Therese Workman Songwriting Interview

Therese Workman Songwriting Interview

Therese Workman (photo by Shervin Lainez http://www.shervinfoto.com/ )

The world of music has changed. You have to find creative ways to market your band to keep fans interests. You have “stay small” and create a great live sound with as few people as possible. Multi-tasking is required both on and off stage.  It helps if a musician is likable and easily connects with people to retain fans, build a support team and get press coverage for your band. Just like any other small business owner, musicians need to build a network that will refer them to others.

2 1/2 months ago I had never heard of Therese and, unfortunately, never heard her band, Oh My Goodness.  A mutual friend connected us.  I immediately enjoyed that they let the song lead the style rather than try to fit all of their songs into one generic box.  I like they they’re finding creative ways to play their songs live with just two people (and doing a job of it). I also like that Therese is a good person and I’ve enjoyed our dialogue.  I hope you enjoy the interview and the musical world of Oh My Goodness.

Therese Workman (Oh My Goodness)
Current City: Brooklyn, NY  Hometown: Waterville, ME
Band Affiliation: Oh My Goodness
Most Recent Release: 
Oh My Goodness EP

Watch, then read on..

Brief Intro: Therese Workman is a Brooklyn-based musician, originally from Maine, born to Jamaican and English nurses. She studied visual art and education, getting her undergrad and grad degrees from Harvard before moving to NYC in 2003. Between 2009 and 2012, she returned to Maine and collaborated with artists across genres, including the soul-folk band Ramblin’ Red, hip hop producer Alias (of the Anticon Collective), and rapper Sontiago. She’s scored several short films, including Shirley Bruno’s “The Things I See,” which won Best Narrative Short award at the Toronto Film Festival’s Caribbean Tales showcase, and short educational films funded by the Ford Foundation. Her band, Oh My Goodness, began as her solo project — eventually joining with Tyler Wood, another fellow Maine native and college classmate, in 2010 to transform OMG into the duo it is today.

Oh My Goodness released their eponymous debut EP last spring to critical acclaim, leading to The Deli NYC Magazine Artist of the Month and Dispatch Magazine’s 2013 Album of the Year awards.

Our Scattered Words: How did you get started in music?
Therese Workman:  I grew up in a house with many different accents, so I feel like music has always been around me. After getting piano lessons for my 5th birthday, I became mindful of music as an active part of my life. In college, I was part of the student gospel choir, Kuumba, and accidentally became its drummer for a semester. After joining a jazz/hip hop band, I began to build more confidence in identifying as a musician. When I started studying animation, things really took a huge leap for me, because I learned about using a computer to record sound effects, voice overs, and music using a free version of ProTools. The computer became not only a way to record myself, it became another instrument. I started to understand how some of my music heroes made their sounds, and suddenly the universe expanded — just as new possibilities came into my reach.

Our Scattered Words: Do you have a set songwriting/composing process?  OR Do you and Tyler write together or bring in ideas and collaborate from there?
Therese Workman: It’s a combination of the two. For the most part, I write on my own, coming up with a concept and laying out the ideas using Garageband in my living room. I love synthesizers and making samples and playing whatever’s around.

Regarding my process — I really just follow instinct, and then organize later. For example, I might make some gibberish up while doing an impression of the sound of traffic. That gibberish might sound rhythmic to me, so I’ll record it and loop it, and then build some bass and percussion tracks on top of that, and figure out a melody. In that process, I try to recall how I was feeling at the time I was listening to the traffic, and that’s where the storyline might come from. Once I have a story, I figure out what types of words feel good to say or sing. I really just try to entertain myself. At the end of throwing all of that paint on the wall, I delete things that don’t belong in that new weird little world, and let it sit. Sometimes the initial spark might be a turn of phrase I overhear in line at the grocery store, in which case the story or words might come first, and then I act out the characters with instruments.

When I work with Tyler, we often take those songs or concepts into his studio space and Frankenstein them, which is also a form of writing.The song “Rogue” actually started from a track Tyler sent me — it was this rich track of Moog sounds that came with its own atmosphere/concept. I built on that with lyrics and synths, and we brought that new demo into our shop together.

I love brainstorming in isolation — I can be really uninhibited and move at my own speed; then I can share ideas to explore possibilities after that. But there is also something so exciting about trying to mind-meld with a collaborator in real-time — when it works, it’s a different kind of magic altogether.

 

Our Scattered Words: You have a pretty wide variety of sounds, from “Not Lying”  to “Everything All”, do you enjoy working with a combination of styles/sounds?
Therese Workman: Absolutely. I feel really fortunate to have been exposed to so many different styles of music from early on. I grew up in Maine as the daughter of Jamaican and English immigrants — with older siblings listening to Prince and Soull II Soul, hip hop and New Jack Swing, while the local radio was playing Bon Jovi and Poison. With the added combination of piano lessons and college radio, I was able to learn about Chopin and Talking Heads and Wendy Carlos. I’ve learned so much about sounds from Tyler, who has a knack for making live instruments sound digital, and digital sound live — and how adding effects to instruments is such a huge part of building a mood. So in songwriting, all of these aspects become ingredients to tell the story: How can I convey a quick scene shift or punchline without using words? Maybe a dry Casio tom fill can do it. 

Our Scattered Words: Do you perform live with just the 2 of you or do you add other musicians?
Therese Workman: Our current Oh My Goodness set up is just the two of us, which is a really fun challenge. At Tyler’s drumset, he’s replaced one of his toms with a synth, so he’s playing melodies and samples with his right hand while also drumming. It’s a sight to behold. In my station, I’ve got the Moog synth playing bass and my Casio keyboard. I also have a floor tom and play a foot tambourine, just to make it more dangerous. I love our arrangement, but we’re also looking at ways of adding other musicians to the live show, to make the experience even fuller.

Our Scattered Words: What is your favorite songwriting lyric?
Therese Workman: This question kept me up at night. I can’t pick THE favorite, so I’ll pick the one that always makes my eyes water. From Nina Simone’s “Don’t Smoke in bed:” Don’t look for me/I’ll get ahead/Remember darling/Don’t smoke in bed. I can’t think about it for too long. Every phrase in there is a bruise. Sort of sucks the air out of the room. I tend to be drawn to lyrics that aren’t trying to force any type of feeling, but that through setting a picture or scene, sometimes with simple or abstract words and phrases, I can draw my own conclusions.

Nina Simone “Don’t Smoke In Bed”

Our Scattered Words: What do you wish you could do better?
Therese Workman: Everything! But at the top of my list, I really wish that I could be better at some technical things (i.e., music software, tweaking keyboard dials) so that I don’t get bogged down by flipping switches and turning knobs when all I want is to get an idea down fast.

Our Scattered Words: What advice would you give to young songwriters?
Therese Workman: Share, share, share, share your ideas. Even if they’re “uncool.” Especially if they’re uncool. And try to keep existing in that sweet spot where fun and difficult overlap.

Our Scattered Words: What changes do you see coming in the next 10 years for people who want to make a living in music?
Therese Workman: I tell you WHAT: I really wish I had a crystal ball, because we’re at a place in time where it feels like technological advances in sharing media are leaps, not just steps. Making actual money at music is going to take more and more innovation as “record deals” become legends we tell around the campfire. I think musicians are going to have to become extremely social-media savvy and embrace entrepreneurship. Where it used to be the case that publicity machines would typically come with a record deal, publicity is now on the shoulders of the unsigned musician. But this isn’t all a Chicken Little story – at the same time that there was dissolution of a lot of record labels came the new ability for musicians to bypass recording studios, by using free software on their laptops and social media to share it. And because you’re often your own publicist, you also get to be in charge of your “brand.” But really getting that signal boost from professional publicists still costs money.

I do like seeing how the megastars are being inventive in the music business, from Wu Tang’s release of a single album selling it for $4 million, to Beyonce releasing a brand new album and a bazillion music videos without a WHISPER of publicity. And before all that there was Radiohead releasing In Rainbows albums for free/pay-what-you-want. In the age of things going viral and so much music coming from everywhere at all times, it seems that musicians (including big stars) are having to find ways of building the mystique and intrigue into their business plans, because that’s how you can get paid. Well, that and possibly being chosen to SCORE HUNGER GAMES 4, HI CALL ME.

So this is a very long way of saying: I have no idea what will happen, but I do hope that it involves pay-per-view holographic living room performances where suddenly my favorite unsigned band appears to be playing on my coffee table.

Our Scattered Words: If you could go back and be part of any album session what would it be?
Therese Workman: MJ’s Off the Wall. To me, that record had so many styles going on in every song, and the instrumentation was so fresh. To this day, every time I hear “Don’t Stop Til You Get Enough,” I daydream about being in the percussion section in a studio with Quincy Jones and Michael Jackson, dancing around the strings and horns sections. By the way, I’m a proud lover of Pop, and think this album is an example of how something can be popular, accessible, fun, and mind-blowing.

Our Scattered Words: If you could sit down and talk about songwriting with anyone, who would it be and why?
Therese Workman:  I would love to sit and talk with Bjork because first of all, hello. She is someone who I think embodies that special brand of what sounds like unbridled expression — but whose production techniques are so cutting-edge and polished that the music is in full control. For me, production — choosing instruments and how they actually sound together — is such a huge part of songwriting. Some purists might disagree. But when you tell a ghost story, isn’t it just as important to open your eyes all wide and make your voice do that harsh whisper when the scariest part is coming?

Oh My Goodness on the web
Website
Facebook
Twitter

 

All interviews and Bonus Materials, including Therese Workman, will be archived alphabetically HERE for easy access in the future. Bonus materials for Therese include 3 music videos  she’s been enjoying lately.

Please follow the Facebook Page for more updates and songwriting posts. Send us a message on Twitter and tell your friends, neighbors and relatives about us, if you like.

Thanks for spending some time here,
Our Scattered Words

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Beth Thornley Songwriting Interview

Beth Thornley Songwriting Interview

Beth Thornley (photo by Heidi Ross)

 

Beth Thornley

Music needs more Beth Thornleys.  Actually, I think all of us could use more people like Beth in our life.  There’s no other way to say it but, Beth Thornley is a good person, a kind person, a talented writer and singer. Beth is someone who’s always been positive and is always ready to help a friend or acquaintance.  She’s a compassionate friend.  Plus, she writes interesting and varied stories in her songs from the raucous Bari Sax at the start of “Wash U Clean” to Jon Brionish sound of “It Could Be” on her new album. Add to all of that her beautiful and memorable voice.  Beth is a pro who produces songs that connect with people.  It’s why she has a loyal fan base and has a long string of song placements.  Now, reading through this opening I have pretty much guaranteed that I will never be asked to write for Pitchfork and I’m OK with that. I’m great with that.  So, let me introduce you to Beth.

Current City – 
Los Angeles, CA
Most Recent Release – Septagon (2014)

BIO

Beth is a singer/songwriter originally from Birmingham, Alabama; now living in LA. She has three independently released albums — the 2003 self-titled debut, 2006’s My Glass Eye, 2010’s Wash U Clean, and now the latest EP, Septagon (April 2014). Her songs have been featured in the movies Magic Mike, Girl in Progress, AssBackwards, The Perfect Man, Between, and Play The Game, as well as the TV shows Friday Night Lights, Hung, Royal Pains, Vanderpump Rules, The Client List, Save Me, Ringer, Suburgatory, Jersey Shore, In Plain Sight, The Hills, Newport Harbor, Making the Band, Life, Jack and Bobby, Everwood, and Scrubs. In 2012 and 2013, Beth and the composer Rob Cairns (who has played guitar, bass, and drums on and supplied savvy production for all of her albums and three tracks on Septagon) co-wrote an original rock musical called Bad Apples, which earned the pair nominations for “Best Original Score” by the Los Angeles Drama Critics Circle, LA Weekly, and L.A. Stage Alliance, winning awards from the latter two.

Our Scattered Words: Do you have a set songwriting/composing process?
Beth Thornley: I used to write first thing in the morning  and that worked for me for a long time.  But now, even though that’s still a goal, life isn’t as predictable so I find that I write when I can and that sometimes I write several days in a row for long days and then go several days (weeks even) without writing.  It bugged me until I let go of trying to control it and just accepted that life is always going to change.

Our Scattered Words: Do lyrics come quickly or do you revise them over a period of time?
Beth Thornley: None of it comes quickly for me.  I am the tortoise, and never the hare, when it comes to writing music.

Our Scattered Words: The Hotel Café community of musicians that has developed over the past decade has been incredible.  How important has being part of that community been to you personally and musically?
Beth Thornley: I honestly don’t know what I would have done without the venue and the people I’ve met there. It grounded me and gave me a foundation and I feel like part of a group instead of out here alone. Songwriting is solitary so it’s nice to make solid connections and Hotel Café made that happen.

Our Scattered Words: Cats or Dogs?
Beth Thornley: I love them both but I haven’t been a dog owner as an adult (yet!).  I had dogs growing up, but as an adult I’ve only ever had cats.  Right now, I have 4 felines.    My oldest cat is Hudson, he’s 7.  Next is Wilma, who is almost 3.  And the kittens are Moe and Hazel who will be 1 in July.  Hazel is a tabby.  The other 3 are solid black.  They are all real sweet!

Our Scattered Words: You worked on your album with your husband Rob Cairns.  Recording an album can get tense at times, especially the artist/producer relationship.  How do you two work out the working together/living together issues?
Beth Thornley: It took us a while to find a comfortable way to work together. Every album got a little easier because we continued to try to understand each other. But we are actively looking for other places to record my songs so that when we have some free time, the question isn’t “which song should we work on?”, but instead is “what movie do you want to go see?”. We are still going to record songs together, but we hope to have other outlets as an option, too.

Our Scattered Words: You and Rob also  composed the songs for a play, ‘Bad Apples’ that received great reviews and won some awards.  How much fun was that process and how different was that from  “regular” songwriting?
Beth Thornley: It was a surprise at every turn since neither one of us had ever written musical.  The best part about it was that when one of us didn’t have an idea, the other one did.  We look back and feel like it was a true 50/50 effort.   It was also equally exciting and terrifying.  We’re really happy we took the plunge and did it.  The way that it was the most different from “regular” songwriting is that the closer we got to opening night, the faster we had to write.  I wrote faster for this show than I had ever written before for anything.  I guess I learned that I could write fast when I have to, but I still think my best work comes when I have time to think about it.  Also, before this musical came along, we had not done any co-writing together.  There are a few of my songs that Rob has co-writing credit on but it’s because the co-writing came from changing the song during the recording process.  Starting a song together from scratch was completely new for us.  And, a little awkward because we work completely differently.  But once we began to get into the rhythm of tossing the ball back and forth, we were ok.  We just had to (very quickly) find our way of doing it.

Our Scattered Words: What is your favorite songwriting lyric?
Beth Thornley: It’s hard to pick a favorite, but a lyric that I think about a lot is one that Corey Brannon wrote in a song called “Miss Ferguson”. The lyric is “The angle of her cheek is the math of persuasion.”. Whenever I get lazy about coming up with a solid lyric, I think about that line and how that’s the standard. I might not meet that standard, but I have to try. The song is excellent and well worth a moment to read the lyrics and listen to it as well as the entire album.

Our Scattered Words: What do you wish you could do better?
Beth Thornley: Sing, play, write. You name it, I’d like to do it better.

Our Scattered Words: What advice would you give to young songwriters?
Beth Thornley: Songwriting is hard work. The old saying is true “1% inspiration; 99% perspiration”.

Our Scattered Words: If you could go back and be part of any album session what would it be?
Beth Thornley: Probably none; as crazy as that sounds. Studios tend to be stressful places for most people when recording. I’d rather be playing a live show with them. Playing is the most fun for me.

Our Scattered Words: If you could sit down and talk about songwriting with anyone, who would it be and why?
Beth Thornley: I like to talk to any songwriter about their process because I always learn something no matter who it is or how far along they are in the craft

Beth Thornley on the Web
Website
Facebook
Twitter

All interviews, including Beth Thornley, will be archived alphabetically HERE for easy access in the future.

Please follow the Facebook Page for more updates and songwriting posts. Send us a message on Twitter and tell your friends, neighbors and relatives about us, if you like.

Thanks for spending some time here,
Our Scattered Words

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