Posts in Barsuk Records
David Bazan

David Bazan had me at "Galway Kinnell." You see, Kinnell is one of my favorite poets, one of the best around.  Before my interview with Bazan, I interviewed Jeremy Messersmith and had mentioned that songwriters should read more poetry and that they should start with Kinnell.  After talking to Messersmith, I had some time to kill, so I opened one of my Galway Kinnell books and read.  So when Bazan told me later that day, unprompted, that he was a Kinnell fan, I swooned all the way out of my chair.

There's so much to Bazan's songwriting process.  He's one of those songwriters who sees himself as a writer, not just a songwriter.  Had he seen me on the other end of the phone when he told me about his creative process, I would have been nodding my head vigorously, because so much of what he said is what I tell other writers:

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Dave Davison, Maps & Atlases

Dave Davison doesn't really understand the label “math rock” that some people have given his band Maps and Atlases. Math rock the music, like mathematics the subject, after all, requires “coldness and calculation,” according to Davison. But the four members of Maps and Atlases met at Columbia College in Chicago—an art school.  Davison majored in cultural studies, Erin Elders and Chris Hainey were film majors, and Shiraz Dada majored in sound engineering. As a band, they’ve been called math rock because of their complex rhythmic structures and unconventional time signatures.  But with their debut release Perch Patchwork (Barsuk Records), they've written what critics have called a more accessible sound.  Regardless, Maps & Atlases plays some wonderfully unique and creative music.  But that's what you get when four guys from art school start a band. 

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Rocky Votolato

It might not be a stretch to say that writing saved the life of singer/songwriter Rocky Votolato.  After the release of his previous album The Brag & Cuss, Votolato suffered bouts of depression and anxiety so severe that he barely left his apartment for a year.  To overcome this, he did two things: he read and he wrote. 

What struck me most, as I talked to Votolato backstage before his show at the Black Cat in DC two weeks ago, was how writing, for him, was an act of survival.  While he wrote his latest album True Devotion (Barsuk Records) to appeal to his fans, of course, he found that he needed the album even more than they did.  Writing became an act of therapy for Votolato, who told me, "I used to see suicide as a viable option for existential suffering.  I used to think it was a fine choice, a justified choice." Votolato no longer feels that way, but those were dark times, made bright by the power of the written word.

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Wes Miles, Ra Ra Riot

Remember all those physics majors in college who spent their time holed up in labs?  If they are anything like Wes Miles, the songwriter for Ra Ra Riot, they might very well be writing songs as well as working with spectrometers.  That's not to say that Miles (a physics major and 2006 graduate of Syracuse University) was writing music when he should have been working with mass and magnets; instead, it's pretty clear that being a physics major has made Miles a better songwriter.  This is not the first time a songwriter has told me that, as you'll read, and it's something that I find fascinating.  It's easy to see the link between, say, writing lyrics and reading literature, but I'm intrigued by the link between music and mathematics. 

So read my interview with Wes Miles of Ra Ra Riot.  You'll learn more about how being a physics major helps him as a songwriter, how many of his lyrics start as pure gibberish, and why he likes Wuthering Heights.

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