Holiday Collaboration with Hollis Wong-wear

It looks like the holidaze are upon us. I've been inundated with holiday shopping spam in my e-mail. Black Friday! Grey Thursday!  Cyber Monday! White Wednesday?? Oh America…

The reason I bring up the holidays is because I recently finished recording a holiday song with my friend Hollis She is always up to something -- and most often up to many things. At the moment she is on tour with her band Flavr Blue. I'm very excited to release the music next week -- see my ramblings before to get an idea of the process.

I wasn't always a fan of collaborating. I'm already trying to support a band + the many expenses that come with touring and giving away part of my percentage to another person was painful to think about. Then I started to consider all of the advantages to collaborating/cowriting. You have someone to bounce ideas off of. The song has a second filter someone who is seeing things through their own perspective. Two heads are often better than one -- and the I've noticed that when two people are writing together, the song sounds more finished.  It's also nice to have two people getting a song out there. It wasn't until I really started to collaborate with my band that I began to really see the value of collaborating on my songs.

It started maybe a year and half ago, and I had a couple of longer conversations with a songwriter friend of mine Joe Gil. Joe's a killer songwriter on Warner Music who I met through hearing his music on my friend's photography website. Then in February of 2014 I signed my first publishing deal with SONGS. Sometime before and after I signed the deal, I started co-writing with folks a bit more. I was traveling to Nashville, LA, and even staying close to home for sessions with some of my favorite writers; Gregory Alan Isakov, Caitlin Rose, Brian Logan Dales, the list goes on. Some of my favorite songs have been co-writes. My collaboration with Hollis started in...

Late November 2013

On a rainy, overcast evening in November of 2013, Hollis and I got together to write a song about the holidays for an upcoming event. We'd been wanting to work together for a while after an introduction from a mutual musician/friend (Andrew Joslyn) over sushi . It was interesting writing together, Hollis came from more of slam poetry, hip-hop, experimental background, where I was more of a folk/pop songwriter. 

I never really know how collaborations are going to go. Sometimes, when you write with someone, it doesn't work right away -- someone is having an off day, there are differing visions for where the song should go, or neither person is really coming up with anything substantive. Hollis and I seemed to find common ground, putting together the puzzle pieces pretty quickly with our holiday song.

I think it helps when you have narrowed the focus, and have a defined starting place. We wanted to write a holiday song, and working on it in November when the holidays were almost upon us made it feel more authentic.

I should back up, as half the battle in collaborating is finding time to get together. As December arrived and the event was only a few days away, the two of us finally found some time to get together and write. She was just coming off of a whirlwind of touring with a number of musical projects including her band Flavr Blue, an experimental jazz trio she led and supporting a hip-hop duo, Macklemore.

I usually come to the sessions with a blank slate or a few ideas, but on a bit of a time crunch, I did a bit extra preparation -- coming into the session with a light song structure + verse/chorus melodies and instrumentation. 10 minutes into our session it felt like we were on the same page and she was coming up with lyrical ideas faster than I could process them. We left the session with a finished chorus, structure and a little more writing for our specific verses, but basically a finished song.

April (2014)

The show went well, the song sounded good, and a few months later Hollis produced a video for one of the lead tracks on my most recent album, called "Fighting the War".

October 26

Flash forward, it's October, almost a year after writing the song and I get an e-mail from Hollis asking if I want record and release it. At this point, we've missed a lot of the holiday licensing opportunities, but that's an aside as the idea of releasing our first original holiday song seems like too much fun to pass up.

November 2

Flash forward, it's now a rainy, overcast day in November 2014, and we've spent our Sunday recording. Here's what the day in the studio looked like:

  • 1-4pm - finished laying down a few guitars, talking about what we wanted to do with percussion.
  • 4-8:45pm - KO Vocals, Dinner + deciding to add drums and piano
  • 9pm - Hollis comes in and lays down vocals (and kills it)

Songwriting is fun, but there is also something special about hearing the idea you had in your head come to life in the studio. There is always a new tweak, idea, or arrangement that comes about during studio sessions. I love co-writing because you get to see the creative process happening in real time. The process doesn't end with the inception of the song, but continues until I hear the song being played back and nothing can be added or taken away to make it better. <Click on the picture below to see other pictures from the session>

November 5

We got together to shoot a one-take video at the Georgetown Ballroom in South Seattle with my talented friend Erathosthenes Fackentall.

November 25

Sometimes I can hear the seasons in a song - the snow falling, the wind calling, the dry heat of a summer day, or in the case of this song, a rainy fall day that's turning towards winter.

I don't know where this song came from or where and with who it will find a home, but when collaborations work, it's very special. Hollis and I are going to share the song online in the coming days.