Songwriters on Songwriting: The Deluxe edition

One of the places I get a lot of my procrastination done is at my local cafe, Deluxe. It’s 200 metres from my front door, has no wireless, and the tables are too small to hog with one’s laptop. There’s usually a good assortment of creative folk in attendance, and the macrobiotic food and coffee are to die for. So it’s a great place to simply ‘be’ – offline, and in person – with other people. Conversation is essential, and a lot of collaborations have sprung from within its funny old curved walls.

The other day, my buddy Bret was in with his family and we got talking about this blog project. He recommended a book immediately.

Songwriters on Songwriting
Paul Zollo’s Songwriters on Songwriting is one of the best out there for access to the creative process. It’s been around for a while now, but, as Bret said, it’s one of those books you will pick up time and again for its inspirational interviews with some of the world’s great songwriters. Many of my favourites are there, such as Sammy Cahn, Dave Brubeck, Tom Lehrer, Madonna.

What’s great about Zollo’s book is that although it features songwriters only, it’s useful in a broad sense. After all, these delicious people do more than write songs. They are poets, novelists, actors, parents, more. They know about precious time and evasive discipline. The interviews get into the gritty detail of work – how, where, how long for, how far to pursue a song until you give it away or give it to the world.

I particularly like this exchange between Zollo and the wonderful Leonard Cohen, who, it transpires, hasn’t “had an idea in a long time. And I’m not sure I ever had one.” (I find that very reassuring.)
Are you always working on songs or do you write only for specific projects?

No, I’m writing all the time. And as the songs begin to coalesce, I’m not doing anything else but writing. I wish I were one of those people who wrote songs quickly. But I’m not. So it takes me a great deal of time to find out what the song is. So I am working most of the time.

You can – and should – read the rest of that interview, which is kindly reprinted here. They go on to talk about whether key changes are corny, whether being Jewish is important to Leonard’s songwriting, and those wonderful early hours of the day before the phone starts ringing.

For his part, musician and journo Paul Zollo is still very much writing about other musicians over at his fantastic blog-mag, Blue Railroad. (I was stoked to read there this recent interview with the delicious John Prine, having just performed his brilliantly filthy duet In Spite Of Ourselves with my bandmate Andy for our other bandmates’ wedding last weekend.)

Visit Paul at Blue Railroad and you can even order a signed copy of Songwriters on Songwriting.


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