Friday, November 18, 2016


Singer-Songwriters ALICIA KEYS, JOHN LEGEND, and PHARRELL WILLIAMS are the engines behind some of this season's biggest films, and; they are joined by songwriter comrades TORI AMOS, JUSTIN TIMBERLINE, and STING for THE HOLLYWOOD REPORTER: 2016 SONGWRITER ROUNDTABLE.

Here are some interview interludes:
At what point in your life did you first fall in love with music?
ALICIA KEYS I was about 4 years old. I remember the moment that it happened. It was somewhere between Cookie Monster, when he sang this song —
KEYS No. "I Left My Cookie at the Disco." And on the other side was "It's Not Easy Being Green."
JOHN LEGEND Oh, I love that song.
KEYS So that kind of cross-sectioned with a teacher that I had who was really a big music lover and encouraged us to do theater and songs, and I learned "Somewhere Over the Rainbow." And that all gave me my moment to learn how to sing and see what it felt like. And it felt like this feeling I couldn't describe and I still can't describe it now.
PHARRELL WILLIAMS I thought everybody was in love with music. I thought we all had those things where that one part in the Stevie Wonder song or the Earth, Wind and Fire song or the Steely Dan song, the bridge, was the thing that made everybody say, "Yeah, that part!" I thought everyone did that. And then you get in junior high school and you start saying those kinds of things and then …

KEYS Nobody knows what you're talking about.
WILLIAMS And then they start giving you that look, like, "I knew those pants were weird but … (Laughter.) Yeah. It's more than just your pants."
Well, you did end up with a hit in "Can't Stop the Feeling!" When you write a song, do you have a sense of whether it's going to be a hit?
LEGEND I'm in love with all my songs right when I finish them. That's my problem. 'Cause part of the joy of writing is that completion where you feel like, "Oh, this feels good." And I feel that every time I finish a song. So I can't trust that because a couple of months may go by and then I realize which ones really stand out.
WILLIAMS People who say, "This is going to be a hit" are as unsuccessful as those who create hashtags. You know? Let's do a hashtag call for action. It never works. But then when some seemingly random person who isn't really random has something that really means something to them, they say it, that becomes the greatest hashtag. So just like a hashtag and just like a hit, we have nothing to do with that. We just ideate. People don't have to respond. It's not guaranteed that they will.
STING The biggest compliment I receive as a songwriter is when someone says, "I fell in love to one of your songs," or "When we brought our first kid home, your song was on the radio," or "We buried Uncle Charlie with one of your songs." That means more than nominations, Grammys, BMI or whatever. Basically by accident creating the soundtrack for people's emotional lives, that is a huge privilege.
So what is your advice to young artists? How do you stay true to your conviction when every voice, when every Doug Morris is telling you you're wrong?
WILLIAMS All of us have gotten invaluable advice, and we look back, and we go, "Man, if I would've just listened, you know?" But you are who you are, and you have your own GPS, and the ether is always going to read very differently to you than it will to anybody else because all of our experiences are unique to us. We can try and give them advice, but I'd say the best advice is to stay loyal to the muses. That's where the term "musician" comes from. One who listens to the muses, is channeled into the muses.
AMOS And to be fair, when I went off with [producer] Eric Rosse to make more songs [for Little Earthquakes], I discovered songs like "Precious Things," and Doug got it. He said, "Tori, once I got it, I got it, you gotta give it up to me." I said, "That's fair enough." (Laughter.)
LEGEND We have to have a bit of humility, too, because a lot of times we'll tell people, "Just be yourself." What is yourself, though? Because you're discovering things as you go and part of who yourself is now may not be yourself in five years. And part of who yourself is is determined by what you listen to and by whom you listen to, what kind of advice you take in, whom you spend time with, whom you write with. I don't want kids to go in there thinking, "I exist as who I'm supposed to be right now and I'm great." I want them to think, I may have a spark, I may have something special, but maybe it needs some cultivation, maybe it needs me to be humble, but also confident in the fact that I'm going to get there, and I need to work hard to get there.
KEYS I would say, just be aware of the illusions. We have so many things that we learn from other people, and then we call that our truth. Well, that's how I feel because someone told me they felt like that and then — damn, which one is my truth? That's another thing I want to be more in touch with — that ping, that zing thing.
What one word describes the key to longevity in the music business?
STING Agreed.
KEYS Fearlessness.
AMOS Humor.
KEYS That's good, that's good.

Alicia Keys

John Legend

Pharrell Williams

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