Sometime back in the twentieth century, people took to calling Nashville “Music City.” But with songwriters like Kristian Bush and Shawn Mullins settling down in the ATL, we like to think that we’re growing into a music city, too. Lucky for South Walton, Fla., BOTH these Atlanta artists will head down Highway 30A for the Fifth Annual 30A Songwriters Festival the weekend of the 17th. We spoke to Shawn about the festival, the Atlanta music scene and his whole songwriting process.
Let’s start with writing. Where do you get your songwriting inspiration?
I get inspiration from everything I guess, especially from traveling around. With music, you get to visit a lot of little towns and meet a lot of people so I get inspired by that. Also nature, being in nature, seeing little children like my son who is four now.
Your bio on the 30A website talks about the success you’ve had co-writing songs. Why do you think co-writing works so well for you?
It’s a lot easier technically to write with other people, ya know? And it works for me. Some find it hard but I enjoy it. It’s good community. For someone like me, who had a lot of success in ’99, there was a time when everyone wanted to work with me and I wasn’t sure about it… but after a while I really wanted that friendship and that community. I’d been cowriting organically since the beginning with friends in the early ’90s, but it’s different when it’s a guy in a suit setting up a meeting…
What are a few artists you’d love to work with, either again or for the first time?
I got to work with Elton John. His heyday was kind of in the ’70s when I was a kid. It sounds a little strange but he was like a superhero to me back then. Not just with his music, but with the album art. Like, I remember the artwork for Goodbye Yellow Brick Road made him seem so heroic. I finally got to work with him a few years ago and I’d love to work with him again.
I have to ask because you’re based in Atlanta and we’re based in Atlanta, what do you think of the music scene here?
Music has always been huge here. I remember going to Little Five Points as a kid and seeing shows at what was then called Little Five Points Pub. My parents saw movies at the Variety Playhouse and now I play shows there which is awesome. I think Atlanta is different than some other cities because it has a big international/urban music scene. It’s not like other cities that basically just have one thing they can do well. It’s got all these different scenes and genres and influences, from reggae and punk to the urban scene, to rockabilly that kind of ebbs and flows. Each scene will have its moment then fade away for a while then come back like the acoustic scene I came out of. I’m just fortunate enough to be in the middle of it all.
Even though you’re an East Coast man, a lot of your songs deal with L.A. and the West Coast… What does California represent in your music?
I’ve always liked that part of the country from the time that I was a little kid taking trips there with my family. I love the West. It’s a magical place. But I think people outside of the country, in other parts of the world see Los Angeles as all of America. So I like to take that idea and play with it. All that Hollywood stuff disgusts me but it also fascinates me. How people with cameras can follow around other people and make money… It blows my mind. I also like it because it’s somewhere that dreams come and go so quickly. But I’ve never wanted to live there. Atlanta and the South have always felt like home.
What are you most looking forward to about the festival?
Oh man, I love going there every year! I haven’t seen Ani DiFranco in a long time so I’m really looking forward to that. There’s good food. It’s always fun. Looking forward to seeing Jeffrey Steele. I just wrote with him a couple of weeks ago and he’s a really talented writer. He was patient with me since I’m a slower writer. I heard from a guy recently that Jeffrey Steele had 300 cuts one year. Out of all the songs he wrote that year, 300 got recorded. I don’t write that much in fours years! [laughs]
Wow, yeah, that’s understandable. Well, it sounds like it should be a great festival! Thank you for talking to us!
Thanks! Happy New Year!
Get your ticket to see Shawn Mullins, Ani DiFranco, Jeffrey Steele and more at the 30A Songwriters Festival here!