rock and roll

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.

WHO ARE YOUR BIGGEST MUSICAL INFLUENCES AT THE MOMENT?

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.

WHAT IS YOUR SONGWRITING PROCESS LIKE?

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.”

IF YOU HAD A CHANCE TO SEE ANY PERFORMER AT THEIR PRIME, WHO WOULD IT BE?

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.

Paul Levinson

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Paul Levinson writes songs that are catchy and colorful. With a storied career that includes working with songwriting legend Ellie Greenwich, Levinson released folk and pop gems in the sixties and seventies. Fans of Simon and Garfunkel, Del Shannon, Brian Hyland, Spanky and Our Gang, The Zombies, The Vogues, and Strawberry Alarm Clock will love listening to Paul Levinson. We asked him 3 questions. Here are his answers:

How did you get into songwriting and connect with legends like Ellie Greenwich?

I started writing songs - mostly lyrics but sometimes with music - when I was 16 years old in 1963.  I wrote one of them- "The Park at Night," a hopelessly out of date doo-wop song even then, in 1963, with a guy I knew since kindergarten, Paul Gorman.  His father believed in us and brought us into the studio to record a demo (with me singing lead).  Here it is on Spotify

A year later, Gorman and I formed a doo-wop group (still out of date), The Transits.  (I wrote a short story about this - "The Harmony" - published in a bunch of places including here.)   The group broke up when our lead singer Dave disappeared (like in Eddie and Cruisers). 

I formed a folk-rock trio, The New Outlook, with two of the guys in The Transits - Stu Nitelkman and Ira Margolis.  Stu and I soon started writing songs together.  The New Outlook was singing in Central Park one sunny Spring afternoon in 1967, when a couple walked by, stopped, listened, and introduced themselves after a while - they were Ellie Greenwich and Mike Rashkow. 

They took us into the studio and recorded a couple of of our songs - including one for which I wrote the lyrics, and Stu the music, If Leaves Fall Tomorrow, which you can hear here on Spotify.  They changed our name to The Other Voices, signed us to Atlantic Records.  We released two singles, which sold maybe one copy.

What is your songwriting process like?

Ideas come into my head all the time for lyrics - the same for stories and novels (I have seven novels and fifty stories published).  I used to scribble them down on paper.  Now I just make a note on my iPhone.  Sometimes a tune comes up in my head with the lyrics - like with "Today Is Just Like You".  Other times, it's just the lyric, or even the title.

In the case of  "Looking for Sunsets (In the Early Morning)" I came up with the title, mentioned it to Ed Fox - this was 1969, The New Outlook had discbanded, and Ed and I were writing songs - and in the case of Sunsets, Ed sat down at the piano, I was standing next to him, and he wrote the music and I wrote the lyrics in about five minutes.

Other times, I'll send off complete lyrics to someone who writes the music - that's the way Alpha Centauri was writing (Peter Rosenthal wrote the music after I gave him the complete lyric - he played guitar on some of The New Outlook and all the recordings I made with Ed Fox). We wrote Alpha Centauri by the way, in 2000 - I sent Peter the lyrics in email, he sent me back the song with music the same way, and I finally got around to adding the vocal in 2010.

Do you have any favorite memories of being a working songwriter in the sixties?

Here's my favorite: I was writing a song - words and music - which began, "Hiding behind a raindrop, shyly opening her sweet milk chocolate eyes..." And I couldn't come up with another line.  One day I was on a bus, fell asleep, and dreamed that Paul McCartney was sitting next to me.  I sang him those lines.  He said, here's your next line, man - "Sliding behind the same drop..."  I woke up and wrote some more of the song.  That was in 1969 - I still haven't finished it. 

My second favorite story:  Ed Fox was reading a newspaper, and headline of a story was "The Lama Will Be Late This Year".  We looked at each other, and wrote the song (I wrote the lyrics and Ed the music).  The great thing about songwriting is all you need is a word or two, and you're off and running/writing.