by Evan Schafer
For a one-man band like myself, it could easily be perceived that collaboration is not of interest to me. When you produce and record your own material, the singularity of that can become very comfortable and sometimes it’s easy to forget that working with collaborators can give you new perspectives and angles on your own music. While I’ve only worked with a handful over the years, each has made their fitsindelible mark on my music, and for this I am forever grateful. Here I will give a short overview of each of my four primary collaborators and their contributions.
When you look for a collaborator in any sense, you can only wish and hope that their vision coheres with your own. If I were to say that there was a musical synergy between myself and Paula Jones, that would be an understatement. Since high school, our connection just always … worked. There’s no more natural way to state it. As a classically trained cellist (and one that possesses the talent I’ve forever envied: perfect pitch), we spoke each others’ language from the start. I learned quickly when a piece of music came on, and she could instantly call out the key signature that there was incredible talent simmering just beneath the surface.
The first collaboration I ever had with Paula was on a track from my 2010 record, Alone in San Francisco, called “The Breakin’ Fires,” on which my father also collaborated (see his story below). Her part lies in the latter half of the track, and I can remember the importance of this, as we worked for several hours — and several hundred takes — to finally land on the quasi-Egyptian tonalities she works out, sliding up and down through blue notes to burst this ethereal track wide open. Later, on my record, Rinse & Repeat, she also contributed memorable melodic ideas to the tracks “Stagecoach” and “Answers in the Rain.”
When I began work in the spring of 2014 on my album Nomadic, I began to get the itch to provide lyrics to a song or two (ended up being one, but I digress) that were not written by myself. This is where Sara Riccardelli comes in. Also a friend from high school — unfortunately, we no longer talk due to a falling out — I brought her into the studio asking her for some advice on two songs: The first, my personal favorite, “It sure ain’t sympathy,” and also “Hard-hearted.”
I had the music for both, but no lyrics. Upon listening to both tracks, she suggested that I wrote the lyrics for the former and she would take a stab at the latter. Fortunately, this suggestion worked out for the best; I ended up requesting she sing the bridge for “Sympathy” as the part was too high for my vocal range, in return for me using her lyrics for “Hard-hearted.” The story I loved from the start, and it fit perfectly with the title of the album: A lonely drifter with no name finding a very intense, intricate love with another similar drifter and never knowing whether they would see each other again due to their lifestyle. While I may not speak to Sara anymore, I will always treasure the vocal lines she gave to the one track and the lyrics for the other.
Obviously, the next name needs no introduction as he has appeared on five separate lyrical collaborations over the course of two of my records and never fails to be an inspiration in all respects. John Madden, also my husband, has written lyrics on four of the tracks on Babelism and one track on Crapehanger. John is unique in his process as he likes to go away and write lyrics (á la Bernie Taupin) and then present them to me when completed. I do respect this approach as I often find myself writing lyrics in the same way –before music is even involved.
“Flipside” is about love gained and love lost and the middle of the road between them. It’s an interesting introspection on how romance can be so utterly fragile and that those who have it rarely know how to keep it alive. I adore John’s words on “Worthless” because of its sentimentality towards those in need of help and desperately crying out for it, but realizing that helping oneself is most important before others get involved. As my most frequent collaborator to date, it’s honestly made me wonder what will come for our working relationship next.
Finally, a man who led me musically from an early age, my father, Bill Schafer, who is also classically trained on the trumpet, as well as a singer, arranger and composer in his own right, has collaborated with me on only two tracks that are among my released records but the importance of which stand above and beyond simple goodness, rising above to greatness. While his appearances might be sparse, few and far between, he carries the critical melodic lines on both “The Breakin’ Fires” (which I intentionally created with layers of guitar, percussion and wordless vocals only to make way for the haunting trumpet melody) and equally so on “Cue 18” from my PB&A Original Soundtrack.
Music is such a wonderful thing, and as I get older I often screen what I’ve done previously as a musician and composer and, to be quite honest, desire more of the shared experiences with a fellow musician or artist in the studio. It creates such a visceral, energetic and fantastically rich environment that is truly hard to match and I very much look forward to any collaborations that I encounter in my musical future.