Thursday, August 23, 2012

Cowriting in Nashville

Had a great writing session with Logan Heftel, a writer from LA who I met at an open mic. I'm very happy with the tune and the process was great. He has a great melodic sense, thinks deeply and plays well. I learned a lot and came out with shared credits on a great tune -- and the possibility of future collaborations.

Someone told me "Nashville is full of people who were the best writer in their town." I don't claim to be the best writer in the places I've lived, but I DO know that the bar here is so much higher that I felt a little bit like a beginner again, for the first time in a LONG time. The last time I came close to feeling as nervous as I did at the Blue Bird was years ago opening for Over the Rhine. Before that? It had to be in high school when I was just starting and so scared every time I played a song live that my legs would shake through the first few songs.

May have a session or two tomorrow.

Hacking through the inner underbrush

As a songwriter, I've learned to hold my opinion of songs I write loosely. A "wait and see" attitude is helpful, since you don't always know what songs will really connect with people and help them along on their journey. Once a song starts to catch on a bit, and you see people actually connect in more than a surface, I-like-that-hook way (although that's a good thing in and of itself) I get excited and want to share that tune more widely.

So when I wrote a book (the aforementioned Watershed Coursebook) I took the same approach. Held loosely whether it would be "a good one" and whether it would help anybody. Now that a couple people (out of the very few who have copies) are starting to tell me how it's been helpful, I want other people to get the book. I don't want to create or sell vanity press stuff -- and this IS my first writing (I had a section in a book back in the 90s...) but someone wrote me a long extended email detailing specific ways the coursebook is helping them deal with change and transition.

Here's an excerpt from their message:

"The more I read, the more it connects soooooo deeply! I love... "hacking a path through the inner underbrush." That is so how it feels! So glad you found Zac to help you get this out! It is so needed!" (Bonnie from IN)

So get a copy for yourself or someone you know who is going through changes. And send me a message to let me know how it's been helpful.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Who needs a workbook

I put together the Watershed Coursebook to accompany the Watershed album -- it's a collection of thoughts, drawings and exercises designed to help people grow through times of change. I was so tired by the time Christa and I finished the Watershed project (recording, art, two books, a mini-tour and the Kickstarter campaign) that I had very little energy to talk about (let alone promote) this little workbook. And I had some doubts about it -- Is it any good? Could it actually help people? While I've thought, spoken and written songs on the subject for years, I've never put together a workbook, so who knows?

So... it's been gratifying to see a few people beginning to read it and find it helpful. Doing themed concerts has helped since I can introduce some of the ideas in such a way that people glimpse why they are relevant to their lives and the changes they are facing.

If you haven't checked out this little book, you can preview (and order) it here:

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Change and Growth, Chaos Theory and Transitions

Christa and I frequent the land of ideas. One area we visit most often is where the districts of Growth and Change overlap. Much of our music and art deals with this. Why? Because change is hard and yet pregnant with the potential for crucial adaptation -- and the arts can provide space help deal with the pain and allow creative new life to emerge rather from loss, even devastation. 

Two books on this topic have recently fed provoked me: Transitions by William Bridges and Surfing the Edge of Chaos (2000) by Pascale, Millemann and Gioja. Neither are new books (Bridges released a 25th anniversary edition) but both contained much that was new to me (and to many people I've talked with on the subject). 

Both texts give conceptual frameworks and practical handles on transformation can happen through change. It's also fun to see bits of chaos theory filtering down into other areas of thought and culture and becoming accessible and useful to those of us who lack the capacity, interest or time to deeply understand what that way of thinking about reality reveals about the cosmos, ourselves, and how God works...

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Wayne Kirkpatrick, Distance Mentoring, Songwriting

Ok, so my main reason for spending some time in Nashville is to try to pick up what I can by watching and talking to songwriters. Last time I was in this town (briefly) I was struck by a number of things that are "in the water" so to speak, so much a part of the culture that they are almost givens:
1. Cowriting and collaboration are normal.
2. Songwriting is good work that is worth doing.
Just experiencing a culture where these two ideas are normative was significantly impacting to me, and influenced my decision to do the Surge On Smith project, one of the musical highlights of my last few years.

Hearing Wayne Kirkpatrick at the Bluebird last night was profound. In my early years I tracked Wayne's activities and appreciated some of his writing and production. I lost track of his work over the decade and a half, so it was great to get glimpses of the varied and diverse fruit of more than 20 years of songwriting. He played songs he wrote that I'd heard other artists perform that I didn't know he wrote. One of my great privileges has been seeing a few songs I wrote develop a life of their own (other people singing or recording them or finding new meanings in them). Seeing the same dynamic on a much larger scale was inspiring.

I quizzed Kirkpatrick about his songwriting process afterwards. He was low-key, gracious and revealing. He prefers a balance of co-writing and working alone. He's not a 9-5 writer. He tries to follow inspiration (but ends up doing some writing most days).

I'm not sure why it's so helpful for me to ask these basic questions and hear the responses. Part of it is just being around people who take songcrafting seriously and spend significant energy at it. I did not learn a new technique or a novel approach to the craft, but I came away with something valuable nonetheless.

After tracking a person's work and learning from a distance, even short conversations I find that even short conversation and simple questions can be quite helpful and encouraging. Distance mentoring with a real life touch point...

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Learning at the Bluebird

Went to the Bluebird Cafe tonight at the recommendation of Greg Bower (my go-to drummer for anything near Texas). He plays music with a guy named Zane Williams and Kylie Rae Harris, both writers.  Wayne Kirkpatrick and Susan Ashton were also there. Zane is a wordsmith whose songs are straight forward, emotional and tricky. He pulls them off well. Harris isn't tricky, but her songs work, she can sing and there's grit in her voice. Hadn't heard Ashton since the 80s. Like her voice -- in general I'm less taken by her melodic sense or lyrical sensibilities, although she had some great tunes too.

That's the thing that strikes me about Nashville and songs (or NYC and painting) -- there is such a wealth of quality material it's ridiculous, feels almost criminal. Maybe a bit like what traveling to Rome from Gaul or Ireland during Jesus' day might have been like -- I'm struck with the volume of cultural wealth and development -- and troubled by the fact that decadence in some form seems to go hand in hand with these gluts of cultural/aesthetic treasures. Mainly, though, I'm thankful for the chance to get to hear quality songs and learn from those who forged or birthed them.