July 03, 2008

From Big Apple to Nashville

Dave Isaacs, a talented guitarist and singer-songwriter, was on a concert tour when we visited Nashville. In this Member interview, we are catching up with Dave in a blog Q&A format to explore his passion for composing, performing and teaching, and making Nashville his hometown.

What brings you to Nashville?

Having lived most of my life in New York I was ready to make a change, and the cost of living in the New York metro area was becoming a greater and greater source of stress. My wife and I had visited Nashville numerous times exploring music industry opportunities and already had friends and contacts there; we also felt it might be a more hospitable environment for the music I make. The cost of living is far more manageable, and the high concentration of creative people in a relatively small town makes for a very stimulating environment.

You have released several albums, performing as a guitarist and singer; are the songs your original work?

For the most part. I've recorded a handful of cover songs but of the seven projects I've released I am the writer or co-writer of almost all the music.

As a songwriter, do you write both lyrics and music?

Yes, though music comes to me more easily. Since I've been living here in Nashville and doing more and more co-writing I'm finding the balance to be more equal. The prevailing view in Nashville is that songwriting requires a concrete set of skills which can be practiced and polished, and I've found this to be true in that the more I write the more ideas I have and the better my songs become.

Do you write songs for other artists?

I do write songs that don't necessarily fit my own style as an artist but could suit another, and while I have yet to have my first "cut" as they say here I am working towards that as one of my career goals.

As a teacher, how do you approach songwriting?

My focus in teaching songwriting falls primarily into two main areas: vocabulary and form. A wide musical and lyrical vocabulary gives the writer more expressive range both in terms of lyrical theme and musical genre, and a command of form and structure helps communicate the writers' message and intent to the listener. The greatest shortcoming I find most aspiring writers have is that they struggle with meter and don't always understand the rhythmic implications in a spoken or sung lyric, so rhythm work is a major component of what I do as a teacher.

How do you characterize your performance coaching?

My goal as a performance coach is to help each student identify and hone their own artistic voice and personality. This involves making stylistic decisions based upon their musical tastes and natural inclinations, and then working to build up the skills to reinforce that persona in any areas that might be lacking. This could mean focusing on the physicality of how they sing and play and working to make that more fluid and natural, or it might have more to do with training the ears so that the student is more musically aware and attuned. In most people these aspects are all wrapped up together, and so my role as a teacher and coach is to shine a light on each area and show the way all the elements are interconnected.

In addition to working as a busy solo guitarist and singer, what are your other performing collaborations?

I perform steadily with singer-songwriter Briana Hardyman in a duo we call Good Souls; we've just released a CD which is currently going out to radio nationwide and being pitched to labels on Music Row. I also work with a steady rhythm section, bassist Brook Sutton and drummer Robert Crawford, two fine jazz-trained musicians and teachers themselves. They back Good Souls on full band dates, and the three of us also perform as a trio playing my music, rock, and blues (as the DI Trio), playing free-improvisational jazz and experimental music (as Chupacabra), and as a rhythm section for hire backing other artists onstage or in the studio.

How does life in Nashville influence you as an artist?

Nashville is a magnet for talented people from all over, but it's a small enough place that the concentration is tremendously high and nearly everyone you meet is involved in music either directly or indirectly. So there's a lot of synergy being created by people working together in various ways, and while mainstream country music is the dominant style there is a large and healthy underground rock scene as well as a strong jazz community. In terms of the direct influence on my work, I am far more prolific and am writing a greater variety of music because of the amount of collaboration I'm doing with a variety of people, all of whom bring their own experience and perspective to the table.

Give us a glimpse into your upcoming book and DVD on songwriting.

I've been offering workshops in conjunction with the Nashville Songwriters Association for five years now, and over the course of that time have developed a curriculum that addresses the most common issues I find in aspiring writer/performers. So while the project is aimed at songwriters it's most specifically focused upon how to help them most effectively communicate what they have to say, rather than addressing the writing process specifically. The areas I look at include rhythm skills and the ability to create and experiment with different feels and grooves, ways to unlock more options on their chosen instrument, and ways to identify and remove and physical or technical blocks that might be limiting their playing or singing. Overall the goal is for these ideas to be offer tools and solutions that can impact the students work from that point forward.

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