Warren Brothers Article

Warren Brothers

“The Search for the Perfect Song”

By Emily J Ramey

Written for BMI: MusicWorld

Brett and Brad Warren always write their songs together, and as the Nashville songwriting duo The Warren Brothers, their industrious pens have been working for the likes of Martina McBride, Tim McGraw, Faith Hill, and Dierks Bentley, among an impressive, steady growing list of others.

“Because we’re brothers, we have a built-in chemistry,” Brett explains. “We’re also brutally honest with each other. It can be refreshing and also taxing to write with us, but it will not be boring.”

The Brothers’ writing process seems about as diverse as their list of co-writers themselves: “We might go have lunch with Martina, and something in conversation will hit us, and we’ll write a song about that. Or Tim will call me up with an idea, and I’ll head over to his house, and we’ll write it. Or we’ll just start messing around on a guitar and try to think of stuff. There’s really no set way.”

Despite the Brothers current savvy, they worked hard to hit their stride. Early in their now 15-year career, Brad and Brett performed as artists, releasing three albums in six years, and served as judges on CMT’s Nashville Star for a time. Since then, they’ve found their niche as wholly devoted songwriters and have hurled themselves into the arena without hesitation.

“As regular artists, we were way too diverse,” Brett clarifies. “As songwriters, [that diversity] has been a blessing. We have a song on Hinder’s record and Toby Keith’s, we have four songs on Tim McGraw’s new album, and we’re writing with Orianthi this week. We just had a song cut by Lynyrd Skynyrd even, so we’re all over the map, and it is so much fun. We’ve written with Chris Daughtry and Ne-yo and people that are so different, it’s not even funny.”

The Warren Brothers’ lively schedule is due in part to their high demand as great writers but also probably as much to their enthusiasm and passion for finding the perfect song. They write with purpose and zeal for the music above all else.

“The best moments in my career have been the ones where I realized we were writing not for the money, not for an award; it was all about the song.”

370 words

Angie Aparo Article

Angie Aparo

“The Anti-Musician”

By Emily J Ramey

Written for BMI: MusicWorld

Angie Aparo has made a name for himself writing key songs for some heavy hitters in the music world. His career, burgeoning from penning hits like “Cry” and “Free Man” for Faith Hill and Tim McGraw respectively, continues to flourish with a cut on Miley Cyrus’ 2010 record and two tracks on McGraw’s January 2012 release.

But writing for others seems to come easily to Aparo: “When I’m writing for someone else, it’s like writing a play. I know the characters.”

These days, he’s challenging himself and taking time to write autobiographically. The solo album he’s currently working on will be his first in six years, and it’s about time by the sound of it.

“Writing for myself is a religion, it’s a therapy; it’s all these things wrapped in one, and then, oh yeah, there are the songs,” Angie quips. “For me, the songs are a just by-product of sitting with yourself for a while.”

And Aparo takes that alone time very seriously. Indeed, it is the only successful way he’s found to write his songs.

“When I’m writing my own record, I have to be so alone,” he says. “I sequester myself. It takes time to figure out what I’m trying to say and then how to say it.”

As Angie takes to the recording studio, he’s not tying himself to any one idea. In fact, he’s blowing the doors off anything remotely conventional and working toward music that is “playful” and “unorthodox” instead.

“I want to make anti-music, but I don’t know what that means yet. I mean, what is music? I think we’ve limited it. This record’s going to be interesting,” Aparo reveals. “I’m sampling sounds, noises; I want to make a noise orchestra, you know, life happening. I think it’s going to be a real joyful record.”

Beyond all else, Aparo’s desires lie among the satisfaction derived from making something new and above all, musical.

“It just doesn’t matter the medium; I’ll do anything to make music. I’m on this journey now of what can I turn into an instrument.” Angie’s journey continues on the road this summer, following the release of his eighth record, expected late this spring.

364 words

Robert Schwartzman Article

Robert Schwartzman

“The Music Man”

By Emily J Ramey

Written for BMI: MusicWorld

Robert Schwartzman is a man refreshingly fanatical about the art of making music. Despite, or perhaps as a result of, having seen rapid success with his California retro rock band Rooney, the 28-year-old singer/songwriter is absolutely bursting with new ideas, projects, and overall zeal for the industry, which is more than evident in the way he talks about his songwriting process: “I get excited by chords; I get excited by melody; I get excited by lyrics… something has to spark excitement, and you just run with it. It’s a domino effect either way, but the process is specific to whatever’s occurring in that moment.”

“Learning by ear inspired me to start writing music, taking feelings and stories from my life and turning them into a song,” he explains of his early penchant for songwriting. “It was the thrill of having something in my hands that didn’t exist before.”

As for influences, Robert cites “oldies but goodies” as his inspiration, then and now. “You know late fifties, early sixties, cruising with your friends with the top down and milkshakes,” he says. “I’ve always thought – and still do – that that music is really simple and so… right; the innocence of that music has always inspired me.”

These threads are discernible in Rooney’s distinctive flashy guitars, chunky rhythms, and summery melodies, but Schwartzman, ever the opportunist, is on the verge of expanding his repertoire with a solo venture as well. “The band has been a big part of my life and it’s important to me, but there’s still a need to be able to take chances and try other things. I played all the instruments, they’re all my songs; on every level, it’s my record.”

Schwartzman’s debut will be released this fall, with plans for a tour following closely behind. After all, the live show is what it’s all about, Robert claims. “I like the feeling of playing music to people. Playing a live show sort of helped me understand how people are affected by music. When you perform something, you feel it in a different way; you feel like you’re putting it all on the line.”

354 words

Paul McDonald Article

Paul McDonald

Idol‘s Lone Songwriter”

By Emily J Ramey

Written for BMI: MusicWorld

Paul McDonald draws musical inspiration from his life, which, if you’re up on your pop culture you’ll know, has been positively brimming with spectacular, whirlwind song material. The 26-year-old singer/songwriter placed eighth on season ten of American Idol, met, dated, and got engaged to Twilight starlet Nikki Reed, and toured the country, playing arenas, as part of the Idol tour… all within the first eight months of 2011.

This sort of dizzying fate is new to all American Idol contestants; however, unlike his bright-eyed, freshly scrubbed young competitors, McDonald was living a musicians’ life before the show, writing and touring endlessly as the front man of The Grand Magnolias, a Nashville-based Americana rock band.

The veteran songwriter in a cast of budding performers, McDonald has been a wild card element from the beginning, but Paul’s effortless charm, uncomplicated passion, and raspy tenor vocals promoted him to an easy favorite. “It wasn’t my goal to win American Idol,” he admits. “I kind of did it for fun, but we’ve met so many great people, and it’s opened up so many doors.”

Amid all these new avenues and opportunities though, his songwriting process has remained remarkably the same. Of his compositions, Paul says, “They come in different waves. Sometimes I’ll pick up my guitar and a song will just come out or sometimes I’ll write the guitar part or the piano part and then put lyrics over it later. It’s just kind of how they come out of my body, you know?”

“I’ve tried to open my mind to a lot of different kinds of records and experience different artists, make my writing a little bit better,” he elaborates. “And there’s a whole lot of stuff to write about right now because this is such a serious transition period.”

“I’ve got a lot of material to work with, and I’m just going to go into the studio and take my time, try to make something really good,” Paul states in a rare moment of solemnity. “To me, it’s really never been about anything more than making good music and playing good songs.”

350 words

Kerli Article

Kerli

“BubbleGoth”

By Emily J Ramey

Written for BMI: MusicWorld

As defined by its poster child, the term “bubblegoth” is about “putting together things that don’t necessarily go together. It’s about making dark things beautiful and beautiful things dark,” and 24-year-old Estonian singer/songwriter Kerli believes in and lives out those ideals everyday, extending her fascinations into both extremes and working to understand their dichotomy through her music. Kerli’s unique brand of electropop personifies the light and dark polarity of “bubblegoth;” it is ethereal and smoldering, gossamer yet tenebrous, electronic, intricate, expansive.

It seems clear that conviction and innovation are key factors in the creation of Kerli’s music as well as her image, inspiration that most assuredly stemmed from the necessity of imagination during her childhood. “I grew up in Estonia, and my family was very small town. I never had any art or creativity around me, so I had to create that for myself.” Now, that ideology has manifested itself into something more sophisticated, although still quite visionary. “I always write in colors,” she explains. “I try to paint the picture with lyrics and with sounds and melody, so that each song has a lot of personality.”

Despite the distinctiveness of her background and philosophies, Kerli’s songwriting process sounds not unlike the time-tested patterns of a pro. “I like going out into the world and taking note of what people are thinking and feeling, then I try to see everything that I’ve gathered through my own lens and attach it to my own concept.”

And that concept is shaping up to be both insightful and esoteric: “the human search for perfection, or somebody’s idea of perfection.” For her sophomore album, expected this fall, Kerli succumbed to her natural obsessions. “I find a lot in my art that I write about overcoming obstacles… even if I don’t mean to, it just sort of comes out that way.”

As for motivation, well, it’s like I said – poster child. She is representing the greater population of her growing “bubblegoth” community. “My fans are a big part of what I do… it’s like we’re all doing it together; I’m just a piece of the puzzle.”

350 words

Tin Pan South Review

Tin Pan South

“The Problem with Tin Pan South”

By Emily J Ramey

Click Here to See the Published Version on American Music Channel

I wrote once long ago that songwriters seem like pensive people. Not people who separate themselves from the rest of us, but rather people who understand the world a little better than we do, or at least can express their perceptions of it in more profound ways, and therefore relate differently to it.

Songwriters, good ones that is, have an uncanny ability to seek out our universally human fears and desires and articulate them in a manner to which we can not only connect, but feel as if those were the words we would have chosen ourselves, had we but had a far more expressive vocabulary. When we lack the capacity to convey our true hearts, we often find the words in songs. Words set to music reach their audience on a divine level, a plane on which we feel more ardently and openly. I believe it is the power to elevate our thoughts that generates such a passion for music in all of us alike.

NSAI’s Tin Pan South is Music City’s way of celebrating our songwriters. Named for the infamous region of lower Manhattan that boasted great numbers of songwriters and publishers each banging out tunes on cacophonous pianos (creating a sound like clanging tin pans together… or so the story goes) and an early 20th century era in which songwriters went to work in suits in an effort to convince the rest of the world of the legitimacy of their occupation, Tin Pan South’s primary purpose is to drag the hitmakers, composers, writers, lyricists, etc. out from their offices and homes and into the spotlight… if only for a week. Each year, 8-10 venues host two shows a night for five nights. Each show highlights 3-5 artists. Without actually doing the math, I think it’s safe to say that Nashville is positively crawling with this sort of backstage talent.

The problem with Tin Pan South though is that you have to choose. And whether you’re going for sound or location, artist or favorite hit, the opportunity cost is great. Of the 88 shows and hundreds of brilliant musicians to choose from, one can really only see 10 of those shows, and that’s working at it. I made it to five of my ten possible and enjoyed every minute, but there are always stand outs, and for me, there were two.

Station Inn

The Station Inn is the perfect sort of venue for nights like these. Tin Pan South celebrates the songwriters of this town by stripping down the show, by tossing them on badly lit stages and in dingy, low-ceilinged old places, by letting talent speak for itself.

I had no idea what to expect from a late Thursday show with Marshall Chapman, Phil Lee, Meaghan Owens, and RB Morris, but I certainly didn’t anticipate the grizzly, organic thing it became. Three well-seasoned musicians and one up-and-comer make for one hell of a show.

Highlights included Chapman’s groovy guitar work, Lee’s bluesy searing harmonica riffs (and string of dirty lines throughout), Owens’ rosy, girlish melodies (notably a beautiful French refrain), and Morris’ understated humor and blustery vocals. Chapman read a passage from her recently published book, they all chatted and joked and told stories and the audience, well, we just got to be in on it.

Listening Room Cafe

The Listening Room’s early show began long before the sun went down on Saturday, but there are reasons to come indoors early on a perfect spring evening. The gleaming, folksy vocals of the players at the corner cafe, the resonant acoustics of four musicians: Gordon Kennedy, Wayne Kirkpatrick, Phil Madeira, and Cindy Morgan Brouwer.

Kirkpatrick with his murky bayou rhythms, Madeira and his complex guitar instrumentation and wide-ranging repertoire, Kennedy’s effortless falsetto and warm melodies, and Brouwer with her silvery, gospel-tinged piano tunes and casual charm together on stage made for an evening of pleasant and easy listening.

On the whole, the Tin Pan South Songwriters Festival is unpretentious and underhyped. It’s such a critically important aspect of what makes Nashville Music City, and we need not take it for granted. Living in Nashville where creativity aptitude is concentrated and abundant, it’s easy to forget how truly rare sheer talent is in the rest of the music world. Here, our songwriters have one short week in the spotlight, and it is our job to turn our faces to their light and let them shine upon us.

735 words

Taylor Swift’s “Speak Now” Review

Album Cover

Taylor Swift

“Speak Now”

October 2010; Big Machine Records

By Emily J Ramey

Click Here to See the Published Version on American Music Channel

I’ve been one of those people who have dug their heels in and resisted Taylor Swift like the plague.  I avoid her for the same reason I avoid those silly e-readers… it’s on principle.  As a lover of books, I have an issue with technology diminishing them to nothing but words.  As a cultured, knowledgeable music lover, I have a respect for the popularity Swift has accumulated, but it’s difficult to take her seriously when every time I’ve ever seen her, it’s either with 75,000 screaming girls mobbing around her or bombing an awards performance.  Then I remembered that in the 60s, it was the high-minded who listened to Joan Baez and Janis Joplin and the masses that loved Elvis and The Rolling Stones.  With this justification in mind, I pressed play on Taylor’s newest work, Speak Now.

And I have to say, Swift’s already platinum-selling third album is pretty darn catchy. The girl’s sparkling vocals and buoyant melodies are contagious; I find myself tapping my toe against my better judgment, humming along without meaning to. It’s clear this time around that Swift is maturing with regard to songwriting as well as matters of the heart. Speak Now is the first collection for which Swift wrote every song, songs that weave in fibers of a denser thematic thread, trading white knights and Tim McGraw for everyday responsibility and wedding talk. Still, Swift remains the radiant but unaffected girl next door, strumming her guitar and playing naught but love songs.

Glossy and saccharine, “Mine” and “Sparks Fly” kick off Speak Now, picking up where Fearless ended. Our first glimpse of Taylor Swift the woman happens in “Back to December,” a song that properly showcases the young songwriter’s often-talked-about ability to write lyrics that are expressed with sophistication while remaining relatable to her teenage audience.

Clocking in at 6:44, “Dear John” drags, but “Mean” is a playful track, picking up the pace and prominently featuring banjo and mandolin to create a refreshing bluegrass feel, and “The Story of Us” is upbeat, full-bodied, and oh-so major, perfect for a spring afternoon drive with the top down.

The acidic “Better than Revenge” is a little punk rock; tight instrumentation and biting turns of phrase yield a song uncharacteristically vicious and correspondingly memorable. And “Haunted” is nothing short of epic – a complex and monumental composition made dark and robust by heavy electric parts and an ominous strings section, easily the finest song on the album.

Say what you will about Taylor Swift, but her songwriting is honest and unadulterated, simple and relevant. Her love songs are just what a young girl’s should be: bright, dramatic, and pure, gauzy in optimism and aglow with young, feminine confidence. And beyond those tracks, Swift makes a couple of bold sidesteps into genres not her own, an apparent effort to test her limits as an artist. It has become clear with Speak Now that we are watching Taylor Swift grow up, and that is something worthy of our attention.

500 words