Thursday, October 18, 2012

Talking to SIGNALS

Poetry is just the evidence of life. If your life is burning well, poetry is just the ash.
Leonard Cohen

Several months ago, I had the great honor of having musicians Greg Wilson and Dan Gutwein, of the Virginia-based band Signals, ask if they could use the words from my poem, "When August Becomes a Whisper," to create a song.  My response?  Yes, please!  What poet wouldn't want their words set to music?  This was a very good thing.

Setting poetry to music is no small task, especially when the poem is free verse ~ no rhyme scheme, no meter, no structure except whatever my sub-conscious decided to string out in a long line of images onto paper.

Greg and Dan did an admirable job of making the words fit - bringing new life to this poem, by creating atmosphere through notes, melody and voice.  To listen to "When August Becomes a Whisper," just click HERE, to visit their Reverbnation page (Signals1234).

I thought my readers would enjoy learning more about the inspiration, not just for this song, but the core of what helps songwriters create from the source of their own musical beginnings.  Below is a short interview session that I was fortunate to have with lead vocalist and guitarist, Greg Wilson from Signals.  Sit back, open up your mind to the land of musical influences and enjoy!

Dan Gutwein and Greg Wilson


Members: Dan Gutwein - Percussion, Guitars / Greg Wilson - Guitars, Vocals

Bio: “When the silent road meets the broken bridge up and down 81 and west on 429 there will be the signals straining to stretch the bounderies of the limitless universe.” 

Visit SIGNALS on their Facebook page HERE.  Click LIKE!

1.     When did you first develop a love for music?

       My love for music developed in 1966 {I was 5 years old} with, "The Sound of Music".  I love musicals and still do, but I love alternative rock and experimental music.  It feeds the soul more than pop, country or heavy metal.

2.     Who are your songwriting heroes?  / What are your musical influences?

      My songwriting "Hero" would be David Bowie.  Nothing he does shocks me or doesn't influence me.  My musical influences are Bowie, The Smiths, Pink Floyd, Elvis Costello and Midnight Oil.

Dan Gutwein

3.     How do you approach a song?  Do the words come first?  Does the music come first?  Or is it a combination of inspiration for the two coming together?

      I'm really not sure how I approach a song.  Music just grabs me and takes over like an out of body experience.  It moves me, whether it be a slow song like a ballad or a fast paced, heavy-laden, guitar based song.  Most times, an idea comes to me in the middle of the night, and I have to get up and feed the beast.  Sometimes it makes for a long night.  Sometimes the music comes first, like "When August becomes a Whisper."  I already had the music to it, as I had been fooling around with some different chord structures, and it just....well was there.  When I saw your poem, I just thought it would be a good fit to what the music was already saying.  Sure, there were some adjustments, but at the end of the day, I think it worked out.  Phrasing the melody line with free-form words was an incredible challenge, but one I like taking on.  Like anything in life, the harder it is to learn, the longer it stays with you.

4.     From start to finish, how long does it take you to write a song?  Does each song vary, in terms of time devoted to its creation?

      Well it depends on the inspiration.  Sometimes it takes as quick as 20 minutes and other times much, much longer.  Sometimes I have music already to go, and then I add lyrics/melody and voilà, a song!  Other times I have lyrics and depending on how they touch me, I create music to it.  There really is no rhyhme or reason for me, it just kind of happens.

5.     Do you prefer the writing part of the process best, or are you a stage performer at heart?

Greg Wilson

      I think both are very important.  If one is to write a song that a friend or stranger hears and loves, it is the natural progression to perform it on stage.  Right now, there is only Dan and I, so playing the songs to their capability would be lost.  I used to play in a band named Certain Signals, and "we" played all of the music that Dan and I wrote.  It was awesome having a different interpretation(s) from three other members, rather than just Dan and I agreeing on what is good and what is not.  Dan and I have an uncanny knack for loving the same type(s) of music, so I trust his judgment when it comes to any disagreement about certain parts of any song we write.  That said, I would love to put a band together and perform all the songs we have in our "catalog," but I am happy creating and recording with Dan, and I do all of the instruments - it makes me feel like I'm Paul McCartney.

6.     “When August Becomes a Whisper” – What first attracted you to this poem, and what made you want to use the words as lyrics?

      For me when I read it on Facebook, it spoke to me.  To be honest not so much for Dan.  He thought it would be a tremendous challenge, but I thought the imagery would be great to turn into a song.  I had no idea how difficult it would be to phrase the lyrics inside the melody, as the poem doesn't have the same "meter" as most song lyrics have, but in the end we figured it out, just like any other song he and I have written.

7.     When you saw that it was a free verse poem, did this challenge deter you at first, or was it a conundrum you were excited to tackle?

      In my arrogance, I thought it would be like any other song we have written.  Clearly I was wrong.  We have been, or I have been working on this song for months and early on the music did not fit what I was trying to accomplish, but ultimately it worked out.  To this day, I cannot sing and play this song at the same time.  Well I can, but it would not sound like the recording....phrasing is everything!  Is it a conundrum....? Possibly, but there was much excitement once the melody and music lined up perfectly, a breakthrough moment that made each little part of the song, bass and lead guitar fall into place so easily.  It was hard to imagine the difficulty making this work compared to the moment I told you I needed to make this into a song!

8.     How was writing this song different/similar to other songs you’ve written?

      Fitting the words into the measure.

9.     As a songwriter, do you consider yourself a poet?  (I think all songwriters are poets, by the way.)

      I do.

10. Do you read poetry in your spare time?  If so, who are your favorite poets?  (Either contemporary poets, notable poets from literary history, or both.)

     I am a massive Wordsworth fan.  I try to read something of his everyday.  I  do the usual, Shakespeare, Keats, Yeats and Frost - mostly the classics, but I really enjoy "new" poetry, especially if it has some sort of imagery or metaphorical message/imagery.

11. Would you consider writing music again based on a poem?

      I believe we have already started down that path with "Floating" and "Glass in a Tea Cup".....

(*Big smile on interviewer's face here.)

Greg Wilson

Greg has been playing guitar and writing words to music for as long has he can remember.  He was influenced by some classic rock of his youth, but it wasn't until he heard the Sex Pistols and then The Smiths, U2, R.E.M. and The Cure that he identified his angst through listening to this genre, and he was able to put those feelings to good use by writing lyrics and music.

Daniel Gutwein

Virginia-based percussionist, guitarist and songwriter of Signals, Dan Gutwein, hails originally from northern New Jersey, where he started out as the drummer in the band, Public Outcry.  Later he performed in Virginia with the band Watershed before joining musical forces with Greg Wilson to form Signals.  His musical influences include Pink Floyd, Bob Dylan, Leonard Cohen, Tom Waits and The Beatles, among others.

*Thank you to Signals for sharing thoughts on the songwriting process and the inspiration that all artists find in the world around them.  
~Cristina M. R. Norcross (

I like ' I Want To Hold Your Hand '. We wrote that together and it's a beautiful melody. We wrote a lot of stuff together, one on one, eyeball to eyeball. Like in ' I Want To Hold Your Hand ,' I remember when we got the chord that made the song. We were in Jane Asher's house, downstairs in the cellar playing on the piano at the same time. And we had, 'Oh you-u-u / got that something...' And Paul hits this chord, and I turn to him and say, 'That's it!' I said, 'Do that again!' In those days, we really used to absolutely write like that - both playing into each other's noses.  ~JOHN LENNON


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