Town and Country discuss gay-marriage country song “Everybody Wants to Say I Do”: Johnny Cash would have “loved it”
Q: “Everybody Wants to Say I Do” tackles the sensitive topic of marriage equality. How do you think mainstream country audiences will react to it?
Brian Woodbury [songwriter/producer]: That remains to be seen.
Rob Shapiro [singer/frontman]: I’m going to say that they are going to love it. Everyone. What’s not to love? It’s a singalong! I bet Johnny Cash’d love it. It has good lyrics, it tells several true stories, it quotes the Wedding March on a big Gretsch, and it isn’t presenting an argument – it’s presenting a basic, human fact — people fall in love, wish to honor it, and this is America, which stands for freedom. If people get bogged down in the politics of it, it will go along familiar lines, but the song was written very carefully outside of politics, because, really, it isn’t ultimately a political issue. It’s a human issue, whether they’re Democrats, independents, Republicans, Libertarians, Rastafarians, vegetarians, carnivores, hunters, doctors, shoppers, cousins, men, women, soldiers, etc. People fall in love. It crosses all boundaries.
Q: What inspired you to write it?
Brian: It was after California Proposition 8 passed, banning gay marriage, and gay marriage was very much in the news. And people were making all kinds of hay about this absurd issue. It was just infuriating, the bigotry and intolerance, and the immaturity of the debate. We had essentially finished recording all the songs for the CD, but I felt like this was something I wanted to weigh in on.
I had been toying with a chorus something along the lines of “everyone wants to say I do.” Meanwhile, Rob had been working on a separate song about the same issue, asking how does someone else’s marriage and happiness in any way interfere with mine? When we realized we were both working on a similar idea, we got together and came up with a verse and bridge. The lyrics took a while, trying to get the storytelling clear, a good many revisions before we were satisfied. It was the first song we wrote together.
Rob: Brian’s got the story basically down, so I’ll add that I felt it was important to bring the issue to Earth, and to American earth in particular. It’s the American way. And this is our contribution — a singalong about family, love, and the people we know.
Q: Have you performed the song live yet? What kind of reactions have you been getting from it?
Brian: We always get a very positive reaction to the song when we perform it live. Granted we are performing it in places like, Hollywood, Silverlake, Santa Monica.
Rob: We get a lot of hugs.
Q: How did Town and Country form?
Brian: Rob and I had worked together on several projects over the years, him singing my stuff. And I’d long been a fan of his band Populuxe and his songwriting, which is very much inspired by Brian Wilson, Andy Partridge, and Steely Dan. Unexpected melodies, rich chords, intricate patterns, counterpoint, unusual time signatures, elliptical sometimes oblique lyrics. And for quite a while I’d harbored a wish to do a project together where we co-wrote the songs. But that hadn’t happened yet.
Meanwhile, I’d been working on a batch of country-tinged songs for a couple of years, and I’d written and tracked most of the material that’s on the CD. I had mixes with me singing the songs, and it just didn’t feel very convincing. I’m what you call a good background vocalist. So I started looking around for a country baritone. I asked Rob if he knew any country singers. He knew a guy but the guy had just moved to Austin that week, so Rob offered to come give it a try. I don’t think he’d sung in that style much before, but it just seemed to work. He’s a great singer, with a very deep baritone and a strong falsetto and everything in between. He really got inside the tunes, musically, and from the storytelling angle. Then we wrote the last couple of tunes together and pressed the CD, and here we are.
The band on the CD was actually a few different rhythm sections, plus Gabe Witcher (from Punch Brothers) recording fiddle in his New York living room, and Marc Muller playing pedal steel and banjo, etc., in New Jersey. But the current line-up is a more recent concoction, friends of friends, colleagues of colleagues, some top flight players from around L.A.
Q: How did you meet singer/frontman Rob Shapiro? And how does the songwriting process work between you two?
Brian: Actually, we met as two young Brooklyn dads in the ’90s at a playground in Park Slope. Our infant daughters are almost the same age, and our two families hit it off. When they moved to L.A. in 2001, we followed shortly thereafter. Our daughters are still best friends to this day. Over the years, we’ve collaborated here and there. Rob, who’s got a theater background also, sang in readings of one of my stage musicals. Rob sang on a song I wrote for the cartoon Young Hercules.
The first song we wrote together was “Everybody Wants to Say I Do.” That took two writing sessions and then another month of back and forth of e-mails and phone calls getting the lyrics right. “Bottle of Brown,” we sat down, Rob just started playing the riff, and the music came together very quickly. We came up with a lot of lines, which the next day we hammered into a lyric. We’ve just started writing a new batch of material for the next CD. Basic process seems to be: we get a concept, make it into a title phrase. Then we bring in pieces of music we’ve started working on, adjust it together a bit, then go work on it separately. Send lyrics and mp3s back and forth until it all makes sense.
Rob: Everything Brian says is true, save for one thing: I’m still a young dad – my son was born a mere two weeks ago. Writing with Brian, for me, is terrific — his writing tends to be determined, and cogent, whereas I’m much more inclined to write in an impressionistic manner, but we meet perfectly in that we’re both very exacting. Brian’s schooled musical vocabulary and studied approach is like a toy shop for me. We can come up with a ton of ideas and realize them. That’s the fun of a collaboration.
Q: What can people expect from the group at the CD release party at the Mbar?
A: Brian: We’re a seven-piece, so we’ll be playing the material pretty close to the arrangements as they are on the CD.
Q: What made you decide to push “Everybody Wants to Say I Do” as the first single?
Rob: It’s an instant sing-along, and the time is right to make this statement, that, like it or not, people fall in love and want to marry. It’s a hot-button issue that we address affectionately (as opposed to angrily), and if there was ever a time to stand up and sing it, it’s now.
Town and Country will be performing “Everybody Wants to Say I Do” as well as other tracks from their self-titled debut album at the Mbar in Hollywood, CA on Thursday, June 28 at 8:30 p.m.