Call and Response is a collection of "answer songs," each responding to another artist's work. As well as answering songs by the Rolling Stones (“Sympathy for the Devil”) and Bruce Springsteen (“Atlantic City”), I've also written and recorded songs responding to short stories by Joyce Carol Oates and Alice Munro.
I even had the thrill of collaborating on songs co-written with bestselling author Jonathan Lethem (“Motherless Brooklyn”) and celebrated short story writer George Saunders.
I've been working on Call and Response for three years. It's been an absurdly fun project, and I am wildly excited to share it with music and literature fans.
Below are some of the songs I responded to, and their track listing:
1. Sympathy for the Devil
The Rolling Stones
I've always loved this song, but it doesn't seem like a very sympathetic portrait, so I thought it would be interesting to try to write an actual sympathetic portrait of the devil, while still preserving a hint of the dark sizzle.
3. The Bear Came Over the Mountain
This was the first story suggested by New Yorker fiction editor Deborah Treisman when I told her I wanted to write some responses to her stories. As it happened, I had just re-read the story that summer while on vacation, so it was fresh in my mind. A bittersweet portrait of a complicated love in its latter years.
5. Forked River Roadside Shrine
Joyce Carol Oates
The second song I wrote responding to a New Yorker story was "Mastiff" by Joyce Carol Oates, and Deborah Treisman sent me a very nice note that JCO herself wrote about the song. When I wrote to thank Ms. Oates for her kind words, I offered to do another song, and she sent me a story that Vice had published recently, "Forked River Roadside Shrine, South Jersey." Vice later premiered the song.
9. Deadbeat (Dyslexic Heart)
Jay Baron Nicorvo
Poets and Writers' editor Kevin Larimer suggested I consider writing a response to some of Jay's poems. Jay sent me his book, and I spent a few days pulling phrases from his dense, lovely poems. You can hear the resulting song here.
14. Walter Reed
This is one of my favorite songs, serious-pop perfection. I listen to it all the time, and it was easy to write a song that tried to take the point of view of the person being spoken to in Mr. Penn's song.
Risks and challenges
Making art is a real pleasure, and can usually done pretty cheaply if you have generous friends and conspirators.
Promoting art is more difficult, at least for me, and a LOT more expensive. Backers will be helping to remove some of the hurdles to sharing the work with listeners, hiring publicists, and otherwise greasing the promotional wheel. For my last album I was backed by a label for the first time in a decade or so, which was great fun, but for this album I am going it alone again (cue: harmonica music, sunset, horsey smells).
Thanks for any help you can offer!
- (30 days)