Hey all! Authors can tend to run over the same ground again and again so I thought for this month's interview I'd introduce you to a different creative type: a singer/songwriter. Today's guest has an impressive body of work and is making a name for herself in the Philadelphia music scene. Let's learn a bit about her and then jump into the interview.
Writing poetry since the age of 9, Cantwell is a creative mind first and foremost. Back then, emulating her idols Mariah Carey, Michael Jackson, and Madonna, she started writing, singing, and performing in talent shows at the age of ten.
While in a band in middle school, she continued to discover her own power in a lyrical way. Then, she wrote of heartbreak, teenage angst, and unrequited love. At the age of fourteen she was recording and being approached to write for other artists. Happy to oblige, Cantwell began learning the art of songwriting and building up her now extensive catalog. And, with the help of a home recording studio, she has more demos recorded than she can count.
Cantwell has performed in bars, concert halls, coffee shops, weddings, in clubs, and on radio shows. She has an ability to entertain a range of audiences. Her voice appeals to not only the young pop audience, but to older rock and even jazz fans. She is known for being energetic and vocally strong on stage.
While her songs range from rock, to pop, to R&B she simply defines her style as “mature pop”. The new album, “Hearing Things” will be released in September of 2017 and it promises to be personal and fun. Songs like “Killer, Killer” & “Wanted” show her edgier, darker rock side and tracks like “Stale” and “All to Myself” bring out her inner pop star. Then, ballads like “Misfortune Teller” and “Love Is A Dirty Word” show her softer, more vulnerable side. ”I’m so excited about every song on this album because I wrote them all for me but in doing that, I also wrote them for YOU!” She is motivated not only by your head nodding, but by your smiles as you listen. “If you get even one minute of joy from this project, my work is done.”
You can follow her on her website, SoundCloud, Twitter, or Instagram.
Interview:SK: Hi, Cantwell, and welcome to Across the Board! Thanks for taking the time to talk with us today. First, can you walk us through your process of writing an individual song?
C: Hi Stephen! Thanks so much for having me! I really appreciate it.
I would love to tell you there’s one way to write a song and that it’s Step 1, Step 2, Step 3 and BAM!...you have a song! But, it’s never that way. The most common way I begin is with a concept or title. Once I have a concept I start writing the idea immediately so I don’t lose the initial inspiration. I start jotting down ideas that surround or are related to the title or concept. That or I start with an entire line and go from there. Sometimes a melody comes to me immediately, in which case I sing that into my iPhone’s “Voice Memos” until later when I can really flesh out the idea. Since I don’t actually play an instrument (not well anyway) I usually start with a drum sample or loop from one of my audio programs on my home computer (ProTools, Garage Band, or Logic Pro to name a few). I set the tempo, add a bassline or keyboards or guitar loop and demo the track at home until I can bring the idea to the producer I work with in a real studio.
SK: That said, how do you go about putting together a full album? How do you determine the flow and order of songs?
C: Luckily (or unluckily) for me, my catalog is quite extensive. I literally have hundreds of songs/concepts to choose from. It’s about the song’s home-demo “feel” or vibe. If it excites me immediately and then again after a few weeks on my rotation, it goes on the album. I don’t believe in “filler” tracks so you’ll never find a song on one of my projects that is just “thrown in there”. I’m glad you mention song order too. There is certainly an energy when you listen to any album. For me, the first song is always my most “mass appeal” record. That way, I can hook most listener into at least listening to track 2. Then, track 2 is always a personal favorite that I feel is fun and yet doesn’t stray too far from the vibe of the first record to the point where the listener feels betrayed by the difference in sounds. Then, as the album develops I paint more of the intended “picture”. I usually wait to slow it down until the end of the album. With my last album, I ended with a vulnerable ballad called “Anonymous” that I wrote at 19 years old. This record ends with an upbeat rocker “in-your-face” type record called “Wanted” that I wrote very recently. The reason for this ending is I want the last feeling the listener gets from me to be strength.
SK: Knowing your strengths and weaknesses as a singer, do you ever write music and realize you're not the right person to perform it? Do you/would you ever write for somebody else?
C: While my songs are often quite personal, I do write with others in mind often. I think, “How would Rihanna say this?” or “Would Gwen Stefani sing it like that?”. I would very much love to have others sing my songs as I simply don’t have the resources to record all of mine. Like I said, I literally have hundreds of songs. I am getting to a point where I am going to start giving songs away, just so they can be recorded and heard!
SK: As a performer, how do you find and book gigs?
C; A great way to book a gig is by doing Open Mic nights. I have been on the local Philadelphia/Delco ("Delco" is Delaware County, a suburb of Philadelphia - SK) scene for years now and met many great musicians and performers that way. A lot of them are willing to invite you to be on the same bill with them in the future or even create a new show with you. As long as you’re willing to work, promote, and be “grass roots” about it, people will be nice and offer to work with you. You just have to get yourself out there.
SK: How do you market your performances and your albums?
C: I do my due diligence on the Internet with social media apps, my website, and iTunes, and Amazon. I plan to film a few music videos with this project and release those. I also will do radio podcasts, interviews like these, and hopefully good ol’ word of mouth!
SK: You have quite an impressive body of work already. What are your aspirations for your career, either creatively or in terms of popular appeal?
C: I would love to be a touring singer/songwriter full time. I’ve been steadily writing songs and poetry since I was 9 and the well has not run dry yet! I know I have plenty to offer and look forward to meeting other creative minds in my journey.
SK: Tell us about your latest album "Hearing Things." When and where will we be able to get it?
C: Yes, “Hearing Things” is the title of the album and it’s a three-tiered message about music, mental illness, and rumors. Songs and music are “things we hear”, if mentally ill enough, people “hear things” and when someone is spreading rumors you hear people say, “Oh, I’ve been hearing things”. I’ve dealt with aspects of all three and felt it was important to put a voice to all three in one project. My songs range from rocker chick vibes (“Killer, Killer” & “Wanted”) to softer ballads (“Misfortune Teller” and “Love Is A Dirty Word”) and fun upbeat pop records (“All To Myself” and “Stale”). While my style is all over the place, I like to define it as “mature pop”.
With “Hearing Things” I decided to record songs that I love, not just ones I thought would do well commercially. Obviously, my ultimate goal is to have everyone know me and my songs but as a creative person that is never the driving force behind the music. If I can’t create from a place of honesty and integrity, I don’t create at all.
“Hearing Things” will be released in September on iTunes, Amazon, Spotify and most other major audio outlets. You can hear two of the songs now, “Stale” & “Killer Killer” on SoundCloud.com/Cantwell-Music. Or, you can visit my website at iLoveCantwell.com. All updates on performances, videos, and releases will be there!