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Songwriter’s Monthly

Arielle NJ Taylor Mary Jennings Laura Lee Bishop With Beating Hearts No Slam Dancing, No Stage Diving, No Spikes

Margo Rey

Feb. 2014

Chickie Pagano Kimberly Cole Abby Ahmad Betty Black


Contents Important Notes: Items you need to know about Songwriter’s Monthly . . . Page 2 Editor’s Notes . . . Page 4 With Beating Hearts: A look at Colleen D’Agostino’s solo project . . . Page 5 Chickie Pagano: An interview with a rapidly rising diva . . . Page 9 Monday Night Open Mic: The peerless Kimberly Cole’s “Found Better” . . . Page 14 Fan Republic: A partnership between Island Records and Indiegogo . . . Page 18 Robin Zander: A live concert review by David Fiorenza . . . Page 20 2014 Philadelphia Songwriters Project Contest . . . Page 21 The Plight of Stage Fright: Manage your stage fright by Abby Ahmad . . . Page 22 NJ Taylor: A look at NJ’s debut single/video, “I Don’t Care” . . . Page 28 Vans and Berklee Partner to Offer a Full Scholarship . . . Page 30 Samantha J: “Hot Gyal Anthem” . . . Page 33 Shelly Peiken: “Timing” . . . Page 34 Julie Roberts: A CD review by David Fiorenza . . . Page 36 No Sass Creations: Mary Jennings introduces her new jewelry line . . . Page 37 Laura Lee Bishop: “Real Man” . . . Page 41 No Slam Dancing, No Stage Diving, No Spikes: Book review . . .Page 44 “Betty Black”: Delving Into Femininity . . . Page 54 Margo Rey (Cover Story) . . . Page 59 Arielle: An open and candid interview with rising artist Arielle . . . Page 72

Important Notes Personal News: First off, a marvelous editor at Examiner read my writing and decided to promote me to assignment writer. So, if I call you in a panic looking for a quote, just remember deadlines for those assignments can be pretty tight. Thanks for understanding. Cut To: Thanks to the immensely talented actress, Emmanuelle Vaugier (and her publicist, Lesley!), and her willingness to be interviewed by a music guy, I have finally been able to branch out into other realms . . . meaning, the first full issue of Cut To: will be coming shortly. Cut To: features interviews and articles concerning film, television, fashion, and more! To help entice you to check out Cut To:, there


has been a little bit more attention placed on fashion and video in this month’s Songwriter’s Monthly. For instance, check out the first article on With Beating Hearts! Issue numbering: As readers who have remained loyal over the past several years already know, I broke off from doing the magazine format for a little while. The internet seemed to favor single articles over full issues. However, now that everyone has a blog or a place to post and more people can successfully read on handheld devices, it seems magazines have become something of value once again. In fact, the total reads from our January 2014 issue obliterated even our highest numbers from back when we were a print magazine (that was available in stores worldwide). Thank you!!! So, I’d like to pick up numbering the issues again . . . only it’s kinda complicated to say exactly where we are. I spent a little bit of time figuring out where we would be if we had never abandoned the numbering of issues. The end result . . . I’ve calculated this issue to roughly be #153. So, issue #153 it is! Mailing List: The three best ways to keep up with what’s happening at Songwriter’s Monthly are like, follow, or simply send an email to a1foster@aol.com and I’ll add you to the mailing list. Links: If a word or phrase is in blue or it looks like a link, chances are it is. Links support the articles and features with additional information and other goodies. Click! Explore! Enjoy! Comments: Comments are always welcome! Feel free to publicly post on whatever site you are reading this issue. Or, if you want to keep it private, send me an email. Contributors and Submissions: Contributors with hands-on experience in the music industry are always welcome to submit articles or anecdotes (e.g., “A Funny Thing Happened To Me On The Way To My Gig”). Artists, bands, publicists, etc., are encouraged to submit news releases and review items! Support: If you like what you read here and believe it’s something worth supporting, donations are accepted via paypal. All you need to do is click on www.paypal.com and direct a payment of any amount to a1foster@aol.com [Note: It’s a(one)foster]. Thank you for your support, I could not do this without you! Contact: a1foster@aol.com


Editor’s Notes It’s pen and paper this morning with the distant hope that one day the power will come back on — speaking of no power, Cut To: will feature an interview with Revolution’s (NBC) Digital Imaging Technician, Justin Paul Warren — and I’ll be able to fire up the computer and type and post. I realize it’s only been 24 hours, but the tree service guy said he’s never seen it this bad and I should be patient because it will be “several days” before the power can be restored. I know a temporary power outage is a relatively minor thing on the grand scale of life, but a bunch of relatively minor things have been piling up since the fall and I’m getting to the point where I want stand up and scream, “Enough already! This is starting to feel personal!” After which, someone, most assuredly, will try to comfort me and quip, “No internet? First World problems, dude.” Or, “Hey, did you hear about that couple who was mugged while walking down the aisle to get married? There’s always someone who’s got it worse, man, be thankful you’re just without power.” I have a real problem with that mindset, not because my plight is suddenly diminished by comparison, but because trying to make yourself feel better by putting others down isn’t a long haul solution: “I might not have internet, but at least I didn’t get robbed in the middle of my wedding. Glad I’m better off than they are!” When I sat down with this blank piece of copy paper and this pen, my goal was to argue the point of not making setbacks personal. Bad things happen to everyone, you haven’t been targeted, and the cosmos are not out to get you. However, since I write much slower than I type, several conflicting thoughts have been traipsing across my mind. Taunting me. And now, I’ve changed my mind and completely oneeightied my conclusion. And just in time to, because here it comes . . . Maybe, just maybe, the whole point is to make it personal. There is always someone who is worse off, just as there is always someone who is better off, but no one else but me is exactly me. Thus, no matter what obstacles — or accolades — I might be facing at this very moment, I am the one who is uniquely positioned to handle them in my own, individual way. It doesn’t matter who has it worse or who has it better because that doesn’t solve anything. What matters is identifying a situation, recognizing it for what it is, and then determining a course of action. One that works for you. So go ahead, make it personal, stare your predicament dead on and proclaim, “Alright life, challenge accepted!”


With Beating Hearts: The Wolves

There’s a good chance you’re already familiar with Colleen D’Agostino’s velvety rasp from her work with The Material. In that band, Colleen shreds the airwaves alongside a pair of raging guitars, mercilessly heavy bass, and some inhumanly precise drumming. The result is a rock ensemble of estimable ferocity led by D’Agostino’s peerless satin fury! With Beating Hearts, on the other hand, is Colleen’s solo project. With Beating Hearts still kicks with a tightly-coiled emotional intensity and D’Agostino’s phenomenal vocals, but instead of a realm dominated by growling guitars, this music resides in a universe of glittering phosphorescence emanating from a vast assemblage of scintillating synthesizer patches. “I was itching to do something new and different,” Colleen explained. “I still love rock music and playing rock shows, but I started listening to more electro-pop records and realized that maybe I should take a shot at that. It turns out, I love it so much


“I think I was itching to do something new and different,” — Colleen D’Agostino

and I am excited to continue writing new songs in this genre!” Upon listening to her debut EP, The Wolves, it is immediately apparent that D’Agostino and synth-pop are a seamless fit. Those natural overtones that resonate within Colleen’s vocals and provide her with such an intoxicatingly lush grit are in the same range as those that give electronic fuzz its warmth. In short, on this EP, voice and machine merge, each bolstering the other to create a beautiful hybrid that is grander than either could possibly be alone. The

Wolves is a rich and wonderful sonic alchemy. D’Agostino’s refusal to lay down a steady beat and maintain an unwavering pulse from start to finish is paramount to the project’s ultimate success. Listening to this EP is like opening your pillow sack after Trick-or-Treating to find it’s filled with an exhilarating assortment of goodies! “Each song has it’s own feel and meaning,” she offered. “‘Drag Me Down’ is more serious, while ‘Crazy Love’ is about a relationship that works despite the chaos surrounding it. ‘The One For You’ is a flirty love song that’s fun and dance-y. I wanted to bring variety to this EP and just have fun with it.” The cover artwork for The Wolves features D’Agostino bathed in the soft glow of the sun’s rays, which highlight her sleek and stunning silver attire. Both the grace of nature and the allure of technology seem to be captured in this intriguing photo. “The album art is actually a still from my music video for ‘Drag Me Down’ by Raul Gonzo,” Colleen revealed. “My friend, Nicole Quiroz of the Mahal Style team, was the stylist for the shoot. I’ve worked with her on a few projects and when she found out we were going to shoot a video for this song, she checked out the music and invited me down to San Diego for a photo shoot and helped me pick out the outfits for the


video. She’s so incredibly talented and I am very thankful for her creative vision on this!” Nicole Quiroz of Mahal Style noted, “Your look can either make or break your career. It’s always important to keep yourself ahead of the fashion game and ahead of the trends. My motto is ‘Be the trendsetter, the tastemaker; not the follower.’” Quiroz offered the following details on the thought that went into creating Colleen’s style for this project: “There were three main components that helped me achieve Colleen’s look. First, her music. ‘Drag Me Down’ has an 80’s feel mixed with modern electro-pop. Thoughts of crushed velvet, shoulder pads, and geometric shapes danced in my head as I was brainstorming ideas. Second, her music video. Colleen shared her music video treatment with me, which really solidified the color, tones, and texture that matched the backdrop of her video. I decided to stay within the silver color palette, which married well with the snowy, woodland scenery. The silver, long-sleeved, velvet dress with embellished cut-outs was

“She’s a natural beauty with a monstrous amount of talent, and my job was to bring out the best of both while letting her true star quality shine.” — Nicole Quiroz, Mahal Style


Nicole Quiroz, Mahal Style

perfect. I also made her diamond headpiece, which I created out of triangle mirror pieces. (In Colleen’s ‘Drag Me Down’ music video, you’ll see that I put her in another outfit — a sexy, galaxy catsuit with a contrasting powder pink faux fur coat. The catsuit is another homage to the 80s, and the galaxy print gives it a modern touch.) Third, Colleen’s personality. I’ve known Colleen since 2004 — back when we were in college and working as sales associates at our local surf shop in San Diego! She’s one of my best friends and I would never dress her in anything that would compromise her personality and what she stands for. Styling Colleen was a dream come true. She’s a natural beauty with a monstrous amount of talent, and my job was to bring out the best of both while letting her true star quality shine.”

When asked why she chose to name the EP The Wolves, D’Agostino replied, “The first line of ‘Drag Me Down’ says, ‘The wolves are out tonight, they’re watching every move I make.’ The wolves in this song were symbolic of the music industry to me at the time. I was feeling like I was walking on eggshells there for a bit, having to be someone else in order to ‘make it.’ The song is about staying true to yourself, and not letting ‘the wolves’ bring you down.” With Beating Hearts’ The Wolves EP [Produced by Blake Harnage of Versa (formerly VersaEmerge)] is currently available via iTunes. For more information on Colleen, visit With Beating Hearts and The Material. And, don’t forget to watch the video for “Drag Me Down.” For more information on Nicole, visit her fashion blog and her Instagram.


Chickie Pagano: Live!

Chickie Pagano is a diva in the making. There is simply no other way to put it so you can fully grasp the sheer magnitude of her voice. Think Aretha, Whitney, Christina, etc. Pagano has already performed at Philadelphia’s esteemed Kimmel Center, the House of Blues in L.A., and Carnegie Hall. Yes, THE Carnegie Hall. And, she only recently turned 18! Sit for a minute and let that sink in. A few weeks ago, Chickie performed at Barnabys in Ridley, PA during the first annual Freezefest. The massive event promised 10 bands and 10 DJ’s sprawled out over 10 themed rooms throughout the 30,000 square foot indoor/outdoor facility. In the end, however, there were more than 15 live performances from local bands and solo artists for the 3000 attendees to enjoy. Additionally, the event raised $6,000 for the Rally for Rocco Foundation. The stage where Chickie performed was located in a large ballroom with ample space devoted to an expansive dance floor. The audience crammed in, nearly shoulder-toshoulder, as the young talent took the stage in a glittering, midnight blue catsuit to strut her stuff. To say Pagano lived up to expectations would be an understatement. The powerhouse vocalist ripped through an invigorating set comprised of covers and


originals. She sang with a robust intensity that was saturated with a soulful growl as she effortlessly pounced on the lows then leaped into the stratosphere to nail the goosebump-inducing highs. If this is any indication of a typical show, soon you will only be able to catch Chickie Pagano in arena-sized venues. The day after the event, Pagano agreed to answer a few questions about her approach to a live performance. Songwriter’s Monthly: How early did you start singing? What inspired you to step into the role of a performer? Chickie Pagano: I started singing at 11 years old. I was inspired when I heard a friend of mine, who was a year older than me, play her demo. I was 10, and she was 11. I couldn’t believe what I heard. She was awesome! I ran out crying to my mom that day, and the whole way home I begged for lessons. But what would make this different from every other time I asked to do some sort of activity and gave up after a month of it? I never stopped asking. Finally, I found someone to audition to have lessons with, and from there, it never stopped. The journey is still going. SM: What do you think about before you step onto the stage? Do you have any pre-show rituals, a specific mental space you need to be in, etc.? CP: I like to take time to myself, not talk to anyone, just focus and think about what I am doing, what I am singing, and how I am feeling. Sometimes, I say three Hail Mary’s, even though I don’t consider myself religious! I just say a prayer as to how


thankful I am for having such supportive people in my life, and having the opportunities I have had, and continue to have. SM: I recently talked to David Sancious (original member of the E Street Band), and he told me that sometimes after performing a show with Sting, it’s not unusual for the band to sit down and discuss how the night went — I know, so NOT what you think rock stars do! What do you typically do after a show? Are you wound up or exhausted? CP: I am pretty exhausted after a show! There’s a lot of adrenaline, but after that wears off, I am über tired! Typically, I just can’t wait to get home and wash my face! SM: When you are holding that mic and you are performing and you look out over a room full of people who are completely absorbed in your performance, do you feel it and feed off of that, or are you lost in the song? CP: If the crowd is really engaged, I always feed off it! If they aren’t engaged or they just don’t show it, I try not to focus on the crowd because it may interfere with my focus and control. Either way, I am always in the song, I always feel, understand, and relate to what I am singing! SM: What do you hope to offer the people who come out to see you perform? CP: A great time! A night of fantastic music, dancing, and just feeling awesome!!


SM: What do you get out of a show, what does the crowd give back to you? CP: The crowd gives me motivation because I see how much they enjoy the performance, and I see how my hard work pays off. They make it 100% worth it. The crowd gives me hope and faith to carry my dreams through. SM: It’s hard not to think “diva” — not in the bad way — when you perform. There is a sense that you are larger than life, your stage and vocal presence brings to mind names like Aretha Franklin, Donna Summer, and Christina Aguilera. Who do you most relate to when you are performing? Are there any artists you bring to mind/ channel while performing? CP: Actually, I relate to all of those artists! I think it is important to channel all of the artists you listen to when you perform. It creates who you are as an artist/singer. We are composed of our past. When I first started singing, I sang Liza Minelli, Aretha Franklin, Billie Holiday, Jennifer Hudson, Celine Dion, Christina Aguilera, Sammy Davis Jr., and Janis Joplin. If it weren’t for those artists, I would not have the voice I have today. They truly inspired me, and I will forever incorporate bits and pieces of each artist I listen to into my own works.


SM: If they made a movie about you, what vocalists would you hope they were considering for the part? CP: A movie about me?! Lets make it a documentary and I can play myself! That’s a great question who would play me...? Lets start auditioning people and I’ll let you know! SM: Is there anything about performing, music, your career, the future, etc. that you’d like to bring up? CP: Sure thing! I want to bring up discouragement because performing is a really difficult field to get acclimated to, and there’s a plethora of negativity delivered to artists without reason! That, however, is not a reason to give up! Don’t ever allow this to interfere with your goals, dreams, opinions, and who you are!! You have to think about each situation and experience as a part of your unique story, a story that is continuously writing itself. And, you have to keep in mind that no story is written without rising action. Twitter • Facebook


Monday Night Open Mic Featuring:

Kimberly Cole: “Found Better” (A review based on the musing: What if music had play-by-play commentary?) Mike: Welcome to Monday Night Open Mic, the play-by-play music review experience. My name is Mike and I’ll be your commentator along with my good buddy, Jack. Jack: Yep, you got it, that’s Mike and Jack, or Mike Jack for short, plug into us to amp up your music! Mike: Lame. Jack: Possibly, but I’ll tell you what’s not lame, Kimberly Cole! Mike: Now you’re talking! Did you know this stunningly stylish sensation started studying piano, voice and dance when she was just four years old? Jack: Hey, that’s a lot of s words in a row there, Mike. Mike: I’ve got one more for you, Jack: skater. Ms. Cole later developed mad skills in roller skating. In fact, she became a champion competitive artistic roller skater. Jack: And, that’s where she first learned to use her body—


Mike: Whoa, Jack, easy there! Are you trying to get us fired on our first day? Jack: Let me finish. Kimberly learned how to use her body to tell a captivating story. She has since turned that skill into an art form and coupled it with fashion and song to wow crowds with her phenomenal moves, haute urban couture, and her fiercely chic brand of original pop music. Mike: Which brings us to tonight’s song. Jack: “Found Better” from Kimberly’s just released Prelude EP. Mike: The track starts with a hint of nostalgic vinyl crackle and a laid-back, yet solid beat on the drums. The guitar draws attention to the two and four of the beat, infusing the groove with an addictive reggae flavor. Jack: I don’t know about you, Mike, but whenever I hear that crackle of needle-onvinyl, I feel all warm and fuzzy inside. I grew up with that sound, you know. Mike: Way back when your mom was setting up your play dates with that geeky Tommy Edison kid, right? Jack: Huh? Mike: Never mind. Hey, listen, the action is picking up in our song! A shrill synth, part factory alarm and part dentist’s drill, has just lanced the beat to reveal Cole’s no-nonsense edge. Jack: That girl can kick some serious butt, have you seen her “Smack You” video? You don’t want to be messin’ with her, she’ll knock your grillz straight down your throat without even chippin’ a nail! Mike: Jack, it’s just a video, Cole is all about standing up for yourself. She once told Songwriter’s Monthly that “Smack You” was a way to vent without really getting into a fight. Or, more recently, as she stated on Crisco Kidd Block Party, “I’m not really a bad girl, but I’m a bad girl in my music.” Jack: Still, I respect that girl’s skills. Someone who moves like that on the dance floor is someone you don’t want to start trouble with. Mike: Can we get back to “Found Better?” Jack: Sure, but I never knew she was Jamaican.


Mike: She’s not Jamaican, Jack, Kimberly is a native of Orange County, California! But I hear what you’re saying, when her vocals saunter into the track, they are packin’ an island gangsta type of heat. There’s the confidence of newcomer Samantha J mixed with the harder edge of an artist like M.I.A., but with a style and flair that’s uniquely Cole. Jack: Maybe it’s that L.A. street toughness, I told you she’s not someone to mess with. Mike: Jack, it goes back to that strong, confident female persona, Cole’s music empowers. “Found Better” is a statement about moving on. Or better yet, strutting by with attitude! Jack: Attitude, that’s for sure! There’s so much bite in her vocals that I bet she cut the track without ever losing her sneer. Mike: “Found Better” is Cole moving forward, stepping beyond her innuendo-laced pop past to— Jack: That’s right, didn’t she have that song called “Pocket Rocket?” Mike: Yeah, but— Jack: And then there was “Three Way.” Mike: True. Jack: “U Make Me Wanna” . . . “Walk of Shame” . . . Mike: Right, those were the mischievous, fun Kimberly, but her newer tracks resonate with a different vibe, she’s still got her wild side, but Cole is demanding respect. She’s had a lot of experience in her life and she’s obviously grown from it. Jack: Yeah, I hear that, definitely. Mike: And “Found Better” is just the start. As you mentioned earlier, Kimberly has just released an


EP called Prelude. [Check out the knee-weakening sensuality in the EP’s trailer.] Cole has described the EP as a mix of reggae and EDM. Jack: EDM? Mike, to tell the truth, I’ve heard of ED, but what’s this EDM? Is it worse?! Mike: EDM stands for “Electronic Dance Music.” Think trance, house, techno— Jack: Phew, I gotta admit, I was a little worried there for a minute. Mike: Jack, the only thing you need to worry about is missing a single beat of this scintillating artist’s career. Jack: Hey, that’s another s word. Mike: That’s right, Jack, and I have one last s word for you. Jack: Really? What is it? Mike: Sayonara. Jack: Sayonara? Mike: It means goodbye, Jack. Our time is up. Jack: Oh, in that case, goodbye, Mike. Mike: And don’t forget to follow Kimberly on Twitter and Facebook. Plus, you can keep up with all of her latest news at Kimberlycolemusic.com.


Island Records and Indiegogo Announce “Fan Republic” Partnership London, February, 2014 — Island Records and Indiegogo have announced an innovative partnership, launching Fan Republic as the first collaboration of its kind between a music label and a crowdfunding platform. The partnership will provide a new place to discover and support emerging artists worldwide. Fan Republic is a crowdfunding destination powered by Indiegogo Outpost and hosted by Island Records, which uniquely offers exclusive rewards for artists who reach or exceed their funding targets. These exclusives will include deals and discounts negotiated by Island Records on everything from studio rates to video production and van rental. Island Records is one of the first companies to utilize the recently announced Indiegogo Outpost feature that enables companies to host Indiegogo campaigns on their own websites. Emerging artists using Fan Republic will also have the chance to connect directly with the highly respected Island Records A&R team, who will be evaluating all projects which reach their funding targets. “A&R is the life blood of Island Records,” Island Records President Darcus Beese stated. “Fan Republic shows our commitment to finding and nurturing great new talent.” To celebrate the site’s launch, Island Records is offering the incentive of a single release. The A&R team will select a winner from all of the artists who reach their funding target within the first six months from launch guaranteeing that at least one artist will get an Island Records release as the site gets underway. Glenn Cooper, Island Records Director of Digital, expressed, “We are very excited about the launch of the Fan Republic partnership with Indiegogo. Crowdfunding is an important part of the digital marketing plot for many emerging artists and a great way to build a mutually beneficial relationship with their most engaged fans.” Via their world-class online service, the legendary Abbey Road Studios, a key Fan Republic partner, is also offering to mix and master a single for one lucky artist who successfully funds their campaign.


“Our Fan Republic partnership with Island Records is the latest example of how Indiegogo is committed to innovations and collaborations that harness the power of our open and global platform to help people fund what matters to them,” stated Slava Rubin, Founder and CEO of Indiegogo. At 4%, Fan Republic, powered by Indiegogo Outpost, has the lowest administrative costs of any music crowdfunding platform. Additional Fan Republic partners for launch include the following: Miloco Studios, Tiger Tours, and Crossfire Productions. About Island Records: The Island label has been responsible for the careers of some of the biggest stars in music including U2, Bob Marley, Cat Slava Rubin, Stevens, Traffic, Free, Fairport Founder and CEO of Indiegogo Convention, Nick Drake, Sandy Denny, Toots & The Maytals, John Martyn, Marianne Faithfull, Aswad, Tom Waits, King Sunny Ade, Third World, Roxy Music, Robert Palmer, The B52s, Sly & Robbie, Melissa Etheridge, Grace Jones, Tom Tom Club, Pulp, Tricky, Talvin Singh, and latterly PJ Harvey, DJ Shadow, Keane, Mumford & Sons, Paul Weller, Portishead, Florence + The Machine, Ben Howard, Bombay Bicycle Club, Jessie J, Dizzee Rascal and Disclosure. About Indiegogo: Indiegogo empowers people around the world to fund what matters to them. As the largest global crowdfunding platform, campaigns have launched from almost every country around the world with millions of dollars being distributed every week due to contributions made by the Indiegogo community. At its core, Indiegogo is the equal opportunity platform dedicated to democratizing the way people raise funds for any project — creative, entrepreneurial or cause-related. The company was launched in ‘08 and is headquartered in San Francisco, with offices in Los Angeles and New York.


Robin Zander, Live, Solo World Café Live, Wilmington, DE Sunday, January 26, 2014 by David Fiorenza Winter still had at least two months remaining. The frigid cold and frozen snow was looking old to me, so it was time for some live music. You know how some people refer to something as a once in a lifetime event? Well, I can say that seeing Robin Zander perform solo was a once in a lifetime event . . . Or was it? More on that thought later. The World Café Live, located in downtown Wilmington, Delaware, was hosting Cheap Trick’s lead vocalist Robin Zander. The 250 people who braved the cold and skipped watching The Grammy’s live, were treated to a two-and-a-half hour acoustic set from rock music’s top vocalist. This was Robin’s first solo tour since joining Cheap Trick about 40 years ago. However, Robin does tour — very infrequently, though — with his own group, aptly titled, The Robin Zander Band. He has done this in between the more than 5,000 shows performed by Cheap Trick over the band’s illustrious career. This is in addition to the 20 million records sold and the band’s accomplishment of 40 gold and platinum records awarded to them by the RIAA. The first hour and a half was dedicated to selections from Robin’s first solo CD that was produced by Jimmy Iovine. This CD was released in 1993 and the music sounds just as good today as it did back then. The sound was filled out with Robin’s son taking turns on piano and guitar, and he even played a few selections of his own songs that were very good — Robin’s son currently works in Nashville as a songwriter. Robin also brought out his daughter to sing harmony and background vocals on certain selections. Then, we were treated to a few songs from a second solo CD that was never released. Robin said the record company at the time did not like the feel of the songs, which were early country Hank Williams’s style. This night showed that Robin could sing any genre of music, perfectly. The last hour was dedicated to requests from the audience. Mr. Zander stayed away from the obvious Cheap Trick mega hits, but gladly performed some B-sides, deep album cuts, and many Beatles songs. You can really hear The Beatles’ influences in Cheap Trick’s music. This truly was a once in a lifetime event, or, as previously hinted


at, maybe it wasn’t. Here’s why: after the show, I had the chance to speak briefly with Robin’s son. I thanked him for the performance and said, “I guess we were so fortunate to see your father perform solo, it will be back to Cheap Trick, soon.” His reply was, “My father is having so much fun, we are thinking of doing this every year as it is a good way for the family to be together and to sing together.” For more information on Robin, visit: www.cheaptrick.com and www.robinzanderband.com. Cheap Trick will be on tour this year through summer and I am sure into 2015. David Fiorenza teaches Economics of Art & Entertainment at Villanova University. The website for his duo, Fiorenza-Dowlin, is at www.reverbnation.com/fiorenzadowlin. ***

Songwriting Contest 2014 Philadelphia Songwriters Project Contest Time is running out! The deadline for entering the 2014 Philadelphia Songwriters Project Contest is March 14, 2014! Who May Submit? Any performing songwriter regardless of his or her level of expertise — beginner thru professional • Any genre may be performed • Any instrumental songwriter/s as long as the writer/s will also be the live performers Who May Not Submit? 2012 / 2013 winners of Philadelphia Songwriters Project Songwriting Contests — this does not include semi-finalists of either year • Any artist already booked for any of the prize venues during the 2014 year • Non-performing songwriters Criteria for Judging: Songs will be judged in the following categories: lyric, music, and performance quality. Contact: Contest@phillysongwriters.com Details and Guidelines


The Plight of Stage Fright by Abby Ahmad The cold sweat that won’t quit. Those flutterflies in your tummy pit. The dry mouth and the quivering breath. A heart that races towards its death.

IT’S HORRIFYING! IT’S TERRORIZING! IT’S . . .

“Worry gives a small thing a big shadow.” — Swedish Proverb


Most everyone has experienced some degree of performance anxiety in their lifetime. The pressures of performance, whether singing, acting, dancing, athletic competition, leading a meeting/class, giving a speech, talking to strangers, or for some, even the simple act of placing phone calls can be fear-inducing experiences. Our doubts manifest in less than desirable forms. Some struggle with crippling fear that can be so powerful, it forces them to stop performing altogether. Others may experience it in milder doses, while some internalize performance stress without even consciously realizing it. Whether extreme, moderate, or lurking below the surface, this type of anxiety can wreak havoc on our bodies, minds, emotions, and craft.

The Long Haul Overcoming the anxiety associated with performance takes time and persistence. Learning to become conscious of habits, tendencies, and tension is the first step. Awareness is the precursor for change. Stage anxiety invokes our sympathetic nervous system. You may have heard about this bodily response by its more common description: “Fight or Flight.” This process releases adrenaline into our system, giving us the tools to save ourselves from impending doom. Your body may not actively know the difference between the peril of taking the stage and that of an impending shark attack! It responds to the fear of performing as if your life is at stake. This repeated pattern will not only soil your stage savvy, but the long-term effects can cause serious damage to your health. I have included a series of exercises below that help atone this process by summoning the parasympathetic nervous system. This system encourages the body to “rest and digest” which will restore functionality internally. This aids recovery and helps to prevent future frenzy. The more you practice these exercises in daily life when NOT provoked by panic, the easier it will be to access them when ol’ “Anxious Annie” rears her ugly head. Try to devote a few minutes a day to this series. On performance days, allow more time, as nerves will be intensified.


Concentration: • Find a quiet space where you will not be disturbed. Keep cellphones, computers, and other distractions out of this area. Let your spouse, partner, family member, or roommate know that you can’t be interrupted (with the exception of an emergency, of course). • Sit in a comfortable, upright position. I tend to choose armless chairs that have backs and aren’t too squishy or a yoga mat. • Find a gazing point either on the floor just ahead of your feet or straight ahead. Allow your direct sight to get a bit fuzzy and let your peripheral vision become sharper. Once you have settled yourself, allow the eyes to close.

Respiration: Begin taking long, slow inhales and exhales through the nose. Focus on making the breath identical in both directions. Let the inhales and exhales be the same in length and intensity. Place one hand on the belly and one hand on the chest to connect with yourself and rhythm. Become aware of your natural tendencies and patterns when it comes to breath. Work towards evenness and symmetry. *There are a plethora of effective breathing techniques. Feel free to contact me at abbyahmadvocal@gmail.com to help find the ones that best suit you.

Meditation: Meditation isn’t thinking about nothing, it is the process of allowing thoughts to run their course and actively be released. As you ride the wave of your breath, begin to notice what thoughts arise. Surrender them on the exhales. Repeat this pattern as new thoughts arise. This applies to both negative and positive thoughts. This is the time for clearing and cleansing, not consideration. Don’t let yourself get distracted or discouraged by what comes up. Return to the breath, and bring mindfulness and compassion to the process of letting go.


Visualization: Begin to actively consider a situation that gives you unease. In this case, it will be performance. Using your imagination, actively create a scene in your head that involves an upcoming performance. Become super detail-oriented when envisioning the situation. Involve all your senses in the creation of the scenario. Then begin to imagine the scene with its most ideal outcome. Hear the clapping and roar of the crowd. See the smiles on the faces of your audience members. Feel yourself being cool, calm, and collected, and giving the performance of a lifetime. Then embody this positive emotion that you create in your mind into your body through conscious breath and active positioning.

Affirmation: Journaling is a great way to practice affirmation. Writing down feelings of positivity, reassurance, and confidence will manifest into our performance. You can also, practice saying them out loud, but I find journaling to be the best introduction. Fill the pages with quotes, sayings and general encouraging thoughts.

Man In The Mirror I often suggest that my students practice regularly in front of a mirror. Having an external perspective to witness ourselves can be intimidating, but after the initial awkwardness subsides, there is a wealth of benefits. Often, performance jitters stem from a fear of how we will be perceived by others. Practicing in a mirror enables a safe place to test out body positioning and gives us a tool to create awareness of where and when we hold tension. In this age of technology, using devices to capture audio/video of ourselves vocalizing or performing is infinitely helpful, as well. It gives us a degree of objectivity concerning ourselves, which is essential in navigating our patterns. Remember, practice makes progress. We must willingly examine both our strengths and weaknesses without judgement in order to move forward.


Pre-Performance Prep • Moderate your caffeine and sugar intake during the day of a performance. Steer clear of these and other stimulants just prior to taking the stage. • Resist the urge to check your cellphone prior to a performance. Not only does looking at emails/social media send your psyche spiraling, but receiving last-minute cancellation texts from well-meaning pals can turn tranquility into a train wreck. • Exercise is always useful on performance days. It allows release of the body/mind and subsequently prepares us for what’s to come. Try something not too vigorous, like walking, yoga, or light cardio.

Lights Up Ok, you’re prepped and primped and ready to hit the stage. Here are a few things to remember during showtime:

Don’t Avoid Eye Contact: While this can seem like a horrifying proposition, I find that making eye contact with an audience encourages union instead of division. The point of performance is to connect with other humans. By engaging in eye contact, we create a comfortable atmosphere for our audience which enables us to relax, as well. If this concept seems too intense, begin by flirting with the idea of eye contact. Instead of keeping your eyes closed the whole performance, take a few moments to look beyond the audience. Find a gazing point just above their heads. This will create the air of connection without the intensity of eye to eye action.

Don’t Overthink: Don’t plan too much beforehand. If we script out too specifically what we want to happen, we’ll get easily frustrated if something or someone truncates the plan. Preorchestration can also be perceived as boring or trite by an audience.


Trust your natural inclinations on stage. Do not over-analyze. Do not over-anticipate. Leave rehearsal in the past and live within the present moment.

Do Not Call Attention To Mistakes: Too often, I see people on stage attempt to recover from a hiccup by pointing it out or apologizing. This is a major no-no! An audience is there to be transported. Nine times out of ten they will barely notice if you go up on lyrics or licks, but by shining a spotlight on it, you are dimming their experience AND dumbing yourself down. If you do falter, attempt to regain your footing on the next phrase. If this fails, take a moment to fully inhale and exhale. This will assist you in regaining your composure and keeping your listeners engaged. In other words, “Chickety-check yo self before you wreck yo self!” Keep in mind that our mistakes teach us more than perfect execution might. Take the opportunity to learn and improve. Instead of beating yourself up, panicking or throwing in the towel, test your recovery skills. You’ll be surprised how much they assist in everyday life, as well.

Part With the Prospect of Perfection: Audiences attend live performances to be part of an experience in real time. Flaws are unavoidable and ultimately exciting and stimulating. Go with the flow and expect with certainty that things may go awry. If we accept mistakes as an inevitability, we won’t spend so much time fearing their potential arrival. Presence, Persistence, and Poise = Power.

Abby Ahmad is a singer/songwriter, performer, vocal/yoga instructor based in NYC. For More Information: abbyahmad.com


NJ Taylor: “I Don’t Care” If NJ Taylor’s debut single and video are any indication of what is in store for this rising pop star, then she’s destined for the spotlight. Taylor wrote and coproduced the anthemic, “I Don’t Care,” an impactful, upbeat track that plunges boldly into the turbulence of a bad breakup. Reminiscent of the bite of Alanis Morissette’s “You Oughta Know,” Taylor has tapped into a rawness that makes her music a rallying point for anyone who has experienced the conflicting emotions involved with moving on. The lyrics, “I prayed for you, but now I’m through with you,” reveal a woman compassionate enough to really care, but strong enough to walk away. The concept of the video is tightly tied to the song’s lyrics. The 3-minute vignette portrays a self-assured woman delivering the sweetest revenge of all: going out and having a great time! An important focal point of the story is Taylor’s dance skills. There is an elegance to her subtle moves that helps define her character. “I do have a background in dance,” the artist pointed out. “I took jazz and hip-hop classes for few years. I also have a background in acting. I studied professional theater at the Dome


Theatre, which is one of the best acting programs in Montreal! Obviously, I’m biased,” she laughed. “But seriously, some well-known actors, such as Jay Baruchel [How To Train Your Dragon], came out of that school! Anyway, all this is to say that in theater, we also had ‘movement’ classes.” Regarding the setting of the video, Taylor explained, “I always wanted a scene in the video to be held in a karaoke bar. Why? Simply because that specific scene was based on a true story that I lived! Obviously, the scene was modified from what truly happened, but I suggested that idea to the director, PeeZee, and he wrote the treatment around my idea.” Another impressive aspect of “I Don’t Care” is the fact that NJ funded it herself. The Montreal-based artist confirmed, “Not only am I funding this myself, but I’m the executive producer of my entire project!!! At least for now, until I get signed by a label or find an investor!” In closing, Taylor expressed, “I just want to make music that can speak to people and influence them. I hope that I can touch people through the good times and the bad times. If I can achieve that, than I will truly be blessed.” Website • Facebook • Twitter • Video


Vans and Berklee Partner to Offer a Full Scholarship Award Opportunities Include Internship, House of Vans Performances, and Recording Boston, MA, February, 2014 — Vans, the original action sports footwear and apparel brand, and Berklee College of Music, the world’s leading college of contemporary music, are proud to announce the founding of the Vans Berklee Off The Wall Scholarship, a four-year award covering full tuition, room and board. The scholarship will be awarded annually to a talented musician from the U.S. This is the first educational initiative of its kind for Vans, a brand rich in music culture that supports creative musicians and has deep roots in genres ranging from punk and metal to indie rock and hip hop. When Vans first opened its doors almost 50 years ago in Anaheim, CA, the Van Doren family always made it a point to give back to the community in which they worked. That spirit of giving continues as Vans remains committed to supporting the communities, environments, and creative platforms of action sports, youth development, art, and now, music. “Berklee awarded its first bachelor of music degrees in 1966, the year Vans was founded. Throughout the decades, Vans and Berklee have both celebrated the freedom and individuality that comes from creative expression, making it a perfect partnership,” said President of Vans Kevin Bailey. Not only will the Vans Berklee Scholar be able to focus on pursuing his or her music education without financial concerns, but they will be immersed in Vans culture, outfitted with a Vans themed dorm room and laptop. The recipient will also have the opportunity to showcase his or her musical talents at venues and events like House of Vans and The Vans Warped Tour. The scholarship recipient isn’t the only beneficiary of the partnership. Vans is committed to providing additional opportunities for Berklee students, including performances at House of Vans locations and Vans’ Open Mic Nights at Vans venues across the country. Vans Vinyl will also collaborate with Berklee’s student-run label, Heavy Rotation Records, to produce and distribute a compilation of student music.


Jeffrey Dorenfeld working with Heavy Rotation Records students. Additionally, upper classmen will have the chance to participate in a music related summer internship at Vans. “Here you find two institutions with like-minded philosophies: freedom of selfexpression through creativity,” said Jeffrey Dorenfeld, Berklee professor of music business/management and advisor to Heavy Rotation Records, who spearheaded the partnership with Vans. “For Vans, it can be demonstrated on a skateboard, a bike, or on stage. At Berklee, creativity is found in the classroom, on stage, in a studio, or behind a computer. Together we hope to enable students to live out their dreams.”


About Vans and Music: Vans supports original and creative music acts ranging from Band of Horses to Public Enemy to Turbonegro by bringing memorable shows to global audiences at the House of Vans roving music venue that echoes Vans’ Brooklyn-based cultural hub and to more than half a million fans each summer at the Vans Warped Tour, America’s longest-running music tour. Shoe and clothing collaborations with Pearl Jam, Iron Maiden, Iggy Pop, Descendents, KISS, Social Distortion, No Doubt, Slayer and Metallica are among the many coveted projects that suit an “Off The Wall” lifestyle for music fans everywhere. Website • Facebook • Twitter

About Berklee: Berklee College of Music was founded on the revolutionary principle that the best way to prepare students for careers in music is through the study and practice of contemporary music. For more than 65 years, the college has evolved to reflect the current state of the music industry, leading the way with baccalaureate studies in performance, music business/management, songwriting, music therapy, film scoring, and more. With a focus on global learning, Berklee in Valencia, a new campus in Spain, is hosting the college’s first graduate programs, while Berklee Online serves distance learners worldwide with extension classes and degree-granting programs. The Berklee City Music Network provides afterschool programming for underserved teens in 45 locations throughout the U.S. and Canada. With a student body representing nearly 100 countries and alumni and faculty that have won more than 305 Grammy and Latin Grammy Awards, Berklee is the world’s premier learning lab for the music of today — and tomorrow.


Samantha J: “Hot Gyal Anthem” Last month, Songwriter’s Monthly ran a short piece on an incredibly talented teenager from Jamaica [Jan. 2014, page 11]. Samantha J’s vibrant “Tight Skirt” video is already closing in on two million views! This month, the emerging superstar has a new single. Her latest is called “Hot Gyal Anthem.”

Beauty has always opened doors, but beauty fortified by talent, style, and sizzling beats, well, that can make the whole planet spin in a bold new direction. Samantha J has just such a combination and she is going to tilt and twirl the world to her liking. It won’t be long until everyone is adopting a Jamaican patois and girls are sashaying about in tight skirts and brightly colored tees emblazoned with the words “Hot Gyal.” Samantha J’s fresh style and hyper-addictive music are going to rock the world. “Hot Gyal Anthem” by Samantha J on Oceanic Tradewinds / Washroom Ent. Website • Facebook • Twitter • Instagram


Shelly Peiken: Timing

Meredith Brooks was an aspiring artist who needed a song to launch her career. I was a songwriter who needed an artist to launch a song. Meredith had written loads of songs with other writers in search of that song. I had written with loads of artists hoping they’d launch me a hit. I was considering going back to waiting tables. I don’t say that with disrespect. Everyone should wait tables for a few years. It humbles and at the same time empowers . . . teaches us how to be of service and be a better tipper when we’re on the other side of the table. There were things about waitressing I really enjoyed, but I was hoping by that point in my career something significant would have happened that would keep me from going back to my day job. That something just wouldn’t budge. Then one day, Meredith and I crashed into each other like pieces of debris in a chaotic orbit. You can have a million blind dates. You can have a hunch about something or someone and be totally right or totally off. You just never know. In fact, Meredith and I had written one very mediocre song a few months back and I don’t think either of us planned on working together again. How we came to re-unite


is another story that I’m happy to get into at a different time, but my point is . . . we did. On this particular day. Mercury was far from retrograde. Also? We weren’t thinking about how “of the moment” an idea could be and how it could factor into a song’s success. For instance, how culture is evolving, what the human ear is ‘ready’ for, and what kind of bed a song is presented in. We naively sat in a small room with an acoustic guitar and wrote “Bitch” . . . line for line . . . back and forth . . . inside a little bubble without a beat. The next day we (well, Meredith) did a raucous demo. It just so happened that the aggressiveness of Alanis was in the air. Plus, the idea of a woman referring to HERSELF as a bitch rather than someone else CALLING her a bitch was perhaps something women (albeit hormonal women) were ready for. A few years later? A few years before? Who knows? The song could have wound up on the cutting room floor. Or on the soundtrack to Ishtar. Perhaps it was just the right song with the right artist at the right time. That said, purposefully analyzing the state of the moment can be a real killjoy, an inspiration zapper. There’s something to be said for the mystery of random luck. Besides, I’d rather avoid all the possible miscalculations in exchange for that one delightful surprise. www.facebook.com/serialsongwriter en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shelly_Peiken Shelly Peiken is a multi-platinum Grammy nominated songwriter who is best known for her #1 hits “What a Girl Wants” and “Come On Over Baby (All I Want Is You).” Shelly and Meredith Brooks earned a Grammy nomination for Brooks’s hit song “Bitch.” She has had hundreds of songs placed on albums, TV, and in film. Shelly plays piano and guitar and is an accomplished lyricist. She is a New Yorker at heart who enjoys her life in Los Angeles.


Julie Roberts: Good Wine & Bad Decisions 2014 Sun Records by David Fiorenza Country music has a great secret. Her name is Julie Roberts. She is no newcomer to the music industry, as her 2004 self-titled CD earned her a certified gold record with the Top 20 song “Break Down Here.” There were a few full length and Christmas CD releases since then, with a 2006 CD and a Top 5 Country debut of “Men & Mascara.” The next few years were spent bravely fighting her ongoing battle with Multiple Sclerosis. Good Wine & Bad Decisions, released in late 2013 on the legendary Sun Records, is 14 songs with the best country/Americana/blues sound I have heard in years. From the title track to the uplifting gospel song “Arms of Jesus,” Julie has managed to capture a cross section of genres of music that has been present in artists such as Norah Jones and Amos Lee. Ms. Roberts continues her expansion into the world of being a top-notch singer/ songwriter. She co-wrote 9 of the 14 songs on her new CD with producer Jason Collum. The rest of the songs were written by well-respected songwriters. She sings Steve Earle’s “I’m Not Getting Any Better At Goodbyes” and then wraps her wonderful vocals around the Buddy & Julie Miller song, “Gasoline & Matches.” I can’t emphasize enough that country artists can learn from Julie’s songwriting and the emotion in her singing. Julie has developed into a very strong songwriter and has demonstrated that she can sing various genres from up-tempo country blues to R&B soulful gospel. You will feel you are part of Julie’s musical journey and history as you listen to her heartfelt experiences through these songs. Look for Julie Roberts on tour this summer. For more info: www.julieroberts.com. David Fiorenza teaches Economics of Art & Entertainment at Villanova University. The website for his duo, Fiorenza-Dowlin, is at www.reverbnation.com/fiorenzadowlin.


Mary Jennings: No Sass Creations I was first introduced to Mary Jennings a number of years ago when I heard her exquisite CD, Collapse, Collide. Her warm vocals melted over gently progressive piano parts immediately captured my attention. She was an impressive artist with both depth and passion. Songwriter’s Monthly noted that Jennings “has a strikingly rich and powerful voice” and her melodies climb into the “air with a valiant beauty!” Jennings crafts her music with great care. She takes time to imbue each and every song she writes with a unique charm all its own. These same artisan ideals are reflected in Mary’s passion for jewelry design, as well. Like her songs, each bolo tie or set of earrings is created to be one of a kind. Jennings was more than happy to share some photos of her work and to answer a few questions about this other intriguing facet of her creativity. Songwriter’s Monthly: I know you as a musician, when did this jewelry making side of you emerge? Mary Jennings: Well, I have been making my own accessories for years. My mom was an antique and estate jewelry dealer. She was always repairing and repurposing pieces, so she was the one who initially got me into both jewelry design and antiquing. I have given items as gifts for a long time, but then I started getting requests for them at shows. This year, I decided it would be a great time to start


selling my pieces to help make money for my creative pursuits from accessory making to making music. SM: What made you decide to focus on bolo ties? MJ: I have only recently gotten into bolo ties. Although they tend to be a southwestern/cowboy style accessory, I think they can be really cool and versatile. When I first started working on them, my dad told me that my great grandfather — he was also a singer — wore them all the time! I guess it runs in the family! SM: What is the biggest challenge in making your jewelry? MJ: The difficulty in making my jewelry is finding the pieces. I like for each one to be totally unique, so I spend a lot of time finding parts. In that way, it is similar to my songwriting because I want each one to be unique.


SM: You make a striking model. Is modeling jewelry the same as taking press photos or is there a different vibe to it? MJ: Thank you so much!! I don’t really know much about modeling, but I needed photos for my pieces. I just set up my camera and used a remote control for them! I would say that press photos are very different from modeling jewelry. In a press photo, you are trying to promote yourself as an artist, whereas in accessory modeling, it is all about making the jewelry look great and clear. SM: The settings you have placed your work in are very pleasing to the eye. Those colors and textures really sell the natural beauty of the bolo ties and earrings. Did you work with a stylist or do you just have an eye for fashion? MJ: Again, thank you so much! I picked everything out myself, straight from my closet. This is a new venture and I am doing what I can with what I’ve got. I just put the outfits together as I would wear them and hoped that someone else might like them, too!


SM: How can people get these items? Are they available at your live shows? Online? MJ: I plan to sell them any way I can. At this point, I have been selling them by word of mouth, but I just open my Etsy store at the beginning of March. It is called No Sass Creations by Mary Jennings. I will also sell them at shows. I plan to include music with any items purchased, as well. SM: Is this just the beginning? Are you going to branch out into other fashion accessories, or will your focus remain on these two items? MJ: Hopefully this is just the beginning!! I love making all kinds of jewelry. We’ll see what happens. SM: Can I get a list of your links so people can get in touch with you? MJ: I would love to run the following, if at all possible: Website • Etsy • Facebook • Twitter • YouTube


Laura Lee Bishop: “Real Man” Laura Lee Bishop is one of those artists who just commands your attention. She is fearless and confident with just the right splash of coyness to entice your curiosity. Her eyes are magnetic, they beckon you closer, but somewhere deeper they challenge: can you handle this? Laura is an open book, but her story is an intriguing mystery. “Real Man” is Bishop’s TommY BoY Entertainment debut and it carries all of those same compelling qualities and more. It is a rousing pop gem with country roots, a confession as much as it is an anthem that declares: take me as I am or get lost. Laura’s just released video is already approaching 100,000 views. This rapidly rising talent graciously agreed to offer Songwriter’s Monthly some insight into exactly who she is!

Some Background, Please? I currently live in Nashville, but I spend a lot of time in New York City. I attended college at NYU, so those years you spend finding yourself that shape who you become, who you are, I spent in New York. I lived in Austin for several years after college, playing a lot of live music. I am a Texas girl, so I had a blast there, but after


a while, I realized I needed to make a change, and that’s when I moved to Nashville. I don’t know if Nashville represents who I am as an artist — New York City will always have my heart — but I am glad I moved there because it has sparked a chain of events that led me to where I am now.

What About Your Songwriting? Everything I write is extremely personal. “Real Man” is an interesting song because while I sing, “I need a real man,” it’s not exactly about finding a real man, it’s about being a “real woman.” The song is about saying, “I’m all of these things, and I don’t have to change. I can do me, and if you can’t take the heat, get out of the oven.”

I’ll Show You A “Real Man!” Honestly, I’m not looking for a real man. I think what everyone is looking for is just someone who gets them. For example, when I sing the song, I think a lot about my place in the music industry, where I am, and where I want to be. Will someone hear me? Will they want me? Do they see who and what I am? I know I am all these things that I sing about in “Real Man,” but will someone else see the good in that?

What’s The Laura Lee Live Experience Like? I’m an intense person, especially when I sing. Sometimes, it’s actually physically painful the way a song can take over my body during a performance — even if it’s a song I didn’t write, I make it a part of me while I’m singing it. Every song is trying to tell something to someone — a lover, a friend, an enemy — so when I sing, I need that person to really hear it, not just the words but that thing that is deep down at the core. I want people to see me live. Recordings are great, and I love “Real Man,” but I want people to see what I do in the moment, that I exist as a performer first and a recording artist second. For a lot of artists today, it’s the reverse: they sing in the studio, but they are a mess on stage. It’s all smoke a mirrors. I pride myself on being a real singer, a real performer. When you see me perform, there is no disparity between what you hear in the recording and what you hear live on stage.


Awesome Hair! The magenta hair was an impulsive, last minute thing. I was watching Netflix in bed with my mom, and I said, “I think I will dye my hair tomorrow.” And I did. It was blonde, and blonde just isn’t me. I’m a theatrical person in general, so I just went BAM! and now I have crazy magenta hair!

In Closing: I’m excited for what is to come. “Real Man” is my first real release. I recorded an EP in college, but this is the first thing I’ve released that has said, “HERE I AM!” So, I’m excited to hear what people think of it. Video • Facebook • Twitter • Instagram


No Slam Dancing, No Stage Diving, No Spikes: An Oral History of the Legendary City Gardens by Amy Yates Wuelfing and Steven DiLodovico Full disclosure? I was being selfish. I was interested in No Slam Dancing, No Stage Diving, No Spikes: An Oral History of the Legendary City Gardens by Amy Yates Wuelfing and Steven DiLodovico because the subject matter had great personal significance to me. You see, I grew up going to the venue that this book was written about! Well, “grew up” is rather misleading as it wasn’t my coming-of-age time, I was a little past that stage of my life by then. Consequently, I didn’t go for any of the typical reasons people tend to frequent a club. For instance, I didn’t go for the girls or to find a place where I fit in because I was already married and I had found my niche and my circle. I went for the music. It was that simple. City Gardens managed to get the most amazing acts, many of which I either didn’t know where else I could see them, or I didn’t want to see them any place else. Now that I’ve typed that, I realize the first part was a lie! It was more than the music. It was, indeed, the scene. Most definitely, City Gardens was a scene! But the music was awesome, too! You might be thinking, a book where the main character is a building — that should have been condemned — how could that possibly hold my interest for over 400 pages?! If you have to ask that, then you obviously were never there. Think Studio 54, but with a longer lifespan, a much more colorful and varied clientele, and — like I’ve been telling you — much better music! Pick a night, any night and the average


conduct at City Gardens would make it seem like reality television was founded on fine, upstanding, Christian values and starred mellow, even-tempered individuals by comparison. Concert after concert, it was a glorious train wreck of raucous dysfunction, insanity and fun! [Literally! You can read about the Trenton State psych ward patients who would frequent the venue in the book!] If that doesn’t at least intrigue you enough to contemplate cracking the cover, remember, this was a different era, there was no such thing as air bags, helicopter parents, political correctness, or anti-bullying laws! But there were skinheads: “I remember one night Randy [Randy Now, the man who was single-handedly responsible for making City Gardens the legend it is] and I had to leave in the middle of an Agnostic Front show to take a kid to the emergency room. A skinhead had pulled out a hammer in the mosh pit and whacked this poor guy in the head. His parents, of course, sued the club.” — Mickey Ween, Ween guitarist.

And there were many, many other types, as well: “. . . when the doors opened and I started seeing the crowd pour into this place. All kinds of people that I had never seen before in my life. I felt like I was three feet tall. They were all giant, big, tattoocovered, spiked, Mohawked, crazy-looking people. Torn-up jeans with bleach splatters, crazy-

Ken Salerno

And there were bikers: “Why would bikers come to a punk rock club? Well, it was in Trenton, it was close to their clubhouse, and maybe they thought they could sell some speed.” — Tom Christ, City Gardens regular.


looking t-shirts with sleeves cut off, leather jackets . . . You had all these dirtbags and metalheads, just a little bit of everybody. It really wasn’t just punks. It was all kinds of society’s rejects.” — Tim McMahon, Mouthpiece, vocalist. So you see, having “I survived a show at City Gardens” checked off of your bucket list is far more impressive than “skydiving,” “swimming with sharks,” or “bungee jumping into a volcano.” But what makes No Slam Dancing, No Stage Diving, No Spikes truly special is the way it was done, the way the story of the club and the history of the era has been brought to life. Amy Yates Wuelfing and Steven DiLodovico brilliantly tell the entire history through first-person accounts [“oral history”]. You feel like you are a cop and you’ve just stepped into an active crime scene. This book vividly places you smack dab in the middle of the action. No Slam Dancing, No Stage Diving, No Spikes is so thorough and so impressive, it should be considered required reading for college (e.g., music history, world history, cultural studies, sociology, criminology, etc.). As if Amy and Steven haven’t already contributed enough, these amazing writers agreed to answer a wide assortment of questions about what went into the process of making this masterpiece. *** Songwriters Monthly: Why this book? Why this topic? Why this venue? What is the personal magic for you surrounding this project? Amy Wuelfing: Over 20 years after the club stopped doing shows, the people who went there still talk about it, get together, and meet up at shows. The club seemed to have a lasting impact on the people who went there and I wanted to document that time and place. Steve DiLodovico: I think, most importantly, it needed to be done to preserve history. City Gardens never got a lot of recognition while it was happening, and a lot of us who went there feel it needed to be recognized. Plus, just the overwhelming fondness I have for the place, and what it meant to me, personally, was a big motivator. SM: How would you describe your young musical tastes? Where would you have fit in with the different stereotypes of that era?


Ken Salerno

Steve: I was definitely a metalhead and then a hardcore kid. Anything that was heavy, fast, and extreme. Amy: I liked it all, I was a New Wave chick and a punk-rocker, but I also loved hardcore and metal. And I had the punk rock hair-do! SM: How much of your life has been invested in this book? Did you realize it would be this extensive of a project before you started?

Amy Wuelfing Steve: For the past five or six years, just about my entire life has been invested in this project. Once Amy asked me to be a part of it, I knew it was going to be a pretty big endeavor, but I had no idea how big until I was in the thick of it. Amy: This thing has been hanging over me for 15 years! 15!! But I believe it took that long, and me meeting Steve, to get it exactly right. SM: Steve, how did you initially meet Amy and get involved with this project? Steve: Funny story: I was actually going online and doing research for an article/ retrospective I was writing about the old Philly hardcore scene (the article never came to fruition) and, in doing so, I started thinking about City Gardens and wanted to mention it in my article. Thing was, I didn’t really know anything about City Gardens outside of my own personal experiences there. I didn’t know who owned it, I didn’t know when it first opened; really nothing at all. So I looked online and found surprisingly little information. (This was the early 2000s and most of us weren’t even aware of Facebook or other social media, yet.) What I did find was one of those old email/newsgroup lists called “Seedy Gardeners” where people would trade emails and such. I went in asking if anybody wanted to talk to me for this article about hardcore scenes of the early/mid 80s, but most of the people in that group were old 90¢ dance night people, most hadn’t been involved with the hardcore scene. But I


Ken Salerno

received a message from Amy telling me that she “had a calendar of EVERY show ever played at City Gardens.” I couldn’t believe it. So I emailed her. She sent me the calendar and we started talking. I began writing down all of the shows I went to at City Gardens and tried to remember details. I must have sent her like 100 pages. I had a lot of friendships with people in the hardcore scene and I offered to help her get interviews if she needed them. Basically, I pestered the hell out of her until she finally “officially” asked me to coauthor the book with her (which had been my goal from day one). She let me, my wife, Steve DiLodovico and our two cats stay at her house for almost a year while we worked on the book. It was pretty special. SM: What was the start, the first official “work” you did on this book? The groundbreaking task? That initial point when you thought, “maybe, just maybe I can do this”? Amy: I began interviewing club promoter Randy Now, who we dedicate the book to. Love him or hate him, he is the man who built the club out in the middle of nowhere, even though he was not the owner. Steve: The very first interview I did was with Dave Franklin of Vision. His unbelievable energy and enthusiasm were huge for me. The interview itself was great, but it was more the excitement that Dave had recalling all those good times that really kind of clued me in as to how people thought of City Gardens. And then Dave was so helpful with a lot of other aspects of getting us going; providing contacts and introductions and things like that. I definitely knew we had something going.


SM: What was the end of Act I, when did you hit that point of no return, the moment you knew you were in too far to back out? Steve: Since I jumped in in the middle of it, I was immediately at the point of no return. Amy: Steve knew if he tried to back out, I would hunt him down and kill him. This is no joke. For me, the point of no return was when I completed the Butthole Surfers story (which is how the book starts) and people loved it. I knew I was onto something and I couldn’t quit . . . no matter how much I wanted to. Not to get all “new age” on you, but this book is something that I felt a personal responsibility to the Universe to complete. SM: Was there any point when you wanted to back out? If so, why? Steve: I don’t know that I ever wanted to “back out,” but there were definitely many, many times when I got overwhelmed and thought that this would never come to fruition. The idea of just completing the book, never mind printing it and selling it, sometimes seemed doomed. The hugeness of it all sometimes got to be too much, and I’d have to step back, take a breath, and re-focus. Amy: I wanted to quit all the time, and actually sort of did, until I met Steve and he got me back into it. SM: Were there any other books or films or documentaries that you modeled this book after? If so, which ones? Steve: Amy introduced me to Legs McNeil’s Please Kill Me: The Uncensored Oral History of Punk. Obviously, that was the big one that set the tone for us. I’ve always been an avid fan of all different types of music journalism, biographies, autobiographies, etc. I even managed to get through the Morrissey autobiography . . . Amy: Please Kill Me, definitely. I love oral histories. The first one I read was Edie: American Girl, about Edie Sedgwick, and I loved it. I knew the City Gardens book had to be an oral history. SM: What was the hardest part of this whole process? The easiest?


Ken Salerno

Henry Rollins

Steve: For me, the hardest was dealing with “music business” people; the agents, managers, and PR people you have to go through to get a lousy 10 minute interview. I don’t deal well with that whole world, so I let Amy handle all that! The easiest part was talking music with music fans.

Amy: Talking to people is the easiest part. Transcribing those interviews is what I dreaded the most. SM: Was there a moment, a big victory when you thought, “I don’t care what else happens, this is it, this was the moment for me?” If so, what was it? Steve: There were actually several of those moments for me throughout the entire process. I think the biggest one was when I got to interview Ian MacKaye [cofounder and owner of Dischord Records]. He was just so cool about the whole thing, and he later invited us and the Riot on the Dance Floor production team to the Dischord House. When I first walked into Dischord, I had that moment when I thought, well, if I never do anything again, at least I got to see the Dischord House, where so many of my favorite records came from! Amy: Interviewing some of my all-time favorites, like Peter Hook from New Order/ Joy Division and Milo of the Descendents. And of course, Jon Stewart. SM: What did you learn (if anything) about City Gardens that you didn’t know before?


Steve: In just about every interview, I learned something new. And also, I learned about the earliest days of City Gardens: Amy did all of that research and most of the information she gathered, I knew nothing about, which was really cool to me. Amy: That the people who went to City Gardens in its later years had an entirely different opinion of the place. SM: The size of this book is pretty intimidating, but it reads remarkably fast. Did you need to tweak any of the dialogue to make it flow better (i.e., speech and the written word are two different forms of communication, what works in one doesn’t always work in the other)? Steve: Size-wise, it is the War and Peace of punk rock books! It’s a fine line you walk when putting these stories to paper. You have to be careful not to twist any of the information, and you want to try and capture the way a person speaks naturally, but, at the same time, there are a lot of things that get said that, no matter how hard you try, you can’t make them work in written form. It’s an interesting challenge. Amy: If we left in every time someone said, “you know,” “all of a sudden,” “you know what I mean?” and the all-purpose, “so then . . .” the book would be 800 pages! You try to clean it up so people sound their best without over sanitizing it. SM: What was the most surprising anecdote? Steve: For me, it was the fact that several people, staff members, security, and even Randy Now himself, all said that the most violent show that ever took place at City Gardens was during a Hoodoo Gurus show. Yes. The Hoodoo Gurus. Go figure. Amy: Peter Hook from New Order describing how famed photographer Anton Corbijn was so drunk that he forgot to take a photo of the band — which was the only reason he was flown from England to the States by NME Magazine. He remembered as the car to take him to the airport was pulling up. He ran across the street to a garage and managed to score a couple disposable cameras and took a photo of the band at the traveling carnival next door. The photo came out great! SM: Who did you think would never contribute, but surprised you and did?


Steve: Definitely Jon Stewart. I mean, who would have thought that Amy and I had that kind of clout, ha, ha. Amy: I thought EVERYONE should contribute. I’m still pissed at the people who didn’t! SM: Did you forge any lasting relationships with anyone over the course of creating this book? Steve: Without a doubt. That was easily the best part about the whole thing for me. Number one was forging this incredible friendship my wife and I have with Amy and her husband. Amy: Steve and his wife. SM: I know when I finish even just a 350 word article, I NEED immediate feedback. Did you have first readers who helped you get through the long process? Steve: I’m the exact opposite: I’m deathly afraid of criticism and I am embarrassed by praise. In a weird way, I almost don’t want anyone to read anything I’ve written, but that’s just my own personal hang-up. Amy: I’m just like Steve! I didn’t even want my husband to read it! SM: Did you learn anything that, looking back now, you think, “why did we do that?” Steve: I try to look at everything, especially mistakes or missteps, as necessary and important things. I mean, if there’s no fear of failure then there is no drive to do something worthwhile. Amy: We were inventing the wheel . . . with no money! And I actually can’t think of one thing I’d do differently. SM: Besides promotion, what’s next? Are you considering tackling anything else? (I also used to hang at the Empire Rock Room in NE Philly, hint, hint.) Steve: Ha! The Empire was pretty much my home base. I’m actually really excited about the next project we have in the works.


SM: How will people be able to purchase this? What’s the best way for them to reach you? Steve: The best way to get the book is to go to www.noslamdancing.com or to www.infinitemerch.com. Our website has a blog that we keep with pretty regularly and links to our Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter pages, too. Infinite Merch also has some shirts and other cool stuff coming out that you can get on their site. Those are the two best outlets right now, but there will be more coming. SM: Is there anything that you’d like to bring up that hasn’t been covered, yet? Steve: I just want to express how thankful I am that folks are really into what we are trying to do and to thank everybody for giving their time and enthusiasm to remembering City Gardens. Amy: What Steve said. I am so grateful to everyone who gave to our Kickstarter campaign. Website • Infinite Merch • Facebook • Instagram • Twitter


“Betty Black”: Delving Into Femininity

Sylvia Gordon (aka Sylvia Black) has loved music her whole life. She started her appreciation while in theater troupes and dance classes when she was a little girl, and after that she was just always moving to music and singing. “It wasn’t really until the end of high school that anyone told me you could major in music,” Sylvia recalled. “I didn’t know that was an option! So, I applied to Berklee [College of Music] and I got in.” Gordon initially wanted to play drums, “but that wasn’t happening in my family,” so she studied electric bass. And, more recently she’s been “getting into guitar.” Sylvia described her life as never being firmly rooted in just one world, she was always crossing back and forth. “I drifted between those two worlds of black and white — they were very distinct worlds for me — but I never fit into either one, exactly. I’ve always kind of been the odd person out.” But instead of being bitter or resentful, that unique perspective has allowed Sylvia to appreciate and embrace every opportunity that comes her way. “My first job ever


was singing in a hotel in Japan, two shows a night for three months,” she informed. “And I didn’t know Japanese, at all! More recently, I got a job singing in Hindi. Maybe people look at me and they think I have some kind of connection to India? But I have none,” she laughed. Eventually. Gordon’s musical journeys led her to create “Betty Black.” “I used to be in a band call Kudu and we had a song called ‘Black Betty’ — not the Ram Jam song — and I just grabbed the name and I switched it around so it sounded more like an actual name,” Sylvia revealed. “There wasn’t much thought behind it except that on this new project, I wanted to delve into femininity and see what I could do, visually, with feminine characteristics and pinup iconography.” According to the song’s lyrics, “Black Betty” is an “alpha female” who “always gets her man” . . . possibly with the help of a little voodoo? Sylvia slips into the persona with consummate ease. The imagery and sounds for Betty Black are, in a word, voluptuous. With slow churning rhythms, sedate vocals, and imagery that swirls from lace and heels to extreme closeups of Gordon’s plump, sensual lips, Sylvia has, indeed, created an extremely affecting and visceral experience with this project. However, there is also a darker aspect to her vision. For example, Betty Black’s “Bad Weather” begins with an eerie, heavy twang and the low, writhing growl of synths, which brings to mind advancing serpents. As the lyrics begin, a door opens on it’s own and a “swirling cloud of dust” enters and intoxicates, it gets “into your mind.” “I’m not a witch!” Gordon defended, laughing heartily. “I


don’t think of myself like that, at all. I’m a caring person. I really care about people and the struggles of humanity, in general. I’m not a dark person . . . well, not in a bad way, but I have always been attracted to that kind of thing since the first time I saw a goth girl at school. I was like, ‘What is that?! Why are you wearing so much black and eye liner?’ I’ve always been attracted to that sensibility, the darkness and the mystery . . . I probably have worn a lot more black than most people,” she laughed, again. “But exactly how much of Betty Black is me? I guess there is a part of her that is.” The inspiration for “Bad Weather” isn’t quite as menacing as the lyrics or music might lead you to believe. “The real story probably isn’t as interesting as you’d think,” Sylvia began. “It’s just a thing that most girls go through at some point when you fall for somebody and they are fooling around all the time and they simply don’t have the capacity to give back. Maybe it’s because of their age or they’ve got too much testosterone or whatever, but you will never be able to have them. Yet, you are dying for them! And, as much as you want it to, that feeling won’t go away. Logically, you know you just want it to stop, but you can’t and there’s nothing you can do about that. Being attracted to somebody whom you can’t have can drive you crazy for a couple of years.” In much of her press, Sylvia receives accolades for her vocals. And justly so, for it is their warm, intoxicating resonance that pulls the listener so deeply into her world. Time Out New York, for instance, has called her voice, “a supple coil of smooth velvet.”


“I guess that’s just what they attach to,” Gordon responded when asked why the focus always seemed to be on her voice when there are so many other aspects to her artistry. “Or, maybe I haven’t shown my musicianship enough . . . or people don’t read the credits enough to know how involved I am in the whole process? Or, maybe it’s just my manager picking the quotes? That’s why I specifically asked for my PR to get me something like Songwriter’s Monthly because I want people to understand that I do a lot of behind the scenes work.” When Sylvia writes a new song, she prefers to start with an emotion. “It’s always best to have an emotion present — usually pain — then it continues with a bass note and a melody, and that’s the song because all you have left to do is fill it in with the right sounds to create the right mood.” When asked if the initial emotion needs to be a real emotion that she is currently feeling, Gordon replied, “Yes, but then you elaborate on that, you put it in a different place. You pretend you are writing for somebody else, but really, it’s your experience. You can switch the narrator’s voice, but it always comes out of a real emotion and usually that emotion is one of longing or heartbreak because you’re sitting there with nowhere to move, so all you can do is write a song. It would be really rare for me to write a song where I’m just happy because if I’m happy, I’m out doing something, I’m not sitting there trying to alleviate the emotion with a song.”


But don’t be fooled into thinking Sylvia is a victim. She readily admits she’s been on both sides of a failing relationship. In other words, she’s broken her share of hearts, too. But when she is the one hurting, there is always an inner strength that fortifies her. “That’s for sure,” she agreed. “I always know I am going to get through. The thing you have to remember is the chemicals will subside, you will get through it and the only thing you can do is turn that bitterness into something else. You can’t take it out on that person, you can’t do something destructive . . . so you might as well make a song, and try to turn it into money,” she laughed. As the interview was concluding, Gordon let it slip that, at the moment, her boyfriend was driving her a little crazy. “So, I’ll have some more material coming up, soon!” she promised. Betty Black has numerous releases available through iTunes. Website • Facebook • Twitter • iTunes


Margo Rey Backstory Because of my obsession with puzzles and how everything fits together, I like to connect things. Additionally, because I have been involved with teaching — in one way or another — since the early 80’s, I know that backstory provides the fertile soil in which the seeds of knowledge can be planted so that the flowers of understanding may blossom. In other words, let me tell you a story . . . Way back on October 15th, 2012, I posted a 2-part review (Part 1, Part 2) of a delectable CD that I had received called Habit. It was from an artist I (sadly) was not yet familiar with. Her name was Margo Rey and I was so taken by the striking cover design that I compared it to the frosting on a cake: enticing! If that wasn’t crazy enough, the rest of the review alternated between the yumminess of baked goods as compared to the yumminess of Margo’s music. What can I say, when I get caught up in that flood of inspiration, I don’t question where it’s taking me, I just swim with it, desperately trying to navigate the surge.


It’s like that kid who wanted a Red Ryder BB Gun for Christmas. He wanted one so badly that he wrote an essay about it! Fueled (deluded) by impassioned inspiration, he was certain his piece was exceptional prose and it would get an A++++ and, thus, earn him the toy of his dreams. But in reality, it was only average work, at best. If he would have just waited for that post-creative euphoria to subside and then rewrite the essay, things might have ended up differently. It’s only after the rush that you can truly hear your inner critic, the one questioning you in that voice that, oddly enough, sounds a lot like your mother, “Really? You compared an artist’s work to a birthday cake? Are you sure you don’t want to rethink that whole approach, maybe even toss it in the trash and start fresh?” And that’s exactly where I was, I was experiencing that morning after “Ulp! what did I do?!” Margo Rey is elegance personified. Her exquisite look, impeccable poise, effortless grace, and sublime talent had just been compared to cake? What was I thinking? I’d have been better off if I’d burped when being introduced to the Queen of England. But it was too late, I’d already posted the review — both parts — and sent out the birth announcement to the world: “Hey look everyone, a new article!” Maybe if I just laid low and hoped that no one would read it, it might slip beneath Margo’s radar and I could just pretend the whole article had never been written. Yeah, that’s what I’d do. And it almost worked!

Discovered About two months later, I received a curious Facebook notification. It said I had a message from . . . Margo Rey! This was the moment I had been dreading. I was afraid to click


and reveal what she had sent me because I knew that it was probably something like, “Really, you compared my work to a birthday cake?!” — wow, in my head, she also sounded a lot like my mom! But that wasn’t exactly what Margo had written. It was more along the lines of, “God love you man, you are one of the very, very, few . . . I'm quite certain the only critic who made the connection from ‘Habit’ to The Stones. That song is my homage to them!” In fact, she was so happy I made the connection that she let the whole cake thing slide! Phew!

6/19/13, 11pm Yep, that’s right, if you’re paying attention, you see that we just jumped ahead about six months from the last section . . . which was two months after our story began back in October. Details, details. It was the summer of ’13, and on this particular day, I had been up since 3:30am. Again, if you’re paying attention, you also see that it was 11pm. In other words, I wasn’t as sharp as I usually am for an interview — not that I’m ever really particularly sharp in the first place — but this time, I was exhausted, sleep deprived, and a little more goofy than usual. Details + backstory = understanding. Or at the very least, they set the stage for the drama about to unfold. Oh, and speaking of setting the stage, I wasn’t the only one who was tired from a long day. Fueled by a common love for all things music, but hampered by weary minds, Margo and I were about to start a conversation that traveled in long circles and veered off in tangents. We were about to talk about everything from studio software to cartoon voices. Margo was about to share an abundance of information covering so very many aspects of songwriting, producing, performing, and more. Spoiler alert!: You’re in for a treat!


But First . . . Remember all that talk about connecting things at the start of this story? Well, the same amazing woman who set me up with the incredible Sheila Swift had arranged this little nighttime chat with the incomparable Margo Rey. Her name is Karen Labuca and she works at Miles High Productions in Hollywood, California. If you are not a regular reader of Songwriter’s Monthly, shame on you! But the shame can be washed away because with just one little click you can read all about both Karen and Sheila. Just don’t do it now or you’ll loose the flow of this tale! Okay, so I’ve set the stage by offering some backstory and by revealing the connections it took to make this event happen. What’s next? Oh yeah, the interview, itself! The phone rang. I picked it up and said, “Hello.” Karen responded with a, “Hi,” and informed, “Margo is on the other line, she just wrapped up another interview, so if you’re ready, I’m gonna connect y’all!” Did you hear that? Me, too. Karen is originally from Texas. [See, if you would have read the Sheila Swift article, you would have already known that.] Karen claims to have lost her accent. I won’t tell her, if you don’t.

Margo Rey Margo Rey: Hi, Allen! Thank you for having me on and . . . Having me on?! (laughing) I mean calling me, thank you for calling me. I just finished up a radio interview and . . . Thank you for having me on the phone, that’s what I was going to say, how about that (laughing)? [I told you I wasn’t the only tired one. Margo’s laugh was rich and full, a strong contrast to the serenity in her soothing speaking tones. Important Note For Continuity Buffs: Karen is the one who connected us via phone, that is how both Margo and I could receive an interview phone call.] Songwriter’s Monthly: No worries. Hasn’t this been a very long day for you? MR: It has been a long day, but I’ve really been looking forward to hearing from you tonight because I love talking about songwriting.


Singles SM: You have recently released an incredible cover of “Tempted,” but it’s not on Habit. Was “Tempted” just something to hold people over till the next release? What’s the game plan? MR: Well, I would love to have a more romantic answer for you, but the music industry is very much about singles, so my singles are kind of independent of the full body of work that I do. For example, from Habit, the single of “Let The Rain” was very different from the album version of “Let The Rain.” I guess I wouldn’t say “very” different, it’s still the same song, but certainly production-wise and sonically, it’s not the same. But the singles are still always true to who I am, it’s just kind of another side of me. I love arranging songs, it’s one of my favorite things to do — whether I wrote them or not. I like to take a song from a songwriter whom I really admire and try to pay homage to them, yet also make that song my own. I’ve had “Tempted” in my head for a long time, it’s always made me happy and made people’s feet tap. I used to sing it live every once in a while, and when radio made it evident to my record company and my radio team that they really wanted to hear me do a cover, I immediately knew that “Tempted” was the one. So to answer your question, at this time, “Tempted,” is not part of a big collective album, but when you go to iTunes, all of my songs pop up in a long list anyway, so you can just treat it as if it was. SM: I have to admit, I still think a little old school with album sides, themes, etc. MR: I totally think old school, too! Believe me, I was like, “What do you mean there’s not another single on Habit?! Listen to it again!” I was thrilled to do “Tempted,” but I did “She’s Not There” on Habit, there’s you’re cover! But they thought it was too rock and roll for AC. In a way, it’s beautiful because it artistically liberates me, I can give radio singles and still be consistent with who I am as a writer


and a producer and an arranger, and then still have a body of work that reflects one theme, so I’m kind of thrilled. [Margo intuitively alters her voice as she speaks, there are constant subtle changes in tone and timbre like she holds many characters in her head at any given moment — more on that later. When she hit the word, “thrilled,” Margo trailed off in an indulgent purr. I realized, it wasn’t just her singing that was captivating, she is always cognizant of the importance of a great delivery, even when simply answering a question.]

Arranging SM: That’s what makes your covers so great, you keep the song fundamentally the same, but there’s some kind of magic in your arrangement that makes the song all yours and brand new again. MR: Aww, that is the kindest thing I have ever heard about my work. Thank you so much! Wow! I am smiling ear to ear. I loved arranging those songs. On my previous album, My Heart’s Desire, I arranged “You Belong To Me” in a flamenco way, and I also did a version of “Wrapped Around Your Finger.” I’m not really a cover artist, but occasionally, I’m just so in love with a writer and a song . . . I just hope they don’t get mad, I hope I’m doing the songs justice. SM: Trust me, you are. Besides, it sounds like you have as much fun arranging as you do writing! MR: I do, I totally do! I get to be in awe of that writer. I want to know what they were thinking when they created it. I compare it to when a DJ for dance music takes one of my songs for a remix. [Margo is so thorough that she does not offer the original stem, but, instead, she provides a fresh vocal track that she sang at 120 bpm. Margo pointed out that she needs to recut the vocals because at that speed her phrasing and breathing change and she wants the vocals to sound natural at the accelerated tempo, too.] When I hear the track back, sometimes I’m like, “Wow, holy cow! I would not have done that, but I think it’s cool!” So, I hope that is something that a writer, artist, composer, or arranger hears when I do one of their songs. I hope they go,“Yeah, that’s pretty hip!”


SM: With what software can do these days, is it scary to hand your song over to someone for a remix? MR: When it’s a dance genre, I don’t mind because I know it’s going to be super electronic, “vwoop, vwoop,” you know? And it’s cool because that is the opposite side of the spectrum from Organica™ [“Organica™ is a ferociously nuanced hybrid of Alternative Pop (AAA) that is deeply rooted in lush vocals and ambient guitars, with thick, dynamic grooves all created by humans not machines”], but now I have a new audience of people. Really, what I want is for people to sing my melody, whether it’s arranged as a country song, an R&B song, a dance hit, or the way I did it originally because I want people to listen and sing the melody, get it stuck in their heart and their head, then listen to the lyrics and think, “Yeah, that’s kind of cool.” SM: It makes sense that you say that because I’ve noticed no matter how lush or wonderful your arrangements are, it’s always your voice that is the focal point of the track. MR: Thank you, thank you! I produce the songs myself, and sonically, I want them to be the sum of all parts, but there is always a certain aspect in each song that I want to feature along with my voice. For example, in my song “Get Back,” what I love the most about that song is the bass line. Since I don’t play the bass, I wrote the part with my voice. Actually, I write everything with my voice. Then, I have it notated and put it in front of a fantastic performer so he can breathe life into it. I just love making every song have a featured instrument in addition to my voice.


The lyrics are the star of the show, the melody is the star of the show, and my voice . . . There are three parts, a trinity, a three part star, but I’m certainly not like, “Okay, whatever, that’s a harmonica, you’re not important so let’s just put you in the background and crank up the vocals.” I want people to like my voice, but I really want to stay true to the song. That’s what’s important. SM: Also, I’ve noticed that your phrasing is not always what I’m expecting, it’s really impressive, fresh, and original. MR: Gosh, thank you for saying that. There’s what you are as an artist, what you want to give, and what you think is true to the song. You want to give your listeners a good experience. I love standing out, but I’m not going out of my way to stand out, I’m just really being me. However, sometimes, you will hit a wall, commercially, because that’s not how everybody else is producing songs, right now. Producing songs is like fashion, “Nobody’s rolling up their jeans, what’s wrong with you? We did that ten years ago!” The radio stations, your radio team — who are supposed to help sell you — and even your record company, they are all trying to keep their finger on the pulse. If you’re not congruent with seven of the ten core artists who are currently making a certain sound, they’ll shoot you down and say, “That’s not a single!” But there are always the breakout artists like Mumford and Sons or Ray LaMontagne or Jason Mraz or Amy Winehouse who are like, “Well yeah, I don’t sound like that because I just gotta be me and it’s your job to sell me.” Of course, I want commercial success, too, but I don’t want to follow a trend if that’s not who I am. I do think I follow a genre, I am in a genre, but it’s a genre I’ve tried to carve out for myself.

Fit In Or Stand Out? SM: It definitely seems that upcoming artists get mixed signals, should they fit in or stand out to “make it?” MR: I think if you truly find out who you are — and boy, that’s the biggest battle: to trust your instincts, really trust your instincts as an artist and listen to your muse — then you will be original . . . even if you fall into the same category as other artists. I would love it if somebody put a playlist together with Amy Winehouse and me along with John Mayer and Nora Jones, and maybe, Jason Mraz because we are all played on adult contemporary radio, but we’re all very different! My biggest artist statement


for Habit and even “Tempted” was: “I don’t want to sound like the software I was recorded on.” I mean, we use modern technology, we use time saving software in the studio, but I do so many things old school and I record things live! Sure, I’ll edit it in Pro Tools, but I don’t want to sound like Melodyne or Auto-Tune. I think that’s perfect for über pop, top 40 tracks, and I think it’s perfect for club music, but that’s obviously not the genre I’m in. I’m creating my own sound which I call Organica™. I never want to get rid of that human element. But that doesn’t mean if I write a song down the road and on one line I want to give it that super-duper computer sound, I won’t crank it up to eleven for a phrase or even the entire refrain of the song. But I just never want to completely let go of that human element.

Studio Tools & Geek Speak SM: I agree! I’m not against the use of studio tools, at all, but the tools should be used to make the artist sound like the artist. If you hear the editing or the corrections, then they are not being used right. At least in my mind.


MR: Absolutely. It’s kind of like you put one-size-fits-all software across the track instead of really just massaging it. But nobody wants to pay that kind of money, they want to make their music with a laptop in their home, not hire real musicians. I get it, the cost is a lot, but I think it’s really killing a beautiful palette pool of true artisans who got really good at their craft because they did things the long way. SM: Practice is no longer essential when you can just fix it in the studio. MR: That, or even if you just said we’re going to bump everything up nine milliseconds, the whole song might not need bumping up nine milliseconds, it could just be in one or two measures when the drummer slacked a little against the click, but once you bump it up, it sounds un-human — my drummer never would have played everything nine milliseconds ahead. Maybe he took a deep breath during those two measures? You can just leave that breath in there and let it sound like he took that breath because he is a human being and there is that human element of breathing or not breathing! I liken using studio tools to getting a massage: you can get a massage by a real massage therapist or you can sit in one of those massage chairs. A massage chair is soothing and it’s nice and it might be what you need while you’re getting a mani-pedi, but nothing replaces the human touch of a good therapist! A therapist is not going to give you this one-size-fits-all kneading up and down your back, she’s going to say, “Look, here’s your trouble spot, right here behind your shoulder blade,” and you’ll be like, “Yessss, that’s the spot!” So, if an engineer came into the studio and took my whole song and highlighted all of the tracks across Pro Tools and just clicked one button and said, “Okay, it’s fixed,” I’d be like, “No way! I can’t work with you, you obviously do not get what we are trying to achieve here!”


SM: It’s cool that you’re geeky! MR: I love geeky! SM: I love talking about this stuff, but not all artists can do it to this degree. It’s very impressive! MR: I am such a nerd. I like to say I am a nerd in an evening gown with a tool belt! SM: That’s the new hot, you know. MR: Oh, it is? But, I’ve been a geek for years (laughing)! I love being a techie! My best friend and I tech out together all the time. She lives in Dallas and we screen share. Oh, we’re such nerds! We go on TED.com and Popular Science and we talk about DNA, we’re such goofballs! But I do love that hat that I wear in the studio. It really feeds into . . . I don’t know my OCD, my micromanaging, and my hyperfocusing on one element. What’s really funny is, if I’m in the studio and I want to add a background vocal and I jump back behind the mic, I become a completely different person when I’m behind the microphone! I actually have to take a breath and I say, “Okay, you’re Margo the singer, now.” Well, I’ve never actually said that out loud (laughing), but I think it subconsciously. Then, I take a breath and I sing the backup vocal line. However, the minute I go through that door and sit behind the board again, I am producing this chick who was just behind the mic and I’m like “Oh, no, that harmony did not work at all. Next!” (laughing) Or I think, “How can I put this in, does it overpower the violin? Am I on the same frequency as the guitar distortion or any of the other effects that I have on the guitar?” I wear this other hat and I think, this is how people who write, direct, and star in a movie must work. I’m in awe of people who can direct themselves! But then I think, “Oh wow, the studio is actually very similar, just on a smaller budget!” I look at my songs as little scenes and the whole album is the movie.

Do The Voices In My Head Bother You? SM: When you are producing, you don’t ever get into any arguments with that “chick singer,” do you?


MR: Not yet. But I do voiceover work . . . a lot! That’s how I made my living when I first moved to L.A., that’s how I funded my own music projects. I do have well into the triple digits of people living inside of me, different voices, and they all have their own story and it’s, uhm . . . it’s fun? SM: Do you keep them all in check? MR: Yes, I do keep them all in check. My husband Ron [Ron White, Blue Collar Comedy Tour] gets to meet them all. I think of my brain as a giant waiting room, kind of like a really bad doctors office, just a really charmless office. The characters are all sitting there in their costumes and the lady at the reception desk slides a glass window to the side, she’s smokin’ a cigarette and she calls out, “number 42, you’ve got two lines . . . go!” [Margo’s voice changed to portray the receptionist. It was so convincing that it sounded like she had handed the phone off to another person!] My husband gets to witness all of these characters during the course of our conversations throughout the day. A character might only get one line because they come out just for the sake of making something funny, or to pay homage to whatever the subject matter is. My husband gets the biggest kick out of it. At first he did think I was nuts, “Whoa, how many of these people am I going to meet?” but he loves it, now!

Brides Against Breast Cancer SM: Well, I’ve kept you much longer than I intended. Thank you so much for being so open and willing to talk about so many aspects of yourself, your career, and the music industry. Is there anything that you would like to talk about? MR: Well, I don’t know how in-depth you want to go . . . SM: This feature is going to run pages and pages, so go ahead . . . MR: On Tuesday [June 18, 2013], it was released to the press — perhaps Chip [Schutzman, CEO of Miles High Productions] also told you — that I am now the National Ambassador for a beautiful organization called Brides Against Breast Cancer, and I am so thrilled about it! Brides Against Breast Cancer is an extremely well run charity that makes 78¢ back from every dollar collected. They collect it and they bring it home to run a cancer center called the Center for Building Hope. The center


offers free outpatient cancer treatment to anyone in Sarasota, Florida. Our goal is to build these centers all over the country. Cancer can be quite the racket, if they found a cure a lot of people would be out of a job! It’s just like weight loss in many ways. I’m not trying to be this jaded person, the Center for Building Hope treats people who can’t afford it. I just hope that through Brides Against Breast Cancer, I can help raise money and awareness, and hopefully enrich the lives of others through my voice — my artistic voice and my speaking voice — as someone who has their own cancer journey. I’m just really honored. SM: Are you taking care of yourself, getting the rest you need? MR: I’m trying to rest. I’m writing, but I’m not performing live a lot this summer [2013]. I’m in my second cancer diagnoses . . . we’ve gotten rid of the cancer and now I’m on adjutant therapy, which is what you do after the surgery, which is chemotherapy and radiation. I finished my last round of chemo last week and I get my white blood cell count done tomorrow, then I’ll have an idea of what my radiation schedule will be. These therapies . . . I’m grateful for the gift that it’s given me in showing me how to slow down and how to process stress in a healthy way because disease loves stress. Stress creates disease — it creates inflammation in your body, and that creates disease. So this summer, I’m slowing down in terms of live performances, but certainly not in terms of interviews and songwriting. And I love that because it’s really hard to write on the road. It’s so funny because the industry powers that be are like, “When’s the album going to be finished? When’s the album going to be finished?” But I’m like, “Dude, you just sent me on the road with nine


dates in a row, when am I supposed to produce this album?” There’s a reason why bands take time off to go write and then go into the studio. I know that I can do it, I can make an album while on the road, but I don’t really want that kind of pressure, it’s not healthy. SM: No, it’s not. You’ve gotta live your life like you make your music, it has to be organic. MR: No kidding. Thank you. Very well put! I am going to keep that in my meditation every morning.

Inspiration SM: I just have to say, I admire you. I follow your Facebook posts and you are just an amazing, radiant beacon of hope and inspiration! You do a tremendous amount of good for so very many people. MR: I hope so, I really hope so. I’ve never felt more alive! Chemo does some really strange things to your speech patterns and it makes my tongue swell, so singing is like . . . really? Literally, the first time it happened, after the first round, I was like, “I have a concert in three days! I can’t sing with a tongue that is larger than my mouth!” (laughing) So, it does do some weird things to you. Everybody’s different and obviously every chemo drug is different depending on the cocktail that you get, but I’ve never felt more alive! Even though it does slow me down speech-wise and it really robbed me of my . . . I’m a Spelling Bee champion and it robbed me of my spelling skills! After the first round, I literally was like, “Stylist . . . s-t-y-l-e-s-s, stylist.” And, I misspelled Windex in a text to my niece the other day! But the rapid brain activity, the epiphanies, it’s amazing. I really am just digging that. I am not sleeping very much, so I’m having to use a little nightly ritual of a hot shower, tea, and Ambien to get me through this cycle so I stay asleep — I can’t heal my muscle or my bone marrow if I don’t stay asleep. But man, the brain activity! I’ve never felt more alive! It could be because I’ve had an epiphany and I know how to heal myself, now. I know I’m going through this journey and I can enrich the lives of others. I just wish I could have gone about it without being re-diagnosed with something. But hey, it’s a journey.


SM: I just want to thank you so much for your time. I know I’ve kept you way, too long— MR: Please, do not apologize, I love this! This is such a treat compared to some of the other interviews. Thank you for being considerate. I know it’s late where you are, I really appreciate you doing this on Pacific Time. Margo is currently on tour. To catch up and follow this amazing artist and inspirational woman in any way you’d like, here are her links: Website • Tour • Facebook • Twitter • iTunes • Brides Against Cancer Center For Building Hope • Grow Appalachia [Afterword: One of the reasons Songwriter’s Monthly is behind on running interviews from last summer and fall is because I had a health scare around that time. My situation turned out to be benign, but it took months of tests and surgeries to reach that conclusion. People like Margo Rey, Cindy Alexander and other close friends are a true inspiration. Just watching someone triumph offers more hope than anything else in the world! Thank you!]


Arielle

One of my favorite parts of a movie is when the ending comes around and some minor plot point from early on makes a dramatic reappearance to tie everything together. Whenever possible, I try to use that tool (naturally) in my writing. Circling back around to a previously stated topic tends to offer a sense of purpose, like there really was a plan after all. If you recall, this month’s Editor’s Notes briefly mentioned the great ice storm of ’14 that caused power outages all around the northeastern region of the country and, consequently, was at least partially responsible for the February issue of Songwriter’s Monthly coming out in March! Well, just before the power went out, I clicked on a link to listen to a new song called “California” from a new artist named Arielle. The track opened with some beautifully tender guitar work and a gentle, but impassioned, declaration: “I want my name in the lights.” The crisp production had “hit” written all over it, especially when the track rose up in the chorus with such a profound crescendo that I got chills!


Now, I’ve heard “hits” before. I was once informed by Capitol Records that Songwriter’s Monthly was the first review to say Meredith Brooks had a hit with the controversial track that she co-wrote with the one and only Shelly Peiken. [Shelly talks about that same career launching co-write with Meredith on page 34 of this very issue!]. This is one of those cases where if that’s not the truth, I don’t want to know! But Meredith did send me a Christmas card that year . . . so maybe? Anyhow, what was remarkably intriguing about Arielle’s song was, despite the production polish, it was obvious the music came from her soul. There was an incredible depth to the track that touched some part of me on a level I wasn’t quite sure how to define. Immediately, I told her publicist, “YES!!!” Within 24 hours, we locked in a date and a time for the interview . . . and that night, mere hours later, the ice storm hit. I was as stressed about the possibility of missing the chance to speak with Arielle as I was watching the days tick by and knowing I was falling further and further behind on this issue! Eventually, I got a message out to Arielle’s publicist that said something like, “I have no power, no internet, no wifi, no cell signal, if this doesn’t change, I’m going to miss my interview with Arielle . . . hope this message gets to you!” It was a frigid, stress-filled week of roughing it, but miraculously, less than twelve hours before I was supposed to call Arielle, the power came back on! Once the interview began, it didn’t take long for me to confirm that Arielle was everything that her music promised and more. She was amazingly open and possibly more candid than any artist I’ve ever interviewed. *** Songwriter’s Monthly: Hello, may I speak with Arielle, please? Arielle: Hi. SM: Arielle, this is Allen from Songwriter’s Monthly Arielle: Hi! SM: Is there any snow where you are?


Arielle: Uh, not at all. SM: Do you want some? Arielle: I’d take a little, sure! SM: Your song, “California,” it’s pretty awesome! Arielle: Thank you. SM: As soon as I heard it, I knew there was something about you . . . a depth, a soul, something extra that goes beyond what’s typically in a song. Do you put a lot of yourself into what you do? Arielle: Oh, yeah! I think it takes somebody who has been in deep places themselves to see that because I think it’s something that people feel, but they don’t recognize . . . unless they’ve actually been there. For me — and I think about this all the time, I constantly butt heads with it — I do music to express myself; I never saw music as money. I never even really thought about it that way until I had to start making money for myself. But I certainly wouldn’t do music if I didn’t feel like I needed to do it for myself. It’s rough sometimes because of everything else that comes along with it. For example, being in front of a lot of people is not really natural to me. I really do it because I have something to say and, for right now at least, this is the best way I can say it. So I put everything I’ve got into it. SM: Have you ever considered yourself as being shy? Arielle: Oh yeah! Very! If you compare me to what I was like just a few years ago or even last year, I was very different. SM: What’s been responsible for the change, what has made you comfortable enough to not be so shy any more? Arielle: Wanting the music to be heard and kind of chasing . . . I chase the song. I have a song and then I try to live up to what is required to get it out there. No one is ever going to hear my music if I’m awkward and I’m hard to talk to, so that is something I work at. I’m doing media training and a couple of other things, right


now. Also, it took getting enough confidence in myself so that I could really believe somebody else would want to hear my music. SM: Media training? What have you learned? Do they evaluate you and say, “This is what you need to do”? Arielle: Kind of, yeah. There’s an interesting woman who helps me. She was actually a news reporter and then she turned into a media training specialist. She sits there and she interviews you, and then she tells you the things you need to work on and how to work on them. Then she does it again. She talks about putting color into what you say and taking control of the interview . . . and not to open any doors that lead to topics you don’t want to talk about. She’s been really helpful! SM: That’s cool. Quick aside: I was once doing a phone interview with [pop star], and all throughout the interview, I could hear his people quietly feeding him answers. Then, a beat later, he would say almost exactly what he’d been told to say. Arielle: Oh, wow.


SM: So, you’re pretty good, at least they trust you to be on your own. Arielle: Yeah, that is shocking (laughing)! I have to say, I can get pretty awkward. I don’t mean to, I think it’s just me being shy, but that sometimes makes other people feel awkward, too. That’s why I’m working really hard on it. SM: Have you ever had any moments when you experienced that uncomfortable hot flush during an interview? Arielle: Oh yeah, all the time! Just last night, I had an interview and I had to talk for three minutes straight . . . but I stopped at one because I basically said everything that I wanted to say. So, I started moving on to different topics and it got really bad. They started looking at me weird, so I just stopped. It was just so embarrassing! SM: But that’s hard for anybody to do! “I’m going to ask you a question, don’t stop talking for three minutes . . . go!” Arielle: I was like, “Okay, I don’t have anything more to say,” but they kept staring at me and they kept filming! The more I tried to fill in the space, the worse it got! SM: Where can I see this raw video? I’ll have to link to it in this article! Arielle: The raw footage of me flipping out and they are not even doing anything, they just keep filming? That raw footage? SM: Isn’t that an interrogation technique? You just stare at somebody and don’t say anything, you make them uncomfortable enough to fill the dead space with a confession. Arielle: [giggle] Yeah, it’s a good technique! Sm: I’m sorry you had to go through that. Arielle: No worries.


SM: Sometimes I’ll run into an artist who only responds in one word answers. If I get like five of those short answers in a row, I become the deer in the headlights! I just start rambling to try and jump start the “give and take.” It can get very awkward. Arielle: And you think, are they even listening? Do they even care? SM: Exactly! Anyway, on to other topics . . . I read that you were born in New Jersey, is that true? Arielle: Yes, I was born . . . SM: (laughing) I didn’t mean to put the emphasis on “born!” Arielle: Oh no, I didn’t mean it like that (laughing)! This is something that I did talk about in media training! I was born in New Jersey, but I wouldn’t consider myself from there, so I asked, “What do I say when people ask were I am from?” I was told to ask, “Do you mean where I was born or where I grew up.” But you have already asked my question: “Where was I born?” So, I was born in New Jersey . . . but I didn’t grow up there.


SM: The reason that Jersey interests me is because I live in Bucks County, PA which is just across the river. Do you remember or recall anything from those early years in New Jersey? Arielle: Little pointless, meaningless things. I was only about six when I moved to northern California, so about all I remember is we lived right across the street from the mall and we’d have to walk around a bush to get to the mall. That’s all I remember. Oh! and I had this cool battery powered Jeep Wrangler thing that I used to drive, very slowly, I think it only went one or two miles an hour. I got a real one later! [Hmm, is that a jeep in Arielle’s video?] SM: And you still drive one or two miles an hour? Arielle: Yes, I still drive one or two miles an hour (laughing)! SM: Is there any location that you have been to that feels the most like you? Arielle: Maui! My family has a home out there and I spent a lot of time there, so I would consider it a home. L.A. is definitely a base, I know it well, but I wouldn’t consider it a friendly home. SM: What is it about Maui that resonates with you? What connects your spirit to that location? Arielle: The ocean and the water and the mental state that most people are in when they are there. I spent months at a time there and the idea of being connected with nature and kind of surrendering to it . . . it’s only a tiny island, and there is no question, they could just be taken over by a big wave. You are really at the mercy of nature! But not in a scary way, in a surrendered, respectful way. Everybody there respects nature, and they really want to take care of it and stand up and fight for it all of the time. I think that’s cool and it makes a difference. I love that! I’m just a big hippie! I’d love to live in the rain forrest in a treehouse! SM: Do you recognize that symbolism in the music industry: at any moment, a big wave could come and overtake you?


Arielle: Oh, absolutely! And, I think that’s a scary thing. I struggle with that every day because things come and you have to differentiate what's actually real and not just a threat, you need to know where you really stand in all of it. There are different viewpoints, one person will see where you are, but then another person will think that you are someplace else, so it’s hard. I just try to be the best that I can and to take in all the options and all the considerations. But in the end, I just follow my gut. And sometimes, that goes against what other people say. SM: You seem to have a lot of, and I hesitate to use this word, famous friends and supporters. What aspect do you think they are seeing in you? Arielle: It’s funny, I’ve struggled a lot with confidence, but the one thing I did believe in was my ability to be able to hang with these people I respect. I’ve never been a fangirl, I never saw them any differently from other people. If I really loved somebody in that way and respected them, it was because I saw a big part of me in there. So I’m like, “Yeah, they are going to be my friend because I want friends who are going to understand me.” And, it just so happened that some of those people were very well respected and famous, but I never really saw it like that, I just saw me. And, I think that they connected with me because I was real, I treated them like a person. I’d say something like, “Hi, I was wondering if you’ve ever had any hand problems?” I asked questions that I really meant. “How are you feeling?” I knew that certain people had struggled a lot with their emotions and by reading things and getting to know them and actually caring about them as opposed to what I wanted signed, I think that’s what made the difference. It’s that piece of me that you noticed just from the music, without even talking to me. SM: So, you’re much more one on one than party girl? Arielle: Oh yeah, I call myself the grandma (laughing)! It’s unusual that I’ll come out to anything, unless I’m supporting somebody. But I’m definitely good with one on one. SM: You were once given advice by Grammy Award-winning Jack Joseph Puig who has worked with everyone from John Mayer to the Stone Temple Pilots. He told you, “it’s not about the guitar, it’s about the song.” Initially, was that hard to take? Or did it click immediately


Arielle: Uhm, both? Both, because I had been hiding my voice . . . Well, what happened was — and this is just childhood stuff — my parents wanted me to be a classical singer, a soprano in a choir. When I got older, I got mad because I wanted to play guitar, but they wouldn’t buy me one until I was ten because “girls didn’t play guitar.” So I was like, “Well then, I’m not singing any more!” It was good that advice didn’t come from my parents because I wouldn’t have listened at that point. Still, it felt like, “Aww dang, they were right.” It was going to be a lot of work and I was going to have to change so much about my voice — I still sang like a soprano, and when you’re in a choir, you don’t want to sound different than everybody else. So, I knew that I’d have to step out from behind my guitar and stop looking for a singer. I knew things would have to change, but that also excited me, too. It was mixed. It’s still is. It’s still hard to do both. I’d rather do just one or the other because there is always some compromise that you have to make. But I enjoy it, I do. I like them both in very different ways. SM: What was noticeable in the “California” promo was as soon as you had a guitar in your hands, you lit up. Playing guitar seemed to be your real joy. Arielle: Yes, it is. My initial goal when I first started singing was, “I’m going to sing so people notice my guitar playing!” But then, after a while, and we’re talking kind of recently, I’ve really been enjoying singing because I’ve gotten it to the point where I can really control it and it’s more predictable . . . right now, in a lot of ways, it’s even more predictable than my guitar playing. I’m kind of a brat with this. Not a “brat,”


but it’s not any guitar that I love playing, it’s one guitar in particular: my orange and blue guitar, Two Tone. I built it. That’s what created my guitar playing. I loved playing before, but Two Tone took it to a different level. It’s like a friend. SM: What is it about that particular guitar that takes it to that next level? Is it because you built it? Arielle: I think it’s because it’s been on my journey with me. Two Tone is the only thing, the only object, that I’ve had with me throughout this whole time period of moving to London and Morocco and doing all of these different things, it’s the only thing that’s been there the whole time. I’ve gotten rid of everything else, but this one thing has been consistent, it’s special, and it has created a way of playing that . . . I can play with other guitars, of course, but the way I play with this one and only this one . . . That’s why I built it. It’s really special to me. SM: I just got a call from your manager, he said to lose the guitar because it ruins your image. Are you okay with that? Arielle: (laughing) I wouldn’t be surprised if they said that to me, but I would tell them they were crazy! Trust me, they have said weirder things! SM: I’m so fascinated by who you are that I’ve barely talked music. I’m sorry. Arielle: No, that’s okay! SM: I’m following your lead. You win, you got to lead this interview. Arielle: Yay! SM: Actually, this is just a clever assignment from your media coach, there’s no article following this, you’re just being graded on your answers. Arielle: Oh my, everything I do gets back to them, anyway. SM: I’ll click on 5 stars so you get a better grade. Arielle: Thanks for helping.


SM: Is there anything that’s important to you? Something you’d like to bring up and talk about? You have three minutes . . . go! Arielle: Oh man (laughing), I just want to talk about the basic importance of the song. That is something that can get lost with all the cool production sounds. I’ve seen what a song can do regardless of the production or how cool it sounds with whoever is on it or how high you sing. The most important thing — and I think you have already figured this out, but I just wanted to say it pretty simply — sometimes songs are the only way that people will listen. People don’t have time to get to know somebody anymore, but they do have time to listen to music because they can live their life simultaneously. There’s this thing we did in training: “What would you want to say to your fans?” I would just hope that they love themselves enough to connect with their own emotions so that they could feel mine. That’s why I do what I do. SM: Wow, I’m glad that I got my power back and had the chance to speak with you! Arielle: Yay! I was worried about you, I didn’t even know you and I told my publicist, “Tell him I’m sending him positive energy and to take care of himself and to stay warm!” After talking with Arielle for just this brief time, it’s easy to see why she has endeared herself to so many people. If you’d like to get to know this wonderful artist, you can do that via: Website • Facebook • Video • Twitter • Instagram


Songwriter's Monthly, February 2014