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Season 2 of Defying Gravity Music will commence in March 2013…w/ special guests to be announced soon!!
I’m pleased to present the below interview with songwriter Justin Trawick. While our stories have only recently intersected for the first time, ironically Justin and I grew up within minutes of each other in the Sterling / Leesburg, VA area – just south of Washington DC. Now residing in nearby Arlington, VA, Justin has five records under his belt and his music ranges in styles from folk/bluegrass all the way to funk/hip hop. Recently, in September 2012, he released the haunting ALL THE PLACES THAT I’VE BEEN and continues to tour vigorously in support of his catalog.
In August of this year, I had the pleasure of joining Mr Justin Trawick at the inaugural West Coast presentation of THE 9 SONGWRITER SERIES at The WitZend in Venice, CA. Justin founded this unique and successful series back in 2008 in the DC area, and it’s spread to several markets nationwide since. Part songwriters round, part house concert, and part juggling act, it had been a long time since I’ve felt such a cool wave of community on stage with what were prior to that night 8 strangers. The model of the show encourages acts to sit in with each other, and it was one of the most unique live experiences I’ve ever been a part of, from both on stage and off. I’m incredibly proud to be joining Justin and The 9 once again this week – Tuesday, October 16th – back at the WitZend, and to celebrate I invited him by DGM for a quick chat.
To paraphrase Almost Famous, needle drops down on the record – candle is lit – what record from your youth made you see your future in music?
When I was about 13 or 14 my older cousin moved to Austin, TX. Starting that Christmas and every year after up to present he would send me the KGSR compilation album that comes out every year in the fall before the holiday season. KGSR is a famous Austin radio station that puts together a yearly album of all the live performances they had of touring bands over the past 12 months. Shawn Mullins, The Gourds, Beth Orton, Martin Sexton were all people I’d never heard of before who blew my mind. When I was in college when of the KGSR albums had a live version of Bob Schneider’s song “Big Blue Sea” which was probably my biggest inspiration to date. His album “Lonelyland” containing that song and others like “2002″ and “Bullets” changed not only the way I thought about writing music but how I performed on stage.
You grew up near my hometown in Leesburg, VA – NoVa BABY! – what do you most remember about your fomrative years there in regards to your musical story, how has that southern landscape color your songwriting?
I grew up in the country just outside of Leesburg VA. My parents were supporters of the arts but not musicians are “artsy” people. I had piano lessons when I was a little kid and played alto saxophone for 11 years starts in 6th grade. I remember coming up with my own songs on the sax and loving jazz ensemble in high school where I could improvises solos, which I was always better at than reading actual notes on the page. But it wasn’t until I was 14 when I discovered my father’s old beat up classical guitar deep in the closet under the second floor staircase. I had never really considered guitar playing or songwriting before but I took to it immediately. I still remember how to play some of the early songs I came up with while sitting outside in the yard with our family dog running circles around me.
What was the worst song you ever wrote?
I’m not sure about the “worst song” I’ve ever written, but I recently got yelled at by a drunk guy after a show in regards to one of my songs called “White Trash Dream”. The song is just a joke that I wrote in regards to my college experience and the people who were from my college town. This guy though thought I had written his biography and took extreme offense and proceeded to give me the drunken history of his family tree. Believe me, I’d probably stop playing the song if after every show someone came up to me and told me how much they hated my guts for writing it, but after seven years of playing it live and he being the only guy who ever said anything other than how funny it was, I’ll chalk it up to his problem and move on.
What was the first song you wrote that made you feel like you’d really hit on something special – made you feel like you found your own musical voice?
I wrote a song seven or eight years ago called “To New Hampshire” about a college girlfriend of mine who cheated on me with her boss. It was one of those songs I wrote for myself as a way to get through my own problems and heartache. But after I started playing the song live and eventually recorded it, people started coming up to me and started emailing me about how this song really helped them get through tough times too that were similar to mine. I even had a person write me once saying that my song hit so close to home for her that she actually had to stop listening to me for awhile. Obviously that’s not quite the reaction I wanted, but it was touching nonetheless.
What’s one of your most profound / spiritual musical experiences?
For me, a magical experience is playing in front of a crowd, any crowd, that is there to hear you. People who have taken time from their day, their lives, to come listen and watch you play music that you have created. These people have jobs, responsibilities, hobbies, children, and countless other interests but for 30 to 90 minutes that evening, they have come to listen what you have to say. To me that’s magical and why I do this.
Do you do alot of co-writing? If so, how have you found your process differs from your peers or those you have worked with?
I’ve actually never co-wrote with anyone. I’m not against it but it’s just never happened. I would say that a lot of my songs are stories and very poignant tales about specific things so I think it would be hard to co-write with someone with songs like that. It’s personal for me and something I do because I need to do it for me and me alone, not just because I need another song in general. But yeah, I’d like to try co-writing…it would probably make for a new type of songwriting that I’ve not done yet.
What’s your songwriting process like, generally? Do you have a set routine you get into when you write, or does it generally follow the thread of the moment?
I’m not sure what my process is. For some songs it flows out of me and all gets written in one evening. For others, I write half the song at once and the next half 6 months later. I’ve got an entire book of choruses that have yet to find a home.
Shoebox full of choruses? Sounds like a perfect springboard for a potential cowrite! Speaking of collaboration, I’m thrilled to be joining you at the 2nd Los Angeles incarnation of “The 9 Songwriter Series” – it really is unlike anything I’ve ever participated in, very community driven affair. Much like a songwriters round, only a giant thanksgiving-family-dinner version of that – lots of interaction between performers. How did this series come to be?
I’m really proud of “The 9″ and even more so that it’s made it to the West Coast. I created The 9 back in 2008 because I wanted to do something to get me and my songwriting friends out of bars and into nice national venues that we couldn’t get into on our own. I created a collective called “The 9 Songwriter Series” that works off the idea that each member works to draw a small portion of the crowd so that collectively we can pack the houses of nice venues. In DC where it was started we do two shows a month around town and each one draws between 100 and 200 people. The show is regularly in New York City, Philly, Baltimore, Annapolis, Arlington, Richmond, Charlottesville, Charlotte and more and more cities every day. Adding LA to the list is huge for The 9 and hopefully we’ll add more West Coast locations soon.
Lastly, favorite cuisine?
My favorite food is and always will be tacos. Hard shell.
Justin and I will be playing The WitZend in Venice, CA with The 9 Songwriter Showcase on Tuesday, October 16th at 7PM along with Danni Rosner, Eric DiNardo, Caroline Brooks, Parker Ainsworth, Rana Mansour, Dana Wells & Max Lugavere – more details at the event’s Facebook page.
In this month’s Defying Gravity Music podcast with Steven Wilson, we discussed the devaluation of music and its effect on songwriters & artists sustaining a career doing this thing we love. A friend of DGM, Phil Dubnick, has just posted a very insightful and spot on post on his site ReValue Music, I wanted to share it here to continue to the conversation.
When artists talk about their latest release, it is all too rare to hear them talk at length about what the songs mean to them or how the process of creating the work has affected their own lives. We most often hear about how the latest material work is their best, their heaviest, their fill-in-the-blank. “New” is indeed an itch, but an itch is temporary and its remedy is seen as disposable.
It is largely up to you, as the independent artist, to establish the way your audience determines the value of your work. Music is not a download. It is not a gadget or a widget. It is not a temporary utility that will only serve a limited purpose and then be disposed of. As an artist, you are not selling your latest track or album; you are selling something amazing, almost magical. You are selling a transcendent tapestry of sound that somehow facilitates the deepest of connections to one’s self and to others.
It might sound simplistic, but the first step that needs to be taken in order to truly revalue music in the mind of consumers is for independent artists to understand what it is they’re really selling.
All the best,
Yes, it’s now in the early hours of the last day of the month and while TECHNICALLY today is the day for a new episode, we assure you Episode 6 is still JUST around the corner. It seems our little rascal “6″ stopped off at the bar for a few shots of Sambuca and a pack of smokes. Last we heard “6″ was spending his Saturday night singing The Faces OOH LA LA at the top of his lungs in the streets of downtown Glendale and scheming an album of bollywood-funk tunes in D-minor, using only a comb and some wax paper as instrumentation…
It’s gonna be a late night, is what we’re getting at, so we’re gonna run this one a little behind the curve…
BUT, we promise that after a few sobering shots of espresso later this Sunday afternoon, our “6″ will be showered and ready for action and will definitely be worth the wait.
For this month we welcome guest Steven Wilson (aka Plasticsoul), and over guinness and ice cream we talk about Tom Jones (love?/hate?), Space Oddity, the Flintsontes, how the Jazz Butcher Conspiracy is his favorite band of all time – and the sociological devaluation of music.
Check back first thing Monday morning (October 1) for all this crazy deliciousness – we promise to start your week with a smile or two.
MUCH love to you all in the mean time…and if you see “6″ tonight, tell him to call. We just want him home safe. Plus, the recycling REALLY needs to be taken out.
(aka the “6″ sitter)
Here’s a special alternate performance clip of our host Brandon Schott‘s “KEEP THE SUN OUT OF YOUR EYES”, as featured in Episode IV. If you haven’t already, do check out the episode in full, featuring ruminations by Brandon, Sheena Metal & Leigh Hall on their childhoods under the wings of their military parents and how it’s shaped their creative and personal lives over the years. Sponsored by Spinbridge.
There’s a tree out on the moor
that I’d climb when I’s a boy -
crawled up close as I could to that blinding sky.
From the heavens looking down
with my brothers on the ground,
tangled in the branches where my roots are tied.
Till the seasons pulled me from my family
and the days of youth fell like the autumn leaves.
When it’s time to move on and you’re staring cross the dawn
keep the sun out of your eyes, by and by…
Across the mountains and the sea,
many miles from aberdeen -
we sunk our boots into the earth and made our stand.
And for country and for king
we took faith upon our wings
& kissed each letter we sent back across the land.
Now the battle rages on across the bridge
and you never know what’s o’er that blinding ridge
Till its time to move on and you’re staring cross the dawn
keep the sun out of your eyes, by and by…
There’s a whisper short of words
when our blood sinks in the dirt
and our spirit’s carried through the breaking night.
There’s a father there’s a son
there’s a family undone…
Every morning we walk up that old hill,
greet our family beneath the stones until
oh, it’s time to move on, and we’re staring cross the dawn
keep the sun out of your eyes, by and by -
keep the sun out of your eyes, by and by.
“Cause everything is free now
That’s what I said
No one’s got to listen to
The words in my head.
Someone hit the big score
And I figured it out
That I’m gonna do it anyway
Even if doesn’t pay.”
And this was released 10 years ago…
This song and this post touches deeply on a greater conversation, one we’re sadly all too familiar with, but for now – I leave you with this from the great Gillian Welch. Do yourself a favor, buy her record – support indie music.
We reached out to a number of creative former military brats for our most recent episode, “Many Miles From Aberdeen” – a couple of which could not join us on camera, but sent testimonials in nonetheless. I’m pleased to share with you here an email I received from fellow musician Mike Hebert. Here’s his story, and be sure to also check out Episode IV if you haven’t already…
“Nice to kind of meet you. I’ll start by saying that I think your project is a real good idea. I think being a militay brat points kids in he direction of being creative with the traveling and meeting all kinds of different people. I think most of us do find healthy ways to express ouselves such as drawing, painting, writing poetry and/or music.
I myself, to this day, still try and keep myself busy with whatever keeps my mind working. I used to draw a lot and collect things as a kid. When I say collect things, I did collect baseball cards, but I used to just pick up scrap metal and bolts and random stuff like that and sort them into groups. Good thing I put a stop to that early or else I’d be a hoarder to this day.
Music is my main focus these days as far as creativity. I took my poems and turned them into songs. Lyrics are the main focus of my music. I’m always trying to get better at moving around the fretboard. Ever since I saw how scales work, I can’t stop working on that.
I was born in Portsmouth, VA. Soon after that, my fathers career took us to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. We spent 3 years there and loved it. I love the family feeling on a naval base. Everybody knows each other and respects each other. We moved to Guam from there, stayed for 3 years and moved back to GTMO for 3 more years. That’s 9 years straight overseas and it was amazing.
What was not amazing is moving to the states. My first real impression of the states was Groton, Conn. People acted different. Not as accepting or friendly. I fell into a small group of friends and kept most other at a distance. I’m not sure if moving every 3 years made me just not want to get close to people or if I just didn’t like the people. We moved to Virginia Beach in 95 and I just moved away in January so I was there for way longer than anywhere else and I felt I needed a change.”
Here’s a special performance by Marvin Etzioni of his song “LIVING LIKE A HOBO” (from his new LP “Marvin Country”). This was filmed in the frontroom of his home after our interview segment last month. Be sure to catch his episode in full here, exclusively at Defying Gravity!!
Watching both episodes (of Defying Gravity) reminds me that there are others out there, just like me, which is important to be reminded of. Writing and recording, whether in my own head or my home studio, are very solitary events. At times, I think of music as a coping mechanism as much as it is a hobby, an art, or whatever other people think it is. It is something that I want to do and love to do, but it’s also something I can’t NOT do. I’m rambling here, but I really enjoyed the interviews. Watching them made me feel a little less alien.
|-Dan Pavelich, Music Journalist / Musician|
I received the above note via our FaceBook page – the response to the series has just been wonderful and heartwarming thus far and we here at DGM truly appreciate all your letters of encouragement and support.
But, Dan’s note really struck a chord for me, as it really spoke to the core of what we hoped to accomplish with Defying Gravity. The initial seed of our efforts were born out of a desire to harbor some kind of online musical residency, bring people together – talk about the thing we love and why we love it, share the seeds of our musical adventures (our influences) as well as the story behind some of our work and how it relates to the larger story of our ongoing creative lives.
Community is everything.
The internet and the readiness of technology has exploded the music business with opportunity and resources – we can all write a song, draft a simple (or complex) recording and upload it for the world to hear within minutes now. We can reach across state and country lines and connect with other like minded talent from across the globe. But with this outpouring of talent and content, it’s also harder and harder to cut through the white noise – conversations more fragmented, attention spans shorter. We’re all out there doing our own thing, all of us with a project on the verge of greatness (and never is this more apparent than after 11 years living in LA). We’re living in a ‘singles’ world, and I want to hear an album.
Our life is art – the time we share with each other, the relationships we form along the way, how we conduct ourselves in this ever changing business, and of course – the life’s work we offer to the world. So here’s to a new plot of land here on the internet, a new creative home.
Defying Gravity, in the spirit of its greatest potential, is here to bridge this conversation a bit further – or as Dan says so eloquently, make us feel “a little less alien.”
So, I suppose the overall purpose of this long (and rambling) post is to say….with all my heart: welcome to the Defying Gravity music community.
June 5, 2012
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Thanks so much! More new content coming soon!