A singer-songwriter with deep roots in the San Francisco Bay Area, Iari is a gifted performer, collaborator, teacher, and strong advocate for great music.
How to find Iari
- Website – https://iarimusic.com/
- Hearme – https://iari.hearnow.com/
- Soundcloud – https://soundcloud.com/iari-melchor
- Instagram – https://www.instagram.com/iarimelchor/
- Twitter – https://twitter.com/iarimelchor
SWR: How about we start with how you got into this? At what point did you say, This is it for me. I’m getting into music. I’m getting into songwriting versus being here in the Bay Area? Being the guy in the cisco T-shirt
Iari: I always wanted to sing. I always loved to sing. There are pictures of me as a two and three year old, with my shirt off and my diapers or just my baby bottoms, with a toy guitar, singing Forever in Blue Jeans by Neil Diamond, right? Music has always been in me. I didn’t realize that you could actually make a career of it until eighth grade, ninth grade.
SWR: Fairly young still. Yeah.
Iari: Not as young as you would think. Especially by today’s standards. Now you have kids who are two and three. There’s video and stuff. There’s a lot more opportunity for them to be seen. Everyone’s trying to do that whole viral thing. Back then, I mean. That’s because Boyz to Men came out. Then you had other
SWR: ’96, ’97.
Iari: Yeah. Color Me Bad. You had Shy and you had Special Generation, which was on MC Hammer’s label. You had Silk. You had Last Night by Az Yet. All these harmony groups. I love singing harmony. I grew up listening to the Beach Boys. I was a huge Beach Boys fan. My very first concert was the Beach Boys at Shoreline Amphitheater. I used to collect music on vinyl because my apo, I’m Filipino, my apo, he had a huge like these two desks together. Big record player, right? So we would go to Warehouse or Tower Records or Music Land in the malls. That’s what they were. The Music Land stores. I would buy vinyl. I’d come home and I’d listen. I’d just listen for hours to the Beach Boys. Everyone around me just got really sick of the Beach Boys. I loved harmony. That’s partly where I started learning to sing falsetto and experimenting with trying to sing low like a bass. But in junior high, you know, I’m listening to a lot more Top 40 radio. Then Boyz to Men comes out. It’s like, oh my god, this cool doo-wop acapella sound.
Then Color Me Bad comes out and they’re having acapella battles. It’s like oh my god, it’s amazing what you can do with three or four voices. Or five voices. So I would rope my friends together and we would … I would teach them parts, you know? Doing my best to listen. Back then, I didn’t buy sheet music because they didn’t really write out the vocal parts that Boyz to Men arranged. So you’re stuck listening to the radio over and over again. What I would do, back in the day, you take your cassette tape. You just stream the radio and you could actually record the radio, which was great. So I would record songs off the radio and then I’d wear out the cassettes listening to the harmony parts and teaching them to my friends.
You know, we were terrible. I mean, we got enough of it that people would stop and listen and clap and stuff, you know. It was then. It was probably about then that I’m going you know, I could do this forever. You know, in junior high … In early high school … In high school you start becoming aware that there’s life after being a teenager because then you have college. Then you start talking about well, what’s the point of college? It’s to get a good job. To get an education and to get a good job. Well, why do you need a job? Well, you have to make money so you can live and exist in society. It’s like oh. So back then I started thinking whoa, I can get paid to sing? This is revolutionary. I want to do this forever. So I started becoming aware that I wanted to be an artist or at least a singer. Professional singer back then. I didn’t start writing music until about junior high also because …
God, what happened? I was given a poetry book. I was deathly ill for a couple days from school. Along with a bag of comic books that my mom or my dad, I can’t remember, I think it was my dad. No, it was my mom. My mom … My dad got me the comic books. My mom came home with the poetry book. So I started reading and then I started going well, this rhymes. Maybe I’ll try writing a song. I mean, I could do a Beach Boys tune no problem. So the very first song that I wrote … It was terrible. I remember the title. It was called The Tidal Wave. It’s bad. It’s so bad. I’m embarrassed and I’m blushing just thinking about it. It was bad, you know? It was my first attempt at writing in a song structure where you have a verse and you have a chorus. I think I’ve only written two or … I think two poems. Two actual poems that are really freeform and stuff like that. My whole experience with writing any kind of poetry is in lyric form.
SWR: So let’s talk about inspirations. You talked about Beach Boys.
Iari: Oh yeah.
SWR: What else?
Iari: I went through my phases. My mom and my dad, they were divorced since I was one and a half but they remained really good friends so that my brother and I could have some semblance of normalcy and not a completely divided home. My mom was really into The Beatles, the Beach Boys, ABBA, Motown. My dad was so much into classic rock, Led Zeppelin, The Who, Dan Fogleberg, Jefferson’s Airplane, Pink Floyd, The Doors. Groups like that. My musical taste was really informed by the fact that during the week … Well, first off, for a spell we lived in South San Jose. My mom wasn’t happy with the school systems in San Jose so we stayed in Sunnyvale. I was born in Sunnyvale. So we would make this commute to and from. It was the worst. I would just be stressed out because we were always late. Then on the way back home, it was just so much traffic but we would spend time playing name that tune. Or listening to the cassette tapes in the car.
When we played name that tune, someone would have to sing the melody and someone else would have to guess what was going on. So during the week, a lot of Motown, a lot ABBA, a lot of stuff like that. Then with my dad, a lot of the classic rock. I think in junior high, you know, you start becoming your own person. You start … At least I did. I started exploring my own … That’s when I fell in love with The Beach Boys. That was for two or three years. Then my mom said check out The Beatles too. Oh, The Beatles, cool. But I was never really a huge Beatles fan until much later. Then what was it? My cousins were listening to Top 40. At the time, that was … God, Karen White, Paula Abdul. This is what? 1988? 1987, ’88, ’89? A lot of Latin freestyle so you had Cynthia, you had Johnny O, you had Linear, you had Sweet Sensation. Then it was ’89, ’90, that’s when Boyz to Men burst on the scene. I remember summer of ’89, maybe, or ’90, I was at … What’s the water park in San Jose?
SWR: The Raging Waters?
Iari: Thank you! Raging Waters. I don’t know why that escaped me. But Raging Waters. I heard, for the first time, Pour Some Sugar On Me by Def Leppard. So then I went from The Beach Boys phase into the Def Leppard phase. Just totally devoured any CD. I started collecting CDs by then instead of vinyl.
SWR: That album was pretty awesome.
Iari: Oh Hysteria was huge, right? Just hugely … I loved it. But then, of course, I mean, Boyz to Men came out. I was listening to Bobby Brown, New Addition, R&B groups and stuff like that. Then I started … What was it? I started listening to … Well, early high school, you know, my mom was sick and the family needed help so I started working 36-38 hours a week on top of going to full time high school. Because of that, I was also able to afford, for myself, voice lessons. Then I started taking voice lessons. I started exploring out even more into listening to Elton John, Billy Joel, you know, Disney was making their resurgence. You had Beauty and The Beast. You had Aladdin. You know?
SWR: For sure. Yeah.
Iari: So you had these great pop songs that were really music theater songs but they had their pop versions and they were just blowing up, you know? Of course, the singers on those, they could really sing. Then I started listening to Peabo Bryson because he was on, you know, Beauty and The Beast. It was just, you know, it was really organic how my influences … Then in high school, I became a jazz snob. Not high school but in college. I became a declared vocal performance major. I studied classically but De Anza College has the premier, or had at the time, the premier vocal jazz program in the Bay Area. In fact, their touring groups had won nine years running The Jazz Magazine’s downbeat, right? Their collegiate award for best superior vocal jazz.
SWR: Oh wow. I didn’t know that.
Iari: Yeah. So I studied there and became a jazz snob. You know, started listening to a lot of Stevie Wonder. I mean, I think that’s where the most formative years for me really were. That’s when I started to really choose, for myself, what I wanted to listen too. It was a lot of Stevie Wonder, it was a lot of Donnie Hathaway. It was a lot of blue eyed soul music from the UK because they kept the soul tradition alive. You know, a lot of vocal jazz, of course, and learning how to sing those intricate four, five, and six part harmonies, you know, where they don’t make sense and it’s just a lot of color tones that don’t really fit in the chord structure, you know? It’s like an extension. You’re singing the 9th, the 11th, or the weird 13th. Some weird thing. The tenors always had something weird. But yeah. That’s how I was influenced growing up.
SWR: So a lot of influences but I feel like, from what you’re telling me, kind of hardened somewhere around high school and college. I mean, today, I feel like you’re channeling a lot of Stevie Wonder and a lot of Motown in your music. So today, who’s your influence? Today, who’s your go to in your music?
Iari: My go to in my music? It’s a couple singer/songwriters. There’s James Morrison from the UK. He is heavily influenced by ’60’s and ’70’s soul. I love Gavin Degraw who is like this crazy mix of early Billy Joel, New York Rock. I swear to god, I’m convinced he made his living doing piano bars. The way that he plays and the way that he sings and the way that he talks to the crowd … I’ve seen him in concert twice. I think … Who else? I still listen to Connor Reese from the UK even though he hasn’t put anything out. When you find songs that influence you, they’re still your favorites, right? I just started diving even deeper into Stevie Wonder’s discography. That’s not going to help me sound anything less like Stevie Wonder.
SWR: You can tell your influences, I think, right? Which is fantastic, paying homage to your mentors.
SWR: Let’s switch gears to talking about song writing. Let’s start a little easy here. This is maybe a cheesy question but do you have go to tools? Is it just paper pen? Do you like your phone?
Iari: You know what? Honestly, I take a shower. I do some of my best thinking when I’m not thinking, you know? I’ve come up with some really crazy songs in the shower. I’ve heard that’s the same for a lot of artists that I’ve had the opportunity to meet or work with or even do co-writes with. It’s like this really weird thing where if you try to overthink it, it’s not going to be great. Sometimes the initial inspiration has to be very organic and it’s gotta just kind of come from your subconscious. It’s almost like you’re kind of just channeling. For me, when I write, I tend to be really strong on melody and structure and chord progression and stuff like that. The very last thing that I usually nail down is the lyric. Just recently I was in … I went to Judy Stakey’s song writing retreat. Judy Stakey used to be the head of Warner Chapel Publishing. She’s worked with thousands of artists. She was super influential in Sheryl Crow becoming an artist. She worked with Gavin Degraw. I don’t want to say she discovered but she really helped nurture Jewel. She knows what she’s doing. When I was there, she had us do these different exercises. Now, sometimes I’ll journal. Then you go back and you read what you wrote. Often times you’re just looking for single lines, you know? You’re not necessarily trying to come up … You’re just looking for one or two things that could be thematic. Then you can work around. For me, that’s … I’m learning how important story and perspective is, especially for the lyric. My strength, I think, will always be the melody. I have, on my old phone, four or five song ideas that are really strong that it was always like hey, I’ll come back and I’ll write the words and I just haven’t gone back to write the words. The songs are finished. It’s me strumming on a guitar or playing the keys. Verse, chorus, verse, chorus, bridge, chorus. I got all the melody and I got the whole section and I got a three and a half minute song. The only thing I don’t have is the story, right? That tends to be very typical for me. What I’m learning to do and what I love is lately I’ve been a lot more collaborative. I love working with other songwriters, especially those that are really strong with lyrics. Then I get to learn about their process and I’m able to see how they’re able to find those words and we can talk about it. Also just having a mirror there that you can bounce ideas off of. I’m thinking maybe the song’s about this, you know, thematically. Here’s the perspective. We’re trying to stay in that moment, what do you think about this? Does this tell a good story? When I work with someone who’s stronger with lyrics, then I am. It usually tends to come out pretty cool.
SWR: Fantastic. So you talk about the shower thing. Do you have music playing in the shower? Is it just-
SWR: It’s just shower and boom.
Iari: It’s just shower and boom. It’s really weird.
SWR: Okay. Awesome. Awesome. So there’s no distractions. You’re just relaxed and it comes to you. You also mentioned collaborating. How do you go about finding people to collaborate? Is it Craigslist? Is it a friend of a friend?
Iari: No. Honestly, I’ve been a member of an organization called the West Coast Songwriter’s Association off and on since ’97. Just recently, I’ve gotten … I guess I’m now considered one of the old timers or the vets. Now, I’m actually a co-manager of one of their songwriting competition open mics. Every month, all the way from LA, all the way up to Seattle, they have scheduled songwriting competitions where singer/songwriters come and they will perform. Usually the open mics are sponsored by a recording studio. They award two categories. Best performance. Best song. Winners of the best song, they will usually win anywhere between two to four hours with a sponsoring studio. The judges are usually other artists. I try to get other artists to judge artists to be the judges or adjudicator because I feel like if you’re an artist, then you’re in the trenches. You know what the struggle is. Sometimes, you’ll have someone who is a producer but hasn’t been a performer in years or hasn’t necessarily been a songwriter in years. They’re more of an engineer. So this is my own personal opinion, this doesn’t detract from any of those judges who are this, sometimes I think their perspective isn’t as close to the heart of a songwriter or a performing artist. When I am a co-manager and I’m looking for judges, I will always firstly ask other professional artists on tour that are in the area that I know or that are just local. I think that’s a respectable commentary that these other songwriters who are actually competing. They’ll be able to receive that. They’ll know that it’s coming from someone who are equally vested in being an Indie artist or they’ve had professional success. I find artists just by being a part of this organization and attending events and going to conferences. Oh, not just West Coast conferences. This last summer I went to Nashville and went to the CD Baby DO It Yourself music conference. I love that conference. It’s huge. You’re in Nashville, which is a working town. Not only is it a music town but it … I mean, you can literally feel the spirit of entrepreneurism, for lack of a better word. I probably just made that up.
You know, the spirit’s real there. You can feel that. Everyone there is there to work and to get their hustle on. Whether that’s in music … A lot times … You know, 9 times out of 10, people are there because it’s a music town. That’s where I meet. Also in San Jose, there’s a great renaissance of young, creative talent. In the Sofa District, there are more and more venues that are curating a space for these artists to be able to play. You didn’t have that. You had it in the early 2000’s. I met a lot of great people at this open mic that was occurring every Monday and Thursday at this one venue. So amazing. Then for a number of years, probably after 2006 to just recently, there was nothing. Now you have all this creative talent that’s welling up. Now you have venues that are doing that. I’m trying to plug myself into the local scene. I’m meeting all these great artists and in the course building relationships, I’m sure we’ll be writing songs together soon.
SWR: You bring up a good point. I feel when I first … I first came out to the Bay Area in 2000. I felt like it was still an artsy kind of scene. Then it started to die, right?
SWR: Do you think that it’s possible for an artist to actually survive in the Bay Area?
Iari: Yes I do. It’s about managing expectations. What I mean by that, I don’t believe that the Bay Area is a place where you are going to be playing a show and randomly some A&R guy is going to walk in and think you’re the bee’s knees and then sit you down at a table and pin you to a contract. Those days are gone. Not only because the Bay Area is not a music town … The perception of the Bay Area is no longer that it’s a music town. It used to be. I mean, we had some great artists come out of the Bay Area. People forget Train is from San Francisco. We have the Grateful Dead. Green Day from Oakland, right? MC Hammer. Everyone jokes but there was a time when he was the biggest thing on the planet. I mean, we have a great-
SWR: The ’60’s too. A lot of the bands that came out of the ’60’s and ’70’s.
Iari: That’s right. You’re absolutely right. There’s a great history of great artists and great music artists that have come out of the Bay Area but the perception these days is that it’s not. But also the music industry itself has changed so dramatically. Even in the last two to three years. I mean, record labels, which have traditionally been the gatekeepers to having a career in music … They all conglomerated and now they don’t even know how to develop an artist. If you look at what they do and their business practice, it’s literally a numbers game for them. If you listen to really classic music … I don’t mean Bach. I mean classic contemporary music. What kind of … You have to ask yourself, what kind of environment and what times were we living in where bands like Queen or Pink Floyd or Rush-
SWR: Actually flourished.
Iari: Yeah. Or Led Zeppelin. Their long play. How is it that that was played on the radio? You know? I remember … Oh gosh. I was watching … There was this great special that was on HBO about how … Oh god, I forgot his name. He and Dr. Dre, how they came up with the beats.
Iari: In the course of that, they’re chronologically going through their history. Coming up as kids and stuff. They’re talking. Jimmy Iovine.
SWR: Oh yeah.
Iari: I’m sure I butchered his last name. Forgive me, Jimmy if you are listening to this. Back in the day, you had these record labels, they’re going, “I don’t know what to do with this. Let’s just release it and see what happens.” You know? Back then, they would take time and they would invest resources into developing a band over the course of one to two to three records, right? You don’t have that now. It’s all about the bottom line. It’s all about the profit as far as corporations. So corporate now. It’s a numbers game. It’s literally people just looking at who’s got the most hits on YouTube. Who’s made it on The Voice. Who’s got a following. Unless you already have an established career or following or fanbase for them to build off of, they’re not going to sign you. They don’t know how. They don’t know what to do with it.
So of course the conundrum then is for the Indie artist, is how do I get that? If the goal is to be signed, how do I do that? Well, you have to book your shows. You have to be strong on your social media. Your songs have got to be great. They can’t just be good. They’ve gotta be great. They have to stand out. It does start with the songs still. The song is your product, right? It has to be amazing. The production has got to be really good. Even if it sounds like it’s recorded in the garage or it’s like a Bon Iver … I totally butchered his name too. Just total acoustic thing, you know? The cool thing about that was how rustic and low-fi it sounded, right?
So the songs have got to be great. You gotta be booking your shows. You gotta be, you know, selling merch and stuff like that. Then, of course, it’s like okay, if you’re doing all that successfully, chances are you have a sustainable career already. Since you’re the artist and your own record label at that point, you are keeping 100% of your profit. When you sign to a record label, it’s not going to happen. It’s not going to be that anymore, you know? They will … I mean, they’re going to want their hand in everything. The cool thing is, getting back to the original question, can you … It’s about managing expectations.
If you think that you’re going to be just playing your shows and someone’s going to magically, mystically walk in and go, “Oh my god. You’re amazing.” And sign you into a deal, that’s not going to happen. You’re going to be disappointed. If you look at today’s business. What’s been called the new music business. And the tools that you have available as an independent artist are amazing. Unheard of. Unprecedented at any time in the history of music. We have tools available to us. We have the internet. So powerful. Not only can we have a local audience but if we do it right, we can have a global audience, right?
We have online distribution available to us through CD Baby, through Tune Core, right? These are companies that are geared specifically to cater to the independent artist. They make it affordable to play your songs on streaming platforms like Apple Music, iTunes, Spotify, Amazon, right? They make it possible for you to setup an online merch store so you could sell, not only just your music, but you can sell shirts, you can sell tchotchkes, you can sell hats. All of these tools are available to us. The problem then, or the question then, as an independent artist, if you want to be successful in the Bay Area, is how do you gain a following? Gaining a following is no different today than it is back then. It’s just now you have all these other social media resources to where you can spread the educated word of mouth.
It’s actually a very exciting time if you look at it like I’m going to be independent. I may not make millions and millions of dollars but I could make 60, to 80, to $100,000 a year. I mean, six figures is pretty good. Just being a creative. Owning your own content. Releasing your own content. Owning, you know, you’re own IP, right? Your brand. You’re in the driver seat. That is a very exciting thing. It is exciting. Of course, it’s going to be hardest thing that you’ll ever do because, you know, get ready to work 40, to 60, to 80 hours a week. A lot of it, initially, is going to be unpaid.
SWR: It’s a lot of hard work.
Iari: It’s a lot of hard work. You are literally entering a game where your music is a startup company. If you look at it like that, we’re in a great area for startup companies.
SWR: Yeah. We’re in a fantastic … That’s always the way I think of it, right? You already mentioned this. Think of it as a product and run it as a product, you almost have a roadmap. You know, we were discussing this earlier before the interview. You actually have a plan for the next six months, right? You have metrics that you’re measuring. It almost sounds like a startup, right? If I didn’t actually know you and someone showed me this, that’s what I would believe.
SWR: You mentioned Judy Stakey. I read her book. Pretty short book.
Iari: Yeah. Really cool.
SWR: Really cool. But what you said about someone like her actually being there and nurturing … Maybe there’s still people like her. Who did she work for again?
Iari: She worked for Warner Chapel.
SWR: It’s probably the more-
Iari: For Arista. That was her first job was Arista under Clyde Davis.
SWR: Okay. Fantastic. All right. I remember she said that. I was trying to contrast what she said in her book where she almost seemed like this mom type of figure to artists versus there was this other book called The Hit Factory.
Iari: Oh. You are not the first person who has told me about that and suggested strongly that I read that.
SWR: It’s interesting. It talks about … The way I look at it is when I was a kid, or even if now, you turn on the radio. You hear something and there’s tone and identity right? If this person released a new song, you know it’s this person. You don’t even have to know the song. You can tell from the first chord, right? Or the tone of the guitar.
Iari: Or the tone of their voice. You know, they’re a singer.
SWR: Whatever hits your ear first. But I feel like today, we can actually identify producers more than we can identify artists, right? We can tell oh hey, I think I know who it is. There’s this great example in the book where … I think it’s for Rihanna where it’s like okay, she’s got a new album. They bring in a bunch of producers. A bunch of writers. Lock them up in a room for two weeks and they show up massively creative. They pump out 30 songs. She comes in a week later and says okay, I’m going to pick these 10 songs. Records it. Done. Boom. Boom. You know? Three, four weeks later, an album is waiting to go.
Iari: Yup. So what’s the question? I agree with you.
SWR: What do you think about that? Do you feel like this is what you need to do to make it in the new model?
SWR: Some people would say you’re selling out, right?
Iari: No, no, no. First off, I don’t believe there’s such a thing as selling out. I think there’s just selling. You have to … Music is an art that has been created into a business. One that’s profitable. On one sense, it’s profitable. Unlike being a painter, right, I would say … I could be wrong. There’s less of a clear path at becoming a successful painter than there is of becoming a successful musician. There’s no business model for it. I don’t think there ever has been. It’s just you’re so amazing as a painter, someone wants to become your patron so they commission you to do stuff. Whereas with music, there’s a whole history of, you know, where acts have been sending in demos like the old business model. You send in demos. You have an entertainment attorney who can shop for you while you’re playing shows. Then an A&R guy who may know you because of a demo may fly out to see you play and is like man, that’s great. We’re going to sign you, you know?
There historically has been something in place to where musicians can curate a career and not even have to worry about the business. They had people who would handle that for them. They could just focus on themselves being an artist. I think that model, as we talked, that is no longer there because everything’s become so corporate. It’s become about the bottom line. You have a bunch of people who are just following trends. Pop music. It’s not about art. It’s about trends. You have a bunch of producers … That’s why producers … If you’re a producer, a big producer, and you have a hit, that’s a big thing because that means you have a trending sound. I won’t say trendy but trending sound. You are setting the trend that other people are going to follow. There’s real value to that because then you’re literally soundscaping, right? The geography of what popular music is going to be for the next couple months or maybe up to a year, if you’re Max Martin, longer, right? You just stay current with the trends.
I think that leads to some cookie cutter songwriting in a way. I don’t mean that the songs aren’t good or they’re not meaningful or they’re not impactful. As I discussed earlier, there’s almost no room for experimental variance like Queen. I just watched my friend last night. She won a karaoke contest. Someone decided to do Somebody to Love by Queen. How many sections are in that song? It totally … It has a choir sound. It’s got a rock sound. It’s so dramatic. It’s a classic. Everyone knows that song. It would never survive in today’s market because it’s not radio formatted, right? I think we’re losing something as the way music is produced and manufactured, dare I say. I think we’re losing something there. Again, that’s not to say that great music, in this format, isn’t being written, you know? I think the best always rises to the top but you have to look a lot harder. Here’s the thing, especially as far as singers and artists come, you have to look a lot harder for those that sound like themselves, rather than sounding like you could swap out the singer for another singer and the song would still be the same, you know?
SWR: I think … What’s his name? John Mayer. He has a video where he talks about don’t question the intelligence of the crowd, right? If they want the sound, if they want this, you give it to them. It’s still your job to give the masses what they want. At the same point, I get really depressed when I hear someone … Someone told me about Cardi B.
SWR: Yeah. Exactly. I didn’t know so I had to go on YouTube and look. I cannot believe that this is what’s making money, right? I do worry about where the collective masses are going with their taste. Is it something that is being, you know, nurtured by producers and by people who are worried about the bottom line and trying to make a quick buck versus, you know, why did people actually care to listen to Queen? Right? What’s changed?
Iari: Yep. Yeah. To be honest, I don’t know enough about Queen. About how they were discovered. About what they were doing before they got their “break” to tell you, was it a grass roots movement? Did they already release a bunch of albums and have just steadily, like in a marathon, gained popularity so that when they were signed, it just broke them on a larger level but they always had those core fans? I could not tell you.
SWR: Yeah. It’s true-
Iari: But you’re right. At what point do you feel like the reason why music is the way it is, is because do people really like that? Do they really crave that? Or because how music is controlled in the way that it’s released, right? You have two or three conglomerates who say this song is going to be on the radio. That’s all they know.
Iari: You know?
SWR: It’s true.
Iari: I mean, there’s still a great Indie rock scene and an Indie and Alternative. There’s still … Especially here in the Bay Area, let me tell you, and in Oakland and in San Jose, Neo Soul and hip-hop and R&B soul? Huge here. Huge here.
SWR: Where do you go to find this?
Iari: 55 South. My friends play there every Sunday. They’re a great urban soul jazz band. They host there. Oakland and … They have roots up in Oakland. My friends, who also recorded on my latest EP, Times Four, was it the Indigo Room? Is a place up in … There’s a place in Walnut Creek. You know, there are places that are doing not just straight ahead jazz but funk soulful jazz that sounds kind of like funk and R&B, you know?
SWR: I feel like funk is coming back.
Iari: I think it’s been here for a while, if I’m being honest. I mean, Bruno Mars and Mark Ronson, their huge hit, Uptown Funk-
SWR: Oh yeah. That was totally bringing back the 80’s funk.
Iari: Oh yeah. And especially on Bruno’s 24 Karat Magic, that album? I mean, he goes anywhere between 90s R&B on some of his stuff to James Brown, you know? It’s just so crazy. Listening to him is like literally listening to a jukebox. You just have all these classic, classic sounds that he’s just taken in. He’s a great writer, obviously.
SWR: Talking about writing, for someone listening to this, if you know, they’ve attempted to try to write a song and they end up always looking at a blank piece of paper and sort of just spinning their wheels and then walk away till they do this maybe a few weeks afterwards, what would you tell them?
Iari: Don’t look at a piece of paper. It’s really easy to get writer’s block. Instead, have your phone out. Inspiration will strike at the weirdest moments. I would say don’t force it. Unless you’ve scheduled yourself to say I’m co-writing with this artist who I love and we’re scheduled tomorrow from 10 to 12 that I have to be on, well okay. But then you have someone you can bounce ideas off of. Usually, you know, working in that kind of way, that will generate its own momentum. You guys can be each other’s mirrors. If there’s a third, all three of you can work together to come up with ideas and stuff. Seriously, at the retreat, in three days, we wrote three songs.
Iari: They all started with just having been given an idea and then talking about the idea and talking through a story and what perspective you want to write through. My process is different. I’m very much a melody guy. If I’m overthinking it, I stop and I’ll just do something else. I’ll go for a walk. I don’t try to write but I have my phone on me so that if I get a little melody idea, I can sing it and I can record it. Then I can come back to it. For anyone listening, you know, don’t try to force anything. The other thing is and I started to do this too. Maybe just randomly, when you’re in a weird mood or just if something comes and you go oh, that would be a great song title, write it down. Collect song titles because often times, the song title is going to appear in your chorus. The song title really does act as a compass for how you’re going to finish. How that hook line at the end is going to be. 9 times out of 10, in popular writing, your song title is in the chorus, particularly at the end, you know what I mean? Just keep a list of song titles, you know? Maybe it’s not about writing on any given day.
If you’re going man, I can’t come up with a song, don’t come up with a song. Maybe instead, just kind of free write and come up with song titles. Another good exercise, you know, just think of one line. Then just write it down. Then write another one line. It doesn’t have to come up with … You know, they don’t have to make sense. One of the cool exercises that we did was everyone wrote down a single line that could be the opening line. Then randomly, these lines were passed out amongst the group. You had to choose one. We were put in groups of three. We each read our line out loud and we all selected one. That was going to be the first line in the song. Then you write the story around there. It gives you a starting point.
SWR: Great. Do you recommend any books? Any resources? Tools?
Iari: Seven Steps to Songwriting Success by Jason Bloom has been very helpful for me in the past. He’s a Nashville writer. He had his hits doing country music. Country music is very story driven. Very story centric. Very lyric heavy, which was great because that’s my weakness as a song writer. Or at least it’s the thing that doesn’t come as natural to me or as quickly to me. You know, that book talks about how you can actually deconstruct a song to its bare essence so that when you’re writing, you can come up with a form. Say okay, it’s going to be verse, chorus, verse, chorus, bridge, chorus. Cool. Here’s my idea. The first verse, in one or two sentences, is generally about this. Cool. My second verse, continuation of the story. In two sentences or less, it’s generally about this. You progressively get to this place where you’re writing four line lyrics … For example, four lines, you know? Judy likes to say you have 200 words and four minutes. To write a song, you know? I think that’s true although I think if you’re going to be on the radio, your song has to be three minutes. If you listen to my latest EP, there’s a couple songs. One is literally three minutes and one second. The other one is three minutes and seven seconds.
SWR: Did you actually record, okay I gotta go back, tweak, record?
Iari: No. That was a very unconscious thing on my part that it would come out to be short. Especially and so far as Drowning. I co-wrote this with Jennifer Ayden. Jennifer Ayden is … Her claim to success is she co-wrote Blake Shelton’s number one hit, She Wouldn’t Be Gone. So I met Jennifer because she’s a Bay Area kid but goes back and forth between here, and Nashville, and LA. She’s a member of The West Coast Songwriter’s. She and I hit it up. Did a co-write. I came with this song where I had written the chorus, melody, and lyric. I had the rest of the song in typical Iari fashion. I had the song written melodically in structure. I just couldn’t come up with a story that would lead up to the chorus. I don’t know why. I was just writing short songs at the time, you know? That was not a conscious thing.
SWR: There is something about a short song I kind of like sometimes, even if it’s two minutes and 30 seconds. If you can put so much magic in two minutes and 30 seconds, holy crap.
Iari: I agree. I totally agree. It doesn’t have to meander. Again, you know, there were a lot of songs back in the 60’s and 50’s that were only two minutes, you know? The Beatles early efforts, The Beach Boy’s early efforts, two minutes. Two minutes, twelve. Two minutes, twenty seven. Right? It was, as we got to the 70’s and then to the 80’s and on that the song format, the radio format, it grew to three minute and four minute songs. If you’re on rock stations, you had Don McLean’s … That’s a seven minute song, right? I’ve heard radio disc jockeys say, “Yeah. I had to use the restroom so I put that song on because I knew it would give me time.” It’s like all right.
SWR: That’s fantastic. Write a song to help out the DJ.
Iari: I’m sure that was his point too. What can I do to help out the disc jockey in case they need a pee break? I don’t know.
SWR: Right? That’s the easiest way to get your song on the radio. Help out the DJ.
Iari: That’s awesome.
SWR: Cool. Okay. So maybe we can get around to the last question.
Iari: Oh, okay.
SWR: What would you challenge someone to do today for seven days or a week or a couple of weeks, every day, if they’re trying to get into songwriting?
Iari: Free write.
SWR: Free write.
Iari: Don’t even … Not even writing a song. I would say journal for seven days.
Iari: Just journal for seven days. Then on day seven, go back and read what you did. Or you could, at the end of the day, go back and just make a list of … You know, at the end of each day, from your journaling. Make it timed. I would do 15 minutes. 15-20 minutes of journaling and then go back and read what you wrote.
SWR: So in seven days, go back and read-
Iari: You should have seven lists at the end of seven days. You have seven journals and then you distill those to the lines that really stood out to you. That could be … Maybe you’ll come up with a great first line. That could be the first line of your story, of your lyric.
SWR: I like it. Fantastic. Thanks, man, thanks for taking the time to talk to me.
Iari: Thank you for this. This is great. I appreciate it.