Monday, September 6, 2010

Artist Interview: Kwame Copeland

I met Kwame Copeland some years ago at the Bazaar Cafe and got to know his work through the Bay Area Songwriter Collective. For more than a year, he's been a member of my band and so after sharing countless hours in cars and setting up for, playing and reviewing gigs throughout the West, it's great to see him releasing his own material. Leading up to the CD Release Celebration we're all playing at The Starry Plough September 23 to celebrate "Simple Things," Kwame answered some questions about the Cd and songwriting.
Q: How did you know it was time to go into the studio? And can you talk about why you chose this particular set of songs?
Two years ago I was gigging with my band and folks kept asking to buy my CD! I'd recorded a lot—demos, in bands, and on other people's records—but hadn't ever gotten around to releasing anything of my own. I was feeling pretty good about the group of songs we were playing, so I decided to use them as the basis for a recording project. Of the original eight songs I recorded, six made it to the record, and five more were added, new songs or ones I had kicking around that seemed to fit. The project sorta lurched along half-finished for a year until I started working with Ben Bernstein who was full of good ideas and techniques to get the most out of the tunes and get the thing on track. The last six months have been a lot of fun, putting the finishing touches on the songs and mixing them. It's turned out to be something very different then what I expected it to be in the beginning, to the record's benefit. It began with a very much darker center, much more moody. Some of that was retained, but there is a lot more light, and even some humor clawed its way to the surface in time.

Q: Who do you count as your main influences. Anything you're listening to obsessively these days?
Dylan, definitely. I hardly ever listen to him now, but that's because I OD'd when I was learning to write and play guitar. Townes Van Zandt and Robbie Robertson, the Replacements, and the Clash, Pink Floyd, Willie Nelson, yeah, long list. These days I'm on an outlaw country kick. Johnny Cash and Merle Haggard. I can always listen to "Sky Blue Sky" by Wilco. One of those really satisfying recordings. Those are the records and stuff. I've also been influenced a lot by friends who are musicians, who I've played a lot with...Adam Benjamin, David Sobel, or Deborah Crooks. After a while that can be even more directly influential then whose songs I listened to in high school.

Q: What is your approach to songwriting in general? Do you or have you had a regular writing discipline/practice or do you wait for songs to arrive?
There are times when the shingle is on my door and I'm writing, tuning, trying to get something to come in that has some clarity. Even though there is work involved it's still really a process of waiting for something real to arrive and make some sense of whatever I'm doing. Sometimes they pretend to, and I end up with something forgettable, sometimes they arrive but I'm not set for it, so they go on to the next songwriter or somewhere I don't know. I've been satisfied with songs that take a great deal of work to get right, but it's usually the ones that seem to write themselves fairly rapidly that stick around. After many years of writing, I've learned not to push it until most of the inspiration has arrived. My least favorite songs to listen to, and I've certainly been guilty of writing some, are those that are more craft then inspiration. When I listen or play it, and I am reminded of how it's constructed rather then being transported to its universe, then somethings wrong. So I try to avoid that.

Q: You like gear. What's your favored guitar/amp/pedal set up and why? KC: There aren't many blues a new guitar can't cure!... Most of the time I'm playing a 90's Gibson ES335 or an 80s Telecaster straight into a Fender Twin. Or a Boogie Subway Blues combo. Some songs demand a little fuzz, and I get that from something from New Zealand called a Hotcake pedal. Matt Bullimore over at Starving Musician set me up with that. The rest changes a lot, and it really depends on what song I'm playing at the moment. For acoustics I'm usually on a Larivee LV-10 these days.
Q: What can listeners expect at the show September 23 at The Starry Plough?
KC: The Kwame Copeland Band will be playing mostly songs from the new record. Due to scheduling, a couple of the musicians who were on the record couldn't make it, so there will be some new faces on stage with me. This will be a real celebration for me, personally, as this is the first CD I've done, and it's really been quite a process. I'm also really looking forward to the sets by the Secret Identities, and [your] band. I am sure that folks come out of it totally entertained, and hopefully, of course, with a brand new CD in their pocket!

Kwame Copeland Cd Release Party, featuring The Secret Identities, KCB & Deborah Crooks, Sept 23, 2010 at Starry Plough, 3101 Shattuck Ave, Berkeley, CA 94705,Thursday, 9:00pm. $8.

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