Songwriter Scott Sharrard: "The craft and life experience is what’s going to get you there"

In the Musical Exchange Songwriter Series, we explore the craft of songwriting through regular interviews and short videos with songwriters who share inspiration and advice, from professional songwriters who reflect diverse musical styles and approaches to the art of songwriting.

Scott Sharrard, best known for his work as the lead guitarist of the Gregg Allman Band, went solo in 2003 and released two albums to critical acclaim, which he tours and showcases with Scott Sharrard and the Brickyard Band. Releasing his third solo album in spring 2012, recently formed the CKS Band with organist Bruce Katz and drummer Randy Ciarlante. 

Carnegie Hall: When did you decide to create music?

Scott: That’s a big question! For me it was as early as I can remember. My first cry was probably a dominant seventh! My father is a guitarist-singer, so the apple didn’t fall far—creating music is just a vital need for me. It's truly my lifeblood.

Go behind the scenes with Scott Sharrard.

Carnegie Hall:
  What established artist made you want to write songs and why?

Scott:  I could go on all day. Stevie Wonder, Chuck Berry, Jimi Hendrix, Joni Mitchell, Prince, Tom Waits, Smokey Robinson, Billy Strayhorn, The Beatles of course ... it goes on and on. They made the road map, so you have to follow it to eventually make it your own journey.

Carnegie Hall: What has been one of your most memorable collaborations, and what impact did it have on you as a songwriter?

Scott: I LOVE writing with my band-mate Moses Patrou. He's an incredible singer-songwriter-drummer, and we've got some great stuff right now on this next record with my band and on his new solo album.

Carnegie Hall: Where do you draw your inspiration to write music?

Scott: LIFE! Jim Hall once said, “Stop practicing and go look at some paintings” for inspiration. I get inspiration from my friends, band-mates, family, and just the creative arts in general. So paintings, books, movies ... they are all key inspirations for me. Plus TRAVEL; get out and see the world, speak another language, that’s amazing for opening up your creative juices. That said, it's very hard to pinpoint. When songs come about, they just come in on an invisible antenna. I practice to try to get the best signal and be ready for that moment, so I can record it and understand it, but don’t wait around for it or you'll lose it completely!

Carnegie Hall: We would love to gain a little more insight into how you actually write your songs. Do you start with the music or the lyrics?

Scott: 99% of the time, it’s music first, then lyric ideas stumble out on top of the groove or melody that I’m hooked on.

Carnegie Hall: How long are you practicing nowadays?

Scott: I have a routine where I try to practice an hour a day. It’s hard. I set my alarm for 7 AM today so I could practice for half an hour.

Carnegie Hall: You briefly mentioned that you really enjoy writing with your band mate Moses. Why?

Scott:  We have sort of an interesting life path. He was living in Madison, Wisconsin, during high school, and I was living in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. We were playing with the same older blues and soul guys when we were teenagers. Our connection was Clyde Stubblefield, who was James Brown’s drummer and had a gig every Monday at a club in Madison called the Globe. Then six or seven years ago we started playing together in New York with the Jay Collins band. He was playing percussion. He said he was from Wisconsin, I said so was I. We started to talk, and after some discussion we realized that we grew up with the same musical manifesto. We had the same teachers, but we didn’t know each other. We somehow never met until New York. 

Moses and I were really into soul music. That’s my passion, as well as his. I started playing music when I heard Otis Redding. That did it. Then Hendrix came on and that was it. Ever since, I’ve been trying to put those two bands together in one band. Between that Otis band and the Jimi trio, you can’t do any more with music. They covered all the bases. So that’s what I always try to do. I feel like soul music is really what that is. Moses and I are in that mindset. We love the same obscure guys like Johnny Adams. We love those obscure records. We grew up on the same strong blues scene in Wisconsin. When we make music, we’re both coming from that same place.

Carnegie Hall: Do you think when you collaborate, you should you be able to go into a session and just write with anyone?

Scott: I find that working with artists, it’s always about the relationship first. Music is very personal, especially when working with singer-songwriters. You have to get to know that person. When we’re writing or producing with people, it’s very important to understand that person’s story. Then, I try to write to that. In collaboration with others that I don’t know very well, I always defer to the other person at first to see where they are in their life and musical abilities. You have to jam, you have to feel each other out. You’ll come out with something. Maybe a riff or subject matter. Without that human connection, you can’t really do anything.

Carnegie Hall: You and Moses share the same musical manifesto. What's yours?

Scott: It’s soul music with no rules. I look at rock and roll as soul music. I love the music that has the groove and craftsmanship to go along with the art. I also like stuff that isn’t too clever. When you listen to the British geniuses or South American soul men, hanging around making music, that’s how I grew up. I went to a high school for the arts in Milwaukee. At my school, music was what it was all about. Nobody cared about labels or marketing music. It was good music or bad music. That’s it. I want to practice. I want to develop my craft. The craft and life experience is what’s going to get you there. Not one or the other.

Carnegie Hall: What is your number one tip for future songwriters?

Scott: Don’t lose the craft of songwriting, and learn how to use technology to expose people to the craft. Right now I see a political and cultural struggle all around the world. Music has always mirrored that situation. This is the time to develop yourself as a musician or songwriter. Get yourself to the point where your craft can’t be denied, and use technology to make records inexpensively. The only rule that’s left is to develop your craft and become great at what you do.

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