If you’re a follower of the Audio Saturdays column here, you know that for the past couple week’s we’ve been reviewing some of the best ambient music we’ve heard this year. We’ve talked about Alaskan Tapes, we’ve talked about Celer, we’ve talked about Hotel Neon and Chorchill. But before we get back to the reviews (and we’ve got a few coming down the pike) we wanted to drop our latest songwriting prompt contest!
This time, we’ve got another unearthed phone demo for you to consider. The audio clip is from some time last summer, and is ominously titled “the last song”.
There are no real rules to the contest, except that it must incorporate some facet of the music in the recording or the recording itself in some way. Everything else is up to you. Past winners are ineligible. The winner gets $50 and a feature in a future Audio Saturdays column. To enter, just submit your songs as an mp3 file to firstname.lastname@example.org and put SONGWRITING CONTEST in the subject.
I met John Pavlou many years ago in the wilds of the NYC downtown open mic scene, and have always been impressed with his ability to balance the thoughtfulness with which he pursues his projects and the prolific nature of his output. Whether that particular week’s performance was poetry, song, monologue, or some combination of all three, I could always count on his performances to have a sense of purpose. I caught up with John this past week and he shared some thoughts on the song he submitted for the contest and what he’s up to.
Q: John, thanks for submitting this track and letting us feature it. This was based on a wordless acoustic demo I posted a few weeks ago. I feel like you tapped into a bluesy side of the music I didn’t realize was there when I was writing it; I always imagined it as a folk thing.Anything you want to tell us about how the song came together?
JOHN: Well the first thing to notice really is that I don’t sing all the lyrics in this first and only take of the demo. I think every songwriter does the same thing. You write a bunch of lyrics but then you have to make it work in the context of the music. The music is really terrific here melodic, insistent, slightly unsettling.
The track already came with a name or partial name, “Undo.” The song is basically a guy trying to explain to his girlfriend or lover that he had a little inconsequential affair in order to get back at his girlfriend for some slight or some thing that she did. Do you know the funny thing is that I haven’t really been in a relationship for a long time that hasn’t stopped me from writing love songs or songs about relationships. I just have to put myself in the mindset and create a character in a certain set of circumstances. I don’t know how well it works. The music gave me a lot to work with here.
Q: When we would see each other at shows in the city, I always knew you as a guitar player and painter, but I found out recently that you’ve got an impressive body of work in design, conceptual physical art and sculpture. How do you feel your different modes of expression inform each other? What was your first artistic love?
JOHN: I always find that a hard question to answer. I’m not really certain what the overlap in my different forms of expression is. Except I would say in the way that I make them. Because when I draw or design or write I start with a line, and then I add another line and I’m always reacting and improvising and playing off of the previous thing. And I trust that process. It’s not like I receive something fully formed that I am transcribing. I will have a feeling in my gut that leads me to want to create in the moment and I follow that by putting pen or pencil to paper.
Now that I’m writing a lot of poetry I tend to look out into my environment for a line or phrase that I might hear on the radio or read somewhere. Then I grab that and say I can play with that or play off that. For instance this morning I was half awake and half asleep in the term ‘ivory black’ came to me. And I know ivory black is a kind of black paint that has certain qualities to it. And I thought that ivory black is very evocative and then I could do something with it. So I decided to use that as a name of a poem.
There’s no doubt that my first artistic love was drawing. But drawing abstractly. I was born as an abstract artist. And that’s mostly what I’ve done. Even though I drew monster cars in school and all sorts of stuff like that. My first love is what I call my “designs.” It may not be a coincidence that I went off to school to study design.
You know, I studied architecture… And I always wanted to create spaces and places for people. I was able to explore that in graduate school and beyond. And I think there’s a way in which a song or a poem can create a space that you can walk into an experience. I find the notion of slowing down time and creating an invitation for people to enter a slightly different world is really delightfully compelling to me.
Q: We’re both from Yonkers! I’ve been hearing for years that there’s great art happening up there, but I have never made the trip to check it out. Care to shout out any Yonkers related art happenings?
JOHN: You know the whole Yonkers art scene is really coming alive. Slowly, but surely. I was involved, for a while, with the Blue Door Art Center. They are celebrating their 20th anniversary this year. They have new exhibitions every month and they occasionally have readings and events. There’s also an organization called Yonkers Arts. And there are a few new galleries downtown as well . There’s also a great hive of studios in the old Alexander Smith Carpet Mills, it’s called YOHO Studios and they are dozens and dozens of artists who are working in there and all different media.
I also have to give a shout out to the delightful Hudson River Museum. They’ve got an installation there by red grooms. Have a bookstore. That sort of mashes together the New York Public Library and the Morgan Museum and Library. What was so amazing to me when I was growing up is that’s just full-size model of a bookstore was actually the bookstore and gift shop for the museum, so you would walk into this crazy three-dimensional sculpture and buy a little postcard or some astronaut ice cream. The bookstore is still there but it’s set up as a separate exhibition that you could walk through.
Q: Is there anything you’ve been working on (artistically or otherwise) that you want to talk about?
JOHN: Well, the next thing I want to do is put together a book of poetry. But I just feel like I’m so busy writing right now that I just can’t stop. I have this ongoing project on my YouTube channel, JohnnyX Music, where I have been uploading a song snippet or an instrumental or a spoken word piece every day for the past few months. I must have 170 videos or more by now. I love the fact that I’m doing it primarily for me. Even if my viewership is quite low I feel like I’m building up a body of work in which I am honing my craft and working through my obsessions
Thanks Johnny for sharing your songs and answering some questions. Johnny is doing his thing every day on his youtube channel so be sure to check it out, subscribe! Next week we’ll be back with some ambient reviews and a NEW SONGWRITING PROMPT CONTEST! You too can win $50 and have your music featured on Sunshine and Wind.
If you were around last weekend, you heard Todd Jackson’s great new single that he had submitted for the last Audio Saturdays! Songwriting Prompt Contest. We threw in the next prompt at the bottom of the page, but we’ve had a lot of interest so we figured it deserved its own post.
Also, we had a busy week! As a result, we were not able to get a proper Audio Saturdays! post up. So we figured we’d take this opportunity to make this a Thing and clarify the rules and guidelines.
Using the audio prompt below, write a song or musical piece. It can be inspired by any aspect of the clip: the chords, the lyrics, the melody, the key, or something else.
Submit the song to email@example.com by end-of-day Sunday February 21. When we check our email Monday 22, that’s it! No late entries will be accepted!
Our staff will judge our favorite and pick a winner. The winner will be announced sometime that week and receive $50 and their own feature on a forthcoming “Audio Saturdays!” post.
That’s it! The prompt is below! It’s called only “B Minor Demo”
Today on Audio Saturdays we bring you the newest audio prompt contest and a new track from Brooklyn based singer-songwriter Todd Jackson, winner of the last contest!
A few weeks ago, we put up an Audio Saturdays post containing a random voice memo of ours from years (?) ago and kind of on a whim offered $50 bucks to the first person to create a song out of it. We didn’t expect anything to come of it, and subsequently forgot about it, but boy are we glad that you didn’t, because a few weeks later we received this incredible track from Brooklyn based Singer-Songwriter Todd Jackson called “What the World Thinks”:
We first met Todd back when we were both living in Manhattan, and circling around the East Village open mic scene. He was working a lot with NYC guitar legend Mike Milazzo, and later was writing and performing with another songwriter, Brooke McGowan. Gonna plug an earlier track of his here, because we love it so much: Where’s the Girl Gone? We’ve always admired his songcraft and meditative lyrics, and were psyched to hear that he was writing new music. We caught up with him a bit on email, asking for a little background on the track.
Q: Hey Todd, thanks for submitting your track and letting us feature it. It’s great to hear what friends have been working on. How have you managed to stay creative during quarantine?
Todd: Being locked inside for so long certainly has helped with music since all my other distractions are cut off. The tech these days is amazing and cheap so I’m able to do things that 10 years ago would have involved a lot more money and people. However, I do miss hearing people play live which was always inspiring.
Q: Speaking of home recording, one thing we love about this track is the drum sound and execution. Back in our own singer songwriter days, one thing that always stymied us was recording drum machine tracks. Could never quite get it right. Could you tell us a little about how you put it together?
TODD: I’m always aiming for an organic sound, so I start with rhythm guitar played to a click track. Then, using EZDrummer2, I find a simple kick drum pattern that fits the guitar. EZDrummer then gives you a selection of patterns with that kick drum incorporated. With a large library, I pick the best one that has verse and chorus parts, sometimes editing if I can’t find the perfect one, slowly opening up the hi-hat as the song progresses. Then I add bass to bridge the gap between guitar and drums, layering on from there, I am always refining the process.
Q: We’ve always been a huge fan of your lyrical approach. You always have a real conversational feel without taking the listener out of the rhythm of the song. How to you go about constructing a lyric?
TODD: I read a lot of poetry which helps with phrasing. Normally I’ll find a loose theme to start (prompts are great for this). Then I let my subconscious take the first pass, slowly editing and focusing the meaning while avoiding being too “on the nose.” After that, I refine with alliteration, assonance, hopefully giving the words some music of their own and giving the listener some room for interpretation.
Q: What’s next for Todd Jackson? We want more recordings!
TODD: My goal last year was to start recording some music, leading to a nicely recorded EP with real musicians. COVID has obviously delayed this but I’m hoping this summer I’ll get back on track.
As do we, Todd, as do we! And now – THIS MONTH’S PROMPT!!
Just like last time, submit a song using this prompt and I’ll pick the best one. Winner gets $50 (or $50 donated to the charity of your choice) and a feature interview in this space. This prompt comes to you from our folder 2011 DEMOS. It’s only called “B Minor Demo”. GOOD LUCK!