The idea was simple enough. Take four South Florida songwriters, chosen for their talent and their disparate styles, get them together, ask them to write a song centered on a certain theme, and then give them a limited time in which to accomplish the feat. When it's all done, post the songs to the SunSentinel's website for all the world to enjoy.
Songwriters, though, are not like journalists. They do not, generally speaking, write on deadline. While this project has been attempted before at a national level to great success -- Esquire magazine has pulled it off in marvelous fashion for three years running -- never to our knowledge had it been tried at a local level.
After a few false starts and a few pleading phone calls to get the song turned in already (notable exception: Shauna Sweeney, who turned her song in ahead of deadline, God bless her), we had in our hands four incredibly different songs about Independence Day. Every song took the phrase in a different direction: folksy sociopolitical commentary; hallucinatory hip-hop homage; early Britpop-influenced paean to love and regret; and dark, accordion-based nightmare to be sung 'round a Gypsy band's campfire on a moonless night. Although most of it is only tangentially related to the actual Fourth of July, all of it turned out to be good music, and musicians proved to be somewhat easier to herd than cats. But only just.
To hear each song in its entirety, visit SunSentinel.com/IndependenceDaySongs.
Hometown: Fort Lauderdale
Band: Dooms de Pop
Albums released: Four demos and the soon-to-be-released "Ticker," Dooms de Pop's debut album, for which a release party will take place Aug. 4 at the Bubble (see "Fun fact").
Fun fact: Gallo is also a co-owner and co-founder of the Bubble, a 3,000-square-foot art gallery and performance space located at 810 N.E. Fourth Ave., in Fort Lauderdale.
On songwriting: "It's such a weird thing to try to describe. I mean, sometimes it's one of those things where you're just banging your head against a wall trying to finish something. Other times, you can just sit down and come up with a whole song at once."
Favorite gig: "We were supposed to do this very weird, experimental thing one night – like, we were all dressed in these really odd costumes, makeup … just strange, you know? And we get to the place, and it's closed. So we call up Churchill's and said we were a touring act and that we were coming to Miami for one night only, and could we play tonight? They told us to just come down. So, we show up, all dressed in these bizarre outfits, and sure enough, some band can't play and suddenly – poof! – we're on. I was up there just destroying my guitar, had my eyes closed, wasn't really paying attention to the crowd, and when I looked up, the place had gone from being almost empty to completely packed. And the crowd was just jumping around going crazy."
Song: "Independance Day (4 Adam)." Coming as it does from a man known for fronting a rock band, this song is about as far out in left field as it could get. The Adam of the song's title is Adam Yauch, also known as MCA, the recently deceased member of megafamous hip-hop group the
Hometown: Fort Lauderdale
Bands: In chronological order, Chlorine, Catalonia, Eskimohunter (during a brief stay in Los Angeles), and his current outfit, Sweet Bronco, which is also the only group in which he has been the guiding force.
Albums released: "A bunch of EPs," and one full-length album with Catalonia.
Fun fact: Horgan runs his own recording studio in a group of warehouses near Dixie Highway and Oakland Park Boulevard. Although Horgan says the studio doesn't have an official name, it was known as Morning Drinker when it was operated by the local group Whirlaway, a shoegaze-y band active from 1999 to the mid-2000s.
On songwriting: "I have a notebook filled with lyrics that I'll try to pair with music, but that almost always fails. Lyrics usually come with the music, or else the music comes first. It rarely works when you write lyrics ahead of time."
Favorite gig: "This is back when I was living in L.A. It was Thanksgiving weekend, and everyone I knew was out of town, off celebrating with their families. But I got this opportunity to play out in Pasadena. I was a little nervous, I hadn't played a lot of these songs live before, and certainly not solo. But I got up there and I played really well. The crowd was really into it. It was just a great show. And it really showed me that I can play these songs in a room full of strangers and people will be interested in them. Kind of an eye-opening experience for me. … Not long afterward, I played when all of my friends were there, and it was awful."
Song: "Independence Day." "Ashes fall on Independence Day," Horgan sings, "Ashes wash away." Almost lost amid swirling, Johnny Marr-style guitars and layers of vocals and strings, the magic phrase shows up about halfway through this tune filled with love, regret and doubt. The themes, regular ones for Marr's band,
Bands: In chronological order, a 10-piece ska band called the Double Agents, Teenage
Albums released: Two with Lake Worth freak-folk-scene godfathers Viva le Vox, and a just-released album with the Miami-based outlaw country act Los Bastardos Magnificos. Additionally, the Loxahatchee Sinners Union has an album recorded and ready for release.
Fun fact: The Loxahatchee Sinners Union just ended a tour in which it played 28 shows in 27 cities in 31 days. The journey had its highs and lows. "Nashville sucked," Jenkins says. "But Nashville always sucks. Don't ever go to Nashville. We had a better time playing on the street in Nashville than we would have in any club. The club there expected us to work the door, pay out of pocket for the sound guy. … We played a great show in Queens. That didn't seem to be the band's favorite, but one of mine. Augusta, Ga., was great, too. Really rowdy, lots of hootin' and hollerin'. Afterward, we ended up staying at this woman's house who sang for
On songwriting: "There is a process, though it's not necessarily very formulaic. Basically, I'll sit alone at night and wait for something to happen. If I had to communicate to somebody who doesn't write music, I'd say it's a lot like fishing. Some days, you sit there next to the lake, you're there all day long, and you don't get a nibble. And on some nights, it's like – bam – you get a hit. And you don't know what it is till you reel it in. You don't know whether it's a good song or a bad till you finish it. And some nights are music nights, some nights are lyric nights. And eventually, I just mix and match."
Favorite gig: "My first show with the Loxahatchee Sinners Union stands out in my head. It was nerve-racking in a hundred different ways. After Viva le Vox, a lot of people wondered what I was up to. And once people heard that I got a band, people were curious, so we had a really good turnout. So I felt a lot of pressure not to let people down who had seen my stuff before. It was also the first time I had set foot onstage as the leader of a group, and the first time I set foot onstage with someone I was dating. And it couldn't have gone better."
Song: "Independence Day." Like a long-lost track from "A Nightmare Before Christmas," or the soundtrack to a carnival of the damned, Scarecrow Jenkins' song combines accordion and brooding vocals to haunting effect. A solo that sounds as though it were played on bent chimes only adds to the dark atmosphere. The lyrics seem to relate the story of a dead man asking a lost love to forget him, telling her that "these things to which you cling so hard are gone." We know it's more than a simple breakup when the man sings, "I now stoke the lonesome flames of hell." Independence, then, is the ability to be free from the past. It all ends with, "Banjo casting echoes ever cold/Your songs of independence on this day."
Hometown: Lake Worth
Band: None; Sweeney generally performs solo
Albums released: A demo in 2007 and the full-length "Catch the Light" in 2010
Fun fact: Sweeney is known for hosting open-mike nights at which many singer-songwriters have tried out their work onstage for the first time. Her longest-running event has gone on for four years at the King's Head Pub in Sunrise on Tuesday nights.
On songwriting: "I have had a lot of different approaches, a lot of different ways that songs have sort of found me. I compare songwriting to dreaming. You don't really know where all these ideas come from, and they don't always make sense right away, but you think about them and let them simmer a little bit and they turn into something more cohesive."
Favorite gig: "We played SunFest two years. That was amazing."