I “met” Ben Bitter on Twitter, over a year ago. I love meeting people who are as passionate about songwriting as I am, and Ben is one of those people. We’ve had many conversations about songwriting, and I think that his approach (as well as his songs themselves) are great. As such, I thought that you all might appreciate a little insight into his methods and general thoughts on the art of songwriting. So without further ado, it is my pleasure to share his interview with you!
Name: Benjamin Bitter
Albums titles to date: “It’s About Time”(OOP), “Grace In Your Face”, “Peace In The Storm”
Release date of next record: Roughly Spring 2014
Favourite songwriter: Dan Fogelberg/James Taylor (tie)
Instruments: Guitar, Piano, Bass, Drums, Harmonica, and a wee bit o’ woodwind
Describe your music in five words or less:
Insightful, mellow, Christian folk-rock (that’s a phrase).
How old were you when you first started writing songs?
As a pretender, 10. Seriously, 15. I’ve been able to write hooks since childhood. I remember that my mother had a word of the day calendar on her desk, and one of the words was “downtrodden”. I thought, “What a great word!” I incorporated it into a terrible song hook that went nowhere, obviously, but hey! I gave it a go! My first real song came after a breakup of a teenage romance (surprise, surprise, right?). I could always write poetry with relative ease, but I’d never really given songwriting a proper try. But when I tried, it came quite naturally! I have a tattoo on my left arm that features the opening measures of that first song to remind me that I am first a songwriter, and a musician second.
How has your songwriting changed and developed over the years?
My first songs were 3 chord ballads with very little lyrical intensity. I took so few chances in the early days of my song writing! But as you try one thing that works, you get bolder and more willing to experiment. I’ve managed over the years to learn the art of storytelling within a song. You don’t have to set Dickens to music necessarily, but one single idea in a song isn’t enough. I’ve also learned to care about the subject I’m writing about. If you’re indifferent to your subject matter, you write boring songs.
What’s the one song you wish you’d written?
“Can’t Fight This Feeling” by Kevin Cronin (R.E.O. Speedwagon). I believe this is one of the most finely crafted pop songs ever written. Everyone can relate to it, the melody is beautiful, and Kevin Cronin’s vocal on the original record is to me, stunning.
Approximately how many songs have you written, in total?
Oh, easily over a hundred. 125 if I count the ones that I won’t admit to!
What’s your favourite of all the songs you’ve written, and why?
Definitely “My Something Better” from “Peace In the Storm”. For one thing, it was written in about 5 minutes! It was the greatest bit of improv I’ll ever manage. Everything just jelled. As for the real reason why, it deals with a subject I’ve been wrestling with my whole adult life, the idea of wanting my childhood back. I lost my father at a very early age, and ever since then I’ve been trying to recapture the relative innocence of my youth, with no real results but idolatry. Nothing but God fits into a God shaped hole, and once you come to that conclusion, you can really rest in the life God has provided you with. It was so extremely cathartic to write, and it’s quite catchy too!
Which five artists/bands have had the biggest influence on your music?
- Dan Fogelberg: His music can be overdramatic and ethereal, or it can be simple and down to Earth. He has an incredible lyrical sense, and he uses chord progressions I didn’t think were possible in Western Music. There are no words to describe what an influence he has been on me.
- James Taylor: His voice, his writing, the slickness of his personality, everything. I heard my first James Taylor record (“That’s Why I’m Here”) at the age of ten, and from there on I’ve been trying to do what he does. Failing miserably, but trying! And he DID give me some nice hammer-ons!
- R.E.O. Speedwagon: Nothing fancy here, just straight forward Midwestern rock and roll. This band should really be at the top of the list though, because lead singer Kevin Cronin was a huge influence on my singing voice even today. The thing is, he has some very unique vocal ticks that I have picked up from singing along with their records all these years, and so many people tell me that my songs sound REO-ish. I take it as a compliment.
- Harry Chapin: If any artist has taught me that great songs tell stories, it’s Harry Chapin. His voice wasn’t the greatest in history, but the songs he left us are amazing works of art.
- Audrey Assad: Ever since I first heard her song, “Restless”, I have been striving to write prayer songs that are even in the same ballpark as hers. She sings like an angel, is an amazing pianist, and seems to be a nerd, which I love.
- Honourable mention goes to you and Cuan. I have learned a great deal from you guys, and your music makes me want to up my game! (Note from Mali: Aw, how sweet! Thank you!)
Complete this sentence: Music is… necessary to life.
What’s been the most memorable or exciting moment of your music career to date?
I have toured extensively, opened for big name acts, and recorded quite a bit. I think the most memorable moment was when I opened the shipping crate, and saw the first ever copy of “Grace In Your Face”. Everything I’d ever released up to that point was underground inferior stuff. Holding this CD in my hands validated my career. I looked at it and thought “This is it. I am now a recording artist.” And when I first held “Peace In The Storm”, same thing. It’s just an unbelievable feeling.
Finally, what advice would you give to any aspiring songwriters/musicians reading this?
- Don’t settle for mediocrity! Anyone can rhyme “June” with “spoon”, but you don’t have to settle for it. In my book, rhythm is far more important than rhyme, and effectively communicating the point of your song is also more important than rhyme. I like to look at rhyme like a happy accident. If it happens, it happens!
- Don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t do it. This is a total cliché, but it’s absolutely true. Even when you are all alone, you can still make music. With the exception of a violin solo on one song, my latest record “Peace In The Storm” was written, performed, and produced entirely by myself!
- DO NOT COMPROMISE! Your art is yours. It is your statement, your heart, your emotion. Don’t let the promise of a gig, a contract or even money cause you to sacrifice your artistic integrity. Have fun, kids!