Racer Sessions

Sundays, 8-10pm at Cafe Racer in Seattle, WA

Rob Hanlon - September 22, 2013



One of my favorite Racer Sessions in recent history was Andrew Olmstead’s session on March 24th, 2013. Here’s his post. In a nutshell, Andrew wanted to focus on motivation in that session. To do this, he gave himself the task of performing a solo synthesizer set, something he had never done, and out of it, he got some extremely beautiful music that many of us were very fortunate to have perceived. Since then, I feel like Andrew has become more active musically. I seem to see him playing constantly these days! It’s really great.

One of the most beautiful aspects of Andrew’s performance at that session was (and I mean this in the best way possible) the fragility of his songwriting. The music was very earnest, and each piece of music felt like it was tied to fleeting emotions that he was experiencing while writing. It was nigh impossible to deny the emotional depth of the music that we were all hearing. Andrew’s incredible control over his synthesizer made the experience that much more full.

I’m entitling this session “not-so-experimental songwriting” because I’ve been pursuing more conventional songwriting techniques for the music that I’ll be presenting. Coming from the pedagogical background that I do (classical piano lessons when I was very young, jazz kid through middle school and high school, composition major for a short period at the beginning of my college career), I can’t resist but to approach things from a strictly compositional perspective. More specifically, I usually take a harmonic or rhythmic approach to the music that I write – I sit down, play some chord progression that I like, and then maybe start improvising. Eventually, I’ll probably build out this harmonic structure on my computer, add some drums, and then think, “man, I should really add some vocals to this!” Said vocals are generally an afterthought, with the melody and lyrics coming about with no specific inspiration and in no specific order.

The “not-so-experimental songwriting” approach strictly requires that I either write the melody or lyrics of a piece first. This may seem bog standard, but for me, it’s quite the challenge, and requires a much less mechanistic approach to finding the inspiration that I need and acting on it. I would like to be able to harness the same types of transient, nuanced emotions that Andrew harnessed during his March session with this music, and I feel like taking an uncomfortable approach to writing will give me more of a shot.

I will, like Andrew, be presenting this music solo, using only my voice, a synthesizer, and perhaps some reverb to spare everyone the pain of my singing. :) See you on Sunday!