I caught up with David Newberry shortly after he arrived back in Toronto after spending a decade out on the West Coast. Given that that he can be described as a singer-songwriter, I wanted to learn more about his creative process, especially songwriting.
You just moved back East. How much do your surroundings and location impact your music?
“The record [‘Replacement Things’] was the last thing I made in British Columbia before I came back East. The transitional moments between the two cities plays out in the recording. It’s maybe not as chill as some of the music I’ve made before, which reflects the Toronto side of things, but it’s still relatively introspective and self-reflective, which is maybe more of a West Coast vibe.”
How is this new album different from the last [‘Desire Lines’]?
“There are a bunch of changes and a bunch of things that are the same. For the most part, I still approached writing the same way. When I write songs I’m usually compiling a set of photographs and lining them up into a story, rather than telling a literal tale front to back. I try to describe what’s taking place around the story rather than the story itself or maybe to describe what the narrator is looking at and try to tell the story that way. I still do that but the kernel of the songs came from looking at myself and thinking about what I was thinking about and what I was experiencing, versus in the past I’ve always looked outwards for sources of inspiration. I’m not sure how much that comes across to the listener, but for me it feels very different to be putting myself at the centre of my songs after ten years of actively avoiding doing something like that.
Sonically, it’s quite a bit different as well. There are no acoustic instruments on the record at all. Not a single one. That may be problematic for those people who have been slotting me into the folk category for a while. And we made it in a proper recording studio, whereas I always preferred to work in a more makeshift environment in the past.”
How do you go about creating a song? Where does it come from?
“Oh man, if I knew that I would be so much better at it [laughs]. There are exceptions to the rule, but it’s very unsystematic for me. Usually it comes from spending a lot of time with instruments and messing around until eventually something starts to take shape, and then I start to investigate that. It might start with a riff or it might start with a line. And then I start to look at where it came from. Then, like I said, I will start lining up the photographs and assembling a story out of a seed.”
So, does it start with the lyrics or does it start with the music?
“They usually come out together. I don’t think there’s too many songs in ten years of writing that have started just as poems that I’ve put to music, and I don’t think there’s very many that I’ve written the music for and then attached words to it. I’m not an accomplished enough composer in either of those things to pull that off. They emerge in concert with each other.”
When you are writing, are you consciously aware of the impact it will have on the listener?
“I want to make people think about something or feel something. If I don’t then I am not succeeding on my own terms. But whether or not I really think about that, I don’t know. I just hope that if I am thinking about something or feeling something and communicating it as honestly as possible then that will evoke something in the listener. I hope that it sounds honest, whatever it is that I’m doing.”
Do you record alone or do you get a band of musicians together?
“It’s always been different, and I hope to keep it that way. For this one [‘Replacement Things’] – and I’ve never done anything like this before – I worked with a band that I’d been playing with for a year. Or more, for some of them. We’d been playing the songs for a while, and we’d spend weeks fine tuning and arranging them. Some of the band members got co-writes on some of the songs for bringing forth strong enough ideas to turn the songs into new shapes. We had demos of all the songs, except for one or two. We knew exactly how everything was going to go, leaving room for some happy mistakes. When we went into the studio we got it recorded and mixed in two weeks straight. That was a very unique circumstance. I’ve always done things in a much more relaxed way – either chipping away at something in a friend’s basement over six months or taking two or three weeks but doing it in a farmhouse on a Gulf Island and doing it on our own schedule.
So this one was very different.”
DAVID NEWBERRY // UPCOMING CANADIAN TOUR DATES
October 1 – Toronto, ON – Cameron House (Album Release Show) – With Scott Cook
October 2 – Toronto, ON – Cameron House (Album Release Show) – With Don Kerr’s Communism
October 22 – Hamilton, ON – This Ain’t Hollywood – With Jenny Ritter
October 29 – Toronto, ON – C’est What – With DoneFors
November 7 – Niagra Falls, ON – Old Stone Inn Boutique – With Miss Quincy
November 12 – Peterborough, ON – The Garnet – With Miss Quincy
November 14 – Montreal, QC – Le Cagibi – With Miss Quincy
November 27 – Wakefield, QC – Kaffe 1870 – With Miss Quincy