Tag Archives: process

The Song and The Process. Looking for Trains by Justin Roberts.

JRwillyThe idea came from a father on the road with a band sending home photos and videos to his train obsessed son.  It was a way to stay in touch even when he couldn’t be with the family.  Bands tend to travel and good bands travel a lot.  Justin Roberts and the Not Ready for Naptime Players are one of the best (Two Grammy nominations.)  They travel quite a bit.  It started with the melody and the words “Seems like you’re always looking for trains.”  So began Looking for Trains by Justin Roberts off of his recently Grammy nominated CD Recess.  The father in the band is drummer Gerald Dowd (drummer, father and good guy extraordinaire) who was doing what dads do.  If the kids wants to see trains you send that kid pictures, books, videos and whatever else you find train related.  With a melody and opening lyric Justin then further djr recesseveloped the song on his guitar which is not how he usually works these days.  Nowadays he likes to develop songs on Logic.  This is an Apple program that allows him to add all sorts of instrumentation.  Strings, horns, guitars, etc.  So when he heads into the studio he already has a direction and feel for a song.  But this time he grabs his guitar and starts working it out old school (I’m a big fan of old school.) Lyrically he comes up with every rhyming verse he can think of that makes references to trains.  Then he inserts the lyrics to mimic the train rhythm he has set up in the instrumentation.  When it comes to the bridge he envisions it as getting bigger.  This is where his co-conspirator/producer and fellow band member Liam Davis stepped in, stripped it down (just piano and violin) holding the listener right when the point of the song is being made.  The best thing about this song is that it’s about more than trains which I suspected and Justin confirmed.  It’s about life. About hope.  How we are all looking for our trains “even though all we can see right now are the cars.”

Maybe it’s caught up in tunnels in the middle of a mountain so wide.  Maybe it’s stuck over bridges trying to get to the other side. Either way it’ll be here any day I can see it now it’s coming through…”

I asked if Mr. Roberts writes the music or words first and he said said both.  That he writes the words and the melody at the same time.  He is also not a constant writer or an inspirational writer but rather a “writes when he has too” writer.  Which is impressive.  Knowing you have a deadline puts added pressure on the Justin Robertswhole process.  This works good for some but poorly for others.  He also made a simple statement when asked why he writes kids songs that I find resoundingly true. That he “just writes songs.” Rather good songs if you ask me.  These days Justin has a new picture book coming out called The Smallest Girl in The Smallest Grade (Putnam Books), is writing a musical, got elected to the Chicago Chapter Board of The Recording Academy and will be touring with the band.  Do yourself a favor.  Whether you have kids or not go and give Recess a listen and you tell me if it’s not a power pop masterpiece (It is).  Good music knows no age is our motto and Justin Roberts and his band mates put out some of the best music around for kids, families, aliens, dockworkers and whoever else is listening. Listen to the track (pun intended) below and  go support your local kindie artist today.

Looking for Trains

In case of songwriting emergency

I just discovered this brilliant emergency hotline due to a posting by Stefan over at Zooglobble on Monday.  Robbie Fulks is a really talented singer/songwriter based here in Chicago and usually plays Mondays at the Hideout for a mere 10 smackaroos (one of the best deals in the city!)  As I like to write here about how songs come to be  it seems he has discovered where to go when the process bogs down via the Fountains of Wayne Hotline.  The “where to go” when you get stuck in a song.  Have a listen and look for some “expert advice”.

We’ll be catching up with one of my favorites Brady Rymer this week on The Song and the Process.

The Song and the Process. Translator by Molly Ledford of Lunch Money

carportFor the longest time I had been playing with a rhythm on the guitar using harmonics (see Wikipedia for explanation)and a clock like tempo.  I really loved the sound but had yet to develop a song or put words to it.  Imagine my surprise when I first heard Lunch Money’s song Translator and and it had the same rhythmic sound I had been working on (not anymore).  The rhythm perfectly matched with its lyrics conveying a bittersweet message about a small child whom no one understand but the parent who translates for the child.  Bittersweet because the child will one day grow up and not need their translator/parent.  It conveys the frustration of the child and the love of the parent at the same time.  The fact the first line of the song –You ask “where is the bathroom” and they hand you a balloon– Was taken from a supermarket incident with Molly’s lunch money wagonown child  makes it even more special.  So many parents can relate.  Molly says most songs come to her in bits and pieces.  She sings them into her phone (gotta love 21’st century tech) or they are lost forever.  Kind of like when you wake up from a dream and try to remember as the memory starts to fade.  Then she takes the recorded pieces and works on them later.  In this case when she awoke one morning at 8am the whole song pretty much wrote itself.  Inspiration had struck and had given her a nearly completed song. Usually there’s a lot more work involved.  Going back to the recording and working through the many ideas she has put  in their various completed states looking for a home.  She then develops the words and melodies into songs. But this time she got it all.  So she has the words and melody but has to now translate it (bit of irony) for the studio to record. Originally it’s a jolly happy song.  With the growth of the tune comes a bit of sadness.  She’s thinking of using  moog_prodigy_lgcello player Heidi Brown Carey as she has already played on the song Awake but doesn’t want the same sound. Heidi introduces plucking the cello notes in rhythmic/clock time and it’s the perfect vehicle for the lyrics.  Then her husband/engineer (they record at home) Jay lays down some atmospheric  Moog (played by Stevie Wonder and may others) in the background and they’re done. Finished.  They will later take their songs to Old House Studio in Charlotte, NC to have them mixed by Cliff Garges.  I’d say he did a fine job as the whole Spicy Kid album sounds great.  Molly has a few more projects lined up in her near future.  She’s teaming up with Billy Kelly for songs about trees. molly BillyThe just announced this on Facebook the other day.  She is also involved in an all girl band (non-kindie) and has been collaborating with a puppet show to write the soundtrack not to mention another CD about animals at the local shelter. Wow!  She is not one to stand still for long. Do yourself a favor and check out Lunch Money’s last release Spicy Kid and especially Translator. Written from a parents perspective it’s a high quality CD with really superior lyrics that you should give a listen too today!