11 Questions with… Tod Weidner

Tod Weidner is an institution in his home town of Dayton, Ohio. Tod is a visionary songwriter making music that drives a listener to tap their toes without realizing the impactful lyric until one has been hooked. Tod has led the incredible band Shrug for decades. The admiration for Tod’s music has been well earned from a songcraft that brims with a direct and honest rock and roll that veers across rock, indie, folk and more. Tod’s gift for writing catchy songs that open an honest dialogue is one of the most important characteristics of his music! While Tod has relocated to the Bay Area, his music continues the sonic journeys he started in Dayton.

Dr. J: What can you share with us about when and how you started writing music?

Lyrically speaking, I’ve been hugely influenced by my dad. He was a high school English and Literature teacher for over 30 years, and he passed on to me a love of words and how to put them together.

Musically Speaking, I started playing guitar in my sophomore year of high school, in January of 1986. I grew up in a rural area of Ohio, about 25 miles geographically and a thousand light years philosophically from Dayton. Underground rock (“college rock” as it was known then) was a thing, but it hadn’t really reached our sheltered little school to any real extent. We just had the radio – AOR or Top 40. If I had been more familiar with punk and DIY indie bands of the day, it may have occurred to me that I could write my own music as soon as I had a couple chords under my belt but, as it was, those radio formats instilled a feeling that these artists were untouchable superhuman beings descended down from Mt. Olympus, so the best we mortals could do was to learn how to play their music and- maybe, if we were good enough- join a cover band. 

At some point around 1990, I began to realize that I didn’t have to play covers of other people’s music. The early “gateway drug” bands that lured me from the flashy ‘80s hard rock into more organic, underground stuff were Jane’s Addiction, Soundgarden, Mother Love Bone, Screaming Trees, Masters of Reality, Faith No More, and bands like that. I started coming up with riffs and developing them into truly dreadful early attempts at songs. Those bands led me to early R.E.M., Robin Hitchcock & The Egyptians, and other groups that had a little more “jangle” to their sound, and that was a turning point in my sense of songcraft. In 1993 I joined a short-lived Dayton band called Tim, which is where I first started contributing my own songs. After a year or so, I left Tim and started Shrug, and that’s where I really shifted into a higher gear. I was a sponge- I was devouring music as fast as I could find it, and learning about songwriting along the way.

Dr. J: What first led to your recording music? How do you approach production?

TW: When I was just starting out writing songs, my bandmate and I found this huge monstrosity of a stereo called a Sinclair Studio 100 at a close-out furniture store in Columbus. It was about the size of a window unit air conditioner, with a turntable, a tuner, and a dual cassette deck. The thing was, though, that it also had a setting where you could use it as a four-track recorder- the EQ sliders turned into faders, and you could record multitrack demos on it. My buddy and I each bought one, and I developed some extremely rudimentary recording chops, by trial and error. I haven’t listened to any of those cassettes I made for years and years; it would be somewhere between amusing and horrifying to hear them again.

How do I approach production? That’s a complicated question. It’s always evolving. My favorite way to do it is to get everyone in a room together and just play live. Let some happy accidents and mistakes happen- that’s where the good stuff lives. That’s not always doable, though. Sometimes space or noise limitations force you to build songs one or two instruments at a time, which gives you more control over the finished product and opens up the song to some interesting possibilities for experimentation. 

There’s a time and a place for both approaches. Ideally, I like to let the song dictate the method. Having said that, I’ve been writing and recording demos alone on GarageBand lately, so building the song piece by piece is kind of the default mode for me at the moment, at least as far as pre-production goes. 

The solo singles I’ve released so far and the ones in the immediate pipeline- aside from “The Boys of Summer” (which was done by myself at home) have been mostly recorded in a beautiful, big, spacious studio in Los Angeles, and I’ve been blessed to have some monster musicians on the sessions, so the lion’s share of the music gets tracked live, with vocals and some extra guitar overdubs added later. It’s a good mix of the two methods.  

Dr. J: Boys of Summer is your most recent music, what led to the making of that song? What was the main influence on your recording this cover?

TW: It was serendipity- pure happenstance. I’ve always adored the original version, written by Mike Campbell and Don Henley. It’s such an evocative song about nostalgia, and it resonates with me more and more the older I get. I always thought it would be cool to cover it at some point.

So it happened that, this past New Year’s Day, 2022, I was at home, in my music room, with a few hours to kill, so I just started messing around with the song, kind of flying by the seat of my pants. I didn’t want to do a copy of the original; I never understand it when artists do that. What’s the point? I had an idea to keep it sparse- dark and skeletal, kind of turning the upbeat mood of the original into something that delivers the same sentiment in a more brooding way. Don Henley’s version is, in my eyes, sung by a successful alpha-type guy who’s reminiscing about an old flame. But he never really gets close to owning up to taking any blame in why the relationship ended. The narrator of my version of the song is a loser. He let the best thing that ever happened to him drift away, and he knows it. 

I had no intention of doing anything with my version- it was just sort of something to do for a few hours. I sent it to my manager on a whim, because I knew he liked the original as much as I did. He really liked my version, and convinced me that we should release it. I have a song coming out soon that we really want all the pieces in place for, so releasing a version of a song that people are already familiar with makes a certain amount of sense from a business standpoint. We figured a cover would reach a few new ears to give us that much bigger of an audience when the “real next course” gets served up. How that goes remains to be seen, but the response to “The Boys of Summer” has been really great so far, so I’m already considering it a win.

I’m actually glad I recorded the song with no lofty goals for it to be released, because there’s a vulnerability in the vocal performance that probably wouldn’t have survived all the overthinking I would have done had I been trying for “a single”. “Quick, dirty, and instinctive” is the way to go sometimes.  

Dr. J: The song ‘City of San Jose’ captures a remarkable constellation of musical influences. The song seems to have an almost 1970s feel. Is that a correct interpretation? If that is correct, did you intend to create a song that connects to that time period? If that is not correct, how would you describe the feeling of the song?

TW: No, I’d say that’s a very accurate assessment. Most of what I do is rooted in the music of the 60s and 70s, either directly or one generation removed, and most of my favorite artists were doing their best work back then.

Dr. J: How did the song ‘City of San Jose’ come together musically for you?

TW: The song is kind of a love letter to a section of the San Francisco Bay Trail near where I live. During the peak of Lockdown, it was a great place to get some exercise away from a lot of other people. I also came up with a lot of lyrics for this current batch of songs out there. 

I used an alternate tuning on my guitar for that one- DADGAD, a tuning that a lot of British artists gravitated towards in the late 60s and 70s; people like Bert Jansch, John Martyn, and Nick Drake. Jimmy Page used DADGAD on a lot of Led Zeppelin tracks, as well. My original demo for the song was very much in the British Folk vein- a bit quieter, more pastoral. When we got in the studio to record the actual version it became much more upbeat, but I’m not mad about that at all. I like both approaches a lot, and the final version we did in the studio served as a good introduction to the world of “Tod Weidner as a solo artist.”

Dr. J: Where do you often derive inspiration to make music?

TW: Well, it’s a compulsion, really. Playing guitar is really the one thing in my life that never fails to make me feel better. If I’m depressed, anxious, or out of sorts, there’s nothing I like better than to just pick up the guitar and lose myself for an hour or two. It’s my form of meditation. More often than not, a kernel of an idea will pop up somewhere in the course of my aimless noodling. The “voice memos” app on my phone is overflowing with minute-long ideas that either eventually will or already have become full-fledged songs.

Lyrically, I’ve been really making an effort over the past few years to simplify. In the beginning, I delighted in using big flowery words in my songs just for their own sake. While there’s certainly nothing wrong with that, per se, I’ve been fascinated lately with the songcraft of people like John Prine, Johnny Cash, or Tom Petty: songwriters who can lay down a simple truth that everyone can relate to, but with a clever little spin on it that just makes it land like a bomb. There’s a deceptively fine art to that, and I’m always trying to get better at it. Fewer words, more impact.

Dr. J: How would you describe the music that you typically create? How has that process evolved or changed over time (especially as you think about your journey in the last few years)?

TW: My standard line about my music is “songs about Love, Loss, The Loss of Love, and The Love of Loss”. There tends to be a touch of yearning, or wistfulness, a bit of melancholy in most of my music- “Sad Bastard Music”, as some people call it. It’s not dark all the time, but I think most artists have a tendency to ruminate about things, at least the ones I gravitate to. 

Moving to California from Ohio was already a big new chapter in my life in and of itself, but the prospect of starting a solo career with a new tribe of people also definitely represents a turning of the page. Dayton will always be home, and I thank my lucky stars that I got to learn how to be a musician and writer in such an amazingly fertile music scene as Dayton’s, but there comes a time when a nurturing, close-knit environment runs the risk of becoming an insular echo chamber-type situation. In all honesty, that’s what Dayton started feeling like toward the end of my time there. It was time to get somewhere new and try my stuff out on people who hadn’t known me for decades. It’s a healthy thing to do. 

My dear old friend, and now manager, Jack Piatt, has always championed my music, and through him, I’ve gotten to meet and work with people out here from very different backgrounds than mine. Which is also a healthy thing to do. Nomad, the gentleman who has produced my first five singles, has a resume that includes- among other things- a long stint as Babyface’s musical director. So he has a strong background in Soul and R&B, and that gives him a much different perspective than I have, coming from a more-or-less strict rock background. The “me” from 10 or 15 years ago would’ve been very skeptical of working with someone like that. But, as I said, this is a major new chapter of my life and career. I told myself, “Tod, you’ve been doing things a certain way for over 25 years. If you want to continue in the same bubble you’ve been operating in, you might as well just go back to Dayton and record the usual stuff with the same people at the same places.” If I want to get somewhere new, it’s a good idea to take some new outside advice, be open to change, and let go of some of my innate urges to control every aspect of the situation. I decided to start saying “yes”, instead of, “I dunno, that’s not how I usually do it.” And I have to say- it’s been working out really well so far. It’s refreshing, and exciting.  

Dr. J: What is next for you musically? How would you describe your thoughts at this point for your next project?

TW: The next single is coming out sometime in February, and I think it’s going to really surprise people who are familiar with my back catalog. I’m very excited about this track, and the people I recorded it with. That’s all I want to say about it for now.

The plan is to release a digital single at a rate of about one a month, and eventually end up with enough songs for a full, physical album. I’m still old school enough that I like to hold a record or a CD in my hand and read liner notes and whatnot.

I came out of Lockdown with about 20 new songs, and I’m as proud of them as any I’ve ever written; I really believe it’s some of my best work, and I am dying to get on the road and play them for people. 

Dr. J: What is your favorite song to perform live? What is your favorite song to perform in general? What makes that song a current favorite in your performances?

TW: I don’t know if I have a favorite song to perform. I have favorite types of songs, maybe. I love playing a song that lets me stretch out and go somewhere on the guitar because, at the end of the day, I still think of myself as a guitar player.

And I love a song that I can crawl inside and live in while I’m singing it. I just want to play something that moves people. That’s the objective: to play with sincerity and move people. There’s not much point in doing anything else. 

Dr. J: What is one message you would hope that listeners find in the unique nature of your latest music?

TW: Well, as I said earlier, I tend to lean toward the darker end of the emotional spectrum with my songs, but lately- with this latest batch of songs, especially- I’ve been making more of a concerted effort to include a little ray of sunlight here and there in the songs. With the last several years of trauma and uncertainty, I think Hope is a valuable, rare commodity, and people need as much of it as they can get. 

Music, and Art in general, serves multiple purposes: it can provide a feeling of escape for the listener, a chance to forget their troubles and go somewhere else for a few minutes. That’s a lovely thing.

But Music can also be a hand to hold in the dark. It can tell the listener, “You’re going through some painful times. I know how you feel, I feel that way, too. Let’s feel that way together.” That can be a beautiful thing, too- letting the listener know they’re not alone. I know Music has gotten me through some dark days and nights, and if my songs can help someone in that way, then I’ve done my part.  

Dr. J: As a musician, how are you adapting to the challenges of the Coronavirus?

TW: Same as everyone, I suppose. It depends on the day. I miss playing shows, I know that. I hope that, sooner than later, I can get back to playing a gig without worrying about people going home sick. I’m also very aware of the privileged position from which I’m speaking.; my wife has been working from home, and we’re getting by alright. A lot of folks don’t have that luxury.

The silver lining for me, as a musician, has been the enforced down time. As I mentioned, it’s allowed me to really buckle down and work and produce a lot of songs I’m proud of. I’m thankful that I have songwriting as a way to work out my fear, dread, and anxiety. Again, a lot of people don’t have an outlet like that. 

I guess it comes back to what I touched on in the previous question. As a singer/songwriter during this whole mess, I have a responsibility to reflect the times, relate to the listener, and provide them with some degree of solace. All things considered, it’s not a bad job to have.  

We want to extend our sincere gratitude to Tod for answering our questions and continuing to make some really excellent music! Click on the links throughout the article to visit his social media or to listen to various songs that were discussed! If any musicians or artists would like to participate in future ’11 Questions with…’ columns, please feel free to email us at drjytaa@gmail.com. All photos and images courtesy of Tod Weidner.

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11 Questions with… Super 8

Paul “Trip” Ryan of the one man band, Super 8, has been making some of the most melodic psychedelic indie-pop music around! Much of UK-based Trip’s music shimmers and sways into exquisitely crafted ear worms. In addition to his knack for melody, Trip also makes music with a lightness that sometimes hides the melancholy. This back and forth is most welcome in these days of challenge. As a one man band playing all of the instruments, an atmosphere is raised that allows listeners to drop into a musical concoction that does not ever disappoint. Each delicious single and the incredible collaboration with the incredible Lisa Mychols, crackles and glistens with just the right amount of sonic tension. If one were to look up ‘catchy songs’ in an encyclopedia, the entry would simply say ‘Super 8.’

Dr. J: What can you share with us about when and how you started writing music?

Super 8 (Trip): Well first off, thanks so much for taking the time to formulate these questions and for your interest in this music I make. OK, here goes then … I have always loved music! A very early memory of mine was listening to Simon & Garfunkel played in the family car when I was a kid and really connecting with the harmonies and rhythms. Later in my early teens I found an old, beat up guitar in an attic. In hindsight it was a truly terrible instrument with only four (rusty!) strings but, for a few months at least, I actually thought it was the greatest thing in the world! To encourage my enthusiasm my Folks later bought me a better acoustic guitar and, from there, I saved up pocket money to buy an electric one. I’m still ‘wheeling’n’dealing’ musical instruments to this day and still get that buzz that I had as a kid when I get to play a new instrument. In fact, my latest musical instrument fixation is the birthday present I received from my thoughtful wife at Hogmanay – a small bass harmonica. I’m so taken with it I put it to good use straight away – it’s a feature instrument on the new single (‘Out of My Head’). You can see me getting to grips with it in the video.

As for how I started writing music … it’s something I just fell into naturally. It just feels like the right thing for me to be doing in this life. I’ve had no formal training as such, I just try to capture the sounds I hear in my head as best I can with whatever musical tools I have at my disposal at any given time.

Dr. J: What first led to your recording music as SUPER 8? How do you approach production?

Trip: I trod the musical boards in a few local bands growing up in the North West of England. With Liverpool a short train ride to the west and Manchester another short train ride to the east it was an inspiring place to grow up (Warrington). I moved north to Scotland around the turn of the millennium and, borne of necessity without any band mates around, I tentatively started to make music on my own. (I had never sung one of my own songs prior to coming to Scotland – there must be something in the water here!) There was a brief spell at the beginning of the century where I tried the whole ‘band thing’ again but it didn’t work out… so ever since I’ve just accepted that I’m a solo studio artist (read: ‘hermit’!).

That said over the last couple of years as well as keeping my hand in with solo SUPER 8 stuff  I have been collaborating remotely with the LA-based artist Lisa Mychols (more on that later).  As to how I approach production? I’m not the world’s most technical guy I must admit. I’m not interested in the latest ‘must-have!’ fad gadget nor tweaking software for hours on end, I just use my ears until I find sounds that work well together. I play everything you hear on my solo records. Some instruments I can play better than others but I will give anything a go to try to get a tune out of it, whatever works for the song really. At the end of the day it’s ALL about the song!      

Dr. J: Out of My Head is your most recent music, what led to the making of that song? What was the main influence on your songwriting at that time that you wrote this?

Trip: ‘Out Of My Head’ came together really quickly. I had the embryonic idea for it just before Christmas and threw down a rough musical sketch before heading south to England for the festive period. On my return I realized it would benefit from being faster and ‘quirkier’. As I said, I had been gifted a bass harmonica by this point so, after a quick crash course in bass harmonica technique (and discovering you can only blow into it, there’s no sound if you suck!) I attempted to put it to good use right away. The single came together really quickly after that. The wife and I made a quick (daft!) video for it last Wednesday and it was released (via Bandcamp) over the weekend just gone.  As a composer I like it when inspiration strikes like that! What was just a rough idea can become a fully-formed & finished piece with a quick turnaround. I feel I do my best work when I’m ‘lost in music’ and ‘in the zone’ as it were! It’s inspiring and keeps me on my toes. I’m naturally a pretty impulsive person who needs to keep motivated. I tend to tire and lose interest when projects drag on.

As for the main influence for this particular song. Hmm… I hadn’t really thought about it but, now you ask, MAYBE it’s about a love that has been lost? And/or rejection? Or a feeling of being stuck in a certain situation out of one’s control with no apparent clear plan for the way forward. That and the knock-on doubts, personal frustration and disorientation as a result hence the title ‘Out Of My Head’. Or maybe it’s not about any of that and it’s about what book to read next? (I’m currently reading Brian Wilson’s autobiography). I dunno, some songs are hard to explain. They just ‘are what they are’ – a musical snapshot of a moment in time. I personally don’t write a diary so it all has to come out in some way I guess. As you can see, I’m not that great at explaining my songs – I prefer to just let the songs do the talking.        

Dr. J: ‘Lisa Mychols & SUPER 8 album was the album you released in 2020 with Lisa Mychols. The songs on that record seem almost purposefully lighter hearted. Is that a correct interpretation of the record? If that is correct, did you intend to create an album that was purposefully more fun?

Trip: Ahh yeah, the debut album with Lisa was great fun – an absolute blast from start to finish! It just seemed to come along at the perfect time (for both of us I think!) It all started with a one-off single (‘Time Bomb’). We had such a laugh making that one (including being cast as clay figures in the video by my talented wife Gill!) that we decided to carry on and see where this 5,000 mile remote collaboration might lead. (Lisa lives in LA, I reside in Scotland so the whole album was made via file sharing. Believe it or not we have never actually met in person!)

Before too long we had what we thought was going to make a strong EP but then we did a couple more songs together and just thought: “Hey! What the heck? Let’s try for a full length album!” We were ping-ponging files back and forth across the Atlantic and just vibing off the whole project. It wasn’t our intention to make an entire Summer-themed album, that’s just the way it came out. We just let the songs inform us as to how THEY wanted to go. All very organic and natural sounding, nothing on that album was forced or premeditated, not written to order, we just went with the flow and within the space of just a few very creative months we had our album ‘in the can’. On its release (via the cool Canadian label: ‘The Beautiful Music’) it received numerous rave reviews with many folk referring to it as their ‘Album of the Summer’. I’m still very proud of that album. It definitely bottled a musical moment in time. Happy days & good vibrations! File under: ‘California/Brit Pop!’  

Dr. J: How did the song ‘All My Worries come together musically for you?

Trip: I have to hold my hand up and admit that I was listening to a lot of Beatles around the time this was written. (Who am I trying to kid, I’m ALWAYS listening to The Beatles!) I guess I just soaked up some extra Beatles vibe around this time and it came out in this song. Again, not premeditated, the way this one panned out is the way this song informed me how it wanted to be. (That said, I admit it IS very Beatles-y-sounding …. to my ears anyway!)

Dr. J: Where do you often derive inspiration to make music?

Trip: Well, there’s The Beatles (see above – LOL!) but it doesn’t just come from listening to other folk’s music. It’s hard to explain really but I shall at least try …. most of the music I write actually comes to me ‘from within’ … and usually at the most inopportune moments! For example, I’ll be out walking somewhere and “BOOM!” I get a melody or a riff popping into my head and have to scrabble to capture it before it’s gone. (The voice recorder on my phone has helped me remember quite a few songs that would otherwise have been lost!) Another example? I could be mid-shave say and … “AARGGH! Here we go again!” It’s a curse at times but I can’t complain. The most exasperating situation?  At night. I’m a light sleeper and most nights I find it very difficult to get off to sleep – it takes a long time for my mind to shut down! It’s often just when I’m (finally!) in that strange Twilight Zone place between conscious and unconscious thought that “PING!” a new song idea will choose to present itself!  When it does, I either have to: A) wake myself up to capture it somehow or B) just let it slide hoping that, by rights, if it’s good enough then I should be able to just remember it until I wake at a civilized time in the morning, right?

Dr. J: How would you describe the music that you typically create? How has that process evolved or changed over time (especially as you think about your journey in the last few years?

Trip: Again, quite a difficult question as I find it very hard to describe my music ….. it’s more ‘a feeling’. I try not to pigeon-hole the music I make. There’s plenty of acts out there that play to their strengths and tastes as in: “We’re a Ska band!” or “We’re a Power Pop band!” (Whatever ‘Power Pop’ is – ha!) but, for me, I like to mix it up and keep fans of my music on their toes. I like the fact that I can, for example, write a little jazzy bossanova tune with Lisa (eg: ‘Your Summer Theme’) then go from that to an out ’n’ out Rocker with a medieval baroque section in 6/8 timing just thrown in for good measure (LOL!) There’s actually a lot of humour embedded into these songs I write. How would I sum them all up? It’s all just a big pick’n’mix musical melting pot really! As to how my songwriting process has evolved, I’d like to think I’m getting better as I go along here but, that said, I do not wish to get ‘too good’. I like all the ‘happy accidents’ that happen in the studio …. and the things that don’t seem to make sense. If I actually knew what I was doing and all the theory behind it then perhaps these chance moments would vanish and I’m not prepared to take that risk so I’ll just keep doing this while I can and not think too much about the process. So long as making music continues to be a fun, creative outlet for me then I shall endeavour to keep making it.  

Dr. J: What is next for you musically? How would you describe your thoughts at this point for your next project?

Trip: Well it’s the start of a new year so we’re supposed to have resolutions, right? Musically speaking I already know I don’t want another year like last year! Looking back on it I got way too distracted with musical commissions and I completely took my eye off the ball (or should that be ‘ear’?) where making NEW music was concerned. So much so that I actually only managed to finish a mere handful of self-penned original songs (which is not like me at all – prior to 2021 I had a reputation for being prolific!) Here now in 2022 I need to turn that around and ‘get back’ to the one thing I feel I’m good at i.e.: being ‘a songwriter’. I hope to have two new albums out in 2022, one SUPER 8 solo and a follow-up with Lisa – watch this space!

Dr. J: What is your favorite song to perform live? What is your favorite song to perform in general? What makes that song a current favorite in your performances?

Trip: Like I say, I’m more of what you’d call ‘a studio musician’ nowadays. Being a solo ‘one man band’ as it were, I haven’t played a gig in the longest time. I guess my performances these days are on the records I make, what I play into the microphone when I’m multi-tracking a song. I tend to just let the songs do the talking now pretty much! I don’t really tend to have ‘a favourite’. I just go from recording one song to the next really.

Dr. J: What is one message you would hope that listeners find in the unique nature of your latest music?

No real ‘message’ as such more ‘a feeling’. That the music I present makes the listener feel good in themselves. Not one ‘thing’ in particular, just ‘a connection’. I write from the heart I guess and just try to be true to my school as it were – to write music that I like and, if I like it, hopefully others might too. ‘Tis a strange and magical thing ‘music’. It’s all so subjective!   

Dr. J: As a musician, how are you adapting to the challenges of the Coronavirus?

Trip: Like everyone, I wish this thing would just disappear and let us all get back to and on with ‘normal’ life as we knew it – we live in hope! In the meantime we have to just keep our heads up and deal with the cards we’ve been dealt here. Musically speaking the one good thing to come out of all of this I guess is that us musicians have realised the potential of making music via file-sharing. I can’t really think of anything else positive to say on the whole ‘Corona’ front! Anyway, stay safe and thanks for reading!

We want to extend our sincere gratitude to Trip for answering our questions and continuing to make some really excellent music as Super 8! Click on the links throughout the article to visit his social media or to listen to various songs that were discussed! If any musicians or artists would like to participate in future ’11 Questions with…’ columns, please feel free to email us at drjytaa@gmail.com. All photos and images courtesy of Trip.

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11 Questions with… Jayne Sachs

Some time ago songwriter Jayne Sachs agreed to answer our 11 Questions for this column! We appreciate Jayne taking the time out of her busy schedule to respond to these questions about songwriting, music making and performing. In 2015, she was a Daytonian of the Week!

Singer/Songwriter Jayne Sachs has been crafting songs in the Dayton Music Scene and beyond for several years. Jayne is currently a songwriter at Matt Lindsey Music in Nashville. She is an award winning songwriter with two first place wins in the prestigious John Lennon Songwriting Contest in the country and pop music categories, a rare occurrence. She is also a top winner in The UK Songwriting Contest and the International Acoustic Music Awards in the country category, we could go on and list the extensive recognition for her songwriting skills and techniques but that is not what this column is about. Our purpose here is to learn about songwriting and music directly from Jayne. However, I would be remiss if I did not take a moment to thank her because Jayne has also been very kind with her time agreeing to speak to Dr. J’s classes about music and songwriting.

  1. What can you share with us about when and how you started writing your latest music?

For the last eight years I have been writing songs for pitching in the Nashville country market. Before this, I was in the indie/alt pop genre as an artist and performer.

When my dad on his death bed (sorry, I always go dark!) asked me about my future in music he asked what publishers do and if I could “get one”. I was pretty sure I couldn’t just “get one” but didn’t know enough about what they do and how I could actually ever get signed by one. I knew that publishers were located in all the music cities, with Nashville being the closest.

After my dad died, I received a letter that he had written to me while he was still alive. He told me how proud he was of my music journey and if I should ever decide to not continue, I should be happy with what I’ve done. Since I had no intention of slowing down I thought back to our conversation about publishers and decided to understand that side of the industry. One thing lead to another and I learned the country genre inside and out and actually ended up getting signed by a long time Nashville publisher. I write daily and turn songs into him for pitching. I wish I could tell my dad.

2. You worked closely with several musicians throughout your career, what led to your collaborations?

The musicians I’ve worked with the most and the longest are my band mates Steve VanEtten, Scott Shiverdecker and Kelly Morelock. I worked with Kelly prior to that with a different line up as well. What lead to that collaboration originally was my need for a live band, but also musicians who could take the songs and help arrange them in cool ways. Each one of these players is an expert on his instrument. Without them the songs would have remained acoustic based, but these guys put muscle behind my singer songwriter diddies.

3. Rain is a personal favorite, so I am curious about it. The song seems different to me from some of your other songs and music. What were you trying to capture with that song?

I wrote “Rain” about the music industry. But it’s a song that can be interpreted in any way that resonates with the listener. I guess I was feeling that the rain I was hoping for would wash the dirt of trying to get signed off of me so I could just feel free.

4. Rain also seems to address some ideas about expressing oneself. If that is correct, did you intend to address that theme?Is there a theme that you find yourself working with in your songs?

If that is your interpretation, then I meant to address it! I am all for the meaning of a song being how the listener takes it, except for my Nashville songs which can’t leave anything up for interpretation. Stuff is very literal in that market. But the theme of Rain for me is breaking out and washing shit off of myself and feeling carefree. I’ve always wanted to dance naked in an alley.. who wouldn’t?! Well maybe not in the bitter winter.. but even…

5. How did Rain come together musically for you?

Rain is on a cd called Velveteen Girl. It was the only project I recorded with musicians other than my mates. I was working with a producer in Nashville, Lij Shaw, and he brought in his friends who do a lot of studio work. My band was on a break at that time as Scott and Steve already had kids and needed some time with their families. I’m proud of that cd and then my band emulated the songs so well once we got back together for live shows.

6. Where do you often derive inspiration to make music?

My songs as an artist tend to be dark and somewhat personal, whether they sound more ballad or more up tempo, sad or sarcastic. The song may not be about me specifically, but there is always an emotional bed that the song is lying on that I can relate to completely… the emotion. So to answer your question, the inspiration is the emotion. I may have just heard something that made me tear up, or laugh or feel empathy… and then if that feeling sticks around longer than a minute I may grab my guitar and try to dance with that feeling a bit. Listening to other’s songs that resonate with me is always inspiring. When I hear something I really love, my favorite thing to do is grab my own guitar and write.

7. How would you describe the music that you typically create? How has that process evolved or changed over time (especially as you think about your journey across your various projects such as your earlier music compared to the music you are making now)?

 Writing for the Nashville market is what I’m concentrating on now but my journey in music started around age 18 at OSU when I started playing out a bit. As soon as I started writing original songs, I always wrote to perform them and then to record them and then to play them for an audience. I left music for a long while to have a normal career, even though I picked TV (a story in itself), but brought music back into my life in my 30’s. That is when I really got serious about writing and finding my true voice as an artist. That’s when I started playing live with a band and my career grew beautiful and crazy fun wings! This continued for years and years until I started writing for Nashville, a total shift in focus.

Learning how to write for the masses was like getting a PhD in neurosurgery. I dove into it with a fierce need to understand It and it’s been no different than learning a very specific skill.. or maybe brainwashing.. not sure! I feel I am a better writer now in general because I understand crafting for marketability purposes, but the trade off is not having the carefree heart as I did as an artist just writing for my project. I struggle to keep “me” in my writing now, but too much of “me” limits the chance of an artist wanting to record it. I’m writing for other artists now who are looking to record songs that resonate with them… and those artists are choosing songs that their audience will like… and those songs are being dissected by their label and team to figure out which ones could become singles and possibly a  #1 on radio. So when I sit down to write now, I am trying to write a hit. And I’m still trying to keep a bit of me in it so I can still somehow relate to the emotion in the song.. but writing it in a way that will appeal to the masses. It’s f’n hard!! It’s the hardest writing I’ve ever attempted. 

8. What is next for you musically? How would you describe your thoughts at this point for your next project?

I’m not sure what is next. I’m neck deep in Nashville. If I drown, I drown… but I’m a fairly resilient human who can dog paddle like an expert dog paddler! I’m extremely goal oriented and the goal is to get a major artist to cut one of my songs. I’m getting closer. Garth Brooks put a vocal on one of my co-written songs but then he ultimately passed on it. I heard that he sent it to another artist who he thought it might be better suited for. But we didn’t hear anything else on it. Ugh!! We were all holding our breaths on that one!

9. What is your favorite song to perform? What makes it a current favorite in your performances?

Oh let me see… a favorite? That’s hard to pick. I have a song I wrote for the Nashville market called “Somewhere” which I love to perform. I wrote it two years ago. It happened to win The John Lennon Songwriting Contest in the country category which was pretty darn validating.

10. What is one message you would hope that listeners find in the unique nature of your latest music?

Since my latest music is not for myself as an artist, I would say I hope listeners would still hear “me” in there as I struggle to keep that heart beating while writing in a completely different way.

11. As a musician, how did you adapt to the challenges of the Coronavirus? Is that changing for your now as music events are opening up again?

Since Covid, I’ve been co-writing via Zoom instead of being in a physical room with people in Nashville. I was traveling to music city every three weeks or so but I haven’t been back since the beginning of Covid. During the last year, I’ve done a few sets live via Facebook, so that is new territory for me. I miss the stage greatly. It’s where I honestly feel at home. Now that things are opening up, I hope to do a few shows every now and then.

You can follow Jayne Sachs on various social media including:

We want to extend our sincere gratitude to Jayne Sachs for answering our questions and continuing to make some really excellent music! Click on the links throughout the article to visit Jayne’s social media or to listen to various songs that were discussed! If any musicians or artists would like to participate in future ’11 Questions’ columns, please feel free to email us at drjytaa@gmail.com. All photos and images courtesy of Jayne Sachs.