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Creative Spaces: Garreth Spinn, Songwriter

November 4, 2014

Creative Spaces Natalie Mueller Comments Off on Creative Spaces: Garreth Spinn, Songwriter
Songwriter, Garreth Spinn. Photo Credit: Garrett Thompson

Songwriter, Garreth Spinn. Photo Credit: Garrett Thompson

Now, I’ve had the pleasure of knowing Garreth Spinn since the ripe age of fourteen, so I can attest to his natural talent, but also to his growth as both an artist and a person whose presence I enjoy. Here is a man who does the nerdy work and the dirty work, always pushing to try something new in his music career and taking time to appreciate the artists around him. He can play a myriad of instruments, but considers himself a songwriter more than a musician. “Calling myself a musician would be taking it too far,” he explains, “I’m like a utility baseball player but in music. I play every position well enough to get by, but I’m not really amazing at any one thing…or in this case instrument.”

Arguably, Garreth has been pursuing a music career since his toddling days. However, he’s been pursuing it more aggressively and professionally since moving to Tennessee for school six years ago. I’ve been lucky enough to catch up with him a few times in the last few years, even swing by and see his home set up when I was in Nashville last spring. I’m glad we were finally able to set aside some Skype time to talk shop and space.

The Work

When did you decide that this was a career that you wanted to pursue?

I’d say around the age of 17. That’s when I started to discover music as a business and grew more aware of the chatter on Billboard. That’s when I saw that songwriting could be a viable career.

And you were instantly a great success, yes?

Haha, when I first got to Tennessee I realized that I was really bad and that songwriting was something I was going to need to work really hard on. In High School, I was good, but there hadn’t been much competition. I was king of a very, very small hill–the smallest hill. An athlete-musician friend once likened it being the star of your high school basketball team and then getting to college and everyone was the star of their high school teams…and they are all way better than you.

I went to school for music business, which I think is ultimately one of the best decisions I could have made and potentially an advantage, but you never know. I know more about how things work and what I need to do than some might, but still.

The Work Day

How much time do you spend actually behind a desk?

Before, I would write songs wherever my guitar was, but now I use a computer more so I do actually have to be at my desk. It’s been nice, I work on Logic, a basic Apple program, so I can actually build whole tracks as opposed to just writing songs.

What’s the typical work week?

There isn’t one. I try not to force anything. Some weeks I purposely don’t work on any music and other weeks songwriting dominates all of my free time in some form or fashion. It comes in waves.

What about a process? Is there a standard there?

Oh, for sure, more and more recently. Now that I’m using Logic, for example, my process typically starts with a drum groove and I build up from there. There’s a song that I did recently, actually that’s a good, condensed example of my process: I had an hour before I had to leave for work and so I sat down and worked out a simple drum groove and bass line, put it on my phone and worked on it on my breaks during the day. I wrote down ideas for melodies and words and then put the whole thing together when I got home.

It used to be different every time, and it still varies slightly, but it’s good to have a routine–it’s more efficient.

Speaking of routines, do you have any specific ones for brainstorming or inspiration-hunting?

This is going to sound terrible, but for me, I have to be the right amount of depressed to write songs. I have to be an active depressed as opposed to being so bummed out that the only thing I can do is watch The Simpsons. I can’t max out, but I still need to be pretty bummed out to write songs. It’s just the way it is.

Surely you have at least one happy song.

A few might have a positive spin in some way, but for the most part they are pretty sad. Even Joy of Painting‘s track ‘Good Mood‘ is about the rare occasion where you wake up and don’t feel like shit. Haha.

What have you found to be the greatest challenge of working from home?

I don’t ever leave.

I’ll work on a track for a day and a half straight and I’ll never leave. I’ll forget to eat, it’s that big of an issue. And now my desk is in my room so I work until my eyes and ears are completely toast and then just flop over on my bed…and then wake up early and keep going. It’s the whole product, not just the song. Recording, production, non stop.

Do you ever have to force yourself to stop working?

You have to. I take regular breaks every couple of hours, even if it’s just to watch some Jimmy Fallon or The Simpsons. I’ll work for 2-3 good hours and then remind myself that I need to eat or drink water or just step away. I remember to get coffee every morning and then forget everything else.

You don’t hear things the same after 8 hours. You get ear fatigue, you aren’t hearing things as crisp and it becomes more difficult to make good decisions. Something similar can probably be said of most fields.


The Workspace

Working in your room is relatively new, yes?

Yeah, at our last house my desk couldn’t fit in my room. I didn’t have a designated space to work. There was a spare room upstairs but with no AC so it was always either too hot or too cold to work up there. Eventually, though, my roommates got sick of my stuff dominating a common space so I gritted my teeth and went up to that extra room. It was pretty miserable.

I like my space now. I don’t love the house, but I love my room and working in my own little world.

"Just to prove how important coffee is to my creative process, on my desk right now there is a coffee mug with a paper coffee cup inside of it"

“Just to prove how important coffee is to my creative process, on my desk right now there is a coffee mug with a paper coffee cup inside of it”

What is most important to you in any creative environment?

Coffee. If I don’t get coffee, I won’t be able to function. Other than that, I’d have to say having everything within reach.

What would be your ideal workspace?

When I was younger, I thought you had to make records in fancy studios like Abbey Road or RCA Studio B. But as I hung out with more people who had actually made their own records, I realized you could do it anywhere. Would it be cool to shack up in Electric Lady Studios for a year like Questlove? Sure. But all I really need is coffee and a couch and some guitars and a piano.

I recently recorded in a friend’s home studio and it was just his basement, but I felt comfortable immediately and loved it. I had everything I wanted within arm’s reach. There was a comfortable couch, coffee rolling and your essential gear; it was perfect enough.

How would you describe your set up?

Messy, very messy. Everything is up all of the time so that I can quickly do what I want to do. For example, that song I quickly set up before leaving for the day, I was able to do that because everything is always ready to go.

What about your gear? Do the tools make the artist?


I don’t have the best stuff. A lot of my gear is borrowed or was given to me, which is super cool and I have a sentimental attachment to a lot of it, but it’s nothing fancy. I have just enough to get by and to get everything out…then I bring it to someone who is better at using a computer than me to polish it up.

I like my gear but no one would probably want to use it but me.

How often do you treat yourself to a new toy or upgrade?

Not often at all. Just recently I got a nicer microphone, but it’s still nothing extravagant. Earlier this year I was still recording on a hand-me-down mic from Radioshack. But, you know, Sufjan Stevens made Michigan with two shitty microphones and his computer, so I feel fine.

So you don’t have a secret weapon or anything?

The closest thing would be a bundle of plugins I got for free. A band I love, Vulfpeck, made an album of 10 tracks of silence for Spotify and asked their fans to stream it over night. They used the profit from that project, some $200,000, to design and release a bunch of few plugins. I love them and use them all of the time now.

What kind of organizer are you?

Not applicable. I am not an organizer. The only thing I keep organized are my records. They are all in perfect alphabetical order by artist. Other than that, nadda. My cables aren’t wrapped, there are coffee cups everywhere, but I like it.

I don’t see any tchotchkes among the chaos, what is your favorite thing in your workspace?

Probably the monitors. I didn’t used to have monitors, good speakers, to listen to my work on before. I did everything with headphones. Not only did it not sound as good, but I’d wear headphones for hours on end–it felt like there was a clock ticking in the background, counting down to when I would lose my hearing completely. So when my buddy let me borrow his monitors it made life a lot more comfortable and a little more amazing.

Garreth recently cleared house on his CDs, these were the survivors. Namely: Dr. Manhattan, Caleb Hawley, Yeezus, Joel Plaskett, David Myles

Garreth recently cleared house on his CDs. Among the survivors: Dr. Manhattan, Caleb Hawley, Yeezus, Joel Plaskett, David Myles

What are you listening to these days?

A lot of hip hop. Run the Jewels and MF Doom. Oh, and I love the new Taylor Swift album, 1989. I’ve been realizing that a lot of pop musicians are starting to take more and more from hip hop production. For example, ‘Shake it Off’ takes a lot of cues from Outkast. Think about those claps and the horn drone.

Let me check my phone to give you a better idea of what I’m listening to though: Sam Cook, Weezer, MF Doom, Taylor Swift, Prince and The Pixies…yeah, that sums it up pretty well.

What have you been writing recently?

I hate repeating myself so my career goals are always to not do anything I’ve done before. Sometimes you can’t help it, but I try to constantly change styles to challenge myself. I did the folk thing for a while, and the power-pop thing and now I’m dabbling in electronic stuff. I’ve always wanted to try a more electronic style like The Faint or LCD Soundsystem, but I had no idea how to go about it for a while.

On a song level —  a friend and I are working on a droany, Tears for Fears power ballad. It’s like Prince and Tears for Fears and The Strokes all rolled up. I’m usually not one for slower types of ballads, but I’m very excited about this.

Find His Work

Garreth no longer plays in or writes for one specific band, but rather a number of projects. He calls his primary project Sainthood. “I don’t really know what I’m going to do with it quite yet,” he says of Sainthood, “right now I’m just focusing on writing really good songs. That’s my only real goal.”

Garreth can be hard to coax into plugging his own work, but he has oodles to say about others’ work.  If you want to hear some of his work, he recommends you check out the following demos: Living, Out of Step, Glow in the Heart. But, in the meantime, he urges you to check out Caleb Hawley, whose style he describes as old soul or half Motown, half Prince. Also on Garreth’s ‘Must-Hear’ list are Carolina Story, a solid, and immaculately produced classic country group and local Nashville band Body of Light, whom Garreth feels are the best band in Nashville. The links will lead you to select Youtube videos by each artist.

Follow Garreth on Twitter at @gspinnmusic and Instagram @gspinn.


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