Congrats on your latest single Dance Warrior. Can you share with us what the writing process was like?
Thanks for having me!
The writing process on this song was one-of-a-kind. I actually was in the middle of recording a different song called “Pledge of Allegiance” for a feature film called “Black” written, directed, and performed by some folks in Minneapolis, MN where I was living at the time. I hit a writers-block with that song. When that happens there’s a lot of things I do to keep the creative juices flowing; I’m not typically one to try to force creativity on a song if it’s not happening just then.
Eventually I dipped into old songs, old lyrics. I feel like most writers keep a large back-log of incomplete ideas and inspirational trinkets laying about to inspire them. And I had a really old riff—one of the first things I wrote on acoustic guitar—I came across. I’ve always dug this riff and brought it out and it felt fresh. I also always had the line “ain’t got no money, ain’t got no time” as the song was originally about being a broke-ass student.
In the frame of mind I was in more than a decade later it made more sense to burn the rest of the lyrics to the ground and take it in a new direction. The line “we’re unarmed but dangerous” became the lynchpin of the idea of the song for me. Suddenly, one day, when working with the motif of the chords, the chorus progression came out of my hands and the lyrics and melody immediately after. I have to say there’s nothing more satisfying than writing a hook that just feels good.
It was a few weeks later before I came up with the bridge lyrics, melody and motif. Songwriting is weird, but pop songwriting is very structured and even more picky. You never want to say the same thing twice unless it’s ridiculously catchy. I remember workshopping the lyrics with my wife. I can’t even remember what the original ones were, but she didn’t like them and I kept re-working them until she didn’t hate them. This is a rousing endorsement from her, trust me.
The song is a declaration of joy amidst hardship. I wanted, with the bridge, to talk about feeling beaten down, and how it can seem like out of nowhere something in your spirit refuses to be broken, to fight, to stand up for yourself. Maybe it’s the support of a friend or loved one, maybe it’s that last shred of self worth. But the bridge became a crucial part of telling the story of “Dance Warrior”.
What inspires you most when you are writing and performing?
Rule-breakers. It’s weird to me that I write pop music because I listen to very little of it at times. I love music that is surprising, unexpected, and unconventional and my listening habits are very diverse. I’ll listen to smooth-jazz for a half hour, some heavy rock music the next. I’ll start my day out with roots music and end it with 50’s barbershop. Sometimes it feels like the further away something is from what I do musically, the more inspiring it is for me. By that same token, some of the things that actually cause me blocks is when I listen to a song or an album that I’d wish I’d written. It kind of steals your creative breath.
When performing the thing that most inspiring is the push-pull of the audience. I don’t need a completely sympathetic crowd, and in fact, thrive off negative energy in an audience. There’s the saying that “hate isn’t the opposite of love; apathy is”. And for myself, as a performer, that’s true: If you have an audience that is unimpressed and is telling you, they’re at least listening! A passive, quiet, polite audience is one of the most unsettling things for me! In a few very profound ways, the core of my show doesn’t work if my audience doesn’t participate. At the beginning of my shows I encourage participation, movement, shouting, and even responding to something I say if I’m storytelling. A really easy trick to show an audience you’re present is by responding to energy they give you. It’s also really risky because your show relies on the audience. So naturally I seek to provoke and I don’t let people get off by being passive participants.
If you didn’t become a musician, what would you be doing right now?
For 10 years I was in IT and loved it; I was really good at it. I write a lot and I’m clearly heavily-involved in social issues and education. You might recognize my face in a few commercials as I act and model a little on the side. But if I’m honest I’d probably be a middle school science or art teacher. I love kids, I’m passionate about education, and as I just explained, I love disruption. Middle school is perfect because kids that age are always on—they’re raw energy and curiosity and they’re still young enough that if you say something downright crazy like “you can change the world” their response is “really? Maybe?” Even just a little bit older and they go “yeah, right old man”. That faith in their own power is literally what moves mountains and sends rockets to space. I’ve had the privilege to work with kids that age previously and it would be crazy and pay practically nothing, but that’s what they said about a career in music.
What is the best concert you have ever been to and why?
AHHH! Man. I can’t pick one, so I’m just going to randomly say one of the shows that had an impact on me.
When Iron and Wine had one of their first big shows in Des Moines, Iowa, a relatively unknown band at the time, The Head and the Heart, opened for them. These four small musicians stepped on the stage and proceeded to shout at the top of their lungs with folk instruments in a way I had never previously seen. Their harmonies, their energy, their attitude was incredible. They kind of stole the show right out from Iron and Wine. The audience was arrested by this tiny unknown opener and they sold out of merchandise at that date because there was a frenzy at their table. They didn’t do anything new or different. They just sang, performed, moved, breathed, with such conviction that the audience couldn’t help but be arrested with what they did. It was a moment for me when I realized that performance is just as much about the notes you play as how you play therm. That would take songs I believed in and performing them with people unafraid to be themselves.
Tell us, if we got to peek at your music collection – what would we hear?
A lot of K Pop at the moment! My wife and I went to BTS in Chicago a few years back for our anniversary, haha! But you probably wouldn’t recognize most of the artists. I listen to fellow musicians that I meet because I want to support them and because I genuinely get hooked on their music. In Minneapolis I had the pleasure of meeting a ton of bands and songwriters. Mayyadda is a soul/roots artist that tells stories about being a black woman in the midwest, Family Three is a trio whose music is dripping in wonderful Americana harmonies, Whosah is a perfectly fun high-energy Pop / Rock act from MN. And like I mentioned, it’s all over the place. I would say my most listened-to albums this past year were Anderson .Paak’s “Ventura”, Gallant’s “Sweet Insomnia”, BTS “Map of the Soul: Persona”, and Kacey Musgrave’s “Golden Hour”.
Anything else you want to share with our readers?
As many people are stressed about the holidays because they feel all these obligations to friends and family and gifts and consumerism, etc., there are also people for whom the holidays represent trauma and loneliness. If you suspect that someone is alone, isolated, or doesn’t have the means to last through this period, consider helping them out. It doesn’t take much: dropping off a meal, giving them a call reminding them you miss them or you’er thinking of them, or a random invitation to suffer through your own awkward family celebration. Reaching out, random acts of kindness, dropping off socks or gloves to shelters—a little act of kindness can go a long way to saving someone’s life. And that’s the truth.
Where can we find you on line?
End of Interview
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