Jim Lauderdale

Jim Lauderdale

Jim Lauderdale has been called a "songwriter's songwriter," and for good reason: he's written songs for artists like George Strait, The Dixie Chicks, Elvis Costello, Blake Shelton, Patty Loveless, Vince Gill, and Gary Allan. He's released 28 studio albums since 1986, with a new one out this spring called London Southern. He's won two Grammy Awards. He's also the host of the fantastic "Buddy and Jim" show on Sirius/XM Radio. In short, Lauderdale is enormously respected in the country, bluegrass, and Americana music genres.

Read More

Ryan Bingham

Ryan Bingham

Before talking to Ryan Bingham, I watched some of his videos on his YouTube channel. Several of the commenters pointed out that his singing voice sounds nothing like his speaking voice.  And it's true.  I couldn't help but think about this when he talked about songwriting as a form of therapy for him, a way for him to get things off his chest. When he pointed out that the lyrics sometimes emerge from his subconscious, that singing/speaking voice dichotomy made sense: perhaps that singing voice is different because it represents something deep inside, a window unto his emotional state. 

Bingham calls writing "a very personal act" for him.  He's protective of the space he creates to write, both emotionally and physically. His best lyrics come out all at once, because a song that takes too long loses the original, raw emotion.  And his writing is cyclical: he soaks in his environment on the road and almost never writes there.  Once he's home, he writes about those experiences in a short, powerful burst, "venting and getting those feelings off [his] chest." Once those songs and feelings are out, he stops, and he feels not one once of guilt for not writing for the next few months while he gathers those experiences on the road again. 

Read More

Chris Shiflett, Foo Fighters

Chris Shiflett, Foo Fighters

Chris Shiflett doesn't get to write as the guitarist in his other band, so his side project Chris Shiflett and the Dead Peasants allows him to showcase his songwriting and love of honky tonk. It's a good thing, because Shiflett knows what it takes to be a good writer: he writes every day, and he reads every day. He knows that you can't improve as a writer unless you practice, and you won't be a good writer unless you know what good writing looks like. "You write all the time so that even if you write shitty songs, you'll be in good shape when the good ones come along," he told me. 

Now that Shiflett has a family (three young sons), he doesn't have much free time, driving the kids to school and taking them to afternoon sports practices.  So to maintain his skill as a writer (not just a songwriter), he often gets up at 5am before the kids are awake and writes.  As for the reading, Shiflett has dedicated his remaining free time to immersing himself in the classics, having recently torn through F. Scott Fitzgerald's catalog. I came away from our conversation impressed with his dedication to the craft: Shiflett is a tireless student of the writing process.

Read More

Heather McEntire, Mount Moriah

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.)

Read More

Hayes Carll (2013)

Hayes Carll (2013)

Hayes Carll was a writer before he was ever a songwriter. In fact, before he even knew how to play the guitar, he loved to write.  True story: his favorite part of junior high and high school was when his teacher told the students to freewrite for 20 minutes.  Let that sink in for a minute.  He loved to be told to write. And Carll's goal was not just to write a great story in those 20 minutes; instead, he wanted to write more pages than any of his classmates. He still has those junior high and high school writing journals, even mining them for ideas on occasion. 

With that history, it's no wonder he's been called one of the best storytellers in the singer/songwriter and country western world today. If you're a fan of Carll, you'll obviously love this interview.  But if you're not too familiar with his music and just happen to be a songwriter, you'll still love it.  Just as Carll explains that he's a fan of this site because he wants to learn about the creative processes of other songwriters, you'll find this interview to be its own lesson in songwriting.

Read More