Risa Hall hails from New York City and attended the same school as Simon and Garfunkel and the Ramones. After appearing in various broadway plays, such as 'Grease' and 'Cat on a Hot Tin Roof' and doing voiceover work for programmes such as Red Dwarf and Emmerdale, Risa heard the music of Kt Tunstall and Nerina Pallot, and was inspired to become a singer-songwriter. Since then Risa has gone from strength to strength, supporting Alice Gold, Jess Klein and Nerina Pallot, as well as headlining her own gigs and appearing regularly on BBC Radio. Risa now resides in Manchester, England and her debut album 'Second Chances' , produced by Nigel Stonier (Waterboys, Thea Gilmore, Sandi Thom) is available on Red Disc Records. On September 15th 2013, Risa will be appearing at the prestigious Ramsbottom festival alongside acts such as Richard Hawley and Sinead O'Connor. Here Risa shares her songwriting tips.
- Do you have a daily songwriting routine or do you wait for inspiration to strike? My songwriting has always come from inspiration. Both happy and traumatic experiences. It also comes via environment and family. As I have always done my writing alone, I think it has to come via this creative channel. If I wrote with a team of writers, I would try to get a regular routine going though as people are so busy nowadays I might not be able to collaborate at the same time otherwise. Sometimes I do have a good strum on my guitar to see where it might take me and occasionally strike lucky there. I have written some songs via a riff I might have come up with.
- Do you have any tricks to get the creative juices flowing? I don't think I have 'tricks' as such to get the creative juices flowing, but I do like to listen to a lot of music so perhaps this is why my songwriting has been called 'genre hopping and multi faceted'. I write in all styles as I adore everything from Sondheim to Hendrix. It is not intentional, but it is inevitable being so diverse in my own tastes in music that I couldn't be pigeonholed to write in one style. I go from jazz to folk to punk in one evening.
- Do you find you normally start with a melody or lyrics? Most of the time the songs come together with melody and lyrics simultaneously, but sometimes it is just a line. I was walking in my old neighbourhood in New York and 'sultry, Summer starry nights' came into my head. Quite sibilant. It is now a song called 'New York Nights'.
- Do you think that melody is the most important aspect of a song?I think that the hooks are the most important part of a song and someone who is not familiar with your music should be able to come out humming it by remembering the hook. It is hard to say whether melody or lyrics are the most important element of a song as both are integral.
- How long does it take you to write a song? Sometimes you can write a song in 5 minutes and those are usually the best songs of all. I wrote 'Roses' in that time. I also once wrote two different songs which I fused together. The unfinished ones that you have to constantly return to usually get discarded, but I have even salvaged some of those songs. A current one I have just written is like that.
- Could you explain a little about the writing process behind a few of your songs? 'Second Chances ' (which is the title track from my album with Reddiscrecords) was written after I went through a horrendous experience of being bullied in my workplace by a member of staff. I had worked hard as a mature student to finish University and gain a PGCE. I wasn't used to anyone treating me in such a condescending way. I had to leave the job as it was so stressful and felt desperate for another establishment to give me a second chance. As the lyrics go "I was trying to rebuild the broken fortress". I am very proud of our YouTube Video. I have also, I am happy to say, have had other opportunities and chances.'Roses' is another song I am proud of. It only has three chords, unlike my other songs. People always seem to remember Roses and request it. I love the classical violin in the song. The words "Barren gardens and broken hearts" everyone can relate to as we have all been there in our lives -despondent and broken hearted but still willing to shower our loved one with Roses.'Jazz Lullaby' was written for my daughter Jessica who was going through a bad time in her life. A mum is always protective of their children and this was my musical way to assuage her pain. 'I Know You'll Get There in the End' is also a homage to my little girl. Very proud of her achievements.
- Do you have favourite keys to write in? I write in different keys, but usually minor and I tune my guitar down a full step.
- Do you think that a technical knowledge of theory is important or does it get in the way? I wish I had done a music degree instead of an English and Drama one sometimes as I envy people with loads of theory knowledge. I wanted to do grades in piano as I had no qualifications and my piano teacher put me straight into grade 4 which I passed. However, with piano I have to read music when I play and can't improvise like I do on guitar so I think perhaps with my style of writing which is like free association it would get in the way.
- Do you tend to revisit your songs and rewrite them? I do revisit some songs if I feel they have potential, but if is taking too long to write the songs, they are normally discarded.
- Do you write songs with a view to being commercial and following current trends? I actually abhor people who write to be commercial and are not writing with their hearts. I knew someone who became a country artist and actually loathed country music. You need to be true to yourself and your values. There is no point following trends as trends are short lived. A good song has longevity and will outlast all trends.
- Have you done much co-writing, and if so what do you see as the benefits? I have only co-written twice. Once with a friend from LA who had the backing track for something he wrote for years with no melody or lyrics. He did have a title though and that was enough for me to expound on the tune. He was delighted with the results. The other time one of my guitarists had some backing tracks and I chose one to write.
- Who do you view as great songwriters. Who has inspired you musically/ lyrically? My favourite songwriters are Nerina Pallot , Carole King, Maia Sharp, KT Tunstall, Steve Winwood and Todd Rundgren. Ashford and Simpson were like gods to me and all the Motown songs are classics. Lyrically Bob Dylan and Joni Mitchell are up there. Ray Davies is a lyrical master to me. What a vivid storyteller. The Beatles' songs always excelled lyrically.
- Do you feel that when there's conflict/struggle in your life that it inspires better songs? I definitely agree that conflict in your life is the key to better songs as songs are like a catharsis which extricate the demons.
- Do you have any idea where you ideas come from? My ideas one from observation, family, life experience.
- Do you have any advice you'd like to share with budding songwriters out there? My advice to budding songwriters is it is never too late (or early) to start. When I was a kid the drummer from 10 Years After approached me after I made a demo. I was so naive and green then, I missed an opportunity to work with known people. I then pursued other paths as an actor, voice over and teacher before I saw KT Tunstall in 2004 supporting Joss Stone. I was so inspired, I got my guitar out and started writing. I started doing open mics, making connections through MySpace and writing material. As an 'older' performer, I could never have dreamed that young people would like and listen to my songs, but they do. I love being a singer songwriter now.Carry a notepad with you and jot all ideas down. Get a recording device so you can remember your melodies. Listen to a lot of great music and read a lot of books. I am a voracious reader.
Click on the following to find Risa on the web.