Interview: David Hodges
Mon, 08 Sep 2014 08:33:05
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Christina Perri Videos
Chances are David Hodges has written one of your favorite songs. He's the man behind everything from Christina Perri's "A Thousand Years" to Carrie Underwood's "A Place For Us". Moreover, he helped launch Evanescence to superstardom as a member during the Fallen era. As far as songwriting goes, he remains one of the 21st century's best, brightest, and most brilliant for a myriad of reasons. Firstly, he can adapt to any style, but he also manages to impart a piece of himself on each song. Being one of the most prolific guys in the game, he's going to be writing many more favorites to come as well.
In this exclusive interview with ARTISTdirect.com editor in chief Rick Florino, David Hodges talks the art of songwriting and so much more.
How much of songwriting is adapting to a specific artist versus imbuing yourself into the piece?
I think the vast majority of it is engaging with the artist and trying to help tell the story they have. Maybe I'm helping create some kind of guardrails along the process or use some craft and knowledge of songwriting that I have to keep everything moving in the right direction. However, I'm trying to channel whatever the artist is trying to chase down for the whole day. If I'm doing my job well, that's what's coming across.
How much preparation and getting to know the artist does that entail?
Fortunately, now I feel like half of the writing I do is with friends of mine that I've already developed a rapport with such as Carrie Underwood, Christina Perri, Avril Lavigne, or somebody else I've already written a lot of songs with. That work of mining who they are and what they really care about is already in place so it feels really natural. My whole trick of writing with someone for the first time comes down to this. I've always said, "The heat of a good song is a long lunch". If we can go to lunch and spend time getting to know each other outside of the context of what we say in the first verse of the song, I feel like that goes a long way, and I'm able to learn a lot of things about them in that process and start to understand their perspective on things. I learn their language. Everyone has a different type of nomenclature they'll use, and I try to connect to that along the way.
What are the signs of songwriting? Where does it start?
My goal is to try to adapt to whatever the artist is feeling. Sometimes, it's listening to a new band, and they're like, "Man, I love what this band does". So, we'll listen to that for a while. Sometimes, it will come from a lyric or some little piece of an idea—just words they've put together. More than any other time, it's usually a melody I'll build off of or a riff on the guitar or piano. Maybe I'm chasing down a new way to look at something. I'm not trying to box it in. If I can be as malleable as possible with the artist, that usually serves itself best.
Is there anything that you haven't musically tried yet that you want to?
There are a lot of guys who will write a hook or a four-bar chorus then they'll send it off to other people and have them finish it. They work on a chunk of a song, send it to somebody else, and that other person will do the verse. Then, it gets sent to someone else, and they put a bridge on it. I think there's something really interesting about that process. Usually, you're in the room with an artist and another writer, and you've got seven hours. Hopefully, you'll finish a song in that time because you may not be in a room with them again. That's the constraint of what we do. This idea of, "Oh we wrote a killer verse for this song, and tomorrow we'll change this and that", seems interesting to me. There's just rarely enough time to chase that sort of thing down.
It's surely more satisfying to emerge from a session with a full song too...
Oh, it definitely is! I work out of my house, and my wife and I have four kids. If I ever walk out of a session without a complete song, I think, "Was this a good use of my time? Should I have just been swimming with my girls in the back or focusing on something I can actually get finished?" When we were making that first Evanescence record, we spend a month writing one song, and we'd keep going over it again and again, changing this and that, and leave for two weeks to write lyrics. I came from a background that saw the process of writing as a more amorphous sort of thing. The fact that it's so regimented now isn't bad for me, but there's a part of me that longs for that ability to spend two weeks and see what we come up with.
How different is writing for other artists from being in a band? Do you miss that, or is it more fun to be able to do anything?
For the most part, it keeps things more interesting. I feel like I have enough outlets to tell the stories I want to tell. Every year, I try to put out an acoustic record or a covers thing or something else just to keep that artistic side of me always moving and taking, but I find a lot more gratification helping an artist who already has a platform find the words of what they want to say.
What's the most challenging genre to slide into?
I think it's easily pop music because pop music is about what's cool. "Cool" is the most elusive adjective out there. With country music, we need to tell valuable stories and have narratives to those stories. I'm not saying that's an easy thing, but at least you know what your target is. With rock music, a lot of it is painting pictures and connecting to emotion. Again, that's not really easy, but I know what the target is. With pop, it's this changing target. By the time you finish the song or the artist releases the album, what is "cool" could be almost diametrically opposed to what was "cool" six months ago. The fact the target continues to move around makes it really hard. When Christina Perri and I wrote "A Thousand Years", it was cool to the see the song do as well as it did at pop radio because it's such an intrinsically "uncool" song [Laughs]. It's a piano ballad. There's something timeless and great about that, but it was even more exciting to have a song be relevant now that could be just as relevant twenty years ago or from now. It was amazing it still had a chance within the pop landscape. It didn't have to be whatever the hip new sound or effect is. It's a piano, a great vocal, and good melody. You can still compete with that.
What's your favorite David Hodges song?