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.

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


Benjamin Verdoes Songwriting Interview

Benjamin Verdoes Songwriting INterview

Benjamin Verdoes – photo by Megumi Shauna Arai

Benjamin Verdoes Songwriting Interview

Current City- Seattle, WA
Record Label- Brick Lane Records
Most Recent Release- ‘The Evil Eye’

Band Affiliations- Iska Dhaaf, Mt. St. Helens Vietnam Band

Brief Intro- Benjamin Verdoes is a songwriter from the Pacific Northwest often known for his unorthodox approach to composition. In the last decade he has written four albums, two as a part Mt. St. Helens Vietnam Band. The Evil Eye, which he began composing in 2011, is the first recording released under his own name. Verdoes also currently plays alongside Nathan Quiroga in the emerging Seattle band Iska Dhaaf.

Our Scattered Words- What is your songwriting/composing process and does it vary greatly on the other projects you’re involved with?
Benjamin Verdoes- I write using several different methods, although most of the things I write happen when I am not intending to write. I go into a strange zone where I forget what I’m doing. It is similar to a daydream. I think that is where my psyche unravels into ideas. Other times I make loop of parts I like and walk around the house singing with them.

Our Scattered Words- Do lyrics come quickly or do you revise them over a period of time?
Benjamin Verdoes- Some lyrics come right away or before the music. More often I get a few lines and expand and refine them over a long stretch of time.

Our Scattered Words- The bio info for Iska Dhaaf says that you were inspired by Sufi poetry.  I always encourage people interested in songwriting to study Rumi and Hafiz because I believe those two were so incredible in telling moving stories with such minimal words. Plus, they see right to the truth of emotions and relationships. How did they influence you and Nathan?
Benjamin Verdoes- I think Nathan and I were both at a point of searching and transition when we met. We were looking to get beyond ourselves with our art, and in our personal lives. Sufi poets and mystics are inspiring because they are profoundly human and spiritual at the same time. I would say the transcendence of their writing came from their ability to reconcile life’s seemingly impossible contradictions, namely the eternal and the ephemeral. And yes, perhaps they are concise because they rely on triggering things within a person rather than trying to create something that seeks attention.

Our Scattered Words- I really like and am intrigued by your description of your new album, ““The Evil Eye is a record I made for a beautiful person. It is a rebuttal to those seemingly powerful forces that tell you what you can and cannot do–the eyes that watch carelessly and tongues that move thoughtlessly in an attempt to describe and limit something that is spiritual and perfect. It is a love story.”  What is the thing you’re reflecting on that’s “spiritual and Perfect”, the person? Love? What are the forces fighting against this ideal state?
Benjamin Verdoes- All of the above: the person, the relationship/love, and the story we created together. Not to say that there are not struggles or problems, but that our connection is based on something eternal and beautiful. Perfect is a strange word. In fact, it doesn’t even exist in a few languages I’ve learned/ learned about. To me, it means something that is true and intuitive.

People (myself included) often fall into the mode of thinking that everything in love, life, and relationships is in the final outcome, or in the endurance in our life span. While that is important and may be true to an extent, I think each moment and connection is eternal. I tried to reflect that element in the songs. In some sense, the forces fighting us were people who were hoping or guessing the relationship would end. But also, anything that tried to take the focus off of what we were/are creating, including flattery, insincerity, or negativity.

Our Scattered Words- We all have “unknown fears”, especially those of us working as artists.  What fears are your biggest hurdles and how do you get past them?
Benjamin Verdoes- “Unknown Fears” is about anxiety, specifically the point when it all blends into an unclear feeling of discomfort and stress. It’s mostly tied to social situations. I tend to worry about offending people or not engaging them thoughtfully. Sometimes I am just off, and I get anxiety about conversations. The song is about triggers and things that set you off into that realm and render you useless in your attempts to communicate or connect with others. This includes, to some extent, performing music.

Our Scattered Words- What constitutes a good story for you?
Benjamin Verdoes- Something that is honest and skillfully told. Something that impacts me and causes a reaction.

Our Scattered Words- What are you most proud of?
Benjamin Verdoes- In regards to music, the fact that I continue to make songs and records, and that I have pushed myself to try new things.

Our Scattered Words- What do you wish you did better?
Benjamin Verdoes- I wish I were better at recording my own music. I am working on it.

Our Scattered Words- What is your favorite songwriting lyric?
Benjamin Verdoes- Nate wrote the words to this song, and it has become very important to me. At the current moment, these are my favorite words:

Our Scattered Words- 
What advice would you give to young songwriters/composers?
Benjamin Verdoes- Be honest, read a lot, be patient, and don’t quit.

Our Scattered Words- If you could go back and be part of any album session what would it be?
Benjamin Verdoes- I would have liked to hear Otis Redding’s vocal performances and the process of his records.

Our Scattered Words- If you could sit down and talk about songwriting with anyone, who would it be and why?
Benjamin Verdoes- Leonard Cohen. He is such a great storyteller and draws from so many sources. His songs stand alone. He is a poet, novelist, and incredible songwriter.

Benjamin Verdoes on the Web
Iska Dhaaf
Twitter  @benjaminverdoes   &  @iska_dhaaf

All interviews and Bonus Materials, including Benjamin Verdoes, will be archived alphabetically HERE for easy access in the future.

Bonus materials for Benjamin include 3 music videos of songs he’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