Cuntry's debut EP Country Music (The EP) is a foot stomping, knee scraping, hell-bent, guar-an-teed good time. Their song “Why Do You Stand In The Doorway” is a three-part punk opera about faith, purpose and the meaning of life. The song swells with cataracts of a bowed upright bass amidst the funerary pulse of a floor tom. The music halts as lead singer Gabbie Watts pleads “please don’t tell me why you stand in the door way” alongside a fragile guitar line before the song charges ahead into oblique madness as it resonates with her shattered cry “how did I get this way / this is more than heartbreak”. Gabbie joined me for a discussion about art, writing, and the chaos of sarcasm.
Buy a copy of Country Music (The EP) here.
SC: Can you tell me about how you view the relationship between art and personal exploration?
GW: Well, my opinion on this vacillates all the time, but today, I think art is a completely personal exploration. Like, I don’t really think fiction exists. Everything comes from a personal viewpoint or experience. That’s even if an artist is creating something about climate change or a random historical event or one of the -isms—they’re still interested in that subject because of their personal view on and investment in the world.
In terms of my own songwriting, it is totally unadulterated feelings. Or, it’s totally unadulterated feelings passing through the chasm of sarcasm.
SC: This song has three movements and each seems to speak to a different issue with the speaker’s doubt. How do you see the themes in the songs flowing together between sections?
The middle quieter part with the harmonics in background is a moment of self-awareness, like, why are you so damn sad?
SC: What was your writing process like for “Why Do You Stand In The Doorway”?
GW: I started writing this song after I graduated college, was hardly employed, recently dumped and living with my mom (who is very nice but you know). Referencing the sadness in the previous question, I was VERY SAD. And to channel the VERY SAD, I started writing songs.
For the music part, I had only recently started playing guitar again after a 15 year or so hiatus, so I stole a simple chord progression from a VERY SAD song by Waxahatchee, capo’d it down, and combined all these random phrases I had jotted down on a large sketch pad. (I don’t draw, but I stole it from my sister.)
I thought the song was dumb so forgot about it for about a year, jammed on it with one of my friends for a hot minute, forgot it again, changed the first two lines, introduced it to my friend and Cuntry violinist Noelle Albano who liked it, and now it is what it is. The arrangement we do now is much different than the recording. Noelle makes it even spookier and heartbreaking.
SC: Tell me about your normal writing practice. Do you write every day? Do you write on a schedule?
GW: I’m very words first and usually struggle with the music side of things. So I’m a two-, three-, or sometimes even FOUR-chord songwriter. I even have a song that’s one chord, a D, because that’s the best key in my mind.
I don’t intentionally write every day but end up scribbling things down on random sheets of paper, in my notes app on my phone, or I email ideas to myself. The main time I write is while I’m driving. My Voice Memos app is filled to the brim with my ramblings and tunes, edits of old songs, whole songs or just like two lines of lyrics.
With all these different places to store song ideas, I’ve lost track of a lot of things. And I wonder what would happen if I didn’t have a car. Maybe no more songs!
SC: How does your community of songwriters influence your work?
GW: I don’t know if I’m a part of a community of songwriters. Certainly, you’re influenced by everything you listen to, and I keep up with a fair amount of local bands, so maybe in that way I’ve been inspired and influenced. For now, I just write alone and am pretty bad at taking criticism or changing my songs based on other people’s input. So sensitive!
Moses Andrews III’s debut EP Exodus is a collection of poignant and unique arrangements that blend genre in interesting and wild compositions. From the opening neo-soul of “Chill” to the Pat Metheny prog-jazz of “Journey Through My Mind”, the EP has a little bit of something for anyone interested in the last 70 years of American music. And it’s no small wonder: Moses is a multi-instrumentalist and has been/is in bands like Passing Worth, Autocorrect, Miles to Go, Skeleton, Cassy Renee, and Nepotism. Whoa!
At the center of Exodus, “What’s Next” is a Blues stomp about the flawed American dream. Moses implores “they’re still mowing down the people / stealing lives for petty dollars / when this land was stolen wrongfully/ when will we stand and break this cycle?” above the steady boom-rattle call to arms. Moses joined me for an insightful discussion about what it means to be a writer in 2017, Black Lives Matter, and community.
Pick up a copy of Exodus here.
SC: Unlike other tracks on this album—like “Don’t Forget” or “Journey Through My Mind”—“What’s Next” is stripped down to foot stomps, handclaps and your vocal line. Can you tell me a little about why you chose that approach for this song?
MA: "What's Next" is stripped down to vocals, foot stomps, and chains for many reasons. I'm greatly inspired by old "Negro Spirituals" and slave songs, so the chains and foot stomps are what I went with. When you look at everything going on right now, especially our current political climate, we feel like we're falling back into the dark moments and stories of yesteryear. Minorities feel like they have no reason to live because of so many unarmed people dying for no good reason. We're working while feeling like we're going nowhere. We have the poor getting poorer and the rich getting richer. With so many things going on, there are so many things holding us back. Things like media and social media are the chains binding us. I've never noticed that the chains sound like handclaps, but that is a message in itself: Finding joy in all of the negative experiences, much like slaves did when they still had church and rejoiced, while being bound. They somehow knew a change was coming even when nothing around them seemed to be getting better. This song is stripped down because sometimes when we make music, we want to add so many levels of depth to it. I wanted the message to be heard over everything else.
the Government, War, and everything else leaving the world in ruin. Think of The Wailers and Bob Marley with "Get Up Stand Up". Think about the Isley Brothers with "Fight The Power" or "What's Going On" by Marvin Gaye. Check out Nepotism's latest album called "The Free Lunch Program" and you'll hear it packed with songs about the government and the media. Now we're seeing the POLICE FORCE being brought into politics. It was happening years ago, but I think people are starting to speak up about it. Now, in response to "BLACK LIVES MATTER", Republicans and their supporters respond with "BLUE LIVES MATTER!" Really? Sure, a life is a life, but now you're putting a job above a whole race of PEOPLE! Yes, there is, without a doubt, a relationship between music and politics.
SC: What was your writing process like for “What’s Next”?
MA: My writing process was simple: Sit on couch, Look at news, Think, Cry, Think, Set up Pro Tools to record from my computer mic, Set click track, and Just sing whatever comes out. "What's Next" was my version of freestyling, so I had to hurry and write it down just to know exactly what I wanted to change in certain phrases. Then, everything else came after. The very first take of it sounded like it was on one of those old radios, so it was tempting to keep it that way, but I chose not to. Instead, I tried to replicate the same effect, so hopefully that came through.
SC: How often do you write? Do you keep a schedule? Or do you wait to be inspired?
MA: I write pretty much once or twice a week. I'm always coming up with new ideas for songs, but I don't actually lay anything down until maybe a month later. By then, I've been sitting on a particular piece for a while and it's really starting to bloom. So, do I wait to be inspired? Yes, but I also keep a bit of a not-so-strict schedule.
SC: How does your community influence you as a songwriter?
MA: How does my community influence me as a songwriter? Hmm. I've never really thought about that. Well, my community absolutely influences me as a songwriter. I'm a believer of the thought of your environment and surroundings influencing how you grow or how you act. I surround myself with people who are very confident and competent in what they do, so I always hope that rubs off on me! The song "Don't Forget" was written when I was sharing a house with a fellow songwriter Alex Davis. If you know him and you listen to the song, you'll definitely hear it. The love of my life inspired me to write the song "You Are My Heart". If you have friends who put you onto a certain artist or genre of music, soon, you're going to want to write something similar. The people and things close to me always play a part in my songwriting and I wouldn't have it any other way.
blue,girl is a duo fronted by Columbia singer songwriter Ahomari with music from collaborator Sean Jones. Blue, Girl’s debut EP is a moving and powerful release. The single “Hush” is a two-minute stark gem of dreamy bedroom pop about relationships, drug abuse, and loss. In the song Ahomari’s powerful voice wilts with just the right amount of hurt—“when you’re drinking daily / and doing things that make me / hold you like a baby I’ll hush you please”. Ahomari joined me to chat about collaboration, writing, and the importance of online and in-town community.
Pick up a copy of their self-titled EP here. (OUT TODAY)
SC: I love the restrained feel sonic palette in “Hush”. How do you feel the music relates to the deeply personal tone of the lyrics?
A: When Sean sent me the guitar idea for the song I was inspired almost instantly. I riffed the lyrics to some extent and recorded a demo. Took 15 minutes then I sent it to him. It was a beautiful song that I was incredibly proud of. If it wasn't for the guitar track we wouldn't have this song because we were certainly done with writing the EP by that point I think. I didn't really hear the other instruments he arranged and recorded until we got to mastering and mixing with Chris Wenner. It was so beautiful. The arrangement Sean came up with was just so right.
SC: What was your writing process like for “Hush”?
A: I don't really know if there is a process. When lyrics come they come. I'm always thinking about music and new songs so it's very easy. Really excited about the new music we're working on. It's so good. This music we're releasing now combination of our styles respectively and collectively. The new music is too but we get to flex more melody wise.
SC: What’s your process of collaboration like?
A: Sometimes we're in the same room. Sometimes we aren't. For “Not Around” & “Home Tonight” we were in the same room. He'd bring his guitar over and we'd try to find appropriate lyrics and melodies to fit the parts he came up with. Sometimes we'd change on the spot. For “Hush” and “All We Have” he'd send a guitar idea and I'd sing lyrics around it.
SC: How often do you write? Do you keep a songwriting schedule or wait to be inspired?
A: Everyday. I don't know a life outside of writing. Kind of a servant to it. Since I was 8 I been writing songs and such everyday. Some are trash. Some are good.
SC: How does your community of songwriters influence your writing?
A: I don't really listen to a lot of music locally that would influence me. There's great acts like Hissy Fit, Nepotism, Alarm Drum, My Brother My Sister, Mario McClean, The Ugly Chords, Pedro LDV, Debbie & The Skanks, Melon In, Muscle Memory and etc., but I've found more of a community and influence with musicians online than with any local scene. That's kind of how scenes go for me personally. All my musical friends locally do completely different music than me so it's easier to pull from things online because you aren't so close to it. Even Loamers is different than this project. That's our main band.
Cold Heart Canyon is a band out of Atlanta Georgia that combines whiskey-smooth vocal lines with pop sensibilities. The song “Frankly, My Dear” off their EP Wolves, Demons, and Drunks is toe tapping kiss-off that is complemented with a nuzzling harmonica and banjo arpeggios. In “Frankly, My Dear” Cold Heart Canyon spin vivid narrative about moving on, personal growth, and our great capacity to change. Rachael Petit joined me for a brief chat about songwriting, memory, and her community.
You can get a copy of Wolves, Demons, and Drunks here.
SC: What I love about this song is how restrained and laid back the music feels while the lyrics are an acidic kiss-off. How do you see this tension working in the lyrics?
RP: First off all, that’s a really cool way to describe this song! I think it works well because the song is almost sweet sounding but when you get down to the actual grit of the lyrics it has a lot of pain and exhaustion behind them. It’s a nice way to really send a shockwave of how much a situation can be seen from two different angles. It’s a song people can relate to, whether it be a break up, or removing yourself from a toxic situation. Kind of a power anthem for realizing what a badass you truly are and to never let anyone take that away from you.
fell into place amazingly with the other instrumentation and harmonies! I wrote it about a situation from a very deep part of a heart break for me. It was a way of making amends with myself for allowing that situation to not take a hold of me anymore. Now it’s just a far away memory, like looking at the city from atop a mountain. Admiring it for what it is, but happy to be away from it.
SC: How often do you write? Do you keep a songwriting schedule or wait to be inspired?
RP: I write off of inspiration for sure. It just happens! Whether it spurs from an actual fucked up situation or just a story that seems to write itself. Sometimes months will go by with nothing and I’ll be at work and all of a sudden it just starts stewing and I have to immediately write it down on receipt paper! Or I’ll be in the car on even a short drive and just bust out my voice memo recorder to capture it to sit down with my guitar or with the band later. I definitely am NOT on a schedule. I just don’t work like that.
SC: How does your community of songwriters influence your writing?
RP: They definitely keep me on my toes! Miguel Olascuaga and I will pass songs back and forth to each other. At times where I’m feeling less than inspired I’ll have a conversation with him or a song that he'll share and it pulls me out of a block. Sharing new songs with each other seems to be a compass that points us back to where we need to be. Also members in my band will take the lead in producing a guitar part and the lyrics will just flow right out. It’s incredible how someone else’s energy and spirit can really recharge me and help me reach my full potential.
Photo credit: Shabreon Starks
Cortez Garza’s new single “Immortal” off his upcoming album The Low Album features an all star lineup of players including David Kirslis (Cicada Rhythm), Scott Low, songwriter Kaitlyn Bosveil, Matt Tamison (Flash to Bang Time), Cal Clements, and Bill Bacon (Sam Sniper). But central to the song is Cortez’s vivid narrative and trademark plainspoken songwriting style. “Immortal” is a lush song that depicts its subjects character flaws with extreme detail—listen to how Cortez blends the declarative chorus of “I won’t let you down” with Cal Clements mournful horns to a make song that’s in the beautiful space between redemption and complete devastation.
The best part? It’s available now as a free download on his Bandcamp page.
SC: This song has a very cyclical chord progression. How do you view repetition working in this song?
CG: As a solo artist, my approach to writing has always usually revolved around guitar licks, whether it be folksy or bluegrassy. My biggest influences are people like Woody Guthrie and Rambling Jack Eliot and of course Bob Dylan. For this song—and really for this album—I wanted to dumb down the guitar and focus on telling stories. I always try and make every song I write as unique as possible. In a lot of ways this may be the simplest guitar riff I've ever used in a song. That being said, it may be my favorite recording I've done yet (which was something I did not expect) or at least at the moment it is, which is why we decided to use it for the 1st single, that and because I think people associate me with dark material and this song is very middle of the road for me and I was intentionally reaching for something that would showcase some maturation in my writing.
SC: In the first verse the song speaker sings “I’ve let you down / you deserve the best / and that’s not what I give” but the chorus is “I won’t let you down”. I wonder if you could tell me how you view these tensions working in the song.
CG: This song is about someone coming to terms with the fear of chasing away someone they love, or better yet realizing they are not carrying their weight in the relationship, so to speak. Again for me, sort of new territory because I went with a very simple approach lyrically, where as before I was hesitant to come right out and say how I was feeling. So the verses are very much saying "hey I realize I'm not easy to deal with but here's why" and the chorus is sort of pleading for her to hang in there I guess.
SC: What was your writing process like for “Immortal”?
CG: Oh man—I wrote this a few years ago at this point but I remember it well. It's sort of like having a baby or something I guess, in that no matter how much time goes by I always remember most of the details of working on what I consider to be an important song. Like I said before, I would have never thought this song would have been so important when I sat down to write it but sometimes things just take on a life of their in the studio. This song came together quickly and I didn't really care for it. It started out as a sort of a writing exercise. I remember writing it in like 15-20 minutes with minimal edits after the fact. I literally just tried to come up with the most unique but simple chord structure I could so I could say what I had to say and be done. When performing this song solo, given it's simplistic nature, it never really did it for me. I actually thought for a long time I had written a bad song but for some reason it just keep popping back up in my set.
SC: Tell me about your normal writing process. Do you keep a songwriting schedule? Or do you wait for inspiration?
CG: Lately I have tried to maintain some sort of routine with writing. The thing is writing a song that you really love is a very unpredictable affair. It's definitely like lightning striking so I don't put that much pressure on myself. Obviously there are times when I feel this unbearable weight on me and I have to get it off my chest. I just try to constantly be working towards new material. From finding new riffs and chord progressions to jotting down lyrics. For me there's no rhyme or reason to it. It really depends on what type of song I'm trying to come up with. Any time I write something new that I like and want to perform live, I feel truly blessed. Whether it came easily or it was a struggle and I had to work at it.
SC: How does your songwriter community influence your work?
CG: Athens, GA is a great place to be for a musician of any variety. This community is unique in so many ways and I think for me to live somewhere that puts such a emphasis on it's musical culture is just about as cool as you can get. For instance, they recently started a new singer-songwriter of the year awards ceremony that was named after the legendary, Vic Chesnutt. I mean what else is there to say . . . this is what I do. It's almost easy to take for granted because I have lived here for so long that I don't know anything else. I have to remind myself that not every town is like this.
The Sound Connector is an online magazine for songwriters. We feature songwriting challenges, monthly interviews, and the opportunity to discover new songwriters. We are interested in all things related to the craft of songwriting.
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