Songwriter Interview: David Higbee

I met David Higbee at the Hit Songwriters meetings.  He’s fluent in Japanese and Spanish, and of course English. His “day job” is professional interpreter.  He’s a songwriter and is in a band, and performs regularly in the Salt Lake area.  From his Facebook page:

“…my true passion: REAL, awesome, inspiring, upbeat, modern music. I have my own studio now, with a good collection of amps, and some premium level equipment, and offer services to lots lof local and global musicians who need producing, sound engineering, or backing instrumentation for live performances.”

You can learn more about him on his band page. And now, the interview!

1. What was your early inspiration that led you to become a songwriter? (not a musician or singer, but specifically songwriting)

Early inspiration…hmmmm…that’s a tough one because I came to songwriting rather late in the game (at least compared to many, who claim to have written their first song in the delivery room).

I did write one song at 15 (it was horrible), about a year after I had started to teach myself guitar, using some battered Bob Dylan, Joan Baez, and Simon and Garfunkel songbooks. I guess I felt compelled to try and imitate dylanesque combinations of poetry and melody at that time, but it was actually the americana band Counting Crows that really got me thinking about how to put poetry to music.

A little later I got hooked on Boingo (Danny Elfman), and that was what really made me want to write songs that could make people feel something, although I’ve wandered in and out of many genres since then.

2. What is your favorite tool for songwriting?

I’d have to say it’s a combination, I really have to have three things: paper, a digital recorder, and a guitar. I like using the piano or mandolin too, they all elicit different feelings from me when I write.

3. What is your musical guilty pleasure?

Delamitri, a Scottish band from the early nineties. The sound engineering was seriously amazing stuff, but the songs are all about ruined relationships, or bad love, or cheating and being cheated on, so it’s really not that great of an influence.

I’ve still got some of those songwriting tendencies in me that I’m trying really hard to get rid of. Lol.

4. How has your career changed from what you thought it would? Or, where are you now compared to where you thought you would be?

Honestly, about 12 years ago, I gave up on a potential career in music because I felt like it was so canned, so controlled by cold, calculating industry henchmen, and decided to be a linguist instead, leaving open the vague possibility of being a writer. I was pretty sure that was gonna be my career for life.

But, if you ask my wife, she’ll tell you that I haven’t been able to go a week without writing a song, or at least a fragment, or a new chord progression or lyrics, basically since we started hanging out in Buenos Aires ten years ago.

At some point I realized that I had been misguided to do something that makes money as opposed to something I love. I guess my intentions were probably good, I wanted to be a contributing member of society, but I really believe that what you want in life also wants you, so I eventually came back to music and know it’s just what I am: a music creator. It’s been an interesting experiment in starting all over.

I’ll let you know how it goes. Lol.

5. What has been hard for you (or, frustrating), as a songwriter?

What has been most frustrating has been finding the courage to write songs that are real, especially when they say something or are based on an experience that most people try to hide or cover up because they’re just too ashamed to admit that they’re not perfect.

The part of Utah where I grew up is mostly white, conservative, very religious, and people tend to try to convince you to make spiritual music, or religious music that’s aligned with their own religious philosophy, and criticize anything that isn’t kosher in “Utah pop culture”.

That’s a shame because without daring to be real, a songwriter’s music will never be authentic, experience-based art, like art should be. Let me clarify that I’m a big fan of positive or inspirational music, but it can been a challenge to find one’s own definition of “positive music”, and not just accept someone else’s.

6. How do you (or have you) break through writing slumps?

Travel. Get up and go, with nothing but your voice and some kind of instrument to tinker on. Bring a pen and paper and your favorite CDs to listen to.

7. Who is your ideal cowriter, and why? (could be a person, or characteristics of a person)

Lol. Well, I have to preface this answer by saying that I’ve had some bad cowriting experiences and I need to overcome those and find others who I work well with.

Having said that, I really like cowriting with somebody who has good lyrical ideas, and understands the Hemingway concept of writing (i.e. the iceberg).

I have really enjoyed cowriting with other musicians who play an instrument that I don’t excel at, and who have an easy going personality. I’m very anti-authoritarian, so I have a hard time collaborating with really dominant personalities.

8. What characteristics does your ideal cowriter have?

Again, an easygoing personality, but not at all afraid to share ideas, not afraid to be a little “out there” sometimes. An easygoing multi-instrumental risk taker with unconventional rhythm ideas. Lol.

9. What’s one of your favorite songs that you’ve written, and why is it one of your favorites?

Right now it’s “Joe”. It’s based on some experiences I had on one horrible day in Indianapolis, that were pretty much completely unrelated, but at that moment they all had a common element to them that just tied them all together.

The song was literally written and finished in a few days, it just happened that way, the ideas all came together. I also feel like I achieved a level of prosody that I haven’t reached before, and the song elicits a feeling that I can call up on demand whenever I want to remember it, but it still makes me feel like grooving.

I also like that it’s catchy enough that even my wife digs it. That rarely happens.

10. Tell us about one of your best cowrites. Why was it so awesome?

Definitely “Karma Comes”. We (the band members of Aileesuncle) were all just feeling the song so intensely, the guitar parts came together, Andrea’s harmonies fit the song perfectly from the get-go, and Mark (my brother, an amazing songwriter, may he rest in peace) knew exactly where the song wanted to go and he took it there.

We also recorded a scratch version at the same time, and that’s pretty much the only surviving performance that Mark did of that song.

11. How did you pick your genre?

Actually, I think it picked me. I just don’t fit into mainstream music, it’s not who I am.

There is a whole alternative universe out there that is underrepresented, the underdogs, so to speak, or “the other” in literary terms.

I feel like it’s my mission to give that alternative universe a voice, but through pleasing soundscapes, something that encourages people to embrace differences and not dwell on them, whether it’s through my music or just being an authentic person and being real with my music.

Pure awesome. Thank you David Higbee!

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