Premiere: Songs of the Road featuring Andy Suzuki
The concept of SongCraft Presents, which has partnered with the radio show Acoustic Cafe, is intriguing: Pair a songwriter with Songcraft Presents’ Ben Arthur to create a song in one day. Generally speaking, the writer and Arthur have never met. Songcraft Presents has worked with many different writers in New York and at festivals like South by Southwest. In 2015, they have partnered with Ford Motor Company to produce a year long series called Songs of the Road.
Songs of the Road takes the SongCraft concept literally on the road. The debut session featured Nashville singing songwriter Lera Lynn. Lynn and Arthur along with Acoustic Cafe’s Rob Reinhart and the SongCraft crew on a drive from Nashville to Memphis. Over the course of the journey, Ben Arthur and Lera Lynn wrote an original song, and when they got to Memphis Lynn performed the song with her band in front of live audience and then recorded the song in the legendary Sun Studio.
Other Songs of the Road sessions have featured young Texas songwriter Jackie Venson and Ohio songwriter David Mayfield. The latest session features Andy Suzuki, a half-Japanese, half Jewish songwriter from Brooklyn.
The idea of writing a song in a short time with a stranger while being filmed and recorded is not something that would appeal to all songwriters. One famous songwriter, graciously turned down an opportunity to participate stating that he liked to sit on his songs for sometimes months at a time. For the artists that have agreed, there seems to be a balance between the tension of the short deadline and the dangers of creating too much anxiety for the songwriter.
According to Ben Arthur, his primary job is keeping the artist relaxed and comfortable during the process. That is not a simple task, as Arthur explains, “What the audience doesn’t see in the videos is that when a given artist and I are trying to write the song there are ten or so people on the periphery watching and waiting. It’s a pretty huge lift, doing the show, and without the SongCraft team, and our partners at Acoustic Cafe, none of this works. So the artist has Mike Crehore and Al Houghton (the shows producers) waiting to record the song, Matthew Hendershot and his team filming, and Rob waiting to ask us whether the song is coming together…or not. It’s pretty terrifying, really, and I have a lot of admiration and empathy for anyone who puts themselves on the line with us!”
Ben Arthur seems to be very good at his job. there seems to be an almost universal lack of anxiety about the process. Although the songwriting process begins in the 2015 Ford C-Max Energi literally on the road, much of the actual writing takes place during planned stops in unique settings. For Lera Lynn, the stops included the famous Loveless Cafe, for Jackie Venson it was a one room schoolhouse in Bee Cave, Texas, and for David Mayfield stops included the gorgeous beach in Carpinteria and at the historic mansion once owned by songwriting legend Roger Miller.
Once the song is completed, the artist performs the song in front of a live audience as part of a show powered and amplified by the C-Max Energi. Lera Lynn’s performance was at a Memphis warehouse known as the Indoor Trailer Park. Jackie Venson performed in the legendary Castle House in Austin where Robert Plant does not live. David Mayfield recorded the song at Villager Recorders where many well known artist across many different genres have recorded and then performed the song live in Filipinotown.
For the latest session, Songcraft Presents, Acoustic Cafe, and Ford Motor Company are working with a young and unique songwriter named Andy Suzuki who is part of Andy Suzuki and the Method a Brooklyn-based band that also features Kozza Babumba, the grandson of Grammy Award-winning Nigerian percussionist, Babatunde Olatunji.
The Songs of the Road crew picked up Suzuki in Brooklyn and took him to the Steinway Piano factory where they began to work on the song. From there they drove to Woodstock, New York – finishing the song on the road and then recording the song with band at Applehead Recording Studio, and then performed the song live on the air of Radio Woodstock.
For Ben Arthur, the reasons for doing SongCraft Presents are pretty simple and straightforward:. “It’s SO MUCH FUN. Honestly, it’s such a pleasure to work with these artists that I admire, and to learn how they do what they do. So much of what we’re offered out there in the world is rote performance of what is now a pretty stale creative moment. But as an artist I know that the most thrilling part of a song’s life is that creative genesis…when a chorus melody locks in, or a rhythmic groove turns a vague lyrical idea into a hook that WORKS. You can actually see that in the Andy Suzuki episode — he and I are writing the song at the Steinway factory, and he has this idea of coming back to the verse chords, but dropping in a singalong “hey!” that suddenly locks the song in. Suddenly we both know the way forward; I’m excited, he’s excited. It’s right there in the video.”