Therese Workman Songwriting Interview

Therese Workman Songwriting Interview

Therese Workman (photo by Shervin Lainez )

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


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.

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Thanks for spending some time here,
Our Scattered Words


Caleb Hawley

Caleb Hawley

Caleb Hawley (photo by Don Razniewski)

Caleb Hawley

Minneapolis to Berklee College to Harlem.  That’s the path Caleb Hawley has taken and you hear all of that in Caleb Hawley’s music.  Prince, Dylan, Jazz, Soul. A voice that earned him a spot on American Idol.  I heard about Caleb through mutual friends for a few years and listened some.  This morning was the first time I listened all the way through his full album, ‘Caleb Hawley’. (can’t wait for all of you to have the chance to hear this!!) He sounds natural and genuine in the updated, soul sound material. I’ve heard other contemporary singers record material like this because they love it, but never really find that authentic place that truly connects a singer and band to the truth of that music. They end up sounding like a mediocre lounge band or an album that belongs on an infomercial.  But, that’s not the case with Caleb.  He truly connects, sings and writes this material very genuinely. I really enjoyed listening through this morning

Caleb Hawley
Current City or Home Town: Harlem, NY originally from Minneapolis, MN
Record Label: Independent, baby!
Most recent release: ‘We All Got Problems’ – 2010

Brief Intro/Bio
Independent Harlem based soul singer & songwriter who grew up in the ‘burbs of Minneapolis surrounded by the sounds of Prince & Bob Dylan. Influenced hugely by the two, taking thought provoking lyrics & funky grooves & blends them together as well as possible.

OSW: What is your songwriting/composing process?
Caleb Hawley: Usually I have two stacks. One stack is of musical ideas, the other is of lyrics. I think of them at separate times, because usually musical inspiration comes to me when I’m practicing and lyrical inspiration comes to me when I’m out and about, observing people and contemplating my life. Typically I take from each pile and try to mix and match the vibes and moods that fit each other best. Then I either extend or whittle the lyrics into a place that fits the musical idea best. I hardly ever write them both at the same time.

OSW: What are you most proud of?
Caleb Hawley: My most recent unreleased album. It’s the most “me” recording I’ve ever done and just hope I can find a good home for it in order to release it.

OSW: How does someone go from a degree in Jazz Composition to American Idol?
Caleb Hawley: I chose Jazz Comp while at Berklee because I was super interested in arranging. I’ve used the skills I developed there in my recordings as you will hear. I think my passion for jazz was a little higher at the time I attended school there, but the degree was still a great supplement for the music I’m making nowadays.

OSW: What did you learn from the American Idol experience?
Caleb Hawley: Hmm.. That reality TV isn’t reality? That’s probably the most rewarding knowledge I gained there. As a person who struggled with a need to strive and make it to the “top”, it’s nice to know that the “top” is mostly just a game and a facade played on others not in the biz. On a more positive note, I made a lot of great friends there and also learned how to push myself to really learn a song in less than 24 hours… and attempt dance moves with it : )

OSW: Do lyrics come quickly or do you revise them over a period of time?
Caleb Hawley: Definitely revise them over and over. The idea usually comes quick. I try my best to spill it out on the page as fast as possible and revise later, but that can be tough. When I get excited about a line it’s hard not to revise it in the moment. It’s a balance though, cause I wanna continue the thought at the same time before I forget it, but also make the revisions before I forget those as well.

OSW: What is your favorite songwriting lyric?
Caleb Hawley:
“I found myself face down in the ditch
Booze in my hair
Blood on my lips
A picture of you, holding a picture of me
In the pocket of my blue jeans”

 – Ray Lamontagne “Jolene”

 To me this portrays is the best imagery I’ve ever heard. There are three scenes in one, which is pretty amazing to me.

OSW: Is rhyming still important?
Caleb Hawley: Yes and no, for lack of a better answer. Some people say perfect rhyme is the only rhyme. In musical theater that may be true, because you really need to hear the dictation as an audience as it goes by fast. On a record, people can always check the liner notes or lyric websites to find out exactly what you’re saying, so I think being abstract works a little better in that case. As long as it’s not cheesy and too predictable, I’ll always go with the rhyme. It’s the really predictable rhymes that I attempt to stay away from.OSW: What advice would you give to young songwriters/composers?
Caleb Hawley: Make your songs dramatic. And if you’re gonna use an ideas that has been done a million times, like a love song, find your own original twist. Always depends on the style you’re writing in, but don’t be afraid to take some risks.

OSW: If you could go back and be part of any album session what would it be?
Caleb Hawley: ‘Signed, Sealed, Delivered” album. Not only is it my favorite Stevie record but it’s one of the few he used the funk bro’s on. I’d love to sit in the room with James Jamerson & Stevie Wonder at the same time. That would teach me more than a Berklee degree easily.
(OSW Note- from that album, this is one of my all-time favorite cover songs.  Stevie completely makes it his own and that distorted Clav sound kills me)

OSW: If you could sit down and talk about songwriting with anyone, who would it be and why?
Caleb Hawley: Eminem. I’d love to hear how much he actually revises his internal rhyming, or if it just comes that natural to him. I’d also be curious why if he is so graphic just to get a rise, or if it’s genuinely him. Either way, it’s still brilliant in my opinion.

Caleb Hawley on the Web
CD Baby
YouTube (search)

Also, this is important people, you can get a FREE Sampler by Caleb Hawley at Noisetrade for a limited time. Please check it out.

No bonus material page this time.  Completely my error.  I let the whole interview slip through without making sure I had 3 videos for his songwriting playlist.  But, I will share a couple videos of Caleb + you got the Stevie video above.

“Little Miss Sunshine” (Official Lyric Video)“Let a Little Love In” (Live in Studio)Important stuff

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even more importantly

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Please don’t just go stream the songs.  If you enjoy the interview and the musician, certainly use streaming to preview their tracks but then buy it if you like it.  They need sales of their music, merchandise and people at their shows to continue making the music you love. Buying directly from them at shows is always the best option, then buying from their website if possible.   This is really important stuff people.Have a great weekend and I’ll see you next week.