Thursday, February 09, 2012

6 Inspiring Tips for Creative People

I don't often point my readers elsewhere, but I would be neglectful if I didn't share this with you! 

In this blog post at, Chris Bolton shares six great tips for ramping up your creativity. I find all six to be helpful and true in my own experience - AND several of these are tips I haven't written about here! 

So, your reading assignment for today: 

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Nat & Alex Wolff Answer Your Songwriting Questions

Here it is, the post you've all been waiting for!

I collected more than 160 questions from readers for Nat & Alex! To respect their time and keep the focus on songwriting, I narrowed that down to 20. In some cases I combined or re-worded questions to try to cover as much ground as possible. When I could I identified who asked what, so you can see if your question got in there.

Also I have to say that while preparing for this interview I enjoyed getting to know Nat & Alex's new CD Black Sheep. I highly recommend it. In a word: inventive! Always fresh and surprising in a very good way. That's more than one word. Moving on...

Thanks so much to Nat & Alex for taking time out of their busy touring schedule to "talk" with us here on TFYS!!

And of course, thanks to everyone who sent in their questions!

Now without further ado...

Part I: Inspiration

Many readers want to know if your songs are real or imagined. For example, "Hardcore Wrestlers" is clearly written from an imagined point of view! But what about the more introspective songs on Black Sheep? How close do your songs ever get to describing your own true feelings and experiences?  
Alex: Nat & I agree "Hardcore Wrestlers" was true to us when we were little. As young adults "Black Sheep" is more about ourselves now, it was different then.

A lot of readers asked about specific songs - whether they are true to life or imagined, and what made you write them. Please pick two or three to tell us about...
Alex: "Disappointed" is an honest song about how people my age feel about their insecurities.  
Nat: "Illuminated" Feelings that are real don't necessarily come from one particular situation. Let the people who listen take what they want from it. 

Melissa asks:
Who has inspired you the most as songwriters/composers and why?
And I add:
Besides The Beatles, since I think their influence is pretty clear!
Alex: Our inspiration for "Black Sheep" is The Replacements and Simon & Garfunkel. The Replacements for their sound and rock, and Simon & Garnfunkel for their harmony and fusion.  
Nat: Both have awesome lyrics however we like modern bands like MGMT and Arcade Fire.

Your lyrics tend to include really great phrases, like "I am only beautiful on Monday Afternoons" or "Colorful Raindrops everywhere." Do interesting word combinations get you started writing, or do those come out of working on an idea for awhile?
Alex: "Lullaby" came from "Do you ever think of me when balloons fall." It comes from a phrase or something going on in our lives.  
Nat: I'm always thinking of song titles and different phrases to use in lyrics. Anytime I get an idea I write in down on my Iphone notes. 

The Rock Fairy asks:
What was the craziest inspiration for a song you've ever gotten? 
Nat: When I was 10, I wrote "Banana Smoothie" because I wanted to make a concept album about Hawaii...I never got past that first track.

GUI asks:
What was the most inspirational place you've been to write a song?
Alex: New York, buildings that catch your eye when you are walking around. Africa, Italy and France, romantic countries. Or, any place you get really bored. 
Nat: I think Alex got that covered

Kathy asks:
Do you ever start with a beat or rhythm?
Alex: Usually that doesn't happen.  
Nat: Sometimes getting a good beat or rhythm is inspiring. 

Vivian_n asks:
Do you sit down to write at a regular time, or only when inspiration strikes?
Alex: Only when inspiration strikes 
Nat: Sometimes its good to have a plan to write but usually the best songs seem to come at random times. 

Part II: The Writing Process

Many fans are curious about how the two of you interact. Is there competition between you when you write? Have you written any songs together? Do you help one another out? Do you ever argue over how a song should go?
Alex: We started writing together recently. We used to argue but now we are comfortable with each other, makes it easier. We help one another which is often best. 
Nat: We only fight when Alex steals my jeans. 

Vivian_n asks:
What are the steps or process you follow to write a song?
Alex: No steps, just be as real as possible.
Nat: It's different every time.

Several people asked about music versus lyrics... Which comes first for you? Do you find one or the other more challenging? Do you have any particular strategies for matching melody and lyrics together?
Alex: It's up in the air, spontaneous. Usually with a basic set of lyrics. Sometimes we write poems and they turn into songs. 
Nat: Other times we have melodies that we spend time finding the right words for. 

Tiahara Bennett asks:
Does writer's block ever come your way?
If so, what do you do to get over it?
Alex: Sometimes writers block comes when I've written a bunch of songs in a row. When I talk about music constantly, it blocks my inspiration.
Nat: I agree, Alex.

Makenna and Harold and Vivian_n ask:
How long does it take you to write a song?
Alex: Depends on the song 
Nat: Sometimes it can take 15 minutes, sometimes I will spend months on lyrics. 

Angela Robbins' 3rd grade class asks:
Are you writing a song now? If so, what is it called?
Alex: We are always writing a song 
Nat: Alex and I are working on a song together... we are not sure about the title yet. 

Makenna asks:
How old were you when you started writing songs?
Alex: Nat started writing when he was 5 and I was about 6 or 7. 
Nat: It's quite obvious which Wolff is the genius. 

Sanitra Henderson asks:
Have you ever written a song that was so personal you kept it to yourself?
Alex: I kept "Disappointed" to myself for a while. I still can't play it in front of certain people. 
Nat: It's rewarding to have people enjoy the music that was once so personal. 

Part III: Revisions

One of the things I'm always telling the kids I teach is that songs don't just pop out of your head in finished form. (At least not often!) So I want to thank you for letting your fans see some of your revision process at work. 

Tiahara Bennett asks: I've noticed that you guys change lyrics to some of your songs. Why do you do that?
Alex: Lyrics always have lots of revisions. We are meticulous when it comes to that.  
Nat: In "I Won't Love You Any Less" I rewrote the verses many times. I first had a verse that went "If I try to hold your hand, if I try to make you bend if you start calling me obsessed" and it was just an off the cuff line. It made the song about something else so I changed it to be more clear and hopefully more poetic. I changed it to "If I try to hold your hand while you slip and slide towards another man, cause of you I get no rest." 

GUI asks:
Do you ask someone's opinion about the lyrics before finishing them, and if so who?
Alex: We ask each other. 

Do your melodies generally evolve too, as you work on a song? What kinds of changes do you make to your melodies and why?
Alex: We usually don't change the melodies. 
Nat: I do think the melodies evolve and build on each other from verse to chorus. 

What songwriting advice would you give to your younger selves if you could?
Alex: Try to be as real as you can. All you have to do is be true to you and nothing else matters! 
Nat: Write and write as much as possible.

Bonus Round
Nat, you knew somebody would ask this. Are you ready to reveal it? Will you ever reveal it? Will you reveal it for Ashley?

Ashley asks:
What does RCMJNBNOE mean? (From "Proof Of My Love")
Nat: Sorry I can't disclose that information...its top secret, CIA stuff. 

One of my own fans, Anna asks:
Are you going to write any songs with Monty Harper?
Nat & Alex: Sure, sounds great!
Me: I just might have to hold you to that! ;-)

Giovanna asks:
Do you ever stop and think that there are people across the world who love you and love your music and know and sing all the songs you've ever done? How does it make you feel?
Alex: It makes me feel wonderful. We love our fans around the world.  
Nat: Its exciting to have anything you make or create and care about... appreciated by others. 

That's it! Thanks again to Nat and Alex and all my question askers. I will leave you with a video from Black Sheep!