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Interview With Scott Terry of RWB on Autobiographical Songwriting

By Gary Wien

The cover story of the August 2014 issue of New Jersey Stage magazine was on Red Wanting Blue, a band from Columbus, Ohio that's led by Scott Terry (who grew up in Moorestown, NJ). Here's a little extra from our interview with him that focused on his autobiographical songwriting style.

You've said that what you usually find is that the topics you don't really want to talk about are the topics that the audience wants to hear the most. As a songwriter, you've written some very personal songs over the course of your career, but is "Leaving New York" your most personal song ever?
It might be one of them. I love that song. It's got to be up there with songs like "The Band". I still think that is one of the most honest songs I've ever written.

Sometimes I think the most personal songs are the ones that relate the most to the mainstream.
Yeah, I would probably agree with that.

I love the ending of "Leaving New York" with you screaming out those words. It sounds like true pain and angst are just flowing out of you.
Thanks. When I write stuff I write most as a skeletal structure with lyrics and a melody, maybe some chords drawn out. Then the band all sits down and we put it together and create actual songs. Sometimes I envision them going a certain way — most of the time I'd say it never ends up exactly as you would expect it to, but sometimes you can get really close, which is always a really gratifying feeling because it means the message and the delivery and everything you've drawn out is so clear. "Leaving New York" is one of those songs. It worked out so well.

"Little America" is one that's simple that worked out real well. Other songs like "Hallelujah" which the record starts out with... for me, I loved the song. I love it and I stand behind it enough to start off the record, but it took a few turns. That's usually what happens and that's the beauty of writing as a collective. We're collaborating and we're hoping that all of the hands are going to make a better song.

There are some great lyrics on this album. Have you ever written a line that made you just stop and say, damn that's good?
Umm... yeah, but those are probably lines that nobody likes. I remember being really tickled about the fact that in the second verse of "Hallelujah" I say "we shut our eyes in the dark / feel the shape of our hearts / listening to Jeff Buckley croon / a Leonard Cohen tune / hallelujah"

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I just remember loving how that word play worked out. The chorus of the song is simply "hallelujah" but making reference to a greater man's really great song and a great performer.

One of my favorites is a simple line in "Hotel Oblivion" where you compare a relationship to a constellation and say "we are worth so much more together than we are apart". I love the use of the constellations and the stars as a metaphor for relationships and the traveler's life on the road.
I remember writing the constellation lines, I was feeling very Jeff Healey Band then. When Jeff covered John Hiatt's "Angel Eyes" back in the eighties. That "tonight I lie with the stars above" line.

I liked the line in "Hotel Oblivion" - "holding down home sweet home" and then "we've got our differences". When I think about it, I think it's a much more mature record because some of the topics being talked about are the things that someone in a long-term relationship talks about with someone else.

There are songs on this record like "It's All Happening" which is kind of, in my own weird mind, almost a sequel to "Sea of Old Friends". And "Hallelujah" is like an optimistic sequel to "Hope On a Rope".

Do you ever look back and listen to your old songs? It's sort of like a photo album of your life.
Yeah, it definitely could feel that way.

Is there any part of your personal life that you'd say is off limits for a song?
Umm... I don't know. I mean, there's a general line, but I'm an emotional writer. That's the stuff I get excited about. I would say as a music lover, I definitely have heard artists go beyond what I think is appropriate for songwriting and that goes into the land of airing grievances in the form of a song.

I always feel when you're coming in from an angsty place that you have to be careful. Not to quote myself from the new record, but songs like "Rest of Our Lives" has people hearing stuff like "we can do anything", "we are young and free" and an angsty line like "Jesus make up your mind". Youthful kids can get behind that stuff, but if you're talking about how your alimony or child support is too much money... it's just too much information.

I wouldn't write a song about drug abuse right now in my life, but, then again, if I run into someone in my life who has a serious problem with drug abuse and my life is forced to have to deal with it, who knows? I might be prompted to write a song about this. Even if it's not for awareness, but just for the sake of airing my own personal demons with that topic of life and hoping that other people might appreciate that.

You can't always write about love and you can't always write about heartbreak, you've got to write about other things. And choosing topics to write about is not the easiest thing in the world, which is one of the reasons I like writing about traveling because it is one of the things that we do.

Red Wanting Blue's latest release, "Little America", came out on July 1. For more information on the band visit http://www.redwantingblue.com

Gary Wien has been covering the arts since 2001 and has had work published with Jersey Arts, Elmore Magazine, Princeton Magazine, Backstreets and other publications. He is a three-time winner of the Asbury Music Award for Top Music Journalist and the author of Beyond the Palace (the first book on the history of rock and roll in Asbury Park) and Are You Listening? The Top 100 Albums of 2001-2010 by New Jersey Artists. In addition, he runs New Jersey Stage and the online radio station The Penguin Rocks. He can be contacted at gary@newjerseystage.com.

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originally published: 09/10/2014



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