Dave Insley

Dave Insley writes and performs some of the best twang-driven country music around (If not the best). He will shake the legs of anyone who appreciates great tunes -- with the vocal charisma of Willie Nelson and George Jones, and a timeless sense of production and arrangement, in the style of Patsy Cline and The Flying Burrito Brothers. Dave Insley is a mammoth talent.


I like that the question includes the phrase “at the moment,” because like many artists, my influences change frequently, even daily. Sometimes it’s the rhythm of the washing machine or the clank of the garbage truck, sometimes it’s Buck Owens or George Gershwin on the turntable, or it might even be the theme from whatever cartoon my kids are watching on the television.

I listen to, enjoy, and draw from all styles of music, and I particularly admire the writing of Harlan Howard, Cole Porter, Johnny Mercer and Merle Haggard. One of my all-time biggest musical and lyrical influences was my father, who was not a songwriter, but who was very clever with words. Lately I’ve been listening to a lot of Buddy Rich and Tennessee Ernie Ford records, but if you ask me again in a few days, it will be something else.


My writing process is hardly unique, but (I hope) the results sometimes are. The words and music come in periodic cycles, sometimes with broad gaps of time between. My best ideas don’t really feel like they originate in me at all, but rather flow through me from somewhere else.

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My job is to be paying attention when this happens and dutifully record the proceedings; sometimes the ideas come crowding their way through my head so quickly that I have to hustle to keep up, and don’t have time to reflect on them until much later. The key which unlocks all of this might be some topic I’ve had on my mind for a while, or issue I’m struggling with, or it might simply be a chance encounter with a particular combination of words, or an unusual turn of a phrase.

Part two of the process comes later and is more deliberate and craftsman-like; parsing through the flow of words and melodic ideas to gather and organize those which fit together, in support of the idea, while maintaining a good deal of objectivity, and being a brutally honest editor. I can be very tough on myself during this phase, in the interest of avoiding self-indulgence; I will happily throw out more than I keep, or even the whole shooting match, as necessary.

The whole process is a little bit like someone dropped off a pile of lumber in my yard, and my job is to build a solid house out of it, one that is functional and will keep the rain out, and one whose overall style was suggested by the building material itself. I find the entire process immensely satisfying, regardless of what I do with the resulting composition. Oddly, the more personal the content and results, the more universally the ideas seem to be understood by others. This might be the key to turning “art into commerce.”


I would have liked to have seen Elvis at about the time of the ’68 Comeback Special. 

The Carvels NYC

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The Carvels NYC write songs steeped in NYC attitude. They are a driving rock and roll outfit with swagger and grit. Fans of the NY Dolls and The Ramones will bop to the sounds of The Carvels NYC. We asked them 3 questions. Here are their answers:

Who are your biggest musical influences at the moment?

If The Ramones and The Ronettes had children and Lou Reed was the nanny, they would grow up to be The Carvels NYC! If Max’s Kansas City had a sock hop, we would be the band!

What is your songwriting process like?

The first step of a great song is a cool title. When you have a cool title, the chorus writes itself. The verses are like the fruit of the chorus, and when you season it with a bridge, intro, outro…you have a delicious song.

Once you try the recipe a few times you have it perfected and ready to serve up in a tasty recording.

Where do you see your music career in three years?

Although we are not mainstream pop there is an international audience that is hungry for music like ours. Our records sound amazing on the radio, so we’d like to continue getting airplay in our global niche.

We’re also a great live band and hope to play across the nation and the world in clubs, bars, and festivals. With the right label we could be a great fit for music shows like Jools Holland.

Our songs would sound amazing on commercials, TV shows and movie soundtrack.

Matt Jaffe

Matt Jaffe writes his own brand of rock and roll.  It is rocking, rolling, and charged with pop.  In other words, it's pretty rad.  We asked him 3 questions about his music and songs.  Here are his answers:

Who are your biggest musical influences at the moment?

It might be more helpful to look at my influences from 6 months ago, because Tom Petty has been the only artist on tap for me since his passing.  Even though Petty is a huge influence, he can't quite shoulder my whole palette by himself. 

Back then, I was getting deep into Robyn Hitchcock (especially his 80's material with the Egyptians), Randy Newman (I saw him at Hardly Strictly Bluegrass in SF last year and he inverted my brain), and John Prine (whose new record is promising to be a masterpiece, based on the singles). 

I've also been on a quest to find artists who meld the kind of songwriting I love with modern sensibilities.  It's tough to do both. 

A big favorite right now is Kate Bush.  The record I'm about to release is deeply rooted in traditional rock and roll (which sounds oxymoronic, but surely isn't by now), but I'm excited to step beyond the two guitar, bass and drums frame with subsequent releases.  I can't fool anyone and say I'm not a rock and roll lifer, but I am eager to try some new approaches anyway.

What is your songwriting process like?

Most of the songwriting process is kind of like being a hunter/gatherer.  The hunting would be reading, listening and watching other creative works and the gathering is just the everyday miscellany that usually is the best prism for telling stories anyway. 

Not every day can be the end of the world, even if art would have you think otherwise.  So collecting observations on paper (the iPhone kind) and tape (also the iPhone kind) is most of the work.  Then when I finally have a chance to sit down with the collection of observations, which isn't quite as often as I'd like, it's a jigsaw puzzle. 

I know the pieces are there, the melodies and lyrics and changes.  And I have no idea what the average time to write a song is.  Sometimes it's an easy puzzle they give to kids, 4 big pieces that make a barnyard animal.  Other times the puzzle is a 3000+ piecer of Monet's "Water lilies" and it swallows up years. 

I find if I sit around long enough, pace the same 4 square feet of my room long enough, the songs fall into place, even if it takes cannibalizing several drafts (or even other songs) in the process.  Speed of writing doesn't correlate to quality of song, in my experience.

Where do you see your music career in three years?

I used to have pipe dreams that prevented me from enjoying every day.  Every experience was only a conduit to something.  So now my life goal is to change all my means into ends.  A session or a gig or a song aren't tools for getting something; they are the thing. 

Hunger keeps the wheels turning, but eventually you have to realize that you're already living the life you're working for, or otherwise happiness just recedes.  If I had to name one big goal, it would be able to tour nationally (dare I say internationally?!?) regularly within a few years. 

I so appreciate the grassroots support that I've cultivated in the Bay Area, and I'd be thrilled if I could grow the touring footprint, even if gradually.  I couldn't be luckier in the working relationships I've had in the past few years, so I just hope I'm able to maintain those and continue writing songs that feel true.