Interview with Singer-Songwriter John Cirillo

by Dan Reifsnyder, GSC Reporter


John CirilloI sat down to interview John in his writing studio – looking over us are CDs of his numerous indie cuts and past projects. Also present is his ever faithful co-writer, his dog Micky.

Dan Reifsnyder: So what is the speed of an unladen swallow?

John Cirillo: A little faster than dog speed, but not as fast as God speed.  * laughter *

DR: How did you get started in music?

JC: I was a junior in high school and we had just moved to this tiny town in Connecticut who hated people from California and I was a very shy introverted person to begin with. So I spent 10 long months by myself down in the basement. I used that time to teach myself how to play guitar, and that was the year I was really introduced to music for the first time. Capital Records used to have a thing where you got the first 12 albums for a penny and in my first group of albums I got Jim Croce, Gordon Lightfoot, I got John Denver, James Taylor, Carole King, Carly Simon. It was the golden age of singer songwriters and it just spoke to me. I don’t know that I was much of a poet growing up, songwriting never even crossed my mind really. I dunno, I just got bit. That’s how I started.

DR: How did you get hooked up with GSC?

JC: I moved out here in 2011. I was an NSAI member, and unfortunately for most of the time after I came out here, Sheree was still recovering from back surgery. So I didn’t get to know her very well until near the end, when she came back and I got to meet her. I was in the GAP group, and got to know her a little bit and of course heard so many great things about her. Then when she went off and started GSC; I don’t know her numbering system but I have to be one of the first people to join up because I just believed in what she was doing. Sheree is someone who does it for the love of the songwriters and she lives for the success of her writers. And there’s an honesty and a truth there that kind of speaks to her as a person. It speaks to the authenticity of her organization.

DR: I suspect I already know the answer to this, but who are some of your musical influences?

JC: Easy. Gordon Lightfoot, Jim Croce. Those are my two biggest heroes. As much as Jim Croce and Gordon Lightfoot are my biggest influences I think my sound was originally most similar to John Denver. But yeah, James Taylor too. That might date me a bit, but I’m a lyric guy and those are great mentors for the craft of songwriting. And I believe that’s part of what I bring into a co-write today and why I’m still relevant as a songwriter.

DR: What are some songs you wish you had written?

JC: The House That Built Me. Operator, by Jim Croce. There’s a song by Gordon Lightfoot that not too many people really know, it’s called Beautiful. It’s a very masculine, beautiful love song if that makes any sense. I could go on and on. Rocky Mountain High…it’s a song that still gives me chills every time I hear it. Garth Brooks, Much Too Young To Feel This Damn Old. Of course The Dance. That’s like the pinnacle. And George Strait, one of the biggest people that got me into country music, with his Amarillo By Morning. Very simple, but I just loved it. The prosody of it. I’d probably say The Dance is one of the best songs ever written.

DR: I would agree with that. Now, you have a frequent cowriter named Micky. Tell me about Micky.

JC: He greets everybody at the door. He stands guard. And anytime we’re getting ready to do an iPhone recording he makes sure his voice is on there.

DR: He’s got to get his percent.

JC: It’s amazing how many songs, especially in the last year or so, how many lyrics that have turned into some of my favorite songs have come from just taking him on a walk. He’s a big muse.

DR: What are some of your goals for 2019?

JC: I’ve been working really hard on learning the sync world. And I realize that everything I’m doing is a marathon. So I always try to move one step closer every day to whatever my goal is. I’m very goal driven. I want to get at least one sync this year. That’s my goal – it’s a modest goal, but that’s my goal. And every year my goal is to get a cut with a major artist. I won’t stop going until I get my first cut. Then my next goal will be my second cut.

DR: I understand you’re also working with Matt Lindsey!

JC: Yes! I’ve been working with Matt for the last year or so, and he’s been repping my catalog. And he’s probably one of the hardest working publishers in town. I went with him because I knew he would never pitch a song of mine just because I asked him to. He would only pitch it if he felt it was good enough to stand up to his reputation in town and that he felt it was appropriate for the artist he is pitching it too – that way I know that I have someone out there who is only pitching my songs if he believes in them. We haven’t gotten a cut yet, but we’ve gotten a little close. I plan on staying with him and hopefully we will get that big success.

DR: You’ve actually had a lot of cuts since you’ve been in Nashville. Can you tell me about some of your successes?

JC: Well, I had my “welcome to Nashville” moment I think about a year and a half in. I wrote a song with Chip Martin called One Of Those Nights…it was in the Top 10 for the NSAI competition. As soon as the voting started, this artist – he’s just coming up in the world – named Tim McGraw, put out a song called One Of Those Nights. And that just killed it, killed my chances in the competition! Anyway, a few months later, Taylor Hicks’s (American Idol winner-season 5) producer called and said “Taylor Hicks is recording your song!” I was really excited, I thought this was really cool. Over the course of the year I got some updates every now and then, and finally…nothing happened. Taylor Hicks got dropped from the label, even though he had finished the whole album. Never got to hear what it was like…so that was that. And then you, Sarah Spencer and I had our first pretty good cut with Tori Martin – Woman Up. It was a single and a video. Got our first Grammy nomination (I’ll let you decide how much of that story you want to reveal!). Then this year, you, Sarah and I – there’s a theme here – wrote If You Drink, which was released by Chris Turner. He put out a music video, and it’s taken on a life of it’s own. It’s to support veterans  and anyone else who are suffering from PTSD; which I know all three of us feel is a great honor. Had this young gal named Jennifer Belle who just released her first single, Moving Day, that Sarah, Sam Gyllenhaal and I wrote. She did a really good job on that! I have two other cuts on that album that hasn’t been released yet.  I have 6 co-writes on Sam Gyllenhaal’s album, and Dan O’Rourke; who is just an amazing artist, I think I have 3 songs on his last album and we have a lot of great stuff that hasn’t even been recorded yet. Those are probably the highlights. The successes to me are just the relationships I’ve been building in this town. You and I first wrote on my back porch here…

DR: We did!

JC: Like 6 years ago! And look what we’ve accomplished together. It finally hit me over the weekend, how I feel about living here verses how I felt about living in Santa Cruz (where I moved from)[CA]. Santa Cruz is beautiful country. I love Santa Cruz, I love the weather, I love the beaches. Here, it’s the people. Nashville is great, it’s not for me – I don’t do a lot of night life stuff, and summers kill us. That’s why we leave. But it’s the people, it’s the friendships I’ve made while I’ve been here that make Nashville a special place for me. So my biggest success, to me, is just the people I’ve gotten to know and the friendships I’ve made. I’ve come to redefine the word “success” for me – and that has probably been my biggest success. I was always trying to be an overachiever and never satisfied with anything I did. No matter what my accomplishments were in anything, I never enjoyed them. I was always striving for something better so I never got to appreciate those little successes. But I’ve been able to redefine success for me, especially when it comes to songwriting. It’s enjoying the process. It’s loving the people I’m working with in the process. After that, you put your song out there, you do everything you can to get it out there, but it’s out in the ether and there’s nothing you can do about it after that. You have to let it go. Still, you know me – I work really hard at getting cuts, at working my catalog. I won’t stop that, I’m very ambitious. But my success is just being able to have people come in here, my friends, and we write and we start from zero and end up with a song we all love. That, to me, is my new definition of success.

DR: Great thoughts, as always, John. Thanks for talking. And Micky, thanks for sharing your co-writer with us!

JC: Arf!




Interview with Singer-Songwriter Jim Parker

by Dan Reifsnyder, GSC Reporter

Jim Parker

Dan Reifsnyder:  So how did you get started in music?

Jim Parker: In ’61 my sister’s boyfriend, Jimmy Gilmer of Sugar Shack fame, gave me a guitar after I demonstrated I could play ‘Peter Gunn’. I was playing in a band within three months, I wasn’t very good, and later became a founding member of The Illusions that landed a record deal with Dot Records. In 1966 we decided to leave our hometown of Amarillo, Texas, and head to Los Angeles. During that time, The Illusions became “The Kitchen Cinq” recording with Lee Hazelwood’s LHI label for three years. This later led to jobs with other recording bands like Armageddon and THEM (post Van Morrison) with some studio work with Sonny and Cher and various recording artists on the side. Fifty years later, on August  28, 2015,  Ace Records of the UK and its affiliate US label, Light in the Attic Records, released the double vinyl, along with a CD, “The Kitchen Cinq, When The Rainbow Disappears”, as an anthology complete with booklets of photos and history of our band. It is still available.

DR: That’s very cool! Who are you influences?


JP: Buddy Holly, Jimmy Gilmer and the Fireballs, Freddie King, Elvis, Jerry Lee Lewis, Percy Sledge, Johnny Mathis, The Beatles and BB King and many more.

DR: I understand you’re a hit songwriter yourself! What was it like getting your first big cut?

JP: “Chicken Truck” was my first, what some might consider a “Big” cut. I was excited and thrilled to say the least but the following songs led the way to “Chicken Truck.”

My first Pop radio record was with “The Kitchen Cinq’s” “Still in Love with You Baby” released in ‘67. We chased that airplay all over the States from Florida to Ohio to New York City. It was lots of fun but it was not sustainable financially. We returned to Los Angeles for more recording and changes.

My first Country Billboard chart record came out of Nashville in ’77. I co-wrote “I’ve Got a Feelin’” with John Anderson and Michael Garvin. It was exciting to hear it on the radio. Another dream came true. It stayed on the charts for 11 weeks. That was long enough for ASCAP to award me with a plaque with this misspelling – “I’ve Got a Feclin’”! It is hanging on my wall today.

I also had a Big #1 Bluegrass hit last year titled “Better with Time” co-written with Billy Droze, who is the artist, and Ronnie Bowman. I’m as excited about my career as I have ever been. Life is good!

DR: When we were kids, my brother and I used to listen to “Chicken Truck” on repeat until the cassette wore out. What’s the story behind “Chicken Truck”?

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Interview with Singer-Songwriter Dan Harrison

by Dan Reifsnyder, GSC Reporter

Dan HarrisonGSC sat down with up and coming artist Dan Harrison to talk about his transition from the Northeast to the South, guitar gods, and defining his own sound!

Dan Reifsnyder: How would you describe your music?

Dan Harrison: I would describe it as “Anthemic Country music”. I grew up a Rock and Blues guy, listened to a lot of hip-hop and pop too. I even played Jazz in high school! Because of growing up in Philly, I didn’t listen to a lot of country aside from some Cash and Shania Twain, courtesy of my parents. I didn’t realize until later that there is a pretty strong country market outside the city…

DR: Yeah! In Lancaster and stuff.

DH: Right! Even though Philly has a major Country radio station I wasn’t exposed to it a lot. So I was initially inspired to take up music by Rock, which both of my parents were very into. The guitar work for sure – I was more into guitar than singing at certain points early on. Then when I got into college – this was in 2011 when Florida Georgia Line, Luke Bryan, Eric Church, they were all coming up – things changed. The music coming out of Nashville at that time drew me in because it had a modern, Pop/Rock radio sound, but the lyrics were tight. One of the things that tended to miss for me in Rock was the lyrics – not that they weren’t good, not that they weren’t classic – but what are they really saying? Aside from guys like Springsteen, Bon Jovi and John Mellencamp – those guys are poets, in a way that a lot of guys in Nashville are influenced by them. But coming down to North Carolina where I went to school and getting immersed in it, and hearing the influence of that sound that I grew up with in conjunction with really cool lyrics – saying amazing stuff in amazing ways, that was a game changer. I just never thought songs could be that doubly impactful. I wanted to do music for as long as I can remember, and especially since picking up guitar at 11, I just didn’t know what kind of sound or where I fit. And then once I got to college and heard the radio/what my friends listened to, I thought “If I’m ever gonna do it, it’s gonna be like that.” I majored in music for a hot second – it didn’t work out for a bunch of reasons – but I still did music on my own. I had a cover band with some buddies, and did a little bit of writing on my own and continued to practice. In hindsight, I wish I did more, but I had a great college experience and it’s obviously the basis for a lot of my material – certainly my first single (Nowhere Bar) that’s out right now.

So, that was a long winded explanation, but basically I’m trying to capture that radio friendly hooky melody and energy and vibe, but also with a high level of musicianship and lyrics that mean something. I want to be progressing Country music sonically and lyrically. I love the traditional stuff now, but the great thing about Country I think is that it’s evolved to be like Rock in that there are sub genres. It allows space for guys like me, and I’m just trying to push the boundary forward based on my mix of influences.

DR: So that was probably an interesting experience coming from Philly to the South. How did you like it?

DH: I fell in love with the South, and much of the way of life down here; I’ve never felt like a true outsider. I think life and music is about finding what makes you unique and developing that, balancing “fitting in” with “standing out”. I’m not trying to be someone I’m not – I’m not gonna wear a cowboy hat. But I do want to be able as an artist to demonstrate why Country music is special to me, and to add something worthy to the conversation that can last. I really try not to compare myself; it’s hard in this town, but at the end of the day there will only ever be one me. So I’m working every day on becoming the best me, as a singer, player, writer, performer, and person, and create that space. But art isn’t created in a vacuum – someone told me early on when I moved here that “Music is a mission, not a competition.”

DR: That’s nice. I like that!

DH: Right! I’m just trying to add to this tapestry of music history that goes all the way back to Blues, beyond Country. I want to be a part of that constellation.

DR: What are some of your goals?

DH: This whole past year in town I’ve been establishing myself, getting comfortable, and writing; I’ve also played a lot of great rounds and shows. While I will always have a focus on writing, this year is really about starting to put my brand out there in a couple key ways. First, by releasing some great music and expanding my social media. Second, focusing on performing even more and developing the right chops as an artist, beyond just doing covers somewhere (thought that helps, and pays!). Third, establishing relationships, especially with publishers, hopefully getting to write with their writers and artists. I love working with people in this town.

DR: Relationships are super important. What a lot of people don’t realize – and you obviously do – is that when people hit town initially it’s all about getting the cut. But people don’t realize relationships are what get you the cut 9 times out of 10. So it’s really a much bigger deal.

DH: Yeah! So I’m trying to get in to that area; no matter who you are it just takes time. Sheree has been incredibly helpful with opening doors as they come and I can’t thank her enough.

DR: She’s awesome! So tell me about your single!

DH: It’s called Nowhere Bar, it’s a song that I’m really proud of. I started it before I moved here; I knew it had potential, but there was something missing. I ended up meeting a buddy of mine – Andrew Capra – he’s an excellent songwriter/singer/session vocalist/producer himself, through a random fraternity connection. One of my first nights in town I met him, we hit it off, got tea, and decided to write. I brought him the song in our first session, and he helped me take it to the next level. We tweaked the way the hook landed, a lot of common sense songwriting stuff that now I take for granted. He ended up introducing me to Josh Gleave, who is my amazing producer – they both helped me with the record immensely, it would not be what it is without them. It’s a song that’s a composite of real experiences, definitely nostalgic. It’s just the start, but I really like it and I’ve gotten some pretty good feedback on it. I just checked the streams before I came in – it’s been out a little less than 3 weeks and we’re almost at 6,000!

DR: So that’s $1.50 in royalties?

DH: * laugh * something like that. If we can hit 10,000 before I release my next single, I’ll be happy. It’s doing well for not being on any major-level playlists or radio, but I’m still trying to get it out to whoever/wherever I can. It definitely sets a standard for the kind of anthemic stuff I was talking about, the guitar work, lyrics that tell a story that hits you. I can’t wait to put out more stuff and continue to evolve.

DR: So you’re a guitar player – you played all the guitar tracks on your stuff. Who are your guitar influences?

DH: Non-Country, I’d say my 3 biggest guys are Eddie Van Halen, Stevie Ray Vaughn and Brian May. Queen is probably my favorite band of all time – it’s between them and Van Halen. You want to talk about lyrics that don’t make any sense! But Brian May is so underrated as a player in terms of what he did in the studio. The sounds he created are so unique. I liked a lot of the shredder guys too like Joe Satriani, Paul Gilbert, John Petrucci when I first started playing. Since I went to college and have been here, I’d say Brad Paisley, Keith Urban, Vince Gil, and Brent Mason have become significant influences. I met Brent recently and I’m hoping to take a lesson with him soon. Mark Knopfler is an influence too, I love his stuff especially as I’ve grown up. John Mayer too – I’d say he’s my single biggest overall influence. He’s an awesome writer, incredible player, and amazing singer; he’s got the entire deal as an artist, musician and personality. It’s interesting because I see a lot of overlap between the players and techniques – obviously guitar is guitar, but it all really comes from the Blues. Country, Rock, Jazz, everything – it all goes back to Blues. It’s a mix of people and experiences that’s grown and evolved over time.

DR: So as an artist, your influences are John Mayer, obviously. Who else?

DH: Bruce Springsteen, Eric Clapton, Eric Church, Keith Urban. Keith is someone I look up to since he痴 also someone who was able to come into country music as an outsider and create his own approach and sound that helped evolve the genre; he didn稚 just try to be someone he wasn稚. And he痴 such a unique player and singer. Sam Hunt too – I like his vibe and the way he approaches songwriting. Florida Georgia Line’s first album was also a huge influence, as well as early Jake Owen and Zac Brown. Brad Paisley was the first Country concert I’ve ever been to – he’s an amazing player. He just rips! It’s definitely a lot of guitar-based guys for sure.

DR: What are some songs you wish you’d written?

DH: Springsteen by Eric Church. If I had to pinpoint a specific song that drew me into Country music, it was probably that song. As someone not originally from the south, it showed me that I could relate to the life experience; also because of the nostalgia I have for Springsteen growing up, and listening to him in the car with my dad. Most importantly it showed me that a great song, great music, is simply that, and you can’t help but be affected by it. I do also wish I wrote Born To Run, by The Boss himself!

DR: I think it’s illegal not to listen to Springsteen being from the Philly area

DH: I think you’re right! Some more recent (country, mainly) songs I wish I wrote are I Don’t Know About You performed by Chris Lane. That’s such a simple but killer “flip” hook, and I think they executed it pretty well. Also, Dirt performed by Florida Georgia Line, Whiskey Glasses performed by Morgan Wallen, Somebody To Thank performed by Logan Mize, We Were Us performed by Keith Urban and Miranda Lambert. There’s quite a few but that’s a solid sampling. To me, though, probably the perfect modern Country song is Cop Car (written by Sam Hunt, Zach Crowell, and Matt Jenkins, and cut by both Sam and Keith). To my knowledge it was a real experience Sam had, and that’s the best and most powerful kind of art; something that you can take from your real life and frame it in a simple way that people can still relate to it, that extends beyond its particular circumstances to something universal. The kind of songs I want to write come from my experience, have a really profound message with a big, epic yet intimate sound. Love songs like Cop Car or Springsteen, and life songs like Dirt, Backseat Driver performed by Robert Counts (also cut by William Michael Morgan), The House That Built Me performed by Miranda Lambert, or Wheels performed by Steven Moakler. You get the idea.

DR: There’s a lot of songs that are bouncy and catchy and we don’t realize what the writer’s intent was.

DH: That’s what makes them great because you can listen to them again and get another layer of meaning. My favorite movies I can go back and watch, because you notice new things and it’s fresh every time. One of the big things I’ve learned being in Nashville is that a single song is its own universe. That said, I’d love to do a record someday that’s as close to a concept record as you can get in country, like they used to do in Classic Rock, but rooted in my experience. I think the music that has come the closest recently is Sam Hunt’s debut Montevallo, because it’s a lot of it is ‘personal’ concept album of his life. Every song stands on its own but forms a cohesive, greater whole as a record. I think it’s one of the best debut albums in any genre of recent memory.

DR: So how did you get hooked up with GSC?

DH: I was working with a voice coach before I moved here, Robin Earl – she’s great. Before I moved here, she connected me with Sheree – I talked with her over the phone when I was still back in Philly and she said “You gotta get down here!” I moved down, and started meeting with her right away. She’s been a Godsend. I can’t say enough about what she’s done for me. Wherever I get in this industry won’t be without her, no doubt.

DR: She’s a big cheerleader for sure!

DH: I try to tell all my friends about her that aren’t GSC members, but really should be. You don’t believe in something like this until you’re part of it and she changes your life in one session. So I’m super thankful for GSC. It’s been a huge part of my career so far and I hope it will continue to be – I’ve met a lot of my co-writers and friends through it.

DR: So where can people find your song, Nowhere Bar?

DH: It’s on Spotfiy, Apple Music, Tidal, everywhere you can stream!

Interview with Singer-Songwriter Tori Martin

by Dan Reifsnyder, GSC Reporter

Dan Reifsnyder:  How did you get started in music?

Tori MartinTori Martin: So I did not grow up in a musical family, but at the age of 14 I started singing in a church choir. And when I was younger, I just loved music and sang all the time and my Paw Paw really noticed that and encouraged me to peruse music – especially Country music, cuz you know, that was the best. He raised me on the classics of country, and I grew up singing around his record player. He put me in Texas girls choir when I was like, 8, I actually made it. You audition for it  and you perform all over the world. He actually paid for me to be in that – I didn’t know it was him until later in life. He bought me my first guitar, which was an acoustic guitar, but I told him that I was a rock star and needed an electric. So he bought me an electric guitar. So that is how I got into music. When I was in the church choir, there was a sound engineer there who was a record producer, Grammy Award winner. He heard me and saw my raw talent. I started working with him, taking vocal lessons, learning music theory, taking piano. And then I started being a co-worship leader along with his wife who was the worship pastor of that church. That was kind of my first stage. I always tell people that’s the best stage to start out on, because you can literally bomb and they’ll be like “Praise the Lord! You did so good honey!” So they’re not gonna judge you. I sang there for like 2 years, and then when I was 16, I came to Nashville for the first time and recorded an EP. That was pretty epic. I recorded at Quad studios…Taylor Swift had recorded her then huge album that made her a hit. So I had stars in my eyes. So at 16 that’s when I started recording and I had my very first concert in Azle TX, which is my home town. It was at like the community center, but I had Nashville players behind me and everything. It was epic, and my little city loved it!

DR:  So your grandfather was a pretty big influence on you

TM: Yes, huge. I probably would not be doing music if it wasn’t for him. He bought me my first guitar, believed in me. All that.

DR:  Who are your musical influences?

TM: I love Dolly Parton, she is my queen and my idol! Not just in music but in everything in life. She’s just an amazing human being. But some of my influences when I was younger were Whitney Houston. I used to stand on a chair in the middle of our hallway underneath a light and pretend I was singing “I Will Always Love You”, which was written by Dolly Parton and I didn’t know that when I was like, 10! I wanted to be a big singer like Whitney Houston. But also Johnny Cash, Elvis Presley, Etta James, Aretha Franklin. I love Soul and Country and Rock and Roll and everything.

DR: Is there a song you wish you had written?

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Interview with Singer-Songwriter Ava Paige

by Dan Reifsnyder, GSC Reporter

Ava PaigeDan Reifsnyder:  You’ve gotten into music very young…you’re only 14! How did that come about?

Ava Paige: I was born into a musical family meaning I’ve always have music around me. Dad and Mom both played musical instruments in school. I picked up my first guitar at 6 and knew right away I wanted to play. Mom and Dad bought me my first guitar for Christmas and I started lessons in January 2011 and have had lessons almost every week since. I play about 5 hours every day! My guitar coach is Corban Calhoun. I started singing before I could talk and writing songs before I could write. I would hand my mom paper and say “I wrote a song, write it down for me!” I started voice lessons at 8 yrs old and still take lessons every week. My Voice Coach is Brian Lucas / VoiceLab.

I knew I liked music, but Memorial Day weekend 2015, my family was eating at a marina restaurant in Old Hickory and Lightning 100 was there doing a karaoke night. I jumped up to sing some songs because no one else was and then Kelly Clarkson was there eating with her family and Reba and Kelly came up to do a song with a friend she was with and when she was done I just asked her to sing with me and she said yes! The entire thing was recorded and on YouTube (I didn’t have a YouTube at the time). News channels came out to interview me and it went a little crazy. Articles came out all over the world and then I knew at that time I wanted to do this the rest of my life.

DR: Who are some of your musical influences?

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Interview with Songwriter Riley Bria

by Dan Reifsnyder, GSC Reporter

Dan Reifsnyder: So tell me about how you got into music

Riley Bria: So my dad always played guitar. He’s played in some bands back in Jersey in the day. At a really young age – like 4 – I showed interest. I got lessons at 8 and took lessons until I was 14. We had a family band that started when I was about 12, and that was huge for me. That was really, really big. My dad was the musical director and he wrote the tunes. We had a standard – we all wrote tunes but we never played any of the songs that the kids wrote because they just literally weren’t good enough. Which is cool, because from a young age you have a standard set for what your show needs to be. So we did that, he wrote the songs, mom booked the shows. My older brother, Jaden, on drums, my younger brother, Spencer, on bass. I was on guitar and we all sang harmonies. We did that for about five years, and then moved here when I was 17.

DR: Who are some of your musical influences?

RB: Kieth Urban, for sure. This band called The 1975 has been real real big for me. I had an ex-girlfriend introduce them to me a few years ago, and that was a game changer listening to their music. I’m sure everyone has that kind of moment, but it just really opened my eyes. Like instead of using genres as boxes, using them as kind of a palette to paint your picture with. They kind of broke that mold. So Keith, them, I love 80’s hair metal so like Skid Row, Motley Crue, Def Leppard, and all that good stuff. Randy Rhoads was one of my favorite guitarists growing up. I don’t really play much like him, but I love his playing so much.

DR: So who do you play like?

RB: I probably play more like Keith. I really like his melodic picks. He doesn’t play fast, I get the fast stuff from the 80’s dudes and the melodic stuff from like the Keith vibe.

DR: How did you get hooked up with GSC?

RB: Actually through a friend from back home in Pennsylvania, Riley Roth.

DR: Oh I know Riley! She’s great! We’ve actually interviewed her!

RB: Yeah, she’s great. I’ve known Riley for so long. Like I know the first songs that she wrote and watched her perform it for one of the first times. Yeah, she told me about Sheree!

DR: The Rileys!

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Interview with Songwriter, Molly Lyon

by Dan Reifsnyder, GSC Reporter

Molly Lyon

Dan Reifsnyder: So tell me about your music!

Molly Lyon: So I kind of consider it singer/songwriter meets pop. I write more country because I have my guitar. But yeah, mostly that!

DR: So how’d you get started writing music?

ML: I started writing seriously in high school. But I had written my first song when I was 8 – it was about a star. But high school is when I started getting serious about it.

DR:  So are you from Nashville?

ML: No, Delaware actually! The first time I came to Nashville was July to tour Belmont! When I got to Belmont nobody knew where Delaware was. They’re like “Oh, next to Maine?” No! Delaware!

DR: So obviously songwriting brought you to Belmont.

ML: Actually, I’m majoring in Music Business to get that business degree. I wanted to do that anyway to learn that side of things.

DR: Nice. So how did you get hooked up with Sheree?

ML: It’s a funny story. My grandfather knows Pat Kelley – he owns a car dealership in Vermont, and he’s also a songwriter. My grandfather showed him my YouTube channel and Pat knows Sheree and so I emailed her and found out about GSC.

DR: Are you working on any projects right now?

ML: I’ve mostly been songwriting – I have my own YouTube channel where I do some of my own originals. But right now I’m writing for other people until I figure out what I want to do as an artist!

DR: That’s smart! What are some songs you wish you’d written?

ML: I really like “The More Boys I Meet” – I think it’s really clever. And do you know the song “Here” by Alessia Cara – it’s so good.

DR: Who are your musical influences?

ML: Her, honestly – Alessia Cara. She’s amazing. That song came out when I first started writing seriously. So I’ve been following her vibe. And actually Taylor Swift, too – when she tells stories! I especially like “Mine” and “Speak Now.”

DR: How are you liking Nashville?

ML: I love it! It’s been amazing! I actually don’t want to leave for the summer – but I have to. I’ll be back!!

DR: So what else are you doing besides writing and going to class?

ML: The most recent thing I’ve been doing is singing on demos. I do a lot of work with Bob Kropp and Pam Lack – they’ve been great and taken me under their wing a little bit! They’re both great songwriters, too, and have really helped me develop my sound. They’ve given me the opportunity to work regularly in a studio and have introduced me to many fellow GSC members and artists! They’re honestly like my parental figures while I’m here in Nashville!

DR: Well, thanks for spending some time with us and answering our questions!

ML: Thanks!


Interview with Songwriter, Lexi Peto

by Dan Reifsnyder, GSC Reporter

Lexi Peto

Dan Reifsnyder: So tell me how you got started in music!

Lexi Peto: I started in music very young – my dad taught me to play guitar at age seven, and my mom was a huge influence on my musicality. She exposed me to everything from the Chili Peppers to Mariah Carey. Collective Soul was a huge influence on me. Then my step dad entered my life and he introduced me to Rascal Flatts and I fell in love with country music. Even though I had kind of fiddled around with it before, I started taking songwriting really seriously at age twelve. I started keeping a song journal and playing open mics in the eighth grade and my mom was really supportive of it. When I found out about Nashville I was like “Wow, I’ve got to get there!” Then, unfortunately my mom passed away when I was fourteen. It was a really difficult time for my family, but I have really been blessed through my faith – I’m very strong in my faith – and my mom’s passing steered me even more towards music. The Lord took that hardship and made that into something beautiful. My dad and my step dad became best friends, and I told them that I wanted to go to Nashville. So they actually brought me here together! I was here for two years before enrolling at Belmont. I miss my mom every day but my dad and my stepdad have taken on raising me up in this industry together.

DR: What was the first thing you did when you came to town?

LP: I just wanted to play! I looked up all the places and went to every open mic I could! I did the Bluebird – way back before they did the call in system and you had to get tickets! It was part of the experience…and here I am!

DR: Are you working on any projects right now?

LP: I have a couple albums out, which are up on iTunes and Spotify, and my goal before graduation is a pub deal! I don’t know if it’ll happen, but I’m gonna aim for it. Just writing the best songs I can and spreading the love of the Lord. I’m thinking of releasing a single sometime soon too.

DR: How would you describe your musical style?

LP: I consider myself an artist/writer. Although I started out in pop country, I’ve lately felt called to be more in the CCM field. My stuff is definitely more lyric driven too. I not only write for myself, but write for other artists – pop, country, and Christian, and any combination of the three! I describe myself as Country-Pop-Christian. I incorporate Christian values into my music, but with Country Pop. It’s kind of my own thing!

DR: Interesting! So what are some songs you wish you had written?

LP: Oh, right off the bat would be “The House That Built Me”. That song just kills me! I actually got to meet Tom Douglas and shake his hand, which was such an honor! He really knows the craft, and I really respect that. So obviously that song. I love Collective Soul – my ultimate favorite is “Needs”. I wish I’d written that. “Drive Your Truck”…”I Hope You Dance”. My mom sang me to sleep with the song “Butterfly” by Mariah Carey, so I love that one too. I love anything by Bethel and Hillsong!

DR: So how are you liking Belmont?       

LP: I love it! I can’t speak more highly of the songwriting program! It’s so tight knit! It’s almost like a little community within a community. We all support each other.

DR: How did you hear about GSC?

LP: Well, actually I’m a new member to GSC. Chad Hamilton, my producer, has been trying to get me to get involved for a long time. Now that I joined I’m like “Why didn’t I do this sooner!?” I’m so glad to be a part of it. I’ve done a mentoring session with Sheree and she is just a sweetheart! She’s such a strong supporter.

DR: I agree. She’s such a strong supporter of songwriters…I don’t know anybody that works as hard as she does! Well…I think that’s all the time we have, but I appreciate you taking the time to talk to us!

LP: Thanks!


Interview with Songwriter, Ted Swormstedt

by Dan Reifsnyder, GSC Reporter

Tedd Swormstedt

Dan Reifsnyder: Tell us about yourself as an artist and writer.

Tedd Swormstedt: I am a songwriter pure and simple, not an artist in the traditional sense. I love the act of writing a song that will touch someone and get a reaction.

DR: What got you into music?

TS: Very good question because no one in my family is musical. I remember lying in my bed at night listening to my father play Johnny Cash on the big stereo console in our living room and the sound would come through the floor. I guess that is when I knew I wanted to play guitar. I got my first guitar when I was 10 years old – a rental at that because my parents didn’t think I would stick with it. And I started to write songs, but they were not good ones at all. In high school I was in a band and we played all the dances, then in college I did the coffee house thing. Then I had to get a real job and I took some time off from writing. I gravitated to country music because it is pure and authentic and you don’t need all the accessories to get the meaning across.

DR: Who are your musical influences?

TS: That is a difficult question because there are many from Steely Dan, The Rolling Stones, and Allman Brothers to Keith Urban, Miranda Lambert, Tim McGraw and Jason Aldean.

DR: How did you get hooked up with GSC?

TS: I had gotten to that point where I wanted to get more serious about writing songs and how to pitch them to win. I asked the question in an online forum and Jayne Sachs said join GSC, Sheree is a great mentor, teacher and works hard for songwriters.

DR: Jayne is great! What do you feel is different about GSC?

TS: The personal touch and attention that Sheree is able to give everyone. The incredible connections that Sheree has and is able to give her members that put you face-to-face with publishers that make it happen. You have to have the songs and Sheree and her team help you learn the craft. To this day I don’t know how she does it all, but she has such passion for the business of songwriting, her members and seeing us grow and taking the talent we have to the next level.

DR: What are some songs you wish you had written?

TS: Dan that is another hard question – so here are a few “When I Get Where I’m Going”, “You Can’t Always Get What You Want”, and “Humble and Kind”

DR: Good choices! What are some of your goals right now?

TS: I am working on setting up and doing more co-writes in Nashville and with other GSC members based on the contacts that I’ve made through GSC, and building my song catalog and pitching as often as I possibly can.

DR: What drives you to write songs?

TS: I love the process of writing although sometimes it can be frustrating and painful, but I love the idea of being able to say something and touch someone with a message that they can relate to.

DR: As a songwriter what is the most powerful thing that you’ve learned?

TS: Songs can come from anywhere always be open and always remember that your best song is yet to come.

Interview with Songwriter, Chad Hamilton

by Dan Reifsnyder, GSC Reporter

Chad HamiltonDan Reifsnyder:  Tell us about yourself as an artist and writer.
Chad Hamilton: I definitely consider myself a writer first and foremost and then a producer–but not an artist. Don’t get me wrong, I love to ham it up in the spotlight, and I can carry a tune with the help of a bucket, but at this point in my life and with my commitments, it’s just not practical to pursue. Plus, having worked with artists, I can truly appreciate the title “recording artist.” Whenever I have a song I’m excited about, I can’t wait to replace my demo vocal with that of a true artist! I do most of my writing with artists. I find it very exciting to try to help them deliver something that resonates with who they are as an artist and what messages they want to send. Also, being close to the artist makes it more likely that I’ll get to hear one of my creations released to the world by someone who’s really putting his/her heart into the performance.

When I’m not in Nashville, which I am blessed to have a situation that allows me to visit every other month, I write almost 100% of the time over the Internet.  Technology is wonderful for allowing me to regularly connect creatively with co-writers from Nashville and various places like Ohio, Pennsylvania, Texas, and Oklahoma – this year I hope to write with someone from another country! And I will write ANYTHING. In fact, I love to be pushed outside of my comfort zone. I write mostly country and pop, but I would love to do some hip hop and EDM – that’s another goal for 2018. My true ambition is to be the really cool guy that so many artists and writers want to have in the room with them. I want to watch my friends reach their goals and be successful, and if possible, play a role in helping them.

DR: Those are some pretty cool goals!  What got you into music in the first place?

CH: I really think it was my dad. There was always music in the house. He had a big component stereo. Turntable, tape deck, reel-to-reel, tuner, EQ . . . eventually a CD player. I feel like so frequently on the weekends, there would be music playing throughout the house – he put speakers in three different rooms. I learned to LOVE the sound of vinyl.  In fact, he never let my brother or I buy a cassette tape – we had to buy records and then he would record them onto cassette for us as a portable copy. It’s fun to see vinyl make a comeback, because I have a ton of it, and memories to boot.  I can still feel the light green shag carpet in the living room where I would smell the vinyl as I pulled it out and dropped a needle on it, and I can still see myself reading the sleeve from Michael Jackson’s Thriller, which was my older brother’s first record. My mother and father, together, had at least a hundred albums from the 60s through the 80s, including a boatload of 45s.

But that living room carpet I mentioned was more important to my story. Occasionally, the four of us would gather in the living room, which was not a place a spent I a lot of time since it was “off limits” unless there was company or we were gathering there as a family. And no, there wasn’t plastic on the sofa – Mom just didn’t want her boys in there wrecking the place! Anyway, my father had and still has a 1960s or 1970s Martin guitar and a knack for playing folk songs.  He’d sing to us – I specifically remember Puff the Magic Dragon being a favorite of mine as well as The Marvelous Toy. Later in life, I realized he wasn’t a virtuoso by any means, but as a kid, I thought he was great and those moments being together as a family were truly magical – much better than watching TV or staring at cell phones. From there I made a journey from country music to 80s pop, 80s rock, hip hop, classic rock, club, alternative rock, folk and Americana, orchestral and classical, jazz, hardcore rock and metal, and back to country and pop. I loved it all and still do.

DR: So who would you say are your musical influences?

CH: I really don’t know how to answer this, based on my broad exposure. I know when I was about five years old, I had a Care Bears tape deck, and I picked two records from my Uncle Bob’s collection – he’s my dad’s brother. I’m not sure what prompted it, but I can still vaguely see myself sorting through a stack of vinyl and finding a cover with a guy and a casino table. You got it – Kenny Rogers, The Gambler. Who says you can’t judge a book, or album, by its cover?! I brought home two Kenny Rogers records and my father copied them onto cassette for me and I played it nonstop, for hours at a time. I don’t think any of my music sounds like those records, but I guess it’s a fun story. Then I went through that journey of genres I mentioned before until Shania Twain caught my ear, and I guess my eye, too, if I’m being completely honest, and hooked me into country music. From there MANY songs and artists really captured my heart with their powerful emotions, honesty, and stories, and that’s definitely what inspired me to be a songwriter and learn to tell my stories and share my emotions in a magical 3-minute melody. But as far as influences go, it’s tough. I mean, I had a Jimi Hendrix obsession, but I could never really play like him, and I don’t think I hear any Purple Haze in the songs I’m writing. I would love for someone to tell me what influences they hear in my songs and my productions, because as far as I’m concerned, the question more easily answered is, “who aren’t my musical influences?”

DR: Nice. Well, your tastes sound pretty eclectic. How did you get hooked up with GSC?

CH: The Cincinnati-Dayton NSAI Chapters in Ohio meet every week. They really are an awesome, active group. After taking about a ten year break from writing, for whatever reason, maybe it was my divorce or new perspectives on life, but I decided it was time to truly pursue excellence as a songwriter and do it in a way that would keep me at it for the rest of my life. That group really gave me a home every week and I started rebuilding contacts and making friends there. Jim Melko, one of the coordinators, is a SESAC member, and he contacted SESAC and recommended they meet with me. Unfortunately, SESAC was not interested in an out-of-towner, which is very understandable, but they were very gracious and helpful and recommended I meet Sheree’ Spoltore’. I actually met Sheree’ in the SESAC lobby, and as they say, when one door closes another opens.

DR: It definitely seems to happen that way! What do you feel is different about GSC?

CH: There’s nothing more frustrating than feeling like you aren’t making progress toward your goals, and GSC truly has enabled me to make that progress and more importantly really appreciate it. It’s been one of the most inspiring and encouraging and empowering relationships for me. I look back when I had just moved to Nashville after college and think about the reasons I gave up the dream and denied myself for many years the creative time I needed, and I think it had to do with direction. I knew where I was and where my songs were, and I knew I had to grow, but while there were plenty of industry folks willing to give feedback or offer knowledge, there was no one helping me make those tactical decisions, like, OK what should I do right now, and tomorrow and next month? Sheree’ has figured out a formula that truly allows each GSC member to understand his or her personal journey and she helps teach, encourage, and equip us along the way.  It’s like having a life coach or a manager – there are more than several great organizations and programs that give value to a developing writer or artist, but I don’t know any that can give the personalized guidance that Sheree’ and GSC provides. I don’t make a living on my music, can’t afford to do it full time, and haven’t reached any of my BIG goals, yet, but I still love waking up early every morning to write or produce or do the administrative work, and I don’t have to lie when I say, “I’m living the dream,” because I believe it – I owe a lot of that to GSC.

DR: Well said, Chad! Considering how broad your tastes are, this might be a big question, but what are some songs you wish you’d written?

CH: I try to keep up with a list of these and it’s over 100 long now! Some include:Letter to Me– Brad Paisley – I remember I was in my shop and just stopped in my tracks when that song hit me. The Secret to Life– a lesser known Faith Hill cut, that song helped me during a very dark time in my life. Don’t Blink, There Goes My Life– Kenny Chesney. Fifteen– Taylor Swift. Austin– Blake Shelton. Riding With Private Malone– David Ball. Back of the Bottom Drawer– Chely Wright. All of those I admire for their creative delivery, story, and/or emotion. Chandelier– Sia for it’s ridiculous melody and lesser appreciated serious message. I Want It That Way– Backstreet Boys because I wanted to be in a boy band, and how cool would it be to have millions of people around the world sing your super catchy infectious song? All I Want For Christmas is You– Mariah Carey – it’s a legacy, it’s a gravy train, and it’s for my favorite time of year. How awesome would it be to write a song that maybe your grandchildren would listen to during Christmas? Some of those Christmas classics have persisted many decades, which is really cool.

DR: That would be pretty awesome to have a legacy cut like that.  Tell us about some of your recent successes!

CH: Early in 2017, I had the honor of working with a talented artist and writer, and truly special young woman, Lexi Peto, who is currently a freshman at Belmont in their songwriting program. I produced her EP and co-wrote three songs with her – I also started a label and took care of the release. It’s hard to articulate how fun, how much of a learning experience, and what great satisfaction came from that process. Another talented young woman, Jordyn Kenzie, who is a junior in an arts high school in Pennsylvania, recently was in Nashville and cut two songs that I co-wrote with her. I’m anticipating them to be released sometime early this year. I haven’t even heard them yet – I’m so excited!

DR: So I noticed you’re a parent. How has that changed your writing, if at all?

CH: Honestly, I haven’t noticed my perspectives changing much, per se, but I’ve included my daughter in my journey, even since she was an infant, and she’s not even three now. It’s funny because she’s known for most of her life that daddy goes to Nashville a lot, but I know she has no concept of what or where Nashville is, but she’ll help me get ready! Anyway, Monday through Friday, she joins me in my studio early in the morning before I commute to Cincinnati, and whether she’s making a ruckus pounding on her drums while I’m trying to record a work tape, emptying a box of tissues and ripping them up all over the floor while I’m laying down a demo track, or sitting on my lap singing with me – I cherish every minute of it. I don’t know how important music will be in her life, but I hope the moments we spend together are as magical for her as they are for me. She’s starting to sing some of my songs when I’m working on them, and that’s just the most exciting feeling for me!

DR: That’s really cool.  I appreciate you taking the time to talk, Chad!

CH: Thanks!