Morton, Lamb of God

This site is woefully short of interviews with metal songwriters. I've been a Lamb of God fan for a while, but it was only recently that I watched the 2014 documentary about the band "As the Palaces Burn." No less a metal god than Slash calls them one of the biggest metal acts in the world in the trailer (below). I was impressed by the introspection and thoughtful responses in the band member interviews, so I figured that Mark Morton, guitarist and songwriter for the band, would make a fantastic interview.  And boy was I right. 

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Bryan Giles, Red Fang

This site is woefully short on metal, which surprises me given that I grew up listening to the likes of Iron Maiden and Judas Priest.  My tastes have expanded, but I still love to revisit my roots (and play "Hallowed Be Thy Name" at ear-splitting levels).  Sadly, the only other metal interview on this site is with J.D. Cronise of The Sword.

A few weeks ago I was at the Red Palace here in DC.  Above the din of the bar, I heard a killer riff (you can always hear metal over crowd noise). I was mesmerized. I asked the bartender who the band was.  "Red Fang," she replied.  "They're from Portland, and they're awesome." And she's right.  So last week I talked with Bryan Giles, one of the songwriters and guitarists in the band.  He's in the passenger seat in the video below.  Their new album Murder the Mountains(Relapse Records) drops in April, so read my interview with Giles about his creative process, including how endless repetition is an integral part of his songwriting.

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J.D. Cronise, The Sword (2010)

When he was a little boy, J.D. Cronise wanted to be a comic book illustrator.  To those familiar with The Sword's lyrics, this should come as little surprise.  Their three albums are filled with images and narratives from ancient mythology and science fiction.  And like a visual artist with an illustration, Cronise, the band's songwriter/vocalist and guitarist, starts his creative process with a single image.  It's a process that he describes as "organic": he never forces himself to write, instead waiting until the ideas come to him.  If Cronise writes because of extrinsic motivation, it's not true art.

The Sword is touring in support of their new release Warp Riders on Kemado Records.  You can read my review of Warp Riders in the Washington Post here

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Alain Johannes

In Macbeth, Shakespeare writes, "Give sorrow words: the grief that does not speak/Whispers the o'er-fraught heart and bids it break." Faced with loss, we must give voice to our feelings so that we can begin some semblance of recovery.  For Alain Johannes, there was no other option.  In 2008, Natasha Shneider, his partner in every sense of the word--in romance, in friendship, and in music--died of cancer at the age of 42.  They had been together for 25 years. 

Out of this grief came Jonannes' solo release Spark (Rekords Rekords).  On display are all of the emotions Johannes felt after Shneider's death, from grief to anger to celebration.  The album was completed in only four days; in his words, Johannnes was "pregnant" with the inspiration and ideas for it.  It just had to be made, because the lyrics were ready to burst forth.  He made Spark much for his own benefit: to heal, and to pay tribute to Shneider. But while the inspiration part of the process was easy, it came from a very raw state.  As Dante wrote, "No greater grief than to remember joy when misery is at hand."

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