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March 2016
The Art of [Writing] Lyrics with Paul Barrere & Roger Cole

Paul:  Ya know lyrics are a very funny thing, over the past 50 years that I’ve been writing songs, which is since I was about 18, actually, a little before.  They come in all shapes and sizes, sometimes I have a melody in mind, sometimes I just have a track that I want to put lyrics to.  I’ve even been woken in the middle of the night with a lyric running through my head, then I have to just kind get up and jot it down.  So I would say there is no specific one way to write lyrics to a song.  However, whenever the inspiration hits, the best thing to do is to either write it down or have a little voice recorder and put it down there because everything can be a seed that can grow into a song.

Roger:  I guess if there is an actual ‘method’ to it, I always tried to take whatever the situation is that you’re writing about - be it a story or first person conversation, whatever - the trick to it all is to try to put a lot of stuff into a few minutes as far as meaning, what you’re trying to get across.  You don’t have all day, it’s not like writing a book. So what’s fun for me is to try to take a concept and boil it all down into 4 or 5 words and then play with the words that can mean multiple things so that it kind of says something about whoever is listening to it, as opposed to it being just about me writing it.  One trick for that is to buy yourself a thesaurus, they’re priceless and can help in a lot of ways if you get stuck on a word.   I also always try to pay attention to how the stanzas work, what types of syllables are landing at the end of each phrase and make sure there is somewhat of continuous tone so that the listener can enjoy the music that the lyrics are on top of instead of getting interrupted.

The evolution of writing?  That just comes with doing a lot of it.  You will start off with things that have tons of lyrics and all kinds of different stuff, and eventually you learn ways to whittle it down and work over the track a little bit better and your concepts get a little more intelligent - you hope.  Like anything else, the more you do it, the better you will get at it.  

 

Jon Rogers asks:  Do you start a song with a general idea, a lyric, or do you start w a beat or melody and build lyrics around it?

The answer to that is pretty much all of the above.  Sometimes you will get some words and you’ll sit down and lay them out in some kind of format and as you’re formatting you start hearing how they’ll lay down against the track, then you will write the music for that.  A little more challenging sometimes, is to write the music first andmake sure you have all your sections, then you’re kind of locked into making lyrics work within that framework.  At that point it becomes trying to make the math really come together and work over the track.  Sometimes you will just get a groove and as you’re doing that you put stuff on it and you get an idea from what type of emotional response it is getting from you and then you just start working it.  And then there are times you just want to be nuts and create phrases that can mean 10 different things.  You just throw it out there and say it can be what you (the listener) want it to be about.

 

Music [Talk] with Roger Cole

The progression of instruments, all the craziness that I  play, actually started off with the  piano, keyboards and stuff like that when I was a little kid for no real reason - it just made sense to me so I played around with it.  I also had a lot of relatives that played guitars and acoustic guitars at family weekend get-togethers and those types events.  That was always interesting.  It’s was  really always  more about writing for me, so every time I would learn one thing on one instrument, I would try to apply it to another so you get different textures and the ideas out of your head.  With pianos I got pretty decent at making a mess for a while and then decided I wanted to learn more…the basics of it.  One of my cousins had a country band and their keyboard player, Bob Tatro, was a very talented, schooled musician, so he came over once a week for a little while.  He showed me a lot of the foundations and enabled me to grow in that way.  With drums and percussion I started studying that under a teacher named Ron Russo, in grammar school.  He was a great teacher and musician.  I started to apply one to the other, you know…the more I was able to do on a guitar the stronger my left hand became on a piano.  The more I was able to do on a piano, the more control I had with my right hand on the guitar.  And the drums and percussion really helped independent timings and synchronization, the ability to put stuff together.  Bass came along as a necessary evil - just trying to get the material I had in my head out on tape, so I started playing that as well.  It’s really just one or the other.  Realizing that it takes a lifetime to learn one instrument half way, you try to spend time on every instrument every day in order to keep them all rolling forward. 

It’s always just kind of made sense to me.   When I sit down with an instrument and hit a couple notes, it starts to come together.  Eventually I wind up writing with that instrument as well, which is great.  Other things, like trying to get certain sounds, different approaches - if you play one thing on the guitar it’s not going to be the same approach like on a piano, or a bass, or anything else for that matter.  So you get different textures and the ability to round out your writing process.  It really makes things more interesting, for me, anyways.

It’s not just instruments that you can write with.  If you hit your dishes for a little while with your silverware before your parents yelled at you, that can be percussive and musical and fun.  Pretty much everywhere you go there is something that can make sound.  Case in point,    when me & Paul were doing the “Nova Train” record, the percussion track for ‘Pumpin’ the A’ was a washing machine at Paul’s house.  He heard it make a groove and that became a song.  Also, on ‘Breathe’, from the “Musical Schizophrenia” record, we used rakes, shovels, hoes, and all kinds of stuff just to get the tones to work inside of the hand percussion.

It’s always been once you peel away a layer on one instrument, you want to peel away that layer on another instrument and apply them together.  It’s really kind of endless, it never seems to stop.  I’m currently trying to study a couple more instruments and every day, as long as you keep your eyes open, you always find more styles and approaches that are interesting, so you try to put them into your toolbox.  It’s pretty much a lifelong thing - whatever you pick up, you make noise with - eventually get down into it and learn why it works and apply it to what you’re thinking.

Slide Talk with Paul Barrere

So many people ask me how I got involved in playing the slider guitar.  Well, when I first started playing guitar, when I was 13, I played with a lot of blues records and I played with a lot of folk and folk blues.  And that’s where I discovered Mississippi John Hurt and his very simplistic slide approach on tunes like ‘Sliding Delta’ and ‘Stagolee’  things like that.  I use a metal slide, actually it’s a Sears & Roebucks 5/8” socket wrench.  I used to use only glass but when I joined Little Feat, they kept breaking and Lowell finally said “Here, try this one - it’ll never break, and if it does, it gets replaced for free.” 

Keiko T. asks:  Is it recommended to mute the strings between the slide and the nut?

There’s a trick to playing slide guitar and that is that you have to dampen the strings.  I use the palm of my hand since I use the slide on my pinky finger so I’ll have the other 3 fingers to chord behind the slide.  By dampening the strings you get less of that overtone and ringing and so forth, or unwanted string noise.

Bill B. asks:  Are you still playing Epiphone acoustics, what are your typical settings?

Yes, the EJ 200 is the work horse of all my acoustics - I use medium gauge strings tuned to an open G-  For years, I’ve used only the open G tuning, but as of late I’ve been using a lot of open D as well. And try my best to conquer playing slide in standard E tuning. I hope this helps, and keep slidin’!

 

 

How They Got Started & Advice for New Musicians

Roger Cole:

"I think people that become musicians, start as musicians.  You have it in your head, you have it in you.  You start looking at instruments and you start figuring out how to play them, it becomes somewhat of an obsession.  So I don’t know that there was ever really a conscious decision made to do it.  I think the decision that you make is how much time and focus you’ll put into whatever caliber of musician you are capable of becoming which is really up to how many hours you want to put in, how many influences you can retain."

"As far as advice for people who wanted to get started with it, I think first and foremost, take the time for whatever instrument you decide to play - or multiple instruments, whatever the case may be - just take the time to really learn it, don’t just learn what you’re into right now.  What you hear on the radio or certain styles that might really get you going right now might not always be the case.  You will grow and evolve musically as you stick with it.  So as far as wanting to become a professional musician, try to make the decision of what does that mean to you - does it just mean making a living, or being on a soda bottle or something? If it’s just wanting to make money playing an instrument, becoming a session player is a great way to do that, but once again, you gotta get to a certain caliber for people to want you there.  Always just be really honest with yourself about the caliber of your music and then see how you can make it better." 

Paul Barrere:

"I started playing piano when I was six and stopped that at 11, then picked up the guitar at 13.  It was more just for the fun of it until I got to be about 17 and that’s when I started to think seriously about being a musician.  But, I think more than being a musician, I really liked performing.  Kinda runs in the blood with my family - my parents were actors, my grandfather was a classical floutist with the New York Symphony, and my grandmother was an actress on Broadway in the 1920’s and 1930’s - so, it was just kinda something that came to me naturally.  So I’d have to say that yeah, maybe around 17 I started to think 'yeah, maybe this could be a good life style choice'.  And I’m kinda glad it did."

"My advice for any youngster out there who wants to become a musician is first and foremost, find the instrument that gives you the most satisfaction, and then study that instrument.  Find professionals to teach you the fundamentals, the rudiments, the techniques that make the act of making music a whole lot easier.  I’ve always noted that those that read music seem to have a little bit of an advantage over those who just play and basically just play by ear, which is what I did all these years, but I was very fortunate.  Second, I would tell them to make sure that they have a plan B.  Being a musician today, in this day and age, is …there’s just so many more musicians out there, so you have to be exceptional.  Or, you can study and become a wonderful player and play in philharmonics or symphonies or what have you and make a darned good living.  But, once again, as it is with many of the arts - acting, painting, playing music - there has to be an element of luck, an element that affords you an opportunity, and the more prepared you are when the opportunity knocks, you can turn that door knob."