The Weekend Journal of the WSJ has a fascinating story on the state of song writing in the U.S. The indie and Alt Country scene has a certain disdain for the songwriter that is the professional songwriter-the person who sits in a room, either by himself/herself or with a group of studio cats. The professional writer has no soul, so goes the argument–hence the decline of terrestrial radio as we know it. It is vapid. Snip:
Two stories are of note in this vein–Tift Merritt (from Raleigh, NC) and from the indie side, The National:
With a loyal “Americana” fan base and a sound that weaves through country, folk and rock, Tift Merritt is working in the tradition of Joni Mitchell, James Taylor and Leonard Cohen. Singer-songwriters, pouring their lives into song, are still alive and well and on the road. But with the exception of a few commercially reliable balladeers like John Mayer—whose “Daughters” has become a wedding standard—few are creating crossover anthems.
Ms. Merritt says, “I can’t explode the genre and reinvent it; I’m not that kind of genius. What I can bring is my own eyes and heart and hopefully there is a point of view, a voice.”
On her fourth album, “See You On the Moon,” Ms. Merritt inhabits a few characters, singing from the perspective of a juvenile offender and her own late grandfather. The song “All the Reasons We Don’t Have to Fight” is the product of a clash with her husband (and drummer), Zeke Hutchins. Hung up on the poison that lingers after lovers quarrel, she wrote verses such as, “These words we shout, so who’s to say, where they will go when they fall away? Maybe they hang around with the lonely kids, with a balled up fist, saying, you did this, you did this.”
Some songs come in a torrent, she says, but she grappled with “All the Reasons” for five days, poring over papers taped to her windows. In process, some of her songs have filled entire notebooks (lately she prefers unlined, 120-page Moleskins with soft covers). The notion of ever being expected to write hits, or even to write with someone else in the room, “makes my stomach hurt,” she says.
THE INDIE ROCKER
Songwriting is equally personal for indie rock star Matt Berninger of the National. With a stately, often melancholic sound that matches the singer’s baritone, the band is currently topping major music festivals and consistently selling out theaters, even though its songs are virtually absent from commercial radio. It’s the kind of shadow stardom playing out for icons of other subcultures, whose fans find a sensibility they strongly relate to. “I will admit that my lyrics often come from the perspective of a college-educated, middle-aged, anxiety-filled, average white guy, stressed-out by having a job, keeping a job and being a grown-up,” says Mr. Berninger, lead singer and lyricist. “But we still have these fantasies of being brilliant and independent and reckless.” Of his lyrics, which the National doesn’t include with its CDs, Mr. Berninger says, “there aren’t any messages or platforms for ideas, other than how it makes you feel.”