Seeking Resolve: an Interview with Grant Collinsworth and the upcoming EPSWC
by Ryan Johann Perry
Two men are hurriedly driving in opposite directions toward a destination they are late to. One has a 1977 Chevy Silverado stepside with Edelbrock carburetor and headers and is listening to Bruce Springsteen's “Nebraska” album, the other is driving a 1968 Chevelle with a cart Ford motor inside and is listening to Bob Dylan's “Blood on the Tracks”. They collide at an intersection off Highway 28. Which man dies alone?
Grant: I’d have to say the guy listening to Springsteen will die alone (even if there is no wreck)... cause if anybody thought Bob Dylan was writing about himself, they completely missed it. (And besides, everybody knows that highway 28 is a Bermuda Triangle for bicyclists... )
The EPSWC, going on this Friday Oct 2nd at the El Paso Playhouse is now in its third incarnation. The contest is the brain spawn of local musician Grant Collinsworth. The premise is simple. In front of a full house musicians perform an original song before a panel of judges well versed in the field of songwriting; they perform under a spotlight, in front of a packed house, and hear the collective feedback of history, of the past and present, right there, reacting viscerally, analytically. The judges this year are Donna Pence, Monica Gomez, Charles 'Chas' Thomas, and Eric Boseman and their comments are nothing short of messages sent back in time.
I had a chance to have a quick tete a tete with Grant Collinsworth. Grant is a songwriter himself, part of the Blue Poet Souls and a dedicated student of the craft of songwriting and music in general. We discussed the competition and the ideas it places in relief.
Ryan: Have you seen a common theme, a narrative, over the course of the previous competitions. That is to say, what has watching songwriters expose themselves before critical eyes told you about our zeitgeist?
Grant : The narrative seems to be tied in closely with genre selection by the entrants of the contest. I see a repeating trend of Alt/Indie/ Folk/ Americana submissions (as opposed to Blues. Rock., Jazz , Latin, etc.). I don’t know if this speaks to a stage of growth within these artists (many are young) , where it’s just easier to musically express themselves that way or if it’s really just a fashion being followed.
R: What is missing in a performer that allows them to go before an audience? What do they have in excess?
G: Fear is missing. I admire the shit out of the contestants for doing this, because they are sharing their ‘babies’ to strangers and to a critical response system… They know that they risk being told ugly truths (as readily as they might be told beautiful truths) . I don’t see any excesses, except for the occasional artist , who has to dominate the sound with ‘more cowbell’ ;) By that, I mean that some are inexperienced artists, who haven’t quite reconciled the sonic volume and balances that a performance demands - but our Sound Engineer is always willing to ‘school ‘em’
R: What can judges really tell us? About ourselves, about a song, about anything? I'm not simply talking about the judges in your competition, I am talking about judges in general.
G: I have always thought that, in general, judges are presumed to be reasonable SME (Subject matter experts), both in some aspect of vocation (of what they assess) AND in the ethical diligence by which they approach assessment and opinions. (Judges issue opinions). Knowing the rules, the accepted practices and standards (aka status quo), they can compare and contrast the artifact in question, weighing it against that status quo. From that, they can cite whether the artifact falls below or rises above the status quo. Thus, they can provide valuable opinions.
A song, being the artifact, will be subject to judges’ opinions based on a number of tacit, quantifiable criterion, (Example: Did the song use a standard 1,4,5 chord pattern or did it include other chords? Does the song use a middle eight or not). If so, how well did it work or resonate in the context of the theme, etc?. (We provide a few useful hints on the main EPSWC website page.)
R: What was the most impactful thing a person has told you about one of your songs? Positive and negative.
G: Positive: Compared my songs to the Beatles. Negative: Compared my songs to the Beatles.
R: For fun, If you had to give U2 some critique, I mean HAD to, what would you tell them?
G: As a band, and the overall body of work, I’d suggest they really explore more variation in their song production… embrace more corniness…This, to avoid sounding like one long song and to exercise a broader range of emotional expression. There is a distinction between signature-sound and structural repetition (which lends to familiarity by the listener). U2 has both, and the latter needs a mix up.
R: At this moment, what is the greatest song ever written?
G: It would be the greatest pain ever written about, which managed to find its resolve.
R: Do you see any thread in El Paso musicians, compared to musicians/scenes you may have seen elsewhere?
G: Yes, beautiful, glorious naivete. I mean this in a really good way. It is critical, because we actually have a rare opportunity in El Paso to be a clean slate, free of snottiness, which I believe is key and it frees us up to create. The risk is that we might be trying to reinvent some wheels, but that still makes us inventors, doesn’t it?
Many of us think we know what the scene in L.A. looks like… Fortunately, we aren’t tainted by that train wreck. Not saying L.A. is bad… but I am saying, a musician can get rudely buried there by pompousness and ego-maniacal saboteurs of the industry , aka competition. That destroys the honesty in song-writing.
El Paso has the capability to produce some whacky-good material…but it needs the scaffolding to support that effort. EPSWC attempts to promote that support.
R: What will the casual spectator see at this competition? What can a non-musician see there that they cannot see elsewhere. Similarly, what will a musician see at this competition that he cannot see elsewhere.
G: Spectators who are casual, will be asked to muster up passion. Musicians and Non-Musicians alike will see contestants place their best foot forward and witness critical feedback. ALL who attend will likely experience a subtle realization: that musicians are being featured on a stage without the relentless push of beverages (given the way most bars compensate live music entertainment, I contend that this gig still pays better).
Patrons and spectators will also see some CDs and Download cards for sale, from the artists who are competing.
There will be some kick ass Tres-Leches cake… to honor (Venue, Artist, Audience)
R: What is the unspoken refrain you have heard in all the performers these past few years and what key is it in.
G: I can’t speak to any specific chorus per se…unless you count general excitement about the idea of a contest as the recurring turn-around. But I can tell you the key is typically: “Cool major”. The important thing for the contestants to hold on to is the fun-factor… This is a beginning and you’re a part of it! That’s always a cause for celebration. So on Oct 02 We celebrate YOU.
The competition will be hosted by local musician Emily Davis, who will also be performing. The El Paso Song Writing Competition is this Friday, October 2nd at the El Paso Playhouse. 7 P.M. Tickets are 7 bucks.