Below is part two of my interview with Juno award winning songwriter Helen Austin. We get down to details about the daily life of a songwriter.
Do you consciously try to write every day?
I consciously try to do something towards my music career everyday. So this morning I was dealing with Twitter stuff and answering people on Twitter and putting out about band stuff. Anything that’s towards the music career, so it’s not always writing.
Do you have a daily time block?
Well, after the kids go to school; then I make myself stop for lunch and I love Dr. Phil. So I watch Dr. Phil, because I found that when I was in my song a week, the kids would go to school, I would write and record until I went to pick them up, and I was really mean because I was so tired and so depleted. So I started making myself stop for lunch for at least 40 minutes, because that’s how long it takes to watch Dr. Phil.
So your rule is that you have to not work some time every day.
And then when I go to pick them up I’m in a good mood because I’m not so exhausted and then I, Dr. Phil he taught me, he said “you’ve got to look after your children’s mother “ and as soon as I heard that I’m like YEAH so he kind of gave me permission to do that. If I’m mean to them it’s no good for them.
Do you play often in kid-related venues?
I do. I don’t tour, I made a conscious decision not to tour when I got to Canada because I’d done so much touring as a comedian and I wanted to be home. I just did a whole literacy week thing where I played at the libraries and schools. Then I go into schools sometimes, I’ve written a couple of these school songs, where I get the kids to write how they feel about the school and then put it into a song so they’ve got their school song…..One of my favorite gigs is a class in my daughter’s high school called the Life Skills Class and it’s for kids with a whole range of disabilities. I go play for them every term and the first time I played it I’d never been around kids with disabilities…..So I’d never been exposed to any of that and of course the first time I went to play for these kids I just wanted to cry the whole time because I’m thinking about their parents; and now I love the gig because you see the difference that music makes, you go, wow this is amazing!
So you won the John Lennon two years in a row! I didn’t even know that was allowed.
I couldn’t believe that. I entered that one thinking should I bother? That would be silly if they gave it to me twice. That wouldn’t’ be fair. and then they did. I feel a bit better about it because I wrote that one with the guy I’m now in a band with that we’re about to release this EP, the Big Little Lions. That was the song that started our collaboration so I was really glad that he was part of that and we’re splitting the prizes
I saw on a couple of your articles you mention that you do most of your recording at home.
I do everything I’ve done, there’s a few songs on the Colour It album that Paul [Member of Big Little Lions] produced, but yeah everything else I’ve done myself.
So what’s your setup, and I’m going to pretend like I know technical terms here.
So wait are you sitting in your studio right at this moment?
I am! See actually [it’s] my bedroom. My husband was like “you can’t have a studio in the bedroom,” but I said it’s my favorite room and it’s big enough. I just love it. It’s a very red room, it’s got lots of red things, dark red carpets and I feel cocooned.
You have just the one mic that you use?
I have a couple of them just so that I don’t have to keep switching over channels or moving the mic up and down as well.
You don’t plug anything in?
The two guitars that I use, I’ve got a Taylor 814Ce which I love, which is really lovely, kind of all round good sound, and then I’ve got a Godin 5th Avenue which is an archtop guitar and I put flatwounds on it and I love the sound, so I don’t need to plug them in.
You play guitar then and what else?
I play ukulele and piano. The thing I’m best at is the flute, which is really useful, not!
So you do all of you recording at home but do you have someone else who mixes it?
I mix it at home but I do have somebody that masters it, Hans DeKline.
When you’re writing for kids specifically are you thinking at all about how they’re going to consume the media?
I do, I keep the melody simple. I make sure there’s a hook [for instance] I’ve got a song called Lovely that goes “La la la” apparently a lot of kids sing along to that one. I want something that they can grasp hold of immediately. If [they] can’t sing it the second time it comes around then for kids it’s not a good chorus. For kids they’ve got to hear it and then sing it the second time. So I make sure there’s a hook that they can grab on to.
Is there something that you’re trying to convey? Do you have a mission? Are you just writing songs that kids can enjoy, which is valid, or is there something more?
Yes I do have a mission because I’ve taken parenting very very seriously. My mission is to put good kids into the world who will be volunteers, who will go out and do good things. I want to say, you’re unique, you have something to offer the world and go out and pay it forward.
That’s pretty much the best mission you can have.
To vote for Helen to win the John Lennon Songwriting Contest Grand Prize, click here.