Don't the sun look angry through the trees, Don't the trees look like crucified thieves...
- Folk and Traditional
- Rock and Pop
I grew up a typical hockey kid in Nepean, Ontario, a suburb of our nation's capital. We always had music in our house, as my dad sang in the church choir and played piano at home. My grandmother was like a human jukebox, playing tune after tune by ear on the old piano in the living room. Even after she began to lose her memory and no longer recognized her own children, she could sit at the piano in the care home and pull out song after song.
My grandparents lived on a farm in Oxford Station (a hamlet about 45 minutes from Ottawa), in a small house down the hill from where my great-great grandfather and grandmother homesteaded upon arriving from Northern Ireland. Many of my fondest childhood memories are from the farm exploring the hayloft, cow pens, and backfields with my brother and cousins, attending Sunday dinners and holiday gatherings, getting into trouble occasionally and always having fun. The only time I ever saw my grandfather get mad was when my brother, my cousin and I smashed every piece of glass (headlights, windshields, tail-lights - everything) in an old "abandoned car" behind the chicken coop. He was not amused and we heard about it!
My early musical influences included REO Speedwagon and Eagles, listening to Hi-Infidelity and Eagles Greatest Hits in my friend John's basement. His dad had a group called the Gospel Brothers and they even had their own album, which for a kid like me was pretty darn cool. I used to play drums, poorly, and John and I would take turns on John's drum kit, with me trying to keep up with the likes of Nazareth and Chris DeBurgh on the headphones. John still plays today with a country artist and band in the Ottawa area.
I started writing songs when I was around 13 years old after I got my first electric guitar, a Vantage X-33 Avenger (red with a white pick guard - stratocaster style). My brother introduced me to Iron Maiden and the Heavy Metal soundtrack while my older cousin introduced me to Aerosmith, Nazareth, Ted Nugent and Eric Clapton. As a teenager, I spent many long weekends at my friends' lakeside cottages in Quebec, playing cover tunes of anything I could figure out by ear. I discovered a love for lyrics, making up new words to the songs we all knew. My best friend introduced me to Erik B. and Rahim, Run DMC, De La Soul, Public Enemy, NWA, Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five and I also spent some quality time with Marvin Gaye's catalogue as well as Jimi Hendrix's Greatest Hits.
I continued to write songs, badly, throughout my university years guided mostly by melody and my ability to play guitar by ear. Lyrics were an afterthought, as I figured songwriters just waited for the right inspiration and if the words came with the music, then they must be an intrinsic part of the song. Rewriting was never even a consideration.
During university one of my roommates introduced me to Warren Zevon, Bob Dylan's Blood on the Tracks, the Band's Last Waltz soundtrack and Billy Bragg's Talking with the Taxman About Poetry. Then I discovered Jackson Browne after watching Mr. Holland's Opus and hearing the song "The Pretender". I have been a huge Jackson Browne fan ever since, often covering his songs when I play out at writer's nights and open mic's. Getting the chance to meet him following a solo-acoustic show, after standing out in the cold for an hour was a highlight for me as a songwriter.
Several years ago I travelled to Nashville, after getting the opportunity to meet with a very established professional songwriter (whose songs have sold over 25 million copies) to get feedback on my songs. After finding his website online, I wrote to his assistant and told her that I would fly to Nashville and scrub his toilet if he'd give me 30 minutes of his time, never expecting to hear anything back. His assistant emailed me back the next day and said the writer would be happy to meet with me and i didn't even have to scrub his toilet! I booked my flight and headed to Music City.
The trip to Nashville was transformative, to say the least. My songs were nowhere near ready for Music Row and the writer was very gracious and generous in letting me know that my stuff just didn't have what it takes. I played him two songs on his guitar, sitting in his writing studio on Music Row amidst his gold and platinum records and various other awards. In a very gentle southern manner he said, "Well...there's some talent there, but I'd be willing to bet you don't have a hit song in your catalogue. If I had an artist looking for a song to record, I wouldn't put either of those songs on hold." We sat and talked about life, kids, careers and he introduced me to his co-writer, with whom he has had hit after hit. Thirty minutes turned into an hour and a half. To say that I was humbled by both the generosity and honest feedback he gave me that day would be an understatement. I've never been let down in a more supportive, polite or warm manner.
After taking some time to get over the blow to my ego, I took his feedback to heart and set out to learn the craft of professional songwriting. I spent the next two years reading, listening, struggling and learning from professionals who really knew what they were doing. I joined NSAI and submitted song after song to their song critique service, receiving incredibly helpful feedback from pro writers. I have acquired a deep respect for the process and craft of songwriting and understand now what Bryan Adams meant when he said, "Anyone can write a song, but writing a great song is really, really hard to do."
Songwriting for me is a journey with no end, but I love the ride. I primarily write country songs and pitch them to publishers through Taxi A & R in the States, looking for my first cut. I also write songs just for me and will likely never demo. I try out my new material at a local open mic that has a friendly crowd whose reactions I can see instantly. My ultimate goal is to make great music and write songs that really move people. I write every day, jotting down lyrics, recording melodies and hooks, catching moments between work, family and life responsibilities.
Music for me is my sanity. Writing songs is my passion, frustration, exhilaration and vocation. I wouldn't have it any other way...