So where did you guys start as musicians?
Ryan Radcliff: I feel like I’m different because I didn’t come at things from a writing point of view. I started as a musician just ‘cause I wanted to play guitar like Stevie Ray Vaughan and Jimi Hendrix. Writing wasn’t something I even thought about. I started playing in 1999, and even until about 2003, and I would have friends ask me to play one of my songs, but I just wouldn’t have any. And it got to a point where some friends would make fun of me for that, like, “You don’t you write any songs, what’s up?” Then in 2004, I had a girlfriend I broke up with, and started a project with Pavla (Dlab), who sings with Jameson. We started a band, and we were presented with having to write songs. It was the first time that I thought, this is gonna be mine and hers, and we have to write. So I drew from that experience, and I started using my first influences like the Police and Fiona Apple. During that time, those were the first songs I wrote. My first period of time writing was with Pavla. We would always write together as a team. Then Steve (Carson) kind of met up with us after the band had been going. We had written songs, but he took me to another level of arranging, and showed how important it is to take a second look at a song. When you write it, you have to step away, then take a look at it again. After that, it was realizing the place I need to be in to write, like emotionally and in my mind, and where my head needs to be at, because I think it’s a very different place from where my head needs to be at to play guitar. So realizing that those are two different places is important too.
Trisha Smith: It’s similar for me, because I’ve always loved to sing since I can remember, but I never wrote songs. I’ve written here and there, but nothing I actually gave to any band. This is the third project I’ve been in, and in every one, I hadn’t had the desire to write for the band. I just love to sing and I love the songs that someone else was writing. My first band was a rock/funk/reggae band called Wildcard Friday, and the drummer wrote all the songs. In Venus Infers, Davis (Fetter) wrote all the songs. And it’s funny ‘cause people would be like, “You don’t write the songs and you’re a singer?” But it didn’t bother me because I just really wanted to sing, and I loved the songs I had and got to make little changes. Now it’s a lot different because I have learned to enjoy writing and I love to feel accomplished from it. Ryan and I will work together, and it’s a different feeling to be able to create something and then to share it. When I’m singing it, to have that passion—I feel and really mean this song. It’s finally like, this is my project. I’ve been learning a lot about writing and become a lot more confident to present a lyric or melody to Ryan.
So a lot of artists write a song, package it all up, spit it out, and then once it’s out there, it belongs to the audience. Do you feel the same way? Is that how you transition from writing a song to playing a song on guitar?
Radcliff: I feel like I’m in a completely different frame of mind. Guys like Billy (Kernkamp) and Steve, I think they got into being a music maker for a completely different reason than I did. I think they got into it to be songwriters, and that’s not why I got into it. I got into it, first and foremost, just to play guitar. And I have this theory that everybody takes melody, harmony, rhythm, and lyrics, at different levels. For me, lyrics have never been something I’ve been into, and that’s just how I am and how I’m made. But something I’ve always been into is harmony, melody, and rhythm, but lyrics—not at all. A good song, to me, doesn’t have to have good lyrics. It could have terrible lyrics. I think that lines up with coming at music from a technical guitar player point of view. I’m not really listening to lyrics, because I’m not a singer either. I’m in this mindset of writing, I feel like you have to bring your ego way down, and you have to be able to take everything in and be influenced and be open to hearing things. But then when you’re on stage, you’re confidence has to be at a certain point to be able to play live. And realizing how different that is. I would get into an environment where I had to play, and I wouldn’t be able to because I’d been writing all the time. So you almost feel like you have to be this schizophrenic, and you have to go back and forth, and it’s tough. I can’t write everyday. I’ve been playing a lot and I haven’t been writing. And if I’m gonna be writing, then playing for me if gonna be tough, ‘cause I have to cram into that other mode.
So how do you feel about the importance of a harmony between band members when writing and playing?
Radcliff: A big thing I’ve realized is that every musician, in their own different way, uses something different as an outlet. I’ve been thinking lately that I’ve never really been a lyrics person, but I’m always thinking about stuff, just like everyone is. Everybody’s brain is always going, and you’re always reacting to things. I’ve asked myself, why am I not a prolific lyricist like Billy, who is constantly writing words down. I think for me, I gravitate more to my outlet being playing, rather than writing a lyric. For Billy, his outlet is in writing a song or in writing a lyric, and mine isn’t naturally like that. I have to make it like that. That goes with getting in that zone. I have to turn my outlet from playing, and turn it into writing.
Smith: I’m really big on lyrics too. He’ll write something and he might not think it’s that great, but I’ll let him know when I love something and I think it’s amazing.
Radcliff: That’s why Honeypie stays so small. It comes down to the basis of it--who inspires you to want to work? Otherwise, what’s the point of having these bands that don’t get along? It’s not even worth it.
Smith: I’d rather have a band of just us two, where we just get along and inspire each other and it’s great. It’s better than having someone in the band who is dragging their feet and not that into it.
I think a lot of people get held back because they think musicians either have it, or they don’t, but a lot of it is a learned thing, right?
Radcliff: I think that’s an important thing. No matter what you’re comfort zone is, you can go out of that comfort zone, and if you practice anything, you’ll get better at it. If you practice lyrics, you’ll get better at them. It took me years to finally write songs, because I thought that if I couldn’t write a song right away, that I couldn’t write. But no one ever told me thats it’s just like guitar. You just have to do it. Tell yourself to write 20 songs this month. Force it out, because you have to. The only way to learn is to gain the experience.
Do you find yourself stuck in a moment of emotion when you are attempting to write, or is it a broader? Do you like to stick with storylines, or just a good melody?
Smith: I think for me it’s a little broader arena. I try to think of things that really affect me, or what I’m passionate about, whether it’s a story, or just my view on something. I like storylines and melodies both, and I like to experiment. I would love to write a song that maybe has no lyrics, just sounds.
Radcliff: I think the best places to write are in the car and in the shower. It’s places where a part of your brain is being occupied, and it’s such a crucial part. If you just sit in your chair and you try to write, then there’s too much of your soul being focused. If you’re driving or in the shower, then a part of you is occupied, and you don’t realize it because it’s something that you’ve done so many times. Melodies and lyrics are the easiest in the shower. I could never sit down at my desk and write lyrics out, like if you can imagine any great songwriter. The funny thing is that they are such great practiced songwriters, and I bet they can just go to that part of their brain without going into the shower. That’s what they do
How much do you think is technique with those professionals?
Radcliff: I think they are inspired and they have experience on their side. It’s those two things. If you write constantly, you’re bound to put out good stuff. If you listen to enough good music, you’ll regurgitate something good. A great thing is to just constantly listen to music. I’m very systematic, and so the big thing with playing guitar is studying your scales and you study the mechanics. When it comes time to play, that stuff is in your head and it comes out, but you’re not regurgitating. With songwriting, you have to just listen to music.
When you’re getting ready to write, how do you prepare yourself?
Radcliff: When I’m writing, I’ve got my cluster of music that I listen to that inspires me, like Elliott Smith, Ryan Adams, and Wilco, and I’ll only listen to that stuff. I won’t listen to the latest Indie band, and I won’t listen to something that won’t inspire the direction that I want to write. You keep a certain mindset. I don’t write all the time, so I do it in chunks. It would be great to do it all the time because I love writing. When I write something new, it feels like this cursed puzzle. When you write something and you know you’ve got something good, and you’re like, ‘I have to finish this and do it justice.’ Otherwise, if I play it for Trish for the first time, then she’s not gonna like it, and it’s gonna get wasted. So it becomes like this curse where this great thing you’ve made and you’re proud of, you not have to finish. You have to come up with other great parts that go with it. The high point for me is in the creation of it, and the puzzle is being complete. Everyone is a little different.
Smith: I like to write in parts too. I’ll write a verse, then another, but it kind of depends on what comes out at the time. I usually don’t start at the beginning and then write through the whole song and then end it—which would be a cool thing to do. I think I’m better at writing everything separately in parts, and kind of rearranging lyrics. A lot of times, I’ll write things, and then it will make better sense to put them in a different order. I don’t know why, but sometimes I write backwards. We’ll move lines as a second look.
So how do you know when you cut it and what the length is? Is it determined by storyline, the feeling of the melody, the guitar parts? Is there something about it that makes it a longer song, or short and sweet?
Radcliff: There’s no right answer. It’s what you were feeling with the song. You don’t have to follow all the rules, you can do whatever you want, ‘cause who else are you doing it for? There’s always gonna be someone that likes anything.