Interview with the Western Massachusetts Songwriters Collaborative.
WMSC Songwriter Spotlight of the Week: Paul Sticca
His sound is an acoustic alt-country-roots music mix of country, roots-rock, folk, and blues and the songs are vignettes. With his Dynamic 50’s/60’s retro mic, a harmonica hanging around his neck, and a Takamine guitar, Paul Sticca echoes his quiet reflections of life. He is one of four founding members of the WMSC (Peter J Newland, Lisa Martin & Sparkie Allison) highlighting the original music in Western Mass.
How would you describe your songwriting process?
Sparkie, thanks for asking me to participate in the WMSC interview series. In one word, I would describe my process as “off-balance” (lol). Everyone seems to have a different approach to writing music – some are very linear and others are completely chaotic – I’m somewhere in between. I tend to start with a Chorus-line (not the Rockettes - left-kick-one, right-kick-two) or “catch phrase” – the lyrical hook where the intention is that it sticks in the listener’s head hours after hearing the song. From there I tend to find the “story” that is tied to that lyrical hook or vice-versa. Most of the songs that I write come from personal experiences or the experiences of close friends, family, etc. – which is why the storylines tend to be familiar to those who know me personally when they come out to listen to live performances. The music is another story (no pun intended). The feel of the music is typically driven by the content of the song, or sometimes I may come across a good melody line and may try it out on a few songs before it sticks to a particular song. I would say I discard more songs than I keep and I only tend to record a subset of those that I keep.
What / who inspired you to start writing songs?
I started to take formal piano lessons (classical) at the age of 4 and after several years of learning “the basics” I started to become more interested in “how” these classical composers wrote this music and it amazed me that these composers wrote these pieces for many instruments. It is pretty amazing when you think about the complexity of some of their compositions and the simplicity of others. As I continued the classical piano training, I began to learn jazz improvisation, as well as other instruments (drums, percussion, experimenting with electric pianos, moog synths and even timpani drums in Junior High and High School). I started to experiment with writing music (not lyrics) around that time – mostly improvisational pieces. During my college years, a few friends who played a lot of music, mostly at house parties, wrote a ton of their own music (roots rock mostly) and I was amazed at how much they had written and worked out from an instrumentation perspective. I immediately wanted in and started to “support” their writing by adding piano/organ parts to their music and I began to write my own lyrics, progressions, etc. From there I started to learn guitar and began writing on both piano and guitar.
Have you had any formal training in songwriting either in academia or in songwriter symposiums?
I’ve had some formal training in music history and theory (I considered those my “easy” college electives), in addition to the many years of formal piano training (Springfield Music Conservatory, Pianist Ida King, etc). Though, I have never had any formal songwriting training.
Is there a theme to your writing?
I don’t think there is a particular theme to my writing. Again, most of my music is written from “first hand” experiences. I think there is a “theme” in the genre of music that I write. I grew up in Springfield heavily influenced by Classic Rock. Of course, back in the 70’s and 80’s, we didn’t have Satellite radio – we had all of about four local FM radio stations. Of course, the staple FM radio station, Rock-102, still basically seems to covers the same genre as it did 30 years ago – which is not necessarily a bad thing – that music is deemed “classic” for a reason. Bands such as the Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin, CSNY, Tom Petty, and Springsteen tended to have a huge influence on my writing. In the 90’s, I started to get into Classic and early 90’s country while I was living in a small town in Northwestern CT, and I only was able to tune into two FM channels, both Country format, on the radio in my lil’ red pickup truck.
Do you write for yourself , your band, or to pitch in the industry?
I write for myself and the band The ChickenYard (www.thechickenyard.com, shameless self-promotion). I haven’t really found the “right” outlet to pitch my music to industry labels – some would say “you’re not looking hard enough”, but it can be tough to determine where to start and there are way too many fly-by-night promoters out there who are more than willing to take your money to “help” you. The industry is FLOODED with musicians in nearly every genre and I’m not getting any younger. There is always the “blanket” method where you send out hundreds of CDs to everyone and their brother, which without some internal connection, tend to get thrown into the mile-high pile of demos. It amazes me how YouTube has become a key player in finding talent in various niches – a few million hits? No problem (lol).
In addition to performing solo, you are part of a band. Does that shape the way you write?
Yes, as part of a band whose primary goal is to perform live, I try to write music that will work well with the sum of the parts. My band is comprised of equally great players who tend to know what “position” they are playing (i.e. our Short-stop doesn’t pitch). And live, we like to keep things up-tempo, although we’ll throw in the occasional ballad or “moody” song. So, I write some songs with the intention of recording and/or performing them solo and, with others, the focus is on the band and how they will be received in a live setting.
Give me the elevator pitch: why do people want to hear your songs? What is unique about your songs?
In 30 seconds or less – go! I really don’t have an elevator pitch, I think that our music tends to resonate with the 40’s on up demographic because there is a familiarity to it because, as I mentioned, of our “classic rock” influences. And the band tends to mix in various classic rock and country covers to keep our audiences engaged. People who have never heard the band will come out to a show and they don’t know what to expect. Afterward, they usually seemed surprised at how much they enjoyed it (and then we highly encourage those folks to tip well or purchase our wares)! I also perform solo throughout the year and feedback on my originals is always positive and so very appreciated – When playing solo, the atmosphere is a much more laid back, which we all need sometimes as well!
How do you see the WMSC impacting songwriters in WMass?
The WMSC, with the support of several local businesses and associations, provides songwriters with an outlet and supportive venues to perform original music. It allows members to participate as a “featured” artist in live shows, which is more than your average open mic – and the “in the round” format really promotes “variety” in performance across the board. Longer-term vision - the WMSC is beginning to receive attention from various local cultural councils and, of course, the Springfield Business Improvement District organization, as these organizations have demonstrated that there is recognition and commitment to the need for original, local performances, which has been lacking in Western Massachusetts for many years. The WMSC’s goal is to change that mindset.
To hear Paul:
Paul Sticca www.acousticca.com
Song Link: Baby Anyways ©2016 Paul Sticca https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_C96nnURFzg