I’m really a fan as much as a songwriter, but a lot of songwriters say that. Elvis Costello, Elton John. They were fans first. But I was a serious fan, probably like most people who listen to “dark” music. Great songs got me through my adolescence. They got me through breakups. They kept me company.
So, you can tell I’m a music geek. I wanted to write songs before I wanted a tricycle. I came from a classical music family. Popular music was practically banned – it was trash. They made me take violin lessons. So, naturally, I got an electric guitar. And – no kidding – it was from SEARS. I learned chords. I wanted to be a new waver. I got older and got an asymmetric haircut. No matter what else I did, music was always first for me.
But I NEVER had hip taste, and I was kind of ashamed of that. I liked some alternative and punk bands, but I liked top forty groups, commercial stuff – whatever struck me as real. My friends hated anything with synthesizers, so I hid my New Order cds. I’m kind of disagreeable that way. That’s why it was weird when I became involved with a VERY HIP band. They were everything: goth, emo, industrial, electro, Madchester, trance, ambient, straight rock… Everything except metal, hip hop, or country. This band, Bleak House, in Pennsylvania, was driven by big egos and weird hair. The local bars where we played had country music on the jukebox. They took one look at us with our weird clothes and hair and yelling at us. It was the egos that sunk the band. I couldn’t get along with the drummer who smoked pot all day and watched the Cartoon Channel, or the bassist, my ex-girlfriend, who thought she could sing like Aretha Franklin. We broke up.
That’s when it hit me. I wasn’t hip and never would be. I liked songs that rocked, sure, with attitude, but also sentimental heartfelt stuff. Most of all, I loved an amazing melody. I wanted to crack the secret of how songwriters came up with a melody that everyone wanted to hum. That is my obsession. Unfortunately, I had a day job and not much time to pursue this obsession, except in my mind.
End of story? No, because one Christmas my sister sent me a digital recording program – Cakewalk. One weekend I learned it. I’m still not that good at using these programs – I’m a songwriter, not a producer – but, anyway, I got TOTALLY OBSESSED with music again. I started recording and writing songs, and I couldn’t stop. And a funny thing happened. I decided to be myself. I wasn’t an acid-rave-nu-techno-retro-psychedelic punk. I was a guy who LOVED great songs. Everything from the Stones to Paul Simon to Dire Straits to The Cure to Smashing Pumpkins to Coldplay… Even Hall & Oates. Anything with a great melody and some heart and soul. The songs started pouring out of me, and I got some musicians in to help with bass and percussion parts. They sounded okay. They had hooks. I thought some as hits, at least the kind of song that used to be a hit, and I could imagine some tracks as somebody’s favorite song.
And another funny thing happened. The songs came out like Elliot Smith or Nick Drake or something. Not the tunes, which were pure pop, but the lyrics. They were about loss, death, uncertainty, basically saying “What’s it all about?” I never knew I was that morbid. Writing is funny that way. Like looking into a mirror and seeing someone else. Some songs were your basic, “I got dumped and I can’t deal with it” type thin. But none were particularly cheerful. So I called the album MISERABLISM.
Now I perform them in little bars in Brooklyn. Places where everyone is a garage punk / grindcore / progressive house / nu-metal / swamp-punk. And they actually like it, even though I’m basically just a guy who writes songs. My songs are for other people who needed pop music to survive growing up in America. That’s why their a bit sad. Because sad songs make you feel a little better.
It feels great just knowing my little creations are on people’s iPod playlists as they jog around and around a New York City park. Now I’m hooked, talking to record labels and renting time at a high class studio, very different from the pure indie setup on which I recorded “Miserablism.”