The Mile High Makeout: Mike Marchant makes out with aspiring Denver songwritersBy | December 24th, 2009 | 2 comments
At this time of year, many of us turn our thoughts to doing some good for others. This can take the form of volunteering at a homeless shelter, buying presents for a family in need or even just dropping some change in the bellringer’s kettle. These gestures make us feel good, and they also help other folks out, if only briefly.
Of course, the real trick — something I’ve been trying to figure out for awhile — is how to help folks a little bit all year. After all, the need doesn’t go away when the Christmas tree gets ground up and Wal-Mart puts out the Valentine’s Day candy. It doesn’t always have to be about putting food into hungry mouths or ending genocide in Darfur. Sometimes, just making someone smile or inspiring them to create something beautiful can be as powerful and meaningful. That’s why I’m so excited about what Mike Marchant — Denver singer-songwriter, producer, Houses guitarist and frontman for Widowers — is doing with his songwriters’ workshop at the Meadowlark Bar.
“Some people have the idea that it’s a class of some sort, which it’s not,” explains Marchant of the biweekly learning, drinking and jamming event that he hosts. “I wouldn’t be qualified to teach people how to write tunes. They should just be making music they’re proud of or that makes them happy.” Instead of setting up a didactic environment with teachers and students, Marchant creates an environment in which everyone present — from seasoned songwriters to newbies to music fans who never plan to write a song — can learn from one another.
The night begins with Marchant playing a pop song — usually an undisputed classic (“like ‘Good Vibrations,’” the Brian Wilson worshipper says) or a widely despised cheeselog (“We were listening to Creed’s ‘With Arms Wide Open’ the other night,” he laughs) — and then seeking feedback from those in attendance. What works about the song? What’s less effective? Why do you like it? Why do you hate it? “It’s really fun to talk about music with musicians,” Marchant allows, “but it’s even more fun with non-musicians. Their opinions are really helpful because they get to the core of what makes a song effective without talking about bridges and choruses.”
After those assembled discuss and debate the merits and faults of Marchant’s chosen song, the man himself takes the stage and performs some of his own songs. He then opens the floor for questions, comments and constructive criticism. “It’s been surprisingly and brutally honest,” he chuckles. That honesty is intended to make everyone present better at what they do. “It’s not a harsh environment at all,” he explains. “No one’s shedding a tear.” The constructive feedback has even helped Marchant himself write better songs.
“Last time, we were talking about bridges in songs and we decided the theme of the night would be songs without bridges or breaks for guitar solos or any of those conventions,” he recounts. “That got me thinking my habit of falling into a minor-key bridge after the second chorus. We’re working on this new Widowers material and we were stuck on this one song. It’s called “Fives and Sixes” because it switches back and forth between 5/4 and 6/8 time, and I just didn’t know where to go after an intro, a verse and a really cool chorus. Well, after the discussion from the workshop, I decided to go a completely different direction from my usual, and it ended up making the song way cooler than it would have been.”
In addition to transforming the cozy Meadowlark into a salon of sorts, the songwriters’ workshop can also turn into a unique, intimate performance. Last week’s workshop included performances from much-admired singer-songwriters Joe Sampson and Roger Green. There’s no telling who might turn up when the workshop meets next, on Dec. 28 at the Meadowlark Bar, 27th and Larimer Streets. For those non-musicians who are reluctant to enter the dark lair of the Meadowlark and share their opinions, Marchant has a few words of encouragement: “That’s why we have dollar beers.”
Cheap beer, great songs, honest performances and the goal of helping everyone enjoy music more — sounds like the recipe for some very happy holidays.
Eryc Eyl is a veteran music journalist, critic and Colorado native who has been neck-deep in local music for many years. Check out Steal This Track every Tuesday for local music you can HEAR, and the Mile High Makeout every Friday.