by Evan Schafer
When somebody says, “I’m a songwriter” or “I compose music,” what most ordinary people think is that they are Mozart-incarnate and all of a sudden want to be their best friend. Either that or they become insanely jealous of them, and they never hear from those folks again. In my case, neither of these occurrences have actually happened but has nevertheless been a stressful journey. Here I will tell you, from my humblest beginnings, how I grew to be the songwriter I am today and the process I have undergone to get there.
I can’t pinpoint the exact moment that I realized that songs interested me in a way that went beyond, “Oh, I like listening to this.” Both of my parents had recounted how I would listen to Gloria Estefan and the Miami Sound Machine’s album “Let It Loose” in my father’s basement office when I was as young as 2 years old, and dance to it. I don’t have specific memory of this, but I do have similar memories that consist of listening to songs (on cassette tapes, of course — this was the early/mid-’90s) in the car as my mom would drive, and I would sing along to songs that I particularly liked, either humming or with actual words. Then, I would replay, and replay them over and over again.
While I’m sure this was much to the chagrin of my mother — likely testing her patience — in retrospect, I realize why I was doing this: I was beginning to try to analyze the music that caught my ear, and to this day much of the music to which I would do this I still enjoy listening to. These artists were wide-ranging and included favorites such as John Tesh, Dar Williams, George Winston, Michael Strickland, Elton John, Jane Kelly Williams.
From the first Casio keyboard to the piano
Aside from listening to recorded music, my parents bought me my first Casio keyboard for my birthday when I was about 3 years old. While I have fleeting memories of this, apparently the piano became my lifelong love. I began taking lessons a few years after it was apparent that my interest in music was blossoming on its own, as I would spend literally hours figuring out how the keys on the piano corresponded to songs that I heard, picking out melodies by ear alone.
While my classical training was focused nearly exclusively on just that — baroque, classical, Romantic era and Impressionist music — as I grew older I found that the music of Bach, Beethoven, Debussy, Scriabin, and Shostakovich was formatted and structured in very much the same way as the music of The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, YES, Steely Dan and others that were of equal influence musically to me. For a time as I entered my early teens, I found the difficulty of mixing these two worlds, at times, overwhelming.
Mozart or Elton John?
A piece of me wanted to be that composer that sits at a piano and writes notes by hand on manuscript paper, handing it over to an orchestrator (or doing the orchestration myself) and seeing an orchestra or chamber ensemble perform the shit out of it. Honestly, to this day, nothing makes me happier than precisely what I just described, and most of that is due to growing up around so much classical music that it left a permanent mark on me. The other piece of me wanted to write songs like those on the radio, that everybody loved and sang along to. It was a simple dichotomy that was oddly difficult to work with within my musical brain.
As a very young songwriter (let’s say 13/14/15 years old), my “juvenile” works consisted of a few separate facets. The first, and most significant, of those facets was bringing together my father, Bill, my stepmother, Lynda, and myself into a band-like group called Bag of Tricks, where I would bring music and lyrics to them, play through what I had, and record everything in a way that cannot be described as anything other than live, one-take (unless someone messed up), music direct to a tape recorder with an onboard mic (groundbreaking, I know). Yet somehow, in this environment, I was able to produce album-length collections of songs — five of them within less than two years’ time) — and honestly, these records contain some of my most favorite early works out of this period of my songwriting.
Eventually, I think the “band” and I outgrew each other, and Bag of Tricks dissolved into a faded memory. But it is one that I value more than any other musical event in my life, as it paved a very clear path for me to begin writing, engineering and producing everything myself in late 2006/early 2007. The material that I composed during this period all fell to the wayside, but for good reason: None of it was necessarily “releasable,” and I don’t fault myself for writing subpar music; it was part of the process, and now, many years later, I understand and respect this element of songwriting to be very much present, even now in what I consider to be a well-crafted and respectably accomplished career. In 2008, I released my first solo effort, and that record is called “Maya,” which is now celebrating its 10th anniversary.
Connecting through music
Songwriting is indeed an art, and the many separate yet distinct pieces that led me to this very intellectually lucrative medium of musical creation are to thank for where I am now. Obviously, I am thankful for my parents and other individuals that helped lay down a red carpet of sorts from that 6-year-old in a car seat, humming away to songs, to the human being I am now in 2018 — respecting of and consuming all types of music to “let everything in,” so to speak.
No need to be stated but will anyway: Music is one of the only things that bring us all as humans together, but it is hard to describe just what it means personally to me. I feel it deeply, in my guts and my soul alike, and there is hardly anything — short of the people in my life that I love dearly — that comes close to what music brings to my life. Ask anybody who’s been there, in the same places and having similar experiences while growing up. You’ll find the answers are surprisingly similar.
Evan Schafer My name is Evan Schafer. I am an indie musician with a strong grounding in traditional composition, but the material always has a unique flair. I guarantee not being bored out of your gourd when turning on one of the records. I produce, mix, and engineer everything myself, and have done so since late 2005.