Nancy Falkow is a singer-songwriter who can sing her ass off. I mean the girl can sing. Her strong voice sweeps and soars through catchy and melodic pop-folk songs with dynamics and soul. Nancy's do it yourself attitude as helped her receive more press and attention than your average unsigned artist. Her motivation and energy, single handedly won her the praise of Philadelphia music critics, the New York Anti-Folk scene, the Lilith Fair (Philly area Lilith Fair Talent Search Winner, 1998.) and more! Nancy was a 1999 Nominee for Best Folk Artist (Singer Songwriter) for the Philadelphia City Paper Music Awards. She has shared stages with the likes of Sarah McLachlan, Patty Griffin, Indigo Girls, Dan Bern, Ron Sexsmith as well as many others. She is currently recording her first full length release at Indre Studios in Philadelphia. Here's what she had to say about her songwriting and the process of getting to where she is today.
Question: When did you first know you wanted to write songs and be a performer? Was there a particular incident? Did someone in particular inspire you?
I went to college then grad school and played keyboards in a classic rock cover band for fun. I started writing songs at 16, but never took it seriously. Then when my best friend joined a band called Wanderlust(RCA) the lead singer/songwriter, Scot Sax, heard me sing, heard a few of my originals, wasn't horribly impressed but saw potential in me, I started to think about doing music professionally. So I would present songs to him and he would change a chord or a lyric and sort of "fix" them and make them a lot better. I continued to do this for a few years and listened to all of his suggestions, used which ones I liked, which were most of them, and sort of learned how to do it myself. He eventually got too busy to help me like he had been, but it was time to set me free anyway. Scot is still my harshest critic and I pick and choose what songs I will play for him over the phone or send to him. My soundboard is still my best friend, who I also have collaborated with over the years, Mark Getten. He on the other hand, gets to hear everything! My boyfriend also has become a very good sound board. He used to LOVE everything I wrote, he has become more critical, which is what I really need. I take first impressions very seriously, but in my heart I know which ones are the ones to work on and which songs are the ones to set aside. Mark and Scot are in a new band now called Bachelor Number One (www.bachelornumberone.com) and they recently had a song on the American Pie Soundtrack and continue to do well. Keep your eye out for them!
Question: What was your most common problem when you were writing those early songs and Scot was making them better? Do you think it's a problem a lot of songwriters have when they start out? And how have you managed to overcome it? Does getting over that problem lead to others? (This creativity called "writing songs" is an ongoing process, after all. You can never learn too much, right?)
There weren't any real problems. I think experience, time, practice, broadening my taste of music, all affects the way I write songs. He opened a lot of that up for me, as well as taught me new chords, progressions and voicings.
My early stuff all had potential, but none of it was worthy of making a set i'd okay now!
As far as advice...get a good honest soundboard for yourself, someone who is more advanced (in songwriting) than you who is not afraid to be honest with you. Don't be afraid of criticism, use it to help make you a better songwriter.
Question: What do you find most inspires you to write a song? Other music? Specific happenings in your own life?
Jeffrey Gaines once told me not to quit my dayjob or else I'd have nothing to write about (does he have a day job?). I don't really write about work, and I'm really not into writing about sad things unless it's just for me. I'm pretty inspired by movies, tv, books, magazines, interviews I read, hearing other artists, seeing other artists that are better than me, performing with them on the same stage etc....
I do have a muse for all of those live songs, in my wonderful boyfriend. I wouldn't have written 2/3rds of my last album without him...although I do try to keep love songs universal (so anyone could be me in the song) otherwise, it would be no interest to anyone. Why would someone want to listen to me rant and rave about my sweety? But if they can put themselves into my words and say yeah, that's me too, then it worked!
Question: So when you're composing these songs, do you come up with the lyrics or the music first? And why do you think that is for you?
It's different every single time...I have an easier time writing a song if I have lyrics to choose from, or I may go back to something I wrote months ago in my book and use a single line from it to start a whole new song. If I come up with some sort of chord progression first then I think more about melody than lyric. Sometimes the song just writes itself (I know that's so cliche) but sometimes in 5 minutes words chords melody just come like a gift....Everytime I write a good song I feel it's truly a gift...I haven't been as prolific as of late. I don't really know why. Sometimes I'll come to a band practice weekly with 4 new songs! Lately, it's been veerrrryyyy sssslllloooowwww...I'm really concentrating on finishing my full length release which could have something to do with my creative process!
Question: Can you tell us a little bit more about that? What guidelines are you using about what songs to include and which to leave out? How are you determining the order the songs that will appear on the CD? Is it the same process you go through when you're doing a live performance? (ie: which songs to do in which order within your set?)
re: The new album...I started it last july and some of the songs were a year old then. By the time the album comes out it will be more than 2 years since I've written them! It is being produced by my drummer and faithful friend, Shane Mcmartin. He has won some Emmys for his work as an audio engineer at NFL films. He has been gracious with his talent and his time. It's the first studio situation I've been in where I feel comfortable throwing out ideas even if they suck. Sometimes they don't and make the track that much better....
re: Choosing the songs....I have a lot of songs under my belt but the good ones clearly stand out. Some of the songs are chosen to be album cuts, not necessarily for airplay, but I'm proud of all of the them. When I put out the 5 song ep, it was because I had 5 good songs. I had plenty of studio time coming to me at my former job (a different studio), I just didn't want to put something out with songs that would never make it back to my set or that I'd be embarrassed of later and say oh that's my earlier stuff. I love my ep. I'm very proud of it. It has gotten some fabulous reviews and airplay and made me a lot of friends over the internet!!
I have no idea what the song order will be for the new album. I've been sketching out some ideas. I'm thinking about the artwork... I'm very excited about it.The guest stars are amazing! Ian Mclagan - keyboardist from the Small Faces who now has an autobiography coming out. More info on him at macspages.com. Mike Brenner, former leader of the band The Low Road (Caroline), now leader of the band Slo-Mo (Bongload Records) on Dobro and Lap Steel Amber Delaurentis pianist extrodinaire on a few songs. Record producer Mike Klein on vibes, some stings and horns. TBA a co-write with Cynthia Biggs (bigsymusic.com I think) who has written for Patti Labelle, Teddy Pendergrass, Phylis Hyman, The Stylistics, The Delfonics and my fabulous band. Steve Margulis is on electric guitars, Joann Schmdit on bass (who now plays with John Faye) and Shane the producer on drums and percussion.
I still do more songs in my set that didn't make it to the record. Maybe they'll make it to the next release, maybe they won't.
I also am working on a project that's more techno than singer/songwriter with Mark Getten from Bachelor Number One and the Roland Groove Box 808. It's called Alter Ego & DJ ID.
I also co-wrote a song with Josh Gest of Northern California who is also putting out a techno project. I already sang it, but he won't let me hear it until it's done.
Question: Which songwriters do you admire the most and why? Where do I begin....?
I've loved Bowie since day one, I'm a huge fan of Beatles (as well as all solo projects, especially George), Dylan, Brian Wilson, Victoria Williams, Joni Mitchell, Stevie Wonder, Neil Young....all because their songs are amazing. Lyrically and musically, they showed me the way it was done.Then I love Beck, Ween, Joe Marc's Brother, Wood, Bachelor Number One, Aimee Mann, Jim Boggia... Who am I forgetting? I'm a big fan of good songs. It doesn't matter what genre. I like so many kinds of writers it's hard for me to nail down a reason why I like them. Other music does inspire me though.
Paul McCartney's Ram, Beach Boys Pet Sounds, Stevie Wonder Fullfillingness's First Finale, Ween's Chocolate and Cheese, Jonie Mitchell's Blue, Bowie's Aladin Sane, Diamond Dogs & Hunky Dory, Dylan's Desire, Blonde on Blonde and New Morning, Wood's Songs From Stamford Hill, Victoria Williams' Loose.
Shall I go on?
Question: I think you made your point. ;-) What do you think about MP3's? Pros and cons in your opinion?
I don't have a real website. I've been waiting for some nice fan to volunteer to do it for me :-) because they have so much time and html's a snap for them. I'm so busy, I don't have time to learn html right now....so I have www.mp3.com/nancyfalkow .
(Update!: A fan has since volunteered to create Nancy a website. That's now located at www.dynamicdigitalweb.com/nancy's_index.htm !)
I love it. If someone wants to find out what I sound like, my bio, a quote, my tourdates, updated notes... I mean it's everything I need and on top of it, it's free! It's also a community. I've made a lot of other MP3 artist friends, people add me to thier MP3 radio stations... It's amazing!
I like than I can update my own tourdates and notes, and I can't wait to finish one song first on my album so that I can put it up early as an MP3 file.
Steve Madden Shoes happened to hop by my sight and I wound up being their first unsigned spotlight (Ii think it's still up at stevemadden.com). They also sponsored my first tour. I've also been asked to send cd's for review and airplay all over the country and internet from being discovered at MP3
In a nut shell, I hope it's around for a long long time!
Question: How can people hear your music? What's in store for you in the future?
I want to finish this record. That's my only future plan. I hope some time, to get some kind of publishing deal. I want to be able to perform live all over the world (in front of actual people).....and continue to make music for me....
You can get on my e-mail list by writing: Popmoosic@aol.com
Website: www.mp3.com/nancyfalkow & www.dynamicdigitalweb.com/nancy's_index.htm
Music and tourdates are found there. You can buy my 5 song e.p. at: www.folkweb.com/nancyfalkow
And you can read my weekly column, Ask Nancy!, at www.mp3.com/womenofmp3
I think that's all of the plugs. :-) Thank you so much for the opportunity!
A Muse's Muse Interview with Singer/Songwriter, Nancy Falkow