Song-A-Week Songwriting Challenge – Jan. Review

Whew. I did it. I wrote – and recorded – 4 songs this month.  When I called this a songwriting challenge, I wasn’t kidding. It felt more than a bit like bootcamp getting them all recorded in time for today. And like bootcamp, the first month was pretty rough. I hadn’t factored in the time it would take to record them, and it was significant. I am using Logic on my laptop and am not very experienced. But one of the main points of this exercise is to get faster, and indeed I am already gaining proficiency in Logic, which is a bonus skill I hadn’t even considered.

What I’ve learned this month –

1) A week is not long enough to write a song. Not for me. At least not yet.

2) “Bacon” is a very user-friendly word in terms of rhyming.

3) Mandolins are metal!  \m/\m/

Okay! Without further ado, let’s set a few ground rules and get started.

I am asking for your feedback in the comments. When you give it, keep in mind, these are very rough sketches, not all fleshed out with arrangements and other instruments.  So when critiquing, please limit comments to melody, lyrics, and song structure. Of course, ideas for instrumentation will be welcomed, but telling me the arrangement needs work will yield a “duh” response. :+)

I have not posted the lyrics, as I was concerned they would take up too much space. I am hoping you’ll be able to hear them in the songs, but if you find it would be helpful to have them in written form let me know, and I’ll work out a way to post them online.

Lastly – please don’t snag the songs from this site and let them get out into the world. I do plan to use the best of these on albums and I don’t want to lose the element of newness. (If you really want one, just ask, and I’ll send it to you with the caveat that you don’t post it on the internet. This is the only  place I want them online until they are ready for release to the greater community. Thanks!)

Here’s what I came up with:

Week 1
Song for a Savior
This is a song about being our own heros. It’s the one that started this whole thing. (I.e. the one that Winter criticized  ;+) ).  I reworked it some based on Winter’s suggestions. It’s still got some swords and kings in it but I felt that the nature of the song couldn’t do without them. Heros need swords after all.   Song for a Savior.

Week 2
Engines of Doom
As the title suggests, this is a metal song, for Pandemonaeon. It’s part of a 4-song epic tale we will be telling based on an idea of Paul’s, about a great battle that seemingly cannot be won, and the despair that ensues, yet also with a quest that yields strengths we didn’t know we had. Sounds pretty cool eh? So where’s the mp3?  Well…here’s the thing. Paul and Winter don’t want to give this away beforehand, but have it be unveiled in it’s full glory at a live show. (Preserving the element of newness and all).  So they’ve forbidden it’s inclusion here. :+( .  I see their point really. But. Pout. Also – they threw it back. They said my part wasn’t “metal” enough. So back to the drawing board on that one. I think rewrites are going to have to be allowed  in this songwriting process! For now you’ll just have to take my word that I did complete a first draft of this song.

Week 3
It’s the Bacon
I wasn’t going to write a song about bacon. I really wasn’t. But one of you suggested it when I first put out the call for ideas, and it just kind of trickled into my head.  So I figured I’d polish it up and put it out there. Sometimes writing about something completely outside your usual fare really cracks open the idea flow, and that is what happened with this. I’ve been getting lots of ideas since I wrote this. (NOTE: I recorded this last night at midnight after a guest appearance in a friend’s show, so I was not at my most refreshed. Nor did I add any of the fun”oohs”, “ahhs” and vocal percussion I was hoping to add. I haven’t done this justice, but I simply ran out of time. Also – I just noticed, it doesn’t start until 15 seconds into the mp3). It’s The Bacon

Week 4
I am the Sand and Sea
Okay! This one is truly the belle of the ball as far as I’m concerned. This song represents the first real songwriting breakthrough I’ve had in a while, and I am very excited about it. It’s my first attempt at demonstrating that “Mandolins are Metal”. I hope you like where Im going with this, as I’ll be following this thread qite a lot more over the next year.  I-am-the-Sand-and-Sea

Okay! There you have it! Please leave your comments here and let me know your favorites, and why, which ones you’d like to see developed further, any ideas for instrumentation, what could be made better, etc.

Also please leave any ideas for next month’s songwriting endeavors here in the comments.

And THANK YOU for playing along!


Friday’s Featured Fabulousness – R-Rated Kali

Heya beauties!

Here in Oakland, we have a lovely custom called First Fridays, where local artists open up their studios the first Friday of each month for an “Art Walk”  that spans about an 8 block radius and includes restaurants, painters, handmade clothing designers, musicians, and multimedia artists of all kinds. It is a great way to get out into the community and get your own creative juices flowing and it is one of the reasons I love living in Oakland.

I don’t really have a studio that I can open to display my own art, but I have decided to participate in this tradition by hosting my own “Friday’s Featured Fabulousness”, which will happen every Friday, right here. After all, I have been expanding my offerings to include art (I was a visual artist long before I discovered music) but you’d never know that if I didn’t tell you about it. So that’s what Friday’s Featured Fabulousness is about – showcasing one of my creations that may bring fabulousness into your life.

We’re going to start with Tribal Kali. I am featuring her first, because someone flagged her as R-rated on my store, which means she is likely to become hard to find. Sheesh. Just because she’s naked. I mean, it’s not like it’s porn. She’s freaking Kali, for fuck’s sake! So what if you can see her nipples? Or a bit of muff? It’s not like they’re “in use”.  And it’s not like there’s senseless violence. Well. Except for the severed head. But still. It’s a METAPHORICAL severed head. Some folks just don’t get Kali at all. :+)

Anyway – ranting aside – she’s quite a powerful iconic design, I think, for when you want to invoke a little more ass-kickery into your day. For now, I am using Zazzle as my store of choice and you can currently get her on a T-Shirt and a button. (The button got the R-rated flag. I changed it back to G-rating, which means everyone can see it, but they’re bound to be on to me soon, in which case you won’t be able to see her until you make an account with Zazzle and put your content filter settings to “off”. Kinda like that Island in Pirates of the Caribbean, that can only be found by those who already know where it is).

So I figured I’d give her top billing while you can still see her.  :+)

If you’d like to see the rest of the items in the store, here is the link.

Oh and Zazzle has got an endless supply of schwag to put art on so if you decide you want her on any number of other things – a coffee mug, a keychain, an iPhone case – shoot me a note and I’ll set it up for you.


2012 – The Year You and I Write Songs Together

Celtic spirit, metal attitude!

Happy New Year everybody!

I hope your festivities over the weekend have helped set the tone you’d like to see in 2012 (i.e. no puking), and that you are well on your way to any new beginnings you mean to invoke.

I rarely make New Year’s resolutions, as I prefer the idea of living intentionally every day.  My New Year’s celebrations always include some version of setting my intentions for the year and toasting them with friends.  However, I did make one resolution-type commitment this year that I am pretty jazzed about.

It began with writer’s block. There I sat, staring at the blank page with the bleak emptiness of a soul who has nothing to say.  But not to worry, I know the cure. Write anyway. So I do. Except that everything I write is shite. Or so I tell myself.

“You’re saying the same things over and over” says the Critic, brandishing his cane and pursing his shriveled lips in disapproval. “That’s stupid!” “Nobody says that!” “That doesn’t even rhyme.”

But onward I go, stalwart and steadfast. “Get back ye great prune! What have you ever done? All you do is tear down, so hush.”

Thus vanquished, my critic pipes down and I manage to churn out a song. It was a pretty song. Quite pleased with myself, was I.

And then came Winter. “Your songs are always about castles, kings, towers, serpents, pirates, and phoenixes. Write about something else”.


Apparently my efforts to blast through writer’s block are still not yielding breakthrough results. Clearly I need help. But from whom?

Why, you, of course! 

Yep, 2012 is going to be the Song-A-Week Songwriting Challenge, and I want you to help me.

Here’s how it’s going to go down:
I will write one song a week, every week, for the entire year of 2012. On the first Monday of each month, I will put out a call for ideas, right here on this blog,  and you guys are welcome to suggest ideas you’d like to hear me write about, in the comments section. If an idea really grabs me, or I see a common theme developing from several suggestions,  I will write a song based on your idea. On the last Monday of each month, I will post a recording of songs written that month and ask for your feedback and to vote for your favorites. If I’ve written something based on your idea I will give you a copy of the recording. Over time, the favorites will be developed into fully arranged songs for release on a formal album.

In this way you all can help me craft my next album in accordance with what you would like me to write about. A truly collaborative effort!

I think this will be fun, and it will really help me to have you guys part of the process. Aside from providing valuable feedback, you guys will really help to hold me accountable! Getting a new song written and recorded every week is going to be quite the trick with all the other irons I’ve got in the fire this year –  a new chant CD with Thorn, my summer touring schedule, and developing music meditations and workshops for Sonic Alchemy (because songs change the world, yo!) to name just a few!

So please hold me to my word – I’ll be a better woman for it, and also a better songwriter!

And, lo and behold – it’s the first Monday of the month! No time like the present to get started.  Got an idea for a Sharon Knight or a Pandemonaeon song? Let me know in the comments below. Thanks in advance for your help, I really do appreciate it. Let the ideas commence!

(Want to get a free improvisational composition from Sharon in your inbox each month? Sign the mailing list and we’ll send ’em out. They’re called mermaid kisses. And btw – we never ever ever share your email with anyone else and we keep our own mailings to once or twice a month. In case you were wondering.)

A Mermaid’s Lair

I did this awhile ago but figured I’d post a pic as a reminder that when we are feeling uninspired with our abodes, paint gives a big bang for the buck in the transformation department!

This was a huge improvement over “landlord white” and now my bedroom makes me feel like a mermaid!

This just cost me 2 cans of paint – one white and one the jewel-tone green, a few rollers, one tray, one brush, and pizza and beer for my helpers. Under $100 for sure. Probably under $60 without the beer swilling fiends I had for help.

All part of my core philosophy – bringing beauty and wonder to your life doesn’t require a lot of money, just imagination. :+)

Neofolk Romantique – New Music!

We have new music, which was just unveiled last night at our show with Wendy Rule at Serpent’s Kiss in Santa Cruz.  Just in time for our cross-country tour. Yay!! This is a collection of traditionals and new originals that have yet to find their way onto a “formal” album. It also introduces our self-proclaimed musical genre, Neofolk Romantique. After years of  listening to the staunch Celtic traditionalists proclaim that my music is “Not Celtic”  I have decided to create my own genre. Neofolk Romantique is what I like to think of as an innovative and fresh interpretation of folk music; it contains a goodly dose of stark melancholy and reverence for ancestral tradition that one thinks of when one hears the term Neofolk, but also has a romantic and fanciful spin. Romantique, in fact, for our love of antiquity and old world charm. Rather more flattering than “Not Celtic”, wouldn’t you say?

Neofolk Romantique gives me far more flexibility to reflect my own world without getting bogged down in annoying trivialities such as facts. Facts have very little place in art, as far as I am concerned. Give me Steampunk over Reconstructionism any day.

So – reinventions having been thus proclaimed, let me tell you about this album.

It is indeed romantic and fanciful. All acoustic and very sparsely instrumented. A highlight for me is a song I wrote for a storm, who’s beauty swept me away completely. It’s called Mistress of Maclyr, and the vocal performance is one of the most emotional I have ever given. It isn’t technically perfect, but that is part of the charm of this album, and left this way intentionally. Enchanting performances by Winter and Tim Rayborn are also featured.

It also includes Saucy Sailor, a feisty English traditional about a carefree sailor lad. I have always loved the spirit of this song. Then there is an A Capella poem by William Butler Yeats, and a fun little tune I wrote called The Captain’s Flask. And of course we had to include Henry Martin, one of our best loved songs when we play live.  We also recorded an acoustic version of Pandemonaeon’s Queen of Shadows which came out surprisingly well. The album contains 10 songs in all.

We consider this a pre-release, which means this:

These particular versions of the songs will only be available for a limited time.

Some of these songs – particularly the traditionals – will only be released on this album and not on the formal release. Therefore they will only be available for the duration that this pre-release is available.

These songs represent a sparse, paired down interpretation of our music that is much more akin to our live shows than our full-production albums. They contain the flaws, vulnerabilities, and intimacy of a live show and as such give a different feeling than our lushly crafted studio albums.

You can listen to the album in it’s entirety – and if you like, purchase it – on our bandcamp page. Folks who purchase this album will get $5 off our formal studio release, due out within the year, simply by mentioning they bought the Neofolk Romantique pre-release. We beleive in the honor system because we believe you are honorable.


Henry Rollins and the art of Commitment

I want to be like Henry Rollins.

Last weekend I saw Henry perform live at the Independent in SF. He was brilliant. I expected him to be witty but I had no idea he’d be downright hilarious. He spoke of the changing world, the suffering of people, and the need to band together. He described democracy as an “us” thing, and had a refreshingly hopeful outlook for someone known as a badass. In fact, his rant on cynicism particularly resonates with me. He says cynicism is a cop-out. It is much easier to write the world off as hopeless because then we don’t have to do anything. Much more challenging – and courageous –  is to maintain a vision of optimism and strive to bring that to light.

Yes, I want to be like Henry Rollins. Of course there are key differences. I would never refer to my home as the “Utilitarian Hovel”, as he does. I prefer living in the “Budget Luxury Castle.”  After all, there is no reason not to surround yourself with beauty.  I figured out long ago that you don’t have to have riches to have beauty in your life, just imagination. And commitment.

Commitment is a powerful thing. It is easy to let ourselves straddle life from the vantage point of “non-attachment”,  thinking we are so zen to accept whatever life gives us. But that is only part of the coin.  If you don’t seize life and carve out the slice you want, you are going to get the leftovers. Sure, you need to have a certain amount of grace in rolling with the punches, but to never make a commitment because that is somehow lusting too much or grasping for something that may never be, well there is a recipe for an unfulfilled life right there. Not for me.

And I suppose that was what I liked so much about Henry Rollins. He obviously has a brilliant mind. Here is a man whose command of the English language is such that he can describe the air pollution in Beijing as  “Satanic marshmallows of filth”. But he still had to sit down and figure out which of his lightning quick thoughts he was going to organize into a skit. He had to choose how to string them together into a story, and work on the pacing to fit within the time frame of his shows and maximize comedic delivery. There was definite commitment there, a focused application of Will, to create a show out of his strengths. And because he has done that, he gets to travel around entertaining folks. Then he spends the rest of his time traveling the world and seeing the sights, which gives him then more rich material from which to glean new entertaining yet poignant and relevant bits of wisdom for his audience.

I was pleasantly surprised by his hopeful and uplifting outlook.  Here is a guy who is just about as far from the new age happy- place hippie you can possibly imagine. Yet he still feels that we are going to figure out our predicament as a species. He thinks we will rise to the occasion and put our collective brain power together and help each other. There will always be greedy assholes trying to take all for themselves, but ultimately there are far more of us than there are of them, and many of us are smart. The more we can learn to help one another the more we will not just survive but thrive. This was the core message that I took away from his show, and which made all the other funny stuff just gravy. Here was an obviously intelligent person, who really thought things through, who was not just a wishful thinking kind of person, whitewashing everything with “it’s all going to be fine”. Here was someone who thinks the hard thoughts – and still thinks we are going to be okay because we will band together and help each other out.

And that is why I say I want to be like Henry Rollins. I too would like to inspire, with beautiful  music and clever stories that make people laugh and cry and ultimately feel a surge of hope for our world. To be part of that cabal that reminds each other that life is worth participating in fully, that the things we are passionate about are worth committing to.

Thank you Henry, for rekindling my hope the other night. May I take the torch now and light another’s. And may those others also pass the flame and together we will rekindle the world. After all, it’s an “us” thing.