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by Mia Easton
posted 08/03/2019

Keppie Coutts Interview- Open Academy

Keppie Coutts and The Open Academy’s Songwriting Short Course

Keppie Coutts is a Sydney based songwriter and educator. She will be taking the Open Academy’s short course – SONGWRITING Term starting the week of the 6th of May.
How old were you when you wrote your first song? What was it about?
I was 11. I just picked some random chords out of a busker’s manual and whacked them together, and then wrote some very hard-hitting political commentary…something about “playing the game of destiny, f**king with people’s lives”. Yep, had to get serious with some expletives.

Do you start with lyrics or melody? Do you have a favourite part of songwriting, eg. Picking out a tune, harmonising, brainstorming or performing? 
I usually start with a lyric idea, although these days I’m also very aware of how the rhythm and shape of the words themselves might lend themselves to a melody. So whenever I am writing with words, even if it just looks like words on a page, there are already musical considerations at play. For example, if I wrote a line like: “the conversation flowed but I was sinking”, that line actually has a specific rhythm embedded in it: da DA da DA da DA da DA da DA da. So I know that it will sit beautifully with a melodic rhythm that pulses in duples. If I wanted to increase the
urgency, I might write something like, “Throw me a lifeline and say that you’ll save me”, well that goes: DA da da DA da da DA da da DA da. The triplet feel will necessitate a faster delivery to the same pulse, which will increase the tension. So lyric to me is beautiful and complex because it is painting with both meaning and rhythm all at the same time.

What are some of your top reminiscences or stand out moments in your professional musical life?
I was very, very lucky to be asked to join a small group of young songwriters 10 years ago who all spent a full week with John Mayer, working on songs and talking about songwriting. John also picked my song as one of three to produce in the studio and that was another extraordinary experience. Besides the musical and songwriting side of things, John taught us all how to hold our breath for 3 minutes. It was surreal.

Who is your go-to songwriter/musician?
It depends what I’m looking for! Crowded House is a go-to for absolutely solid songwriting on all levels. I also love Americana because it prizes lyrics and melodic beauty and simplicity, and I love listening to Lori McKenna (especially the Numbered Doors album) and Gillian Welch. I also think Anais Mitchell is one of the best American songwriters right now. When I want to harness other characters and voices, I listen to Tom Waits and Nick Cave. Right now I am listening to an American pop writer, Julia Michaels, who I think is great, and helps me get into that zone when
I am doing commercial work with other artists. But my very first songwriting muses who really defined for me what a ‘songwriter’ is, were Ani DiFranco and Joni Mitchell.

What advice would you give potential students who might be keen to enroll in  Songwriting? 
I think there’s still a sense of mystery around songwriting practice, and a very persistent mythology that songwriting is somehow special—only for those blessed with the talent, or something you can either do or not. But much like visual art, creative writing, and other artforms (including music itself), there is a lot to be learned in a systematic and methodological way by looking at the cannon of great songwriters, and figuring out what tools, techniques, strategies, structures, methods and processes they used, then figuring out how to adapt and use them for your own purposes! There are practical ways to improve your songwriting, whether you’ve
written one song, or a hundred.

How much music theory would they need?
To enter into the Songwriting 1 course, people need to be able to recognise and play chords on an instrument (usually guitar or piano, but other instruments that you can use to accompany yourself are welcome, like ukulele or computer instruments). It’s helpful if you have a basic grasp of what chords are in a major key, but the more important thing is to be comfortable enough with an instrument that you can play chords and accompany yourself (or create a track in a DAW and sing along to it).

Why are you interested in teaching at the Open Academy?
I love teaching people who want to learn and arrive eager and hungry to put learning into practice. The Open Academy is exactly the right environment for that. The people who come also come from a wide diversity of backgrounds and life experience, which creates a really lovely cross-pollination of ideas and experience. And, it’s a beautiful campus, which never hurts.

What: Open Academy’s short course – SONGWRITING with Keppie Coutts

When: Sarting 6 May 2019

Where: Open Academy Sydney Conservatorium of Music

For More Info & To Book Online  Click Here.

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