John Lennon once described the songwriting process as pure torture. Newport This Week has been checking in with some of our local songwriters to see what they’ve been up to and if they share Lennon’s dire assessment.. This week, we were able to sit down with local musicians Randy Robbins and Melissa Chaplin to learn about how they approach songwriting.
For songstress Melissa Chaplin, writing daily in her journal has become the key to her songwriting. “I might have a line that is the main inspiration for the song stuck in my head and [it was] written in a journal a decade [ago], and then suddenly, out of nowhere, it finally starts to make sense with other parts,” she said. “I might start with a melody I have stuck in my head and then find vowels to match, then words to match. Or it might all come out at once when I have a lot to say and the inspiration strikes. I really don’t have any discipline around it, but I journal daily and find a lot of inspiration from checking in with myself from time to time.”
Does Chaplin agree with Lennon’s assessment that songwriting can be pure torture? “It depends. Sometimes, it can be torture and sometimes it is simple and blissful and easy,” she said. “The self-judgment is the torturous part.”
What matters most to Chaplin isn’t the quantity of gigs she’s playing, but the quality. “I started abiding by a rule recently, which is that I only say yes to shows that I am excited about … with an audience and venue that aligns with who I am now and how I want my music to be heard,” she said. “By being choosy and only saying yes when I feel so inspired and excited, I have played some amazing events, [such as] The Big Yellow Chair, Newport Folk Festival and NIMFEST. I play [fewer] shows than ever, but they each turn out perfect in their own way, and [are] shows I am really proud of.”
What sets Chapin apart from many of her counterparts is her ambivalence to self-promote digitally. “I am not really into the digital music space,” she said. “I love attention as much as the next artist, but I don’t feel that TikToks or Instagram reels are the most comfortable, authentic or sustainable way for me to get people engaged with my music. My songs stay private until they are released and I am fine with that.”
Look for a few new tunes or possibly an entire album of new material from her in 2022. To learn more, visit melissachaplinfamily.com.
I am really looking forward to hearing what all these songwriters come up with in 2022. I’m wishing them all good luck, lots of inspiration and a torture-free writing process!
Newport songwriter and longtime open mic host Randy Robbins estimates he’s written hundreds of songs, but not all of them take flight.
“Songs that aren’t up to snuff drop out of mind quick enough,” he said. “As I write newer, better songs, older, less good songs have dropped away. But the good ones stick around. I would estimate I keep 30 to 40 of them rustling around in my head. Of those, I’ve probably recorded all of them in one form or another.”
Although Robbins finds part of the songwriting process tortuous, he has a long view of his songs and loves when they grow into themselves. “The greatest joy from the process comes from long down the road, when the song has been completed and is being performed often enough to be honed so it’s doing exactly what you set out for it to do,” he said. “Being a shy kid who moved to a new area of the country right after high school, [songwriting] was a way I could express myself, if only to myself. I still write for those reasons, but it’s a part of my nature now. I write with the intention of performing songs live to an audience and/or to record. But my main intention [is] to write something cool that I and my fellow musicians and songwriter friends would enjoy listening to.”
Look for a new release from Robbins this summer. To learn more, look for Robbins on Spotify.