THE ELSEWHERE SONGWRITER QUESTIONNAIRE: University of Auckland songwriter finalist Callum Lee

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THE ELSEWHERE SONGWRITER QUESTIONNAIRE: University of Auckland songwriter finalist Callum Lee

Every year Auckland University hosts a showcase for their talented music students. This year in addition to the five finalists for songwriter of the year there are also categories for best vocalist, best lyricist, best instrumentalist, best arranger and best song.

It's a big night with judges from the top of the music industry and once again Elsewhere is pleased to introduce the finalists for the songwriter category.

Details on the the where/when of the event are below, but meantime let's introduce one of the third year music students . . .

Callum Lee’s performances highlight the dream-like sensitivity of his developing music style. With vocal theatrics straight out of a Bernstein musical, Callum explores unexpected arrangements and modulates between genres with a hint of psychedelia. “I write songs by developing an idea, image or atmosphere then playing around with sounds and textures”

The website for his electronic project Rewind Fields is here.

The first song which really affected you was . . .

Going to California by Led Zeppelin. No tears. I promise…until I heard it in the movie 'Almost Famous'. Lets just say I'm glad I watched that alone.

Your first (possibly embarrassing) role models in music were . . .

As a guitarist it's almost canon that Hendrix should take the throne. I guess the embarrassment would come from not having an embarrassing artist to share right now. Maybe a repressed idolization of Shania Twain. But that won't impress you much.

The one songwriter you will always listen to, even if they disappointed you previously, is?

Sufjan Stevens. From acoustic to electronica, this man pulls my strings.

As songwriters: Lennon-McCartney or Jagger-Richards; kd lang or Katy Perry; Madonna or Michael Jackson; Prince or Pink?


Moving like Jagger

Katy Perry

Michael Jackson


The three songs (yours, or by others) you would love everyone to hear because they are well crafted are . . .

John Wayne Gacy Jr. by Sufjan Stevens (what did I tell you?)

Castles Made of Sand by Jimi Hendrix

Feel Something by Holy Other, really emotional downtempo instrumental electronica. I was slightly adamant about how poignant electronic music could be, and then I heard this.

Melody first? Words or phrase first? Simultaneous?

Mostly chords, then melody in close second. Writing lyrics can be a nuisance, especially when you create a nice atmosphere with chords and a mumbled melody. You just don't want to sing a wrong word to break all that immersion.

It's definitely a different writing process when making electronic music. Inspiration can be found in a synth you make, or a record sample, or a drum groove. I'm definitely more comfortable in this medium.

The best book on music or musicians you have read is . . .

Wow, I work part time at a bookstore and get asked enough of these questions there. Would you mind if I passed? Kidding. Love me some Scott Pilgrim graphic novels. We are sexbobombs!

If you could co-write with anyone it would be . . .

Sufjan Stevens. It would probably get creepy with the video camera set up, but he'd be contractually obligated to hang with me. And be my friend.

The three songs you'd insist anybody listen to because they might understand your songwriting style better are . . .

Plea by Baths

Lately by Memory House

Snow and Taxis by Gold Panda

The last CD or vinyl album you bought was . . . (And your most recent downloads include . . .)

Frank Ocean-Channel Orange

One song, royalties for life, never have to work again. The song by anyone, yourself included, which wouldn't embarrass you would be . . .

Superstar by Lupe Fiasco feat Matthew Santos

One line (or couplet) from a song -- yours or someone else's -- which you think is just a stone cold winner is . . .

"And you better wear your shades/The spotlights here can burn holes through the stage/Down through the basement/Past the Indian graves/Where the dinosaurs laid/And out through China/Nearly misses air liners/Magnified times five/This is pointed at the rhymer/Ricochets off the moon and sets the forest ablaze"

Songwriting: what's the ratio of inspiration/perspiration?

Definitely more perspiration than inspiration. Although, a lot of inspiration comes from perspiration in the form of shear dumb luck. Especially making electronic music. You'll be jamming over a fairly lackluster beat, when suddenly you accidentally insert an effect or you program a rhythm that completely changes the atmosphere of the whole thing. It's kind of exciting and encourages me to keep at a project, even if it's not going too stellar.

Ever had a song come to you fully-formed like it dropped into your lap?

Yeah, almost literally. I recently went into a record store and rummaged through old vinyls in the World Music section, and came out with a couple of really old records with traditional Japanese music on it. I converted the records into wav. files so I could edit them on my computer. I then spliced up the music, repitched, slow down, reversed, and added effects to the record samples, and played different combinations of each exert. I had the core structure of a song in a matter of minutes. It's really cool creating a piece of music from music long forgotten.

And finally, in the nature of press conferences in Japan, “Can you tell me please why this is your best song ever?”

'Elliot' by Rewind Fields (this is my electronic music project). My best because it's the first song I've actually finished without feeling the need to give excuses for the way it sounds. It was also made under a couple of hours.

The University of Auckland’s Songwriter of the Year Award 2013

Thursday 3 October 2013 7pm (for 7.30pm start)

The Maidment Theatre 8 Alfred Street, Auckland.

Tickets $5-$15. Book at the Maidment Theatre 09 308 2383.

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