USA Part I – The House of Songs

The House of Songs, Austin, Texas
The House of Songs, Austin, Texas

I have just returned from a remarkable few weeks in the USA, where I have been pursuing new musical adventures, eating too much barbeque and making a lot of new friends. I was honoured to be invited to The House of Songs in Austin, Texas to take part in a week of songwriting workshops. The house is the brainchild of musician, traveler and my new life guru Troy Campbell. It brings together musicians from all over the world to collaborate and to help them share their music with a wider audience.

The House of Songs gang from left, Shawnee Kilgore, Sarah MacDougall, Betty Soo (nice photobomb!), Mariette Hanson, Raina Rose, Ida Wenoee, Matt Sever, Gareth Bonello, Graham Weber, Dennis Kalla, Paul Pigat, Tom Levin, Daniel Thomas Phipps
The House of Songs gang from left, Shawnee Kilgore, Sarah MacDougall, Betty Soo (nice photobomb!), Mariette Hanson, Raina Rose, Ida Wenøe, Matt Sever, Gareth Bonello, Graham Weber, Dennis Kalla, Paul Pigat, Tom Levin, Daniel Thomas Phipps

Joining me for this week of creative cross-pollination was a group of the finest people I am ever likely to meet. From Sweden; Mariette Hansson, Dennis Kalla and Tom Levin, from Denmark; Ida Wenøe, from Canada; Cris Derksen; Lydia Hol, Sarah MacDougall and Paul Pigat and from the USA; Shawnee Kilgore, Matt (the Electrician) Sever, Daniel Thomas Phipps, Raina Rose and Graham Weber. They are all fantastic writers and musicians and I highly recommend you check out their stuff! I feel especially lucky as we all got along amazingly well and had some great times at some of Austin’s wierdest hangouts (more on this later).

On top of this lovely gang we were all being filmed for not one, but two documentaries. The first by Mikael Johansson focussing on Tom Levin’s project to bring the Swedish artists to Austin and on to Kansas City and the second by Mario Troncoso for his show on PBS, Arts in Context. As a result we were being filmed pretty much all the time. I’m glad that the whole thing has been documented professionally and I’m really looking forward to seeing the final films. There was some beautiful slow-mo of Daniel Thomas Phipps running in a car park.

Lydia Hol picks her numbers for Chickenshit Bingo
And here’s Lydia picking her numbers for Chickenshit Bingo (more on this later)

Now I normally spend a long time (sometimes months) writing a song and very rarely write quickly. At the House of Songs we were paired up every morning and afternoon with a different songwriting partner, with the aim of having a finished piece after just a few hours. Although initially daunted, I got into the swing of things pretty quick and thoroughly enjoyed writing with so many new people. Every collaboration was different and each song I co-wrote is special to me. I wrote songs with Sarah Macdougall, Shawnee Kilgore, Daniel Thomas Phipps, Ida Wenøe, Lydia Hol and Paul

One of my writing sessions was with DTP, who also looks great in slow motion
I had a good writing session with DTP. He also looks great in slow motion

Pigat and had several late night jams with Cris Derksen. Many, many great songs were written and performed by the whole group that week and have been on loop in my brain ever since. I’m looking forward to hearing recorded versions soon and I’m very hopeful that I am going to keep working with my co-writers over the coming months and years.

Shawnee serenading us all on the first night
Shawnee serenading us all on the first night

As well as writing songs we had a bit of downtime to explore Austin and the surrounding area, which was a real treat as we had several locals in the gang to show us about. One of my absolute highlights was the morning we were taken to Duchmann Winery near Driftwood to write in the sunshine. Myself and Ida ended up writing what is probably the first folk song half in Danish and half in Welsh, accompanied by a nice glass of chilled white. You can listen to a rough recording of the song below:

 

Writing with Ida at a vineyard near Driftwood, TX
Writing with Ida at a vineyard near Driftwood, TX

We also got to sample some proper Texas barbeque at The Salt Lick near Driftwood. I’d recommend Thurman’s choice, a hearty combo of brisket, pork ribs and sausage that the restaurant founder apparently ate every day.

We also visited the Little Longhorn Saloon, home of that greatest of all sports; Chickenshit Bingo. For those of you unfamiliar with this game of titans, it involves a chiken in a coop at the back of the bar walking over a numbered sheet, eagerly watched by a crowd of happy gamblers that wager on where it is going to shit. As it happened, the Ameripolitan Awards were in town and there were bands playing brilliant Americana and Country music all afternoon. Top that up with $3 Lone star beer on sale in the car park and you have a golden recipe for good times in Texas. Thanks to Paul and his manager Kathy Campbell for tipping us off about the Little Longhorn! The Chicken shat on 29. Nobody had 29.

The Little Longhorn Saloon
The Little Longhorn Saloon

After a week of songwriting and blossoming friendships we performed our new songs at The Townsend, a bar in downtown Austin. It was great to hear everyone play their songs together on stage and it all seemed to go down well with the audience.

The next day we headed off to Kansas City to attend the Folk Alliance International Conference. A few traveled by plane but most of us opted for a 13 hour bus ride along Interstate 35, taking in parts of Texas, Oklahoma and Kansas on the way.

Gas station, Oklahoma
Gas station, Oklahoma

I’ll put up another blog about my time at Folk Alliance shortly. In the meantime I would like to say a massive thank you to Wales Arts International for making my time at the House of Songs possible and to everyone at House of Songs for their hospitality, inspiration and friendship.

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