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Why We Write with Kim Ruehl
45 minutes | Oct 13, 2021
Why We Write with Kim Ruehl, Eps. 10: The Milk Carton Kids
It’s been ten years since The Milk Carton Kids—Joey Ryan and Kenneth Pattengale—released their debut album, Prologue, as a pay-what-you-can download on their website. As risky a marketing choice as that was, word caught on and the duo has long since become a Grammy-nominated, Americana Award-winning group. Of course, both Pattengale and Ryan were solo songwriters before launching their collaboration, so I was interested to learn how they’ve influenced each other’s writing over all these years. Thus, for the latest episode of Why We Write, we dug into The Milk Carton Kids’ songwriting, influences (which John Prine song they both deem “perfect”), and how their collaboration has evolved in the past decade.
38 minutes | Sep 30, 2021
Why We Write with Kim Ruehl, Eps. 9: Mary Gauthier
Over the past couple of decades, Mary Gauthier has built a reputation for being a songwriter who is unafraid to delve into the starkest truths about our shared humanity. Or, at least, if she is afraid, she has the reputation for going there anyway. In her new book—Saved by a Song—she digs into how she got to be this way, how she became the songwriter she is today, and how and why songwriting has literally saved her life probably more than once. The way songwriting can save a person’s life is something Mary Gauthier knows so well, in fact, that she’s been working with traumatized veterans as well as doctors and nurses who have worked with Covid patients. All this even as she presses forward with her own songwriting, exploring new territories and new themes in her own life. So there was a lot to talk with her about when we sat down recently for the podcast. Enjoy the latest episode of the Why We Write podcast, featuring the remarkable Mary Gauthier.
30 minutes | Sep 15, 2021
Why We Write with Kim Ruehl, Eps. 8: Tré Burt
Tré Burt is somewhat new on the scene, but his songwriting calls to mind some of the greats like Bob Dylan and John Prine. (He is recording for Prine’s Oh Boy Records.) Those are giant shoes to fill in the realm of songwriting, so I had to wonder how Burt views his role as a songwriter. What motivates him, what’s his process, and where does he feel like his songwriting takes him? These questions and others came up during our recent conversation, shortly before he made his Newport Folk Festival debut this summer. Whether you’re a Prine or Dylan fan, or just looking for some promising younger songwriters to learn more about, press play on this episode of the Why We Write podcast and get to know Tré Burt.
41 minutes | Aug 25, 2021
Why We Write with Kim Ruehl, Eps. 7: Gretchen Peters
Gretchen Peters has earned enough accolades and awards that one could easily tout the success of her songwriting by listing all those things. But the true success of a song is how it hits the listener in the heart, and Peters is certainly expert at that, as well. In addition to the numerous songs she’s written for Nashville stars, she has also penned a great many for herself, earning the respect of fellow songwriters as she goes. She also teaches songwriting, and her songwriting workshops are well worth your time, whether you are trying to make a living in songwriting or whether you just have some thoughts and feelings that you’d like to get out in that way. When I started doing this podcast, Gretchen Peters was one of the first artists I knew I had to talk to. I always learn a great deal about the art and craft of songwriting whenever she opens her mouth. So, sit back and enjoy this episode of Why We Write, featuring Gretchen Peters.
32 minutes | Aug 11, 2021
Why We Write with Kim Ruehl, Eps. 6: Anna Tivel
For Anna Tivel’s latest album, Blue World, she found herself drawn to the spacious echo of piano—an instrument she doesn’t actually play. But there was something in the songs she had been writing that called for that sound and she was inclined to follow her instincts. The result is haunting and emotionally arresting, as is true of most of Tivel’s songwriting. Indeed, there is a spaciousness in all she does, a certain poetry that doesn’t stop with the lyrics but stretches into her melodies and instrumental breaks. Tivel has a knack for leaving room for the listener to bring their own thoughts and feelings to the song, which is something few songwriters have the courage to do. It is, after all, far easier to fill a song with notes and words and various instrumental sounds. As Pete Seeger famously said, anyone can make something complicated; it takes a genius to make it simple. Anna Tivel may be toward the beginning of her career—not quite genius yet—but her impulse toward simple poetry is laudable. I was interested to learn more about how she got to this point of trusting her instincts and keeping things simple—and of course why she writes at all. Press play and dig into the simple beauty of Anna Tivel.
36 minutes | Jul 28, 2021
Why We Write with Kim Ruehl, Eps. 5: Rose Cousins
All songwriting grapples with emotion on some level, but few songwriters go as deeply into the den of emotion with as much determination as Rose Cousins. Across her eight studio albums, Cousins has developed a reputation for being deeply honest about the complexities of human emotions. Even her merchandise pokes fun at how emotional her songwriting is. (A tote bag reads: “Jam Your Feelings in Here”.) So, when we spoke for this episode of Why We Write, I was curious as to her relationship with songwriting as a tool for emotional excavation—a thing she is even able to do when singing other people’s songs. In fact, we began by discussing other people’s songwriting, and the avenue toward emotional nuance that is just waiting to be found. Enjoy this episode of Why We Write with Rose Cousins.
53 minutes | Jul 14, 2021
Why We Write with Kim Ruehl, Eps. 4: The Mammals
For two decades, the Mammals have built a reputation for writing honest songs that not only connect with their listeners on an emotional level, but also explore the idea that people are capable of building a better world. Now, as people in the U.S. are emerging from quarantine and there is much talk about how to go “back” to something better than “normal,” I was curious how the Mammals’ Mike Merenda and Ruthy Ungar were thinking about these things. In our recent conversation for the podcast, we got into those topics, as well as the relationship between music and food, the relationship between passion and productivity, and what lessons they’re carrying with them as they return to the stage with their songs.
31 minutes | Jun 24, 2021
Why We Write with Kim Ruehl, Eps. 3: Sunny War
Sunny War came of age hopping trains and busking around Los Angeles. She played in a punk band even as she was a fan of folk-blues artists from a century ago. All of these elements swirl together in her songwriting, which is unpretentiously poetic, clear and concise, catchy but remarkably simple. Across her handful of albums, her songwriting has depicted the remarkable growth and evolution of a songwriter with impeccable instincts, and her latest effort, Simple Syrup, is another impressive step on that journey. When we spoke for the Why We Write podcast, Sunny War was in the process of recording the album, happy to ruminate on her unfolding career, her experiences with ayahuasca, and the way a year of quarantine was impacting her creative process.
39 minutes | Jun 10, 2021
Why We Write with Kim Ruehl, Eps. 2: Rosanne Cash
There is much that could be said about Rosanne Cash’s number-one hits and Grammy awards, her family legacy and her celebrity. But whether she’s writing songs, articles, essays, or books, Cash is always a writer’s writer. She has a knack for catchy, chorus-worthy turn of phrase, sure, but she also has a generally superb literary sensibility. Thus, the opportunity to discuss writing with her for this episode of 'Why We Write' was a bit of a no-brainer. One of the things that strikes me most about Cash’s songwriting is the way she sets her songs and stories very strongly in a specific place. So, we began our conversation with the relationship between story and place. Press play and come along for the ride.
49 minutes | May 17, 2021
Why We Write with Kim Ruehl, Eps. 1: Ani DiFranco
Why We Write is a new podcast about songwriting from Folk Alley. In this, its debut episode, music journalist Kim Ruehl talks with folk favorite Ani DiFranco about the ways in which her songwriting process have changed through her 30-year career. Find out how DiFranco has learned to trust her instincts, how her relationship with her guitar has evolved, and what kinds of songs she still wants to write.
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