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SiS Featured Songwriter: Steve Church

20 Sep Posted by in Blog, Featured Artists | Comments
SiS Featured Songwriter: Steve Church

What motivates songwriters varies widely from artist to artist. But whatever the motivation for starting a songwriting journey, time and experience often transform an initial vision to meet the needs of the writer and the culture. For songwriter Steven Church, the journey started with a desire to impress the world and ended with a desire to change it.

“I wanted to impress,” Church recalled. “I think that was my earliest motivation – impress my mom, my teachers, impress my friends and mostly, impress girls. Learning songs that I heard on the radio was an early focus for me – singing them and eventually learning the chord changes for guitar. I had a good ear and I could recreate a song after just a couple listenings.”

The ability to quickly learn cover songs was helpful in Church’s initial performance outings. “I played in high school at a couple talent shows, covering Billy Joel’s ‘You May Be Right’ among others, and then a song or two of my own.”

Starting to writing his own music and adding it to his performances was inspired by one of his teachers. “My HS art teacher was a fan of the singer-songwriter genre, so (again) wanting to impress him with my prowess, I penned a few originals. Later in college I got shows in the student unions and cafeterias, trying out a mix of originals and covers for bored students on their lunch breaks.”

Church continued, “In Austin, where I sometimes went to college, there was (and is) a vibrant live music scene, so I played out wherever there were willing sets of ears. Did a lot of living-room shows for stoned kids…”

Now fully immersed in writing his own music, Church is an artist who is inspired first by the music and then by the lyric. “I almost always begin with a series of chord progressions and let the song determine whether it’ll be AABA, or AAA or something else. I get the skeleton of the song down – fit it all together like, ‘Okay, here’s the first verse and here’s the build-up to the chorus. The 2nd verse will have this variation on the 1st, and then here comes what might be a solo’, or something like that. Once I have all the parts, I’ll then choose a lyrical ‘feel’ for the piece, a theme or a story-line, etc.”

Church’s lyrical inspiration comes from different sources. “As with most writer/musicians, I’ve been inspired by a variety of life events – forming an identity in adolescence, dealing with the (sometimes hilarious) complexities of personal relationships, witnessing social injustice, seeing other performers truly connect with audiences, and also when I became a father.”

Connection is a theme that is woven throughout Church’s songwriting and performance, and helped him discover that songwriting was what he was supposed to be doing. “Writing and performing was (and is) an outlet and a way to connect with total strangers. And others telling me ‘Hey, that’s a fabulous song’ or ‘You really nailed it with that verse’ prompted me to tell myself ‘Well, let’s do this as more than just a hobby.’ That’s when I knew.”

Church’s journey has not been without struggles, and he states, “For myself – and I’m fully aware that my ordeal isn’t unique – the most challenging aspect of creating a life around this artistry is money. How do I make a livable wage doing what I love full-time? I’ve been unwilling to make the sacrifices – giving up the luxuries and niceties that come with a full-time wage – in order to devote my energies entirely to this craft – and that makes me sad. I wish we lived in a society that rewarded our efforts as musical poets more.”

For young songwriters beginning their own journey, Steve Church has some advice to help start them on the right path from his own experience. “Songwriting and performing is part soul-baring and part entertainment. Write and perform what is honestly you, but also what you would want to hear/see from the audience perspective.” Reflecting on how an audience might receive a song is important because, “If it’s boring and too self-reflective, they’ll probably tell their friends – and if it stirs their senses and truly entertains, they’ll tell their friends not to miss this performer next time he/she’s in town.”

He added, “But if you just want to write songs ‘cause it’s what you need to do, then that’s totally alright too!”

One might think a working songwriter would encourage young writers to explore their instrument or only study other songwriters, but Church offers different counsel. “A few things: read the classics and the Great Poets, mingling that with other writers. Then mimic some of your favorite songsters (YouTube) and have a good rhyming dictionary. There are an infinite number of resources online, of course, too.”

In addition to continuing to write songs, Church has a full music business schedule looming as well. He notes that he will, “Get my website up and running again, gig more, plan another tour (Winter 2017) and finally get into a studio (it’s been 5 years!).”

In the midst of all the writing and organizational tasks that musicians face, Church offers one other insight for our current political and social times. As writers experience the effects of events around them, he encourages them to, “Write songs about how you feel about the events, then get out and play the songs often. Connect with your audiences by observing their responses.”

A further step Church promotes is to “Organize showcases that have themes (race relations, the problems of corporate hegemony, the environment and sustainability, education reform, immigration and basic human rights, etc.), and invite like-minded and passionate writers/performers.”

Finally, Church adds that writers can use their creativity for specific causes that are near and dear to their hearts. “Performing songwriters make great activists – find an organization aligned with your position(s) and write material collaboratively (or on your own) for them.”

Whether he is writing, performing, or working on the business side of his creative life, Steve Church has moved from being an artist who wanted to impress the world to being a writer who wants to use his art to change it. And no matter what he is doing, the words of David Lee Roth continue to inspire.

There are two rules in the music industry.
Rule Number One: If it sounds good, it is good.
Rule Number Two: (see rule number one) – David Lee Roth

Char Seawell
Char Seawell is an award winning singer-songwriter, a novelist, and essayist from Bothell, WA. A journalism graduate from Colorado State University, she is currently working on two historical fiction novels, one based in the North Cascades and one in pre-Nazi Germany,

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