Posts tagged merge records
Heather McEntire, Mount Moriah

I've interviewed close to 150 songwriters for this site, but no one has a songwriting approach quite like Heather McEntire of Mount Moriah. Once McEntire has a song topic, she researches it. That's right.  She researches.  Whereas many songwriters rely on the inspiration of the muse, her approach is methodical and deliberative; in fact, she says that when she sits down to write, it's almost akin to a college professor's office hours.

McEntire was a creative writing major in college, something that informs her songwriting process. Once she has an idea for a song, she reads as much as she can about the topic, because, well, she likes to learn. But if you read her lyrics and recognize the depth of her imagery and even her attention to geographical detail, none of this is surprising.  And I haven't even mentioned her voice yet, one of my favorites in music today. (Full disclosure: I reviewed the latest Mount Moriah album Miracle Temple on Merge Records in the Washington Post a few months ago.)

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Kurt Wagner, Lambchop

Salon magazine recently called Kurt Wagner of Lambchop the "greatest working American songwriter." But Wagner is not only a terrific songwriter, he's also one hell of a painter who has received considerable notice for his talents as a visual artist. In fact, Wagner was a painter before he was ever a songwriter (he has both an undergraduate degree and a graduate degree in sculpture). And these two creative endeavors constantly inform the other: not only do their processes overlap, but a visit to an art gallery might inspire Wagner to write a song. In that sense, then, this is not just an interview with songwriter. It's an interview with an artist. 

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Richard Buckner (Part One)

There's something wrong when Ke$ha is filthy rich and Richard Buckner had to drive a forklift to make ends meet.  It's proof that talent isn't a great equalizer.  But herein lies my ethical dilemma: I think I want Buckner to have those crazy jobs (besides driving a forklift, he's held road signs and worked for the U.S. Census), because it's those experiences and the characters he encounters there that make him a storyteller.  You can't be a writer if you don't have authentic experiences. It's why megastars like Ke$ha and Katy Perry are no longer individuals: they've become corporations who are so insulated from people like you and me that all they can do is sing about overwrought and cliched topics.

Buckner lives in Kingston, New York, not far from Woodstock in the Hudson Valley. Our conversation went far longer than I had expected, so I'm posting the first part today and the second part next week. Buckner is a joy to talk to; he's got a wonderful, hearty laugh and an intensity that reflects the dedication to his craft.  It's a cheerful intensity, though; he talks with a smile on his face at a pace that suggests that he has so much to say but only a limited time to get it out.

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Ivan Howard, The Rosebuds

Here's the secret to the success of Ivan Howard's songwriting: television, physical activity, and great literature. Sure, at first blush they seem disparate: the vacuous life of the couch potato, the discipline of the athlete, and the intellectual curiosity of the bookworm.  But they all legitimately contribute to Howard's creative process and the crafting of those wonderful Rosebuds' songs: the TV (it can't be a show he actually pays attention to) distracts him from the subject matter he's writing about, running and basketball are his periods of creative meditation, and the books are the source of the band's natural imagery. 

Much has been made of the story behind the making of The Rosebuds' latest release Loud Planes Fly Low.  Howard and Kelly Crisp make up The Rosebuds.  They divorced after the release of their fourth album Life Like.  But they continue today as a songwriting duo, now just as bandmates and friends.  Loud Planes Fly Low is the product of the emotional output and coming to grips with the breakdown of their relationship.  It's been covered enough in the press, so I'm not going to do it here. Besides, there's enough wonderfully original responses in this interview to sustain a fresh narrative.

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Jenn Wasner, Wye Oak

There's no doubt in my mind that Jenn Wasner of Wye Oak would be lost without her phone. It's the key to her songwriting. That phone is where she documents all her observations for the day.  She's constantly in touch with her surroundings, and all of her lyrical and melodic ideas that come from this connection go into the phone's voice recorder for later, when she actually writes a song.  Wasner says her "switch is on all the time . . . if you're always looking around and noticing your environment, it's a big help."

What impresses me most about Wasner is that she calls herself a writer, period. And she knows that being a writer takes hard work. Like any good writer, she knows that the time spent actually crafting her words is only a small part of the writing process.  Wasner recognizes that writers are always writing, even when they aren't.  That is, her writing process takes place when she's driving, walking, shopping, anything. During this time, she's inventing ideas, trying out lines, just doing everything except putting pen to paper. In fact, she approaching her writing process with this wonderfully simple mantra: "living is work."

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