Dave Maurischat is a silicon valley songwriter, guitarist and producer with a passion for bringing his years of experience to support and enhance various musical projects.
In this interview we talk about –
- Education by trial and error especially by trying different genres.
- What its like doing 30 songs in 30 days
- Collaborating in 3’s.
- Being an introvert and taking risks.
- How not to get stuck when you first get into songwriting.
How to find Dave
- Website – https://www.davemaurischat.com/
- Music – https://www.davemaurischat.com/music
- Facebook – https://www.facebook.com/davemaurischatsongs
- Twitter – https://twitter.com/instantminstrel
Transcript – Download PDF
Dave Maurischat: Well, it’s Dave Maurischat, is my name. I was born here in San Jose, a block and a half from where we sit, pretty much, right there at San Jose Hospital. I write songs, I’ve always written songs. I play guitar, I record, I produce, I play guitar and bass for other people. I write music, I record music. I listen to music. It’s everything for me.
SWR: So, I’ve got a bunch of questions here for you.
Dave Maurischat: By all means, hit me with questions. Otherwise, I might talk about who knows what, elections or something like that.
SWR: Which is also cool. How did you get into this? When did you start? We kinda sorta talked about it earlier, but …
Dave Maurischat: Into writing?
SWR: Into writing, into music.
Dave Maurischat: That’s our focus, really, is writing.
Dave Maurischat: I grew up learning to talk, and learning to sing Beatles songs kind of at the same time. So, that 60s British Invasion pop music, and whatever was on the radio at the time, Motown and things, that was just always coming in. Seeing the Beatles on TV, and hearing their music, and movies and stuff, I thought, “Dang, that’s what I want to do. I want to be one of those guys.” So, that was just always a thing that I felt like I wanted to do. I was introduced to classical music, too. I thought Mozart was the most awesome kid in history, just being able to write huge amounts of music at such a young age. That’s just what always appealed to me, as a way to spend my time and my life. So I started … time I picked up a guitar to where I could actually use it for something, was about 13, and then … test, test, test.
David Bowie was sort of the coolest guy around, so that was an influence on me. So, my first songs had two chords and lots of really obscure imagery stuff, that seemed … that didn’t make sense, but somehow there was a thread of emotional content to it, kind of the the way mid-70s Bowie was, all these non-sequiturs, or seeming non-sequiturs and things in it. But if you look at the whole picture, you’re like, “Ah. Right. There really is an umbrella over all this imagery that leads to a point, and an overall feeling.” That was my early stuff. Plus, I was becoming a teenager and starting to understand I was different than the grown-ups, and wanting to push back against adulthood.
We were living in England. I was born here, but we moved to England when I was just about 10. Rural England, so it was completely different for me. I was not fitting in where I was. The language was different, the accents were extreme, the culture was different, and I was literally the odd man out. About the time I started writing music, I was bouncing off of and rebelling against all sorts of things, all at the same time.
SWR: So, did you … At some point you came back? And did you go to school for music, or …
Dave Maurischat: I came back for high school, so age 14, coming up on 15, I came back here. At that point, Led Zepplin was the most important thing, which led to a whole nother level of guitar playing education for me. I mostly, on the guitar, I’ve had just a few months of lessons. I’ve pretty much learned everything from other people. After I graduated high school, I went to San Jose State for music composition, and I learned a lot. They put me in the jazz department because I was a rock and roll guy, which probably wasn’t the best thing. It certainly wasn’t what I was hoping for.
SWR: It was the closest at the time though?
Dave Maurischat: They felt, the audition listeners, the panel said, “Oh yeah, you’re rock and roll, over here in the jazz department.” And that’s not at all what I was thinking. There, I learned how to arrange horn sections, and counterpoint theory and all this other stuff, which has come in handy for sure, but I didn’t go through the classical thing, which was kind of what I assumed I would be doing. That’s it for education, really.
Dave Maurischat: After that, it’s just been being in one kind of a band or another, and the progression has gone, you know … There was the hard rock stuff in the 80s. I was with a Celtic folk group for a while, a quartet, as a bass player, doing Irish drinking songs and sea shanties, as well as American, like Kingston Trio folk music, all that stuff, all kind of lumped together. Country. I was in an R&B, big band for a while, with horns and background singers and the whole thing, just like doing old 60s soul music and things like that. Into disco. Did kids’ music when my kids were little. Wrote songs for children and played fairs. Did a bunch of improv for while. Played at street fairs and things, just walking around with my guitar, writing songs for people on the spot.
Dave Maurischat: All of that.
SWR: You’ve experimented quite a bit.
Dave Maurischat: Yeah. The education has been trial and error, and what’s interesting to me now, and how do I adapt, or what can I absorb from this particular genre. How are they writing these kind of songs? How do they write music on the songs? What goes into them? And just doing it.
SWR: How did you get into … So, you wear many hats. How did you get into the whole producer side of things, and recording side of things?
Dave Maurischat: Just by necessity, really. At first, we would do … pay, to go to a studio, or whatever. But then when the technology began to make it possible to do that stuff yourself, it only made sense for me. Shoot, when was that? Several bands ago, we had a house, a large house with only two guys in it. So, the whole front room, which was at least as big as this one, was the band room. We were set up in there all the time, and I had a part-time job that kept me in bread and water. So I was home half the day, every day, writing and recording, just on an old four track. Just doing whatever the song that day was, was getting recorded, four track, and it just grew from there.
Technology got better and easier to work with. But capturing whatever I was working on, as fresh as possible, was always … I wanted to hear them. I could kind of hear them in my head anyways, so I wanted to hear all the parts, done as soon as possible, not wait until I could save up money and go to a studio and have somebody help me do it. If I’m playing the guitar to a song, and I’m singing it, I know what the drumbeat is in my head. I know what the bassline should be doing already.
SWR: So you’d quickly get it down…
Dave Maurischat: I want to capture that, right away.
SWR: So, talking about capturing stuff. What is your songwriting process like? Do you start with the melody first, or lyrics, or is it the opposite?
Dave Maurischat: It doesn’t matter. It doesn’t matter. Right now, I’m doing another … Am I getting to your questions clearly enough? Or am I dancing around them too much?
SWR: Yes. No, no, it’s perfect.
Dave Maurischat: It really doesn’t matter, and that’s what everybody asks. I can do it either way. Yesterday I wrote a song where I sat at the computer and literally typed out all the lyrics before I picked up an instrument. Actually, no. I take that back. I had my guitar, and I played this chord, and the other chord, and I’m like, “Okay, so it’s kind of like a disco thing.” I was just strumming back and forth, these two chords, had kind of a disco feel to it. I decided on what the title was, and where it was going to fit into those two chords. Then I put the guitar down and I typed out the entire lyric, not knowing what the melody was. I just knew that, and I can’t even tell you the title now, because I wrote another one today and I don’t remember what yesterday’s was. But I just knew where the title belonged at the top of the chorus. And then I just wrote all the words. And then I grabbed my guitar again, I’m like, “Okay, how are all those words going to fit into this groove that I set up?”
Today, I picked up my guitar, found a nice chord pattern, came up with the melody that fit the chord pattern almost in its entirety, verse melody, chorus melody, approximately, without any idea what the song was about or what any word might be. It was a total music thing. And then turned to the computer and just began at the beginning, and what words and phrases are going to fit to that thing. And now I have a couplet of lines at the top, well, what’s going to follow it that might make sense? And what’s going to follow that that might make sense, and where am I going now? I didn’t even know what the song was going to be about. And then as I got to the chorus, I’m like, “Oh, I know what this …” I took off walking on the path without knowing where I was going at all. Then, okay, cool. Then I went back and forth a little bit to just sort of tweak the melody so that it made better sense and was a little catchier.
SWR: So, do you try to write a song … It sounds like you almost write a song a day.
Dave Maurischat: Not always, but right now I’m doing that again. Over the summer, I did 30 songs in 30 days, just as an exercise. As fast as possible. Not …
SWR: No self-censorship, no editing, just put it down there.
Dave Maurischat: Just like maximum an hour.
SWR: Okay. Wow.
Dave Maurischat: So, really, some of them are just horrendous. The point of it was to do something. Actually, the suggestion came from, through my wife, from a publisher friend of mine in Nashville. We worked together in Nashville and we were hanging out, and we had lunch with my publisher friend. And then I had a writing appointment and my wife, Kim, stayed hanging out with the publisher, and they spent the whole three hours that I was in my writing session. Then, when we met back up, she said, “Steve says it’s his recommendation from his boss,” who’s a hit songwriter and publisher, “is write 30 songs in 30 days, and then pick one and spend the next 30 perfecting that one.”
SWR: Oh, wow. That actually sounds fantastic.
Dave Maurischat: And then she said, “And you’re starting tomorrow.” So I did. Last week, I was feeling like, “Where am I at?” I needed something to kick in a little bit. I hadn’t been writing as much as I wanted to. I need to do that 30 song, 30 day thing again. So I just started again a few days ago.
SWR: So, you’ve done it at least once. Did you pick a song out of it? Where did it go?
Dave Maurischat: Nowhere, particularly. It was really hard to pick one, actually. That was the hard part. There were a bunch that I … What happened was I got to the end of 30 days, and I actually had 32 because I did a couple extras. Then I started listening to them all, thinking, “Okay, I’m somehow going to decide which one is the one.” So, being kind of a math nerd, I made this little grading system for all the different elements of the song, the lyrics, and the melody, and the groove, and the emotional power, and the whatever, trying to rate them and all this silly stuff. By the time I’d listened to them all the way through a couple of times, then they all kind of became … I started liking them. So then it was really hard to just grab one. I did grab one, and messed with it a little bit, but it didn’t get any significantly better than it was. I’m not sure I improved it, actually.
SWR: You said you were up in Nashville. Is this something you do often? Do you go pitch songs, or do co-writes out there?
Dave Maurischat: I do. For several years, I was going quite a bit, several times a year. Four, five, six times, whatever I could afford. That got expensive to keep doing, and I realized that I really did either need to move there, or find another path because it’s hard to maintain your momentum in a place where people are there doing it every day. And just showing up for five days, four times a year, there’s no way you’re going to catch up. So it was kind of like starting over, a little bit, ever time. In two months, I’m back again, but meanwhile I’m watching the guys that got there the same time as me are getting pub deals, and they’re getting songs on the radio. I could definitely … Oh, right, I remember playing in a songwriter’s round with this guy before he moved there, when he was just first dipping his toes in the water. But then he moved there, and now, five, six, seven years later, whatever, dude’s got number one singles on the radio and stuff.
It was too hard to maintain that for me, so I backed off and reconnected with the West Coast community, and just kind of, what can I do from here? Who’s here that I can work with who needs what I do? So, I’ve been spending more time in LA recently. I guess I should give a plug for Judy Stakee’s songwriter retreats because.
SWR: I read her book last month.
Dave Maurischat: The new one? The survival guide?
SWR: Yeah, the survival guide. Correct.
Dave Maurischat: Because going to that retreat really shifted a lot for me, actually, because of the community. Two things, because of the community that the presents us with, and two, because of the emotional opening that she requires of participants at the retreats. I mean, you can avoid it if you want, and stay at arm’s length from the process, but I went, I’m like, “I’m here, I spent this money. Why am I here if I’m going to chicken out?”
SWR: Or hide in the background?
Dave Maurischat: It’s totally easy for Dave to chicken out. Totally. I’d have been where I wanted to be 20 years ago if I wasn’t so good at chickening out. But when I went, I was like, “No way. I’m here, I’m doing it.” And what happens when you’re in a group of people like that, and you all crack open, or are willing to crack open, and then you’re making music together at the same time, took my process to a whole nother level. And now I know all these people. That community is huge, and everybody’s been through the same process, so we can meet up and not ever have met before, but we both went to Judy’s thing, and we both know what that felt like, so we’re like brothers or sisters, or in some cases, dad and child, or whatever. I’m a generation older than a bunch of them, but it’s cool. It’s great. So now I have co-writers all over the planet because of that.
SWR: So you can just reach out. You have this community already built up, that Judy’s kind of built up, and it’s as easy as reaching out and saying, “Hey, I’d like to try this out.”
Dave Maurischat: It is. And then grabbing … The other thing I really got from those is writing in threes. I’ve mostly written by myself. Written a lot in pairs. But I had never … once there was seven of us working on one song. But the trio thing really changed a lot, because if it’s just you and I, one of us had the idea. So your idea. And so now, I’m working on your idea. And then here’s my line, and here’s your melody, and here’s my … it’s like it’s yours or mine, right? The dynamic is there, however much you try and avoid it. But if there are three of us, there is no mine. It’s only ours.
SWR: I see what you’re saying. There’s some sense of, “Oh, can I suggest this? I don’t want to break your idea.” Is that what you mean when there’s only two people?
Dave Maurischat: Yeah. And if somebody says, “Nah, I don’t think so,” well, he just slapped down my idea. But if there’s three, then it totally changes it. It’s an instant democracy, if nothing else.
Dave Maurischat: I can say, “Oh, what about flowers?” And the other two look at me blankly, I’m like, “Okay, I guess they don’t like flowers.” But so what? Plus, there’s another person throwing out ideas. So there’s that many more ideas coming, and the screening process of the ideas is really effortless. I really enjoy that a bunch. So now, part of the fun of going to LA or Nashville is to see, okay, who are the other two people going to be? What combinations can I … I’ve been kind of an instigator of a lot of these. Who’s available, I’m coming to town, who’s free. Then I’m kind of like, you, and you, and then you and you, and then you and you.
SWR: That’s fantastic.
Dave Maurischat: And just mix them all up and see, and some of them have worked out great. Stuff that people are going to record and put on their albums, and put out into the world. And I get to write with artists, which is really great because I’m not an artist. I’m not a singer. I’m a guitar player first.
SWR: So, you talked about chickening out. Can you maybe tell me a little more about that?
Dave Maurischat: Can I come back to that? Well, I’m a shy, introverted character. And it’s … to say, “No, thank you,” is an easy way out of challenges. Right? At all levels. You can only succeed if you are willing to take risk. Nobody really changes their life, or changes the course of their life without taking risks, and being open to doing something that they haven’t done before. I wasn’t really raised that way, to be a risk taker. I learned how to stay safe. Like, okay, this is the stuff I can manage, and that’s fine, and I can survive with this manageable amount of stuff. Tasks, people, environment, whatever. Whatever it is. But then, life is only just so good, and songs are only just so good, and career is only just so good, and the band is only just so good, because there’s no risk in there.
So, I call it chickening out, that’s a little bit harsh, perhaps. But that’s really what it is. You go to a group, Judy’s morning workshop part at the retreats, it’s like psychotherapy for songwriters, or artists of any kind would work, it doesn’t matter. But if you’re not … I’ve been to enough seminars of how to kickstart your career, how to market yourself, how to learn how to do this, how to learn how to do that, how to whatever, to know that you only get out of the thing that’s offered what you’re willing to put in. As many times as you’re willing to raise your hand and ask the stupid question and whatever it is to get involved, that’s how much you get back. So, for me, at this point, when I don’t do that, when I don’t raise my hand and ask the stupid question, or whatever, then for me, I’d call that chickening out.
Dave Maurischat: Because I know what the benefit is of diving in.
SWR: But you’re doing it now.
Dave Maurischat: Most of the time.
SWR: Yeah. Do you have any specific routines that you have? It sounds like you’re mostly a morning person. You seem to be writing early.
Dave Maurischat: That works best because we still, we were a family of 5 in the house, now two are out and there are three of us. So I have to be up in the morning anyway, right? Daughter’s going to school, my wife works too. By the time you’re home from your day job and have dinner, and clean up the mess, and whatever, it’s kind of hard to shift into another gear at 8:30, 9:00, and go, “Okay, I’m going to work for two hours.” It’s easier to get up early and grab at least an hour in the morning. And I like routines, just generally. That doesn’t really answer your question, does it? But yeah.
SWR: Is there something specific, right off the top of your head, that like “I figured it out, this is what works for me. This is at my best.”
Dave Maurischat: As far as songwriting process goes? Just having my guitar in my hands for five minutes will shake off the cobwebs, no matter what. I don’t have to have a plan. I just have to put my hands on it and something will come out, and maybe I’ll sing along with it, and maybe I won’t. But all of a sudden I’m like, just kind of in the zone. I’m relaxed. Whatever was going on before is gone, and I’m here, and I’m adjusted.
SWR: Fantastic. Maybe a couple of more questions. What’s some of your biggest challenges you’re facing right now?
Dave Maurischat: Biggest challenges right now. Always finding enough time to produce as much as I would like. If I’m working by myself, having something that I think is meaningful to say. Which is why I prefer to write with an artist, preferably a young artist, because they’re busting open with things to say. My job is different, then. My job is just to sort of shepherd the process of the creation of the song towards its ultimate destination of being the best song it can be. Take the raw ideas and help bring them into form that makes sense. So if I’m by myself, that’s [inaudible 00:31:56] what do I have to say? I’m just a guy.
Dave Maurischat: And always trying to, specifically, trying to get over the hump into turning it into my livelihood is the challenge, but what specifically of that is the challenge. Getting that song on the radio is the thing. Which means the networking. Networking is a challenge for me. Social networking is not my first strength. It’s pretty far down the list of things that I’m good at. And that’s how you get to the top of the pile, is knowing people.
SWR: Making connections. I’ve talked to some artists, and some of the challenges was actually trying to engage with their fans, and all those … it’s nice, but it’s also a lot of work, trying to maintain this. You’re friends with 100 people who you don’t even know, but you pretending to be their friend, or you trying really hard, but you’d rather spend your time writing music or songs. But there’s this huge component of just, “Oh, I’ve got to do this.”
Dave Maurischat: Right. Until you’re doing well enough to hire somebody to do that for you.
SWR: Hire someone, or just sort of get viral, so to speak.
Dave Maurischat: Right.
SWR: Cool. Let’s do one more question. What’s some advice you would give to someone who’s starting out trying to song write? Maybe what they should do? Maybe also what they shouldn’t do, from your experience.
Dave Maurischat: So, to hone down the question, to write songs for a career? Or to write songs just to write songs?
SWR: How about just to write songs, initially, before they decide it becomes a career.
Dave Maurischat: Let’s see. I think say whatever you need to say. Say whatever you need to say. Don’t get stuck thinking about rhymes, and perfect meter, and things like that. Because those things, you can fix. You can always find another way to twist the phrase around to make it rhyme, or to make the meter match. But put down on the paper, or on the laptop, or whatever, what it is that you actually have to say, in order to get the point across of whatever that song is. That’s the most important thing. And worry about the perfect phrasing and whatever after. Say what has to be said.
SWR: Cool, so that’s something they should do, and they shouldn’t do.
Dave Maurischat: I guess together, yeah.
Dave Maurischat: Because so many people, beginning songwriters, they’ll grab their little notebook and they’ll say, “I feel my toes in the grass, and I remember the time we did it last.” Right away, they think they have to rhyme grass, and all they’re doing is trying to rhyme grass. Now you’re already stuck. Now you’re making up something that doesn’t necessarily belong just to rhyme with grass.
SWR: That’s perfect. I love it. You sat down, you had this great idea, but it stopped at the first line because after that, all you’re thinking about is fixing up rules, trying to fit the rules.
Dave Maurischat: Yeah. Which is why how they write in Nashville is cool, because generally, it’s the title first. The title is Petting the Dog. So, what are all the things we think about, or better yet, feel, when we’re petting the dog? Or contemplating petting the dog? Or whatever. And what is petting the dog a metaphor for, possibly? And just say all that stuff first, and then it will be self-evident how to put it into form. I think that’s the most important thing. If you just want to write songs.
SWR: Yeah. Then I guess if you want to go to commercial route, then start learning the rules.
Dave Maurischat: Well, it still might be most important to say what you need to say. Because now, how they write at least in pop music, and more so in country, every day, is they’re writing to tracks. People are doing top line to an already written track. So, the top line’s got to be about whatever the song is about, and melody. I would say, if you want to make the jump from just writing to write, and you want to go career wise, then you really need to study current melody.
SWR: What’s happening today, and what’s contemporary.
Dave Maurischat: Yeah.
SWR: Cool, great. Alright, I don’t want to take too much of your time. That was fantastic.
Dave Maurischat: I hope something was useful in there.
SWR: No, that was great.