Name: John DeNicola
Occupation: Singer, songwriter, guitarist
Current release: John DeNicola's She Said, the follow up to his debut as a solo artist (2019's The Why Because) is available via Omad.
If you enjoyed this interview with John DeNicola and would like to find out more about him, visit his official homepage. He is also on Instagram, and Facebook.
Where does the impulse to create something come from for you? What role do often-quoted sources of inspiration like dreams, other forms of art, personal relationships, politics etc play?
Musically I believe that all of the above references to dreams, art, relationships, politics etc. are an influence on what is written. For me its a stream of consiousness that comes through my mind and translates into chord changes and melodies. There isn't alot of thought per se. Just a flow that reveals itself. This record "She Said" particularly as it‘s the first time I am writing purely for myself as opposed to other artists which was very freeing.
For me, and this is open to interpretation, the song "She Said“ is about a woman that lets her lover know that for the relationship to evolve he needs to find the path within himself. I wanted to create a dream like quality to the music because in a way the story of the song could be a dream.
Also the album reflects a number of political issues. "Float on Hope“ refers to our dire need to address our planet’s health. "Morning Dew“ is a cover of Bonnie Dobson’s song which deals with Post apocalyptic earth. "High" is influenced by current events and the divide in this country and "to wake up and open our eyes" to what we could and should be.
"Our Day Will Come" uses some speech quotes from Michelle Obama, John McCain, Joe Biden and John Lewis.
For you to get started, do there need to be concrete ideas – or what some have called a 'visualisation' of the finished work? What does the balance between planning and chance look like for you?
I am a gut writer. It all comes through organically. I may be inspired by something I hear subconsiously but really I just grab an instrument and go. Whether it be a synth or a guitar or a piano. There isn‘t alot of planning on my part.
Is there a preparation phase for your process? Do you require your tools to be laid out in a particular way, for example, do you need to do 'research' or create 'early versions'?
No, I just start on a keyboard or a guitar and build from there. Slowly the song reveals itself as I build the tracks and melodies start coming out inspired by the music track.
Do you have certain rituals to get you into the right mindset for creating? What role do certain foods or stimulants like coffee, lighting, scents, exercise or reading poetry play?
What do you start with? How difficult is that first line of text, the first note?
Lyrically I depend on a cowriter. I may have a chorus lyric or some phoenetic words that I sing a melody to on the track I have built.
Musically as I said I just start pounding out chords on a keyboard or a guitar or a bass. First notes come after I have some chords scratched out and melodies start flowing.
When do the lyrics enter the picture? Where do they come from? Do lyrics need to grow together with the music or can they emerge from a place of their own?
Either way. Sometimes I am given a lyric and build music around it which is how "Battered Cloth" came about.
I asked my friend Keith Reid, who wrote the lyrics to "Whiter Shade Of Pale" for some lyrics and I built the music around that. But more often it’s a track that I build first with melodies and maybe some scratch idea chorus mumblings.
What makes lyrics good in your opinion? What are your own ambitions and challenges in this regard?
There should be a great marriage of a lyric to a melody. Once you have that the song works. A good lyric makes you feel something. Some emotion.
For me alot of the time when its right it will move you in some way and when the melody and lyric are right it hits you in the gut and gets some emotions flowing.
Once you've started, how does the work gradually emerge?
Usually fairly quickly. At least the music and melody. Lyrics can sometimes take a minute .
Many writers have claimed that as soon as they enter into the process, certain aspects of the narrative are out of their hands. Do you like to keep strict control over the process or is there a sense of following things where they lead you?
Totally following where it leads. As I said it‘s an organic process with my songs. They reveal themselves. Particularly when I’m writing for myself. There really is no control of the process for me.
"Hungry Eyes" musically was written in 10 minutes and it was just a flow that came through me … years of digesting music and then regurgitating. Sometimes they just flow out unfettered.
Often, while writing, new ideas and alternative roads will open themselves up, pulling and pushing the creator in a different direction. Does this happen to you, too, and how do you deal with it? What do you do with these ideas?
I have always been a bit of a chameleon musically. I have so many influences from pop to soul to rock to jazz and that come into play whenever I write. Again the music takes me ... I don’t take it.
This album had me breaking out my Vintage Juno 106 synthesizer which is the same synth I wrote "Hungry Eyes" with, and a Prophet Rev2. "She Said", “High", "Breathe Deep" and "Our Day Will Come' were built around these synths which I hadn‘t done in a long while and pushed me in a different direction and gave me a wider pallet of sound to draw from.
There are many descriptions of the creative state. How would you describe it for you personally? Is there an element of spirituality to what you do?
Not sure it’s spiritual but maybe it is. It definitely comes from somewhere else so I guess that could be spritual.
Especially in the digital age, the writing and production process tends towards the infinite. What marks the end of the process? How do you finish a work?
Yes it can be tough to say "There, I‘ve finished". But you have to stop tweaking. I can spend a few days mixing a song.
I have to listen in a few different environments and finally realize it‘s done.
Once a piece is finished, how important is it for you to let it lie and evaluate it later on? How much improvement and refinement do you personally allow until you're satisfied with a piece? What does this process look like in practise?
It’s usually done after a day or so of mixing. It’s usually pretty close quickly and then it’s a few adjustments that probably wouldn't mean too much to the listener but I wont rest till it feels done to me.
What's your take on the role and importance of production, including mixing and mastering for you personally? How involved do you get in this?
These days production is paramount. There is so much you can do to enhance a song.
Luckily for me I have a recording studio and many years of experience so production is actually the most fun I have. Using vintage analog gear, guitars and keys I am able to shape the production to what I’m hearing in my head.
Mixing is next and not my favorite part but muscle through it. It can be frustrating at first and then all of a sudden it comes together.
Mastering I leave to someone else. Usually Greg Calbi from Sterling Sound or my friend Peter Keppler. They are able to keep true to what I’ve given them and improve on it sonically.
After finishing a piece or album and releasing something into the world, there can be a sense of emptiness. Can you relate to this – and how do you return to the state of creativity after experiencing it?
Well putting it out there into the world and seeing that through is exciting, too. Although sometimes frustrating. The old model of getting something heard is gone and the new model is not easy to navigate.
I haven't had any trouble getting back into a creative place. It‘s ongoing for me.
Creativity can reach many different corners of our lives. Do you personally feel as though writing a piece of music is inherently different from something like making a great cup of coffee? What do you express through music that you couldn't or wouldn't in more 'mundane' tasks?
Seems different to me. I guess you try to put your all into whatever you do, be it making matcha green tea or cutting the lawn.
Creatively though, tapping into the music world comes from a different place. But I can't tell you where that is.