Happy almost-fall, y’all! Growing up in a small farm town, the transition from summer to autumn has always been my favorite time of year. Sure, the days grew shorter and the air more brisk, but I happily exchanged outdoor antics for indoor journaling (and even homework cause I’m a hashtag nerd). I loved watching gorgeous purply-golden sunsets melting over endless rows of cotton. I loved the sight and sound of scarlet leaves crunching softly under my boots and the smell of chimney smoke rising up over the neighborhood. I loved cozying up on the couch and savoring the season’s first taste of hot chocolate. There is an art to the ritual of hunkering down for fall; it’s poetic, sensory, and restorative. It reminds me of all the things I love about songwriting.
I don’t have much of a ritual when it comes to crafting a song, but I do my best work in a hunkered-down state: just me, my guitar, and a laptop in a quiet room, taking the time to observe the turn, turn, turn of my own life’s seasons. In this little cocoon, I analyze my relationship to, well, “everything everywhere all at once,” from the personal to the political to the philosophical. Tapping into that creativity and allowing it to ignite my consciousness is the most spiritual experience I can conjure (which is saying something, considering I’ve talked to dead people but that’s a story for another day).
On Deck at Songwriter Sanctuary
If we’re sticking with a seasonal theme, then I’d say performing a new song for an attentive crowd is the “spring” of it all. And that brings me to Songwriter Sanctuary, where incredible songs are always in bloom! You don’t want to miss this month’s lineup, featuring some of San Diego’s finest: Lady July, Shhhhh (featuring Rheanna Downey and Molly Jenson), and—performing as a duo—Cathryn Beeks and Nisha Catron.
In the midst of ruminating on my own songwriting rituals, I caught up with these powerhouse performers ahead of their October 27 Songwriter Sanctuary performance and asked them to share some of their go-to routines.
Beloved Listen Local Radio founder, songwriter, and mixed media artist Cathryn Beeks simply waits for inspiration to strike.
“My songwriting muse is a bug that seldom bites, unfortunately. But when it does, it’s magical. Words and ideas flow from places I didn’t know existed within me, and thoughts and ideas that have been swimming around just sort of find a home among the melody and the chords that don’t sound too much like the last song.”
Beeks is also no stranger to a good old-fashioned songwriting prompt. As host and participant of The Game – a songwriter’s get together for the last 20 years, Beeks credits the series as “an excellent source of inspiration to help keep the wheels turning.” There are hundreds of songwriters throughout San Diego with similarly titled songs (myself included) who would agree!
As for Beeks’s bandmate Nisha Catron (also a multifaceted artist, actress, and filmmaker), it’s all about the flow.
“My favorite ritual is walking on the beach barefoot while melodies and lyrics flow to me. I consider it music that is in the ether waiting for me, and the ocean is always the perfect muse. Another ritual is associated with the goddesses of drunkenness and getting close to Jah. The ritual of playing guitar in and of itself is inspiration for songs.”
While much of her songwriting process is organic, Lady July (who describes her mix of modern outlaw country, pop, and soul as “Sad Girl Country”) has developed two key rituals to elevate her craft.
“First thing, whenever an idea pops into my head, be it a lyric, melody or otherwise, I immediately record it. I’ve learned the hard way that you will, in fact, forget that awesome hook you just thought up in the time it takes to jump up and grab your guitar to flesh the whole thing out. So seriously—record everything so you at least have these auditory bookmarks to help you compose.”
(Sound advice, my friend. I, too, have learned the hard way many times, and have a phone full of fragmented clips. Hence, the Noted Song Swap series!)
“Second, I’ve learned not to push it. Sometimes I hear a song that inspires me to want to write, and just nothing good is coming out. That is okay! Instead of forcing out a song just because that’s what you think will make your session worthwhile, I’ve found greater success using this time to tweak unfinished projects, relish in playing completed works, or just messing around with melodies and/or chord progressions. But remembering that a complete new song is not the only result that makes a songwriting session successful, it has really helped with how I approach my craft and creative flow.”
Writing as a duo, Molly and Rheanna of Shhhhh prioritize connection and balance when approaching their songwriting sessions. According to Molly:
“We’ve tried different tools to help us get started, like meditation or breath work, when we don’t have a clear idea of what to write about. A little ritual that is new for us is to light an incense stick. It’s like we’re telling the universe that we are ready to listen. We’ve only done this twice but both times we finished songs in the length of one incense burn.”
In the Round
While the in-the-round format of Songwriter Sanctuary may not (yet!) be as popular in San Diego as it is in Nashville, it’s a ritual in and of itself that reflects the timeless folk tradition of storytelling, spontaneity, and collaboration. In this setting, there’s no hierarchy among artists or attendees; the art of songwriting takes center stage as musicians and music lovers come together to create a one-of-a-kind experience that is poetic, sensory, and restorative—just like your girl’s favorite season!
The historic venue, Normal Heights United Church, stands as a proud partner in this community-building event, providing an ideal space with its twinkly-lit, lofted ceilings and circular audience seating. Hosted by the one and only Jeff Berkley, it all comes together on October 27, and it just wouldn’t be complete without YOU!
Please visit our Eventbrite page for RSVP and info.
Thanks for Talkin’ Craft with me! Catch you next month!