"At least in my eyes, a great song is one that is well balanced, in that it is both commercial and not." - Jesse Agan
Why do so many people struggle to produce a commercially successful tune? Great songwriting is a form of art in itself, and is equally (if not more so) as challenging as playing music professionally. It takes patience, practice, and a whole lot of heartbreak. However, when it is done right, it can be super rewarding both internally and externally. But what is the secret to writing a great song?
Strip away the production, the publication, and the associated costs of a song and you are left with a jumble of words and chords. It seems simple in theory, but this foundation is often overlooked and misunderstood. Very few songs have ever sounded exactly the same on the radio as they do in their first form, and it is understandably difficult to think about how they were constructed in the first place.
We asked guitarist of Shake, Jesse Agan, to speak on his experience as a songwriter.
To begin to write a song, the artist must feel inspired. Sometimes, the writing process is very quick, typically a result of a recent triggering of emotion. Other times, the process can take years, in which case the artist feels that to do their story justice, they must record the experience as it comes naturally. How has finding inspiration impacted your songwriting?
"It took me almost 2 years to write What Is Love Anyway. I kept getting stuck on the words. It felt like I was forcing the final product, when in reality the story hadn't finished in real life yet. I hated the bridge I had originally written for the song because of its phony narrative of something that I had never experienced. Then, strangely enough, the narrative came true, and now it is the most powerful part of the song. On the other hand, Don't You Want Me Back was written in response to the events that unfolded in What Is Love Anyway, and it only took me a few days to finish."
Music is full of different layers, both instrumentally and vocally. When you write a song, does the music come to you first, or do you start with the lyrics?
"For me, its usually the music. Because I'm constantly noodling around on my guitars, I will occasionally strike gold with a neat chord progression or lick, and I'll save it for when I feel inspired enough to write the lyrics. My lyrics are usually (but not always) unapologetically ambiguous and metaphorical which takes a little bit more thought. That is why the music typically comes first, though I do keep a 'hook book' of catchy little choruses I think up."
What makes a song great?
"At least in my eyes, a great song is one that is well balanced, in that it is both commercial and not. Most of the songs I write are either about love or the band. In that sense, I write the music for me. However, the beauty of some of my best songs is the tension that is created between the vocals and the instrumentals. I love tension. There is no golden rule in music, meaning that I could write a song in a major key with a happily colorful melody while the lyrical content itself is extremely somber. That way, despite the lyrics, the listener still feels good. That is the power of music."
Do you feel that your music can inspire others?
"Sure I do. The best songs appeal to both artist and audience. When I write I song, I pour all of my emotion into it in the hopes that my failures, triumphs, mistakes, etc. can impact others on an equally emotional level. Emotional writing is also very therapeutic for me. And I like to have a good time, so I try to write songs that are memorable and catchy. That is the commercial part of it."
What is your favorite aspect of songwriting?
"I would have to say the harmonies, both vocally and instrumentally. I love to write guitar licks that harmonize with the bass. I write groovy bass lines too. I think that is generally my style. I like staying busy on the guitar, and I take my time to write complex parts that are open enough to have other harmonic layers added on to them by other instruments. It is definitely challenging, but sweet harmonies and melodies enhance the music."
Be sure to check out Shake's 6 track Demo "Get It Now" now available! Also be sure to stay tuned for a potential first full length album!
"With powerful vocal harmonies, captivating hooks, and relentlessly energetic instrumentation, the 4-piece rock-n-roll band Shake has made an explosive entrance into Vermont as their 'modern twist to melodic rhythm and blues' has quickly become the popular sound of the state."
In November of 2015, Jesse Agan (guitar) formed the band Shake with original members Karyl Williams (vocals), Steven Beaulieu (drums), and Brad Ohlson (bass). By 2017, the on-stage personalities of the four young musicians had turned the heads of many involved in the Vermont music scene.
Through 60+ shows between 2016 and 2017, Shake became known as a musical force to be reckoned with. Their sudden appearance on the scene had stirred the curiosity of not only the top Vermont venues, but also the top Vermont musicians. Taking gigs alongside the likes of "8084," the "Phil Abair Band," and "Carol Ann Jones and the Supercharges," Shake had started to gain the recognition they desired.
They recorded their first demo "Get It Now" in St. Albans with grammy-nominated producer André Maquera (8084). It was a 6-track demo that included 5 original tunes and one groovy cover of the Amy Winehouse version of "Valerie." Songs like "Don't You Want Me Back" became popular through memorably melodic guitar riffs while tracks such as "What Is Love Anyway" showed the talent of Karyl Williams through her soulful vocal performances.
Despite the growing success of the band in the majority of the State, the real challenge has been Burlington - the seemingly art-centric and all-inclusive hub for artists. The Burlington area is musically cluttered with jam cover bands hoping to follow in the footsteps of "The Grateful Dead" and Vermont's very own "Phish." Shake has made a few appearances in the Burlington area at venues such as "Higher Ground," and they have done very well at these shows. However, they are seldom given the opportunity to break the mold and relieve the regular show-goers of the extensive psychedelic solos and solemn lyrical content with their up-beat tempos and their exceptional - if not inspirational - lyrics.
To bring back a taste of good old-fashioned popular rock, Shake covers the 'B' side of popular artists from the 1950's to the nows. Their original content is also reminiscent of classic rock, with party-induced instrumentations and playfully flirtatious melodies. One of the staples of Shake - their live vocal harmonies - has provided their music with a warmth that has elevated them to levels far beyond the rest of the local bands. Another staple is their showmanship, which has further pushed the envelope, and has fans eager to see the next show (and the next, and the next...)
If you have not yet had the opportunity to see this young group of musicians perform, you are missing out on one of the biggest parties in the State of Vermont.
"One of the most rockin'ist bands in Vermont! These guys play EVERYTHING!" - Walter Gulfield