The Post-Timey String Band is a tight blend of pick-up players and songwriters. The band combines a diverse palette of lush instrumentation to create moving compositions that explore rich sonic landscapes. Their song “The River” is braided with layers of fiddle, guitars and elegiac harmonies alongside a haunting lamentation about loss and change. Post-Timey’s main collaborators Kelley McLachlan and Sean Thomson, joined me to talk about their songwriting process, nightmares, and frog fart sonic textures.
Check out “River Song” here.
SC: How do you view the lyrical repetition working in conjunction with the pauses in between verses and the turn around?
KM: River is meant to convey a sort of dreamy meditation on a woman’s past. When I wrote the song, I left pauses in between certain transitions, mostly because my average guitar playing skills kept my fingers from moving fast enough to transition smoothly,
SC: What was your songwriting process like for this song?
KM: I woke up from a nightmare one night singing the song. I’d often have dreams that the people I loved were in danger, that they were struggling and drowning in a certain darkness. River felt like a song that connected my sorrows and darkness with others. Somehow it spoke relief into my heart to think that I was united in beautiful sadness with a community of people, relying on each others' strength to swim against the current of a black sea and make their way to safety.
ST: Well I didn't have much to do with the songwriting in the lyric sense but sonically I try to make it sound like a river. You have calm smooth sailing parts that lead to rocky rapids that eventually lead to a mellow, peaceful sort of stream.
SC: How often do you write? Do you keep a songwriting schedule?
KM: I try to write/ start writing a song a week. They are often just rambling nonsense, but the consistency keeps my brain reaching for those rare moments of clarity when words enhance or inform a feeling, story, or situation. Lots of my writing is simply for my own catharsis.
ST: I don't really do too much songwriting due to my lack of know words how do good well. Arranging and painting scenes with weird noises to convey feelings that fit the song. That's more of my cup of tea. I guess that could be a form of songwriting? I dunno . . . Maybe song-aiding? Song-Doodling?
SC: How does your community influence your songwriting?
KM: I am blessed to be part of the music community in Columbia, South Carolina. The people I play with, I truly believe are some of the most talented, skilled, and creative musicians in the world. The songwriters, fiddle players, guitar masters, etc . . . are on par with those in Nashville, Austin, or anywhere on the map. It's impossible not to be influenced by them or imagine their parts on just about every song I write.
ST: Well if you consider what I do "Songwriting". . . Ha . . . There's a lot of great sonic color here in Columbia. And there's not a hint of arrogance in it. If we someone comes up with a cool way of making a guitar sound like a frog fart, they want to share it with the group.
Photo credit: Thomas Hammond
It’s no secret that The Free Times is the lifeblood of creative arts in Columbia, SC. From their coverage of grassroots initiatives, to community spotlights for local artists and even tips for finding the best taco in town--The Free Times has it.
As part of The Free Times (and Jasper) crew Kyle Petersen reviews music and provides an essential critical ear for the community. We picked his brain about how he got started, how to pitch music to him, and where he sees room for improvement in the music scene.
You can find more of Kyle's writing here.
SC: First off, tell me a little about yourself—who are you? How long have you been writing? How did you get your started as a professional music critic/writer?
KP: I started writing about music as an undergraduate at USC—a little blogging, but mostly internally for WUSC 90.5 FM, the college radio station. I was music director there from 2008-2009. After that I started graduate school in English here and began writing professionally—mostly about music, and mostly for the Columbia Free Times and Jasper Magazine. But I’ve also written a fair bit for other alt-weeklies like Charleston City Paper and Asheville Mountain Xpress.
As for “how” I got started in a larger sense, it was a lot of fits and starts for me. Getting a lot of reps in at WUSC helped, and then blogging a bit until I felt like I could test the professional freelance waters.
awareness about the niche or artistic space you occupy. Naming folks you’ve collaborated with or played shows with can help as well.
If you have a strong “hook,” something that grabs immediate attention, that’s great, but it can’t be too artificially constructed or transparent either. And it’s the music that has to grab most of all.
As for materials, I’m all about a tight one-sheet (bio, album details, etc.) and a download link—including album art and a couple of promo shots is a good idea too. This shouldn’t do the heavy lifting, although it needs to be professional enough as well. There’s probably other writers out there who dig hard copies, but I don’t pop much into the CD player anymore.
SC: What do you wish more artists knew about your job before they contacted you?
KP: That it’s rarely personal—coverage, no coverage, good review, bad review. Sometimes it’s a nebulous sense of “newsworthiness” that governs what gets covered, sometimes it’s print deadlines, sometimes it’s because I’ve already got a calendar’s worth of assignments and sometimes it’s the fact that I just can’t stomach a prog-rock record this week. Taste factors into it somewhat, but probably less than you think. As for what I write, I’m mostly focused on 1), articulating a thoughtful and engaging perspective, 2) serving the reader’s interests, and 3) presenting the art and its cultural context in a fair and valid way. All three of those are interconnected and all three are important. And I know I don’t always succeed in hitting those goals, but I am trying every time I write something.
But also I think it’s important to confirm that what “people say” about promotion is mostly correct. Send your stuff out widely and early, do reasonable follow-ups, be polite. It all makes a difference, even if not very quickly or directly.
SC: What do you view your responsibility is to the music that is submitted to you?
KP: As the Assistant Editor of Jasper, if you’re a Midlands-based artist I think I have to at least listen and consider the record for coverage, although our Music Editor Michael Spawn does a lot of the heavy-lifting on that now. We have limited space and only come out a couple of times a year though. We’d like to ramp up our web coverage at some point, but we’re pretty budget-strapped as it is.
As a freelancer, I don't think I have a whole lot direct responsibility. I'm looking for things that I both a) want to write about and b) will appeal to the editor/publication I'm pitching them to. Just because you send me something doesn't mean either of those points becomes relevant. As a freelancer you are a bit hungrier, as it were, for stories to pitch though, so it might be paradoxically more helpful to hit them up than editors who are often getting bombarded with coverage requests.
SC: Tell me about the Columbia music scene. What makes you hopeful? Where do you feel the scene has room for improvement?
KP: I honestly love the Columbia music scene—there’s oodles of amazing musicians here and it’s always evolving and changing. Being a college town of our size has always been a boon for rotating great talent in and out of our community. Having USC School of Music and the Philharmonic are also a highly underrated luxury. And while we’ve long been a white, male, cis-dominated scene—and still are in a lot of ways—I feel like we’re seeing swells of diversity of various kinds, whether it’s the burgeoning hip-hop and electronica communities, Girls Rock Columbia, or Kari Lebby’s Hoechella Festival. And despite Conundrum closing, venue-wise we’re not in a horrible spot—Township and Music Farm seem to be doing okay, New Brookland Tavern is a stalwart (god bless ‘em, that would be the biggest hole if they ever called it quits), and Tapp’s and Infinite Room (along with 701 Whaley, Art Bar, if Art, and lots of house shows) are doing a decent job filling in for those offbeat bills. A good listening room is obviously still missing (RIP White Mule), but I think it will happen eventually. There’s a lot of positives to take away.
Improvement? Like I said, a listening room. More diversity in the audience as well as on stage. I think we could see bigger and better festivals at some point (although what we have now isn’t bad), but that will probably come along with the larger growth of our city, both economically and artistically. And not to knock Toro y Moi or Washed Out, but a breakout act or two that stuck around and nurtured the scene a bit more could go a long way.
Sarah and The Safe Word songs are haunted by edge-of-your-seat pop hooks and gothic textures. They’re a collective of pop smiths that craft tunes that will remind you as much as the raw anthems of Taking Back Sunday as they are of the stadium sheen of mid 80’s Journey. Lead singer Sarah Rose joined me for a brief chat about the band, their writing process and the perfect chorus of Fleetwood Mac. Their debut record comes out next month.
SC: I’ve always admired your ability to write choruses. They’re always unique from one another—“Don’t Ask Questions” a refrain that dovetails into group vocals, “Lucinda Walsh” changes keys on the outro and the closing cut “Love Come Again” is a melodic repetition of “someday love will come again”. How do you approach writing a chorus? Are your first drafts similar to the final product? Or do you go through multiple drafts trying out different approaches to each chorus? Are you considering how intensity and dynamics can color meaning? Or is it more intuitive?
SR: I grew up in the school of pop music. Arguably, some of the best pop choruses came out of the 70s, and thanks to my mom, that’s the music I was raised on—Fleetwood Mac, Elton John, the Doobie Brothers. There is literally no rock band that can write a chorus better than Fleetwood Mac. They have such a withstanding influence on how I look at the meaning behind song structure and dynamics.
Funny enough, more times than not—the chorus is actually the first part of the song that usually comes to me, because the music usually has a pretty intuitive voice about the identity it wants me to give it. “Don’t Ask Questions” really started with the little climbing and falling riff on the chorus - we tried a few different words over it, and “don’t ask questions” just stuck—and the rest of the chorus, and
eventually the lyrics, built itself around it. More times than not, the instrumentation already knows what vocal melody it wants, I’m just there to listen to it and help it get there.
SC: What function do you think a chorus should serve for a song?
SR: Music is unique because I think it’s the only form of art that can invoke an immediate emotional reaction in its consumer as frequently as it does. A song should be like a little story that you get lost in, the lyrics should set the stage, introduce the characters and the setting and the tone to you—but the chorus should be what grabs you and digs the emotional heart of your story home.
SC: What was your writing process like for “Don’t Ask Questions”?
SR: The lyrics were initially about something entirely different. I was trying too hard to write a “story” song that had nothing to do with anything personal and it wasn’t clicking. I think even at one point we considered scrapping it because it just felt cringey in its first incarnation.
I was going through a really bad breakup at the time, and at some point I just said, “Eh, fuck it.” and rewrote the lyrics to channel the anger that I was feeling. That in itself was really cathartic, because it was the first time in the months following that I was capable of finding some humor and light in the situation I was in. It was also a pretty cool moment in the writing of the EP, because it was when the lightswitch came on and I realized that it was okay for me to sing about what I was going through and have it be reflected in the music. That “a-ha!” moment in writing Don’t Ask Questions shaped the lyrical direction of the rest of the EP, honestly. I realized that I could still be my typically weird and insane self and also talk about how I felt.
“Don’t Ask Questions” was one of the first songs we wrote as a band. It was one of those moments where we were just getting together in a room for the first time, and had to ask ourselves “Okay, what do we want this group to be?” - because I hadn’t really played or written music with other people since my old band basically disbanded a year or so prior. When we wrote this song, it’s like all of us immediately knew the trajectory we wanted the band to go on. Now it’s the song that people most associate with our band—and the most fun song to play live.
SC: How often do you write? Do you keep a songwriting schedule or do you wait to be inspired?
SR: In my old band, Go, Robo! Go!, I’d initially sit with my acoustic guitar in my apartment and come up with the “core” of each song and its lyrics whenever something hit me - and then I’d take it to the rest of the band at practice to be fleshed out and colored in and expanded upon. I’ve never been a schedules person.
This band is different because it’s a much more collaborative, structured effort from the onset with myself, and Kienan, our guitar player. We’ll set a day of the week out where he’ll come over, and then we just riff on song ideas for a few hours, spar back and forth on lyrics and structure. It’s a whole new way of approaching songwriting for me - and I have a lot of fun doing it. It’s an awesome mental back-and-forth and forces me to think on my feet.
SC: How does your community of songwriters influence your writing?
SR: We’re going through an interesting time in Atlanta. We always joke that music exists in Atlanta in spite of the city, not because of it. You see venues like The Masquerade basically clinging on for dear life because so many gentrified communities would rather have another wine tasting bar or expensive restaurant in the city than honor decades of musical history—and I think a lot of that struggle, that push and pull to keep passionate music alive in this city, is reflected in its artists. Our band certainly draws from it. This city has some of the best musicians in the world, and it seems like all of them right now have their backs against the wall and are making the case for why they’re here.
It’s also amazing to see so many young, eager queer musicians being out, and open, and proud in the music scene in Atlanta. Ten years ago when my first band was playing around, it was a novelty in and of itself to be a queer lead singer. Now, I really feel like our band is contributing to a growing chorus of lyricists and musicians sharing their own worldview.
George Fetner’s Some Things We’ll Change cerebral compositions bridge a perfect gap between modern pop song and melodic complexity. “It Goes On” is an austere meditation on loss and gesture towards acceptance. Fetner’s music is music of transition and is created for the in-between. Be it the in-betweens of a relationship, a career, or even a season. Listen to Some Things We’ll Change on a long drive with your windows down and reflect on what good you have done and what remains for you to accomplish.
Pick up a copy of Some Things We’ll Change here
SC: How do you view the refrain of “it goes on”? Is it a response to the natural imagery the speaker describes in the verses—“what I thought would endure / is no now longer here”? Or is it deliberately refuting the claim made in the verses?
GF: When I sing the song, the refrain feels like an affirmation of the hindsight gained through the verses. It's a simplification of all the things the subject is working through: yes, you were wrong about something that you once were sure about, but that's life. It goes on.
SC: Your work reminds me of how The Beatles blended baroque music (“high art”) with the Blues (viewed as “low art”). How do you view the relationship between these two styles genres in your work?
GF: Thanks! That's a huge compliment. My output has always been a balancing act involving deliberate composition and a more visceral approach to performing and songwriting. I feel most artistically satisfied when both of those components appear in my music. In the concert hall setting, that might be a groove or a more diatonic passage in a composed piece. In my songs, it's those unexpected moments that venture away from the progression or groove.
SC: What was your writing process like for "It Goes On"?
GF: It happened almost exclusively in one night, the kind of song that writes itself after you feel like you've tapped into a portal that constantly feeds you the notes and words. Those nights do happen. I had a friend listen to it and he suggested I shorten the verses to get to the point. He also liked the interlude and kindly told me it reminded him of Elliot Smith, so who wouldn't make changes after a bait like that?
SC: What is your writing process like? Do you keep a schedule, or wait to be inspired?
GF: When I write songs, I'm just following leads. I come up with short melodies, phrases, or chord progressions during the day and either write them down or record them on my phone. Then I follow that lead and sometimes it becomes a song within a few days or a week or so. I like to let it breathe and live a little. Sometimes that means ignoring it for a while, and sometimes that means driving it a little. When I compose for a chamber group or soloist, I have to sit down and make myself do it. Making decisions about every single mark on the page and trying to imagine it as sound is overwhelming. It's not something I naturally want to do, and by the time I'm starting to enjoy it, the piece is usually almost done. But I like composing, overall. The psychology of writing music for someone else is intoxicating.
SC: How does your community of songwriters influence your work?
GF: I really think the more musicians you meet and perform with, and especially songwriters or bandleaders, the easier it is to be yourself, even if you meet people who don't like your music. Most everyone in Columbia that I've worked with or performed with have encouraged me to pursue my strengths in some way or another, and I hope I do the same for them. The push to cultivate your own uniqueness in this town is really strong.
Todd Mathis' song "Old Man" is led by the growl of an electric guitar and the driving counterpoint of a pentatonic piano line. Mathis' new record, Love in the City is about the complexity of the human experience. Even though the sounds on it are impressive, it is Mathis' domestic narratives are a stand-out. Mathis is Pete Yorn with a more mature outlook on life--and he's got a lot left to say.
You can listen to the song and pre-order Love in the City here
SC: I love how this song balances the great love the speaker feels for their partner with the reality of a world that is hard to comprehend. Despite the speaker identifying as someone “with a barnside grin and butterfly brain” they are still choosing the hard work of happiness. What were some of the challenges with creating a song that reflects a more adult version of happiness?
TM: Adult happiness is hard. When you first fall in love you throw it all away and just go for it, but after you've been in love for a while and you're starting a family, you acquire more responsibilities which means you just can't "throw it all away" anymore. And the main character here is struggling with just that. He's also a little wary from getting burned in the past, but in the end, decides to go for it.
SC: What was your writing process like for “Old Man”?
TM: The original concept was from an Ann Peebles song my wife was singing around the house that went "old man/with young ideas/unbelievable/the way that he makes me feel." She would joke and call me the "old man." So I decided to write my own "Old Man" song based on some of my personality traits. Number one, I have trouble with change, so that's where that first verse comes in. The second verse hints at past relationship struggles which I've also experienced. But this "new" old man has decided to throw it all away again and dive in. The "barnside grin and butterfly brain" were used to give the image of a silly/goofy new love, like when you're walking around all crazy and out of your head. I wrote the lyrics first, as I do 90% of the time, but had a melody in my head with them, then figured it out from there.
SC: How often do you write? Do you keep a songwriting schedule or do you wait to be inspired?
TM: I usually wait to be inspired, although this past year I started meeting with a group of songwriters and we'd write a song a month based on a topic drawn at random, so that's been a nice challenge. I also try and keep a weekly studio night to work on projects and I'm always singing into my iPhone or texting myself lyrics at 2am. I find that my songwriting comes in spells and I'm fine with that. I don't write it if I don't have something to say and if it isn't there then I don't push it. If I do try and push it, I usually end up throwing that away. I do keep pieces of unfinished songs around and sometimes I'll get those out, look at them and be inspired to finish them, but most of the time I'll just start from scratch.
SC: How does your community of songwriters influence your writing?
TM: I'm not sure that they do as much anymore. I used to go out and see a lot more shows and pay attention to whatever one was going, but with three girls under 10 in the house, I'm usually in bed when those get started these days. The songwriting group I mentioned earlier has pushed me a bit to try some different things and to just write and not waiting to be inspired. I think that's a good thing. But I also think it's good to just do your own thing and try not to pay much attention to what's going on around you. I mean, I'm not breaking any new ground here with what I'm doing. As my friend Larry used to say, "It's all been done since Amazing Grace." I just love doing it and will probably be writing until I'm dead.
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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