Following the release of his latest EP – the wonderful Affettuosos – we were blessed with the opportunity to interview songwriter & artist Patrick Ames about his musical journey so far & his hopes for the future. Here’s the conversation in full.
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Hi Patrick, lovely to hear something new from you this year. These songs feel quite different to your earlier releases, though having said that, they still feel very much like your sound. How did you come to compile the playlist for this project, and where did the title come into play?
Hi Rebecca! BTW, thank you for doing what you do!
I generally work in suites, as opposed to dropping singles, and for Affettuosos I wanted to calm things down. There has been too much agitation in the world lately, and I wanted to quiet things, if only for myself – affettuoso means music that is soft, gentle, and affectionate. So, I started with some old favorites, namely Jobim and that Brazilian sound. Having a goal and a mentor helps, and I proceeded to do lots of sound checks to find the right sounds, the right instruments for my abilities and for the project suite. I don’t pretend to be fluent in the samba or bossa nova, so I settled more on a “Coffeehouse” sound, with cajon percussion, open mic’d guitars, and the MIDI guitar synth for keyboards. Once you have the band, then it’s full speed into writing the right songs to fit that sound.
What’s Yellow Pill about?
Having said all that, Yellow Pill came mid-way through the project and messed up my whole calm/gentle EP concept. Instead of soft and gentle, Yellow Pill is wild, funky. It riffs off of one chord and it has a monster bass. The lyrics are dynamic and many were random. The whole effort was to mimic the addicting nature of opioids.
Yellow Pill is an opioid song. Music is an opioid too, in that it affects the same centers of the brain that the pills do. So the tempo, style, endless looping, is all an effort to sound like what opioid-addiction does. Once I started, I let it develop and let the backup singers improvise. It’s meant to be wild. It’s meant to draw attention to the fact that opioid overdoses kill more people that any other disease or cancer, per year, in America! And it’s all due to corporate (big pharm) profits, not illness. When are we going to accept that? Tens of thousands of people dying for the sake of corporate pharmacy profits. If I can draw attention to that, then I’ve done something with the song.
There’s a similar sense of rhythm that appears throughout this EP as a sort of connective thread – was this intentional, a starting point perhaps, or just something that seemed to fit?
That’s cool that you noticed. I do use 2 or 3 percussion tracks on every song, and that’s consistent throughout the Affettuosos EP. Also my Mix and Master guru, Mike Schoonmaker of Gigantic Mastering, did a lot work evening out everything across the EP – it’s amazing what M&M can do. He drew out what was already there. By the way, it’s the same percussion instruments on the wild-ass Yellow Pill as on the gentler ones, just stepped up a little more.
What generally comes first when making a new collection of songs like this, when writing a brand new song specifically?
You want the songs to fit together – musically, emotionally, and lyrically – so they seem like a playlist. New songs have to fit those parameters, and when you’re in the studio for a couple of months, new songs just naturally fit in. I was stuck at four songs for awhile and then came Oh Penelope for the fifth one (I wanted a full EP). But it didn’t want to comply with my sound checks, so I worked on the lyrics for a long time, and suddenly it took shape and fell right in, actually expanding the EP sound.
Where do you find inspiration for your songs lately?
The main riff, the hook, the highlight always comes first. Those few bars tell me what the song is, it’s mood, it’s intent. Sometimes I will sit for weeks playing the hook until the rest of the song appears. Seldom do I sit out to write a song about say, opioids, for example. Instead there was a riff in Gm, and it was wild, and Yellow Pill were the first words out of my mouth.
Were there any songs you wrote or started to write that didn’t quite make the cut for this project? How do you decide what fits under a certain title?
They have to sound professional. They have to be good. I have many, many songs that are good that I can’t seem to record well. They sound tinny, or stupid, or have too old a style to make it in today’s playlist-heavy world. There were three songs that didn’t make Affettuosos, and one song from decades ago, that did make it (I Like Blue). So out of 9 or 10, five made the EP.
How did you come to collaborate with the singers / musicians featured on this EP?
Chana Matthews and her daughter Mikaela Matthews have been with me for the past 4 EPs, since Standard Candles. I love them. And I love that they give a more human voice to my music. I use them like a choir and then I use that choir sound as an instrument. We record multiple tracks for both of them, together and separate, with Chana usually singing “underneath” me to hide my aging, cracking voice. Mikaela sings the accents and the upper register. I heard Mikaela singing in a store while stocking shelves one day, and it was a “sound” I had been hearing in my head. Now, after many years of studio work, we work very well together, and they bring all sorts of ideas to the sessions.
Does live performance play a part in your musical life?
Not at the moment. I like to perform but it takes a huge amount of time and practice and the right venue, and the whole music scene is changing so quickly on me that I’m doing it less and less. Finding a spot for an aging songwriter, who writes and plays in an outdated style, with songs that can get political, takes a special venue and audience. So my whole effort at songwriting is to out-earn the day job so I can practice and play music all the time, not just at the end of a 10-hour day. Then, I look forward to performing on a regular and consistent basis. Stay tuned.
What’s the best ‘new’ album or release you’ve stumbled upon in the past five years?
Most readers will find this strange, perhaps you won’t because you just reviewed Affettuosos, but I listen to classical music much of the time. KDFC to be precise. Number one reason is because I tend to write songs exactly like whomever I’m currently listening to – if I listen to Rebecca Cullen, then I start writing and sounding like R. Cullen. Doesn’t happen with classical, too much. Anyway, I sure like Zoe Keating as a half classical/half contemporary artist (and I sure can’t copy her). She’s getting back on the road more, so check her out.
(That’s really interesting, and so true come to think of it – I guess we tend to mimic whatever we spend the most time around…)
What do you consider to be one of the best songs ever written? What comes to mind, and why do you think it works so well?
I fell in love with Wichita Lineman by Glen Campbell a long, long time ago. I was a kid when Glen Campbell had a TV show and I loved Campbell and all the songwriters he used to have on the show. Well, that song tells a story, and the story has a depth in both melody and meaning that is amazing. There are changes, bridges, choruses, and some complex chords. It has all the elements of a modern song. Have you ever heard Cassandra Wilson’s cover?
(I hadn’t before now, but thank you for the introduction!)
What are your hopes creatively for the coming months and years?
I’ve learned to stop trying to be famous and instead enjoy being an artist. But I’m hoping this new EP, Affettuosos, with all its imperfections, does well. My dream is to lose the day job and be able to go on small-town tours, you know, play in the evenings at the local VFW, and then go off to the next town. I’d like to do something like that sooner rather than later. ; ) – Patrick.
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