Naomi Wachira Songwriting Interview

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(photo by Janell Kallander)

Naomi Wachira Songwriting Interview

Current City: Seattle, WA
Most recent release: Self Titled  ‘Naomi Wachira’ (released January 28, 2014)

About Naomi: Named Best Folk Singer by Seattle Weekly in 2013, Naomi became the toast of the town and struck a friendship with the much-loved indie songwriter Damien Jurado, who produced her debut album.  Influenced by two powerful, groundbreaking female songwriters: Miriam Makeba and Tracy Chapman,  she’s making music that is imbued with a sense of hope.

Our Scattered Words: Do you have a set songwriting/composing process?
Naomi Wachira: Whenever I think I’m ready to start writing, I’ll play around with my guitar, which sometimes it means playing a song I already know and then I’ll slowly start doing different things… rhythm or use different cords and once I think I have something, I’ll try and put words to it.  The only time this works really well is if I’ve already had some kind of inspiration about something I want to write about.  I’ve also learned that it’s never the same process, so I have to always remain open for how the song wants to come through.  I’ve always understood that this is a gift and as such it can come in any way it chooses, I just have to be open to whichever direction I’m led

Our Scattered Words: Some producers completely re-construct songs in their process, others gently nudge things along.  What was Damien Jurado’s role and approach on your album?
Naomi Wachira:  Damien was more like a gentle guide. When we first started talking about producing my album, he was very clear that he didn’t want to change me or make me sound more like him. He just wanted to concentrate on what people liked about my live performances, so we recorded all my vocals and guitar live, which were mostly 1 or 2 takes. Perhaps one of the most crucial statements he made in the begin was, “you cannot cut and paste soul” and that became the bed of our process. It wasn’t about a perfect album, but an album that perfectly communicated my story in a way that most people who’ve heard me live have become accustomed to.  It was by far the easiest recording session I’ve been to so far.

Our Scattered Words: What are some of the best venues, including house shows, you’ve played at?
Naomi Wachira: Some of my favorite are The Neptune in Seattle opening for Damien Jurado. My album release show at Columbia City Theater (where I actually recorded my album).  I always enjoy playing House shows  because they are so intimate and I get to just tell stories and share more of myself and make it more of a conversation than a performance.

Our Scattered Words: You grew up singing Gospel songs with your family.  How has that influenced your songwriting and performing now?
Naomi Wachira:  I think the biggest influence is learning to harmonize.  In church harmonies were such a big part of singing and I completely absorbed that and now it’s become second nature to me. I’d also like to think that it has influenced my optimism in life and always wanting to write music that offers hope.

Our Scattered Words: What is it about Seattle that made you choose that community as your home?
Naomi Wachira:  I actually moved to Seattle for Graduate school. I thought I’d stay for 3yrs and then move back to Chicago, but life had other plans. I attended one open mic in the summer of 2011 and that changed my course. I had found an avenue to tell my story, so I kept on telling it and people seemed to appreciate it, so I decided to stay and pursue music.

Our Scattered Words: What is your favorite songwriting lyric?
Naomi Wachira: Probably from “African Girl”… I am an African Girl/ I know where I’m coming from / I know who I want to be.

Our Scattered Words: What do you wish you could do better?
Naomi Wachira:  I wish I could be a better guitar player or that I could instantly hear arrangements for the all the songs I write.

Our Scattered Words: What advice would you give to young songwriters?
Naomi Wachira: Be true to yourself and your story. Take your time to develop who and what you want to be. Don’t ever let anyone tell what you need to be… you have to make that decision on your own.

Our Scattered Words: What changes do you see coming in the next 10 years for people who want to make a living in music?
Naomi Wachira:  I love the fact that people now can launch their careers without relying on record labels.  The thing I’d really hope for is for majority of musicians to actually make a good income from what they are doing. I hope that there’ll be more leverage for artists with online distributors of music.

Our Scattered Words: If you could go back and be part of any album session what would it be?
Naomi Wachira: This is a tough one. I think I’d love to be in a Sister Rosetta Tharpe album session.

Our Scattered Words: If you could sit down and talk about songwriting with anyone, who would it be and why?
Naomi Wachira:  I’d love to sit down with Tracy Chapman and just understand what lies behind the songs she writes.

Naomi Wachira on the Web
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All interviews, including Naomi Wachira, 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

Follow on Twitter: @OSWBlog

 

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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
Website
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

 

Andy Fitts Songwriting Interview

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Andy Fitts Songwriting Interview

So much great music was released this week.  You may be sitting there listening to new albums by; Bastille, The 1975, Neko Case, John Legend, Dresses, Icona Pop or maybe even the new Sly Stone compilation ‘Higher’.  Do yourself a favor, take some time and listen to ‘Smoky Wilds’ by Andy Fitts.

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Andy Fitts – ‘Smoky Wilds’

I had not heard of Andy Fitts before.  I was contacted by his PR person, who also works with Torres.  (You can read the songwriting interview with Torres on Friday here.)  I love the intimacy of his songs and the “simple but right” production.  As you read more about him below, you’ll find that you may have heard him on the road with some of his friends.

ANDY FITTS SONGWRITING INTERVIEW

Current City: Seattle, WA
Most Recent Release: ‘Smoky Wilds’
Band Affiliation: David Bazan

Brief Intro: I’m a Seattle musician. I have played in Seattle bands including David Bazan, The Long Winters, Say Hi, and Aqueduct. I have released records under the band names Airport Cathedral and The Banyans, but Smoky Wilds, under my own name, is the first record that I have had the desire to promote.

OSW: The songs on ‘Smoky Wilds’ all are set in sparse and interesting soundscapes. The space feels right for each song.  But, they all share a nice combination of; 8 Bit + Warm Distortion + Acoustic sounds.  Were the songs written to rough forms of the tracks or just with voice and Guitar?
Andy Fitts: I made demos of the songs, some with a guitar, but mostly with other tracks I had built up with drums, bass, and keyboards. When I brought the demos to Yuuki (Matthews), I wanted to deconstruct them completely. As we pieced the kernels back together, it was Yuuki’s charge that I was able to perform each song on a guitar by myself, and connect with it in as minimal of accompaniment. From that point we raised high the roof-beams and decorated the walls.

OSW: You grew up in Hawaii and really did not hear non-Christian music until you were almost in your teens.  What was the first secular music your remember experiencing and how did you feel about it?
Andy Fitts: The most obvious example of that would have been Amy Grant. I remember in the late 80s and early 90s all the talk about her crossing over into secular music. In my 10-year-old brain way of not understanding sex, it meant she’d come of age and some guy had her V-card.

OSW: What was the title or subject of the first song you wrote?
Andy Fitts: I was 13 and the song was a pastiche of mournful “why-me”s.
A girl that I had some kind of fornicating urge for was into my good friend who was a stronger and more charismatic Christian than me.
Sadly, it took me a long time to disavow that strain of sentimentality.

OSW: Seattle has become your primary music community.  Tell us about your first trip out there and how you ended up there.
Andy Fitts: I stayed in Gig Harbor for a while in the summer of 93, and I was pretty into Pearl Jam. Eddie Vedder was probably the first singer that I tried to mimic, and I was pretty good at it, except for the screaming, that was always so hard to do right.

I moved from Hawaii to Seattle after several years of travel abroad with my heart set on writing songs, playing shows, making records, getting on the radio, going on tour. I’ve had the opportunity now to do most of those things, but I was lost for many years. I would say that one of the mistakes I’ve made in life was in viewing my well-being as more of an inheritance than as a savings account. I am fortunate to have learned and passed through some of those lessons. To begin with, as a young adult, I viewed self-promotion with such distaste that it became closer to an auto-immune disease, nearly shredding my self-worth and respect. It wasn’t until I crossed into my third decade that my values started to make more sense. Up until then, perspective and expectation vacillated heavily upon the shoulders of people I depended upon to keep it together.

OSW: What are you most proud of?
Andy Fitts: When I was going to my Christian High School in Hawaii and heard music coming out of Seattle, some of whom seemed to understand my inherited world view, I felt visceral pangs of a future life. The first CD’s that I bought in Seattle (at Orpheum Records RIP) were Pedro the Lion – ‘Control’, The Long Winters – ‘The Worst You Can Do Is Harm’, and The Prom – ‘Under The Same Stars’. Years later, James from The Prom helped produce my first record in Seattle and I played both with David Bazan and John Roderick. In ways that were never forced or solicited, it seems upon reflection that I’ve been able to do exactly what I’d hoped for. In terms of my own songwriting, this record feels like I’ve finally reached the starting line. I’m so proud of Smoky Wilds, and that it represents the bar I’ve set to build upon for the rest of my lifelong pursuit in songwriting.

OSW: You’re closely connected to Dave Bazan.  How has he influenced you and your songwriting?
Andy Fitts: Dave and I both grew up in very similar cultures and so we have a short-hand for just about everything. That happens with anybody when you’re in the same place at the same time for weeks on end, but the cultural fabric adds another esoteric layer. Growing up Christian, people often talked about being “Convicted by the Holy Spirit”. Basically, they would say that if they felt questionable about something they’d thought or did. People call it different things, but everyone, Christian or not, knows what that feels like. Dave is someone who has a lot of conviction in the way that one is compelled to acknowledge error or truth. I think his songs are the most convicting songs that I know of. I have a ton of admiration and respect for Bazan.

OSW: This line from your bio really connected with me,”These songs are ideas that help me close the gap between the life that I want and the one that I am living.”  How do you balance out “telling the truth” in your songs with “creating the truth you’d want to live”?
Andy Fitts: Most of my songs implicitly suggest an either/or cause and effect. Either you try to murder a resting beast and you receive well-being, intellectual vigor and enlightenment, or you run for your life and start telling everyone that you’ll do it next time. They sound like rhetorical virtue-pacts to me. Everyone has a different set of seasonal pledges that they need to repeat. I generate new ones enough that songs serve well as a provisional document.

OSW: What lyric line do you wish you had written?
Andy Fitts: TW Walsh’s record ‘Songs of Pain and Leisure‘ is incredible. He is a devastating songwriter. The song “Rattling Jar” hits me pretty hard. The first line of the chorus is :

THE BELL’S ALWAYS RINGING
EXCEPT WHEN I’M SINGING

Everyone’s heard stories about the primal effect of music on the brain. My Mom photographed Brian Wilson once and told me his marbles were just gone unless he was engrossed in a song. When my grandfather (once an orchestra conductor) was in the last weeks of his life, he couldn’t remember anyone, but he played songs on his harmonica to the end.

OSW: If you could sit down and talk songwriting with anyone who would it be and why?
Andy Fitts: Chris Cohen – his compositions entrancingly teeter over the rubicon between impulse and calculation. Somehow I love listening to his music in the same way that I love listening to Christopher Hitchens. It super-soaks my thinking brain with an emotional marinade.

OSW: What advice would you give to young songwriters/composers?
Andy Fitts: Don’t expect some delusion of your prospective achievements to be the dopamine rush that equals the achievement itself.

Identify your hunger; your desert-island craving; be alert to the amount of zeitgeist in your affect; don’t be so sentimental; mitigate grandiosity; be productive and make decisions, but not at the mercy of laziness.  

Andy Fitts on the Web

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All interviews and Bonus Materials, including Andy Fitts, 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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