A master interviewer joins music royalty for a masterclass on the creative process
By Bliss Bowen
Making your name as an independent artist is a tough road for anyone, but singer-songwriter Louise Goffin has had two unique hurdles to overcome.
“To be a songwriter when just one of your parents is that famous, but to come from Gerry Goffin and Carole King? That’s quite a challenge,” says veteran music journalist, musician and photographer Paul Zollo. “She’s had quite an amazing career.”
With nine albums to her credit, Goffin recently released a single, “Revenge,” that’s part of a singles-releasing strategy harking back to her parents’ Brill Building heyday. Industry savvy is part of what she brings to her songwriting masterclasses — the latest of which she’s conducting Saturday at the Village Recording Studio. She’s invited Zollo to speak as a special guest.
The two have been acquainted since Goffin sang at a 1988 tribute to her parents that Zollo co-produced. In 1989, Zollo interviewed Gerry Goffin and King — insightful conversations that appeared in his widely acclaimed book “Songwriters on Songwriting,” a collection of probing Q&A exchanges with the likes of Mose Allison, Leonard Cohen, Willie Dixon, Bob Dylan, Los Lobos and Neil Young about writers block, inspiration, creative flow and backstage memories. Louise Goffin calls it “the definitive book on songwriting.”
Together with last year’s “More Songwriters on Songwriting” (featuring Elvis Costello, Herbie Hancock, Joe Henry, Chrissie Hynde, Kris Kristofferson, Aimee Mann, Matisyahu, Randy Newman, Sia, Patti Smith, and Brian Wilson), it’s become something of a consulting bible among songwriters. (Full disclosure: Years ago Zollo not only professionally encouraged me, he gave an assignment and even lined up work with another publication — a rare and benevolent act indicative of his nature.)
Zollo’s in-depth interview preparation has often included learning artists’ songs, so he can talk shop about chord architecture, key changes and the mechanics of melody writing. That grounded his rapport with Tom Petty and led to their 2005 collaboration “Conversations with Tom Petty,” which revolved around songwriting and the creative process. (“His love for songwriting was palpable,” Zollo recalls. “It was a joy to share it.”)
Behind all the metaphysical questions and colorful recollections of how individual songs evolved, what’s clear is that one of Zollo’s foremost skills as an interviewer — listening — is also an essential element of the craft that holds enduring fascination for him.
“I’ve learned to have a real conversation,” he says. “That’s really what it’s all about. You need to listen.”
He’s often invited to address songwriters and anticipates quoting past interview subjects on Saturday.
“You can’t really teach songwriting,” he acknowledges, “but there is a lot of wisdom about how people have gone about it.” The focus of Goffin’s class, “Artist Empowerment through Songwriting,” broadens its scope into other realms of creative endeavor.
“It’s a topic that many are talking about,” Zollo observes. “It used to be more obvious that you could be a songwriter and make a living at it. Now to be a songwriter you almost have to be crazy or independently wealthy, or both. [Laughs] You have to feel it’s worthwhile even if there aren’t immediate ways of monetizing it. There’s an empowerment in it that gives you a lot of confidence, and writing songs is therapeutic. For many of us, even if nothing ever came of it, we would never stop. It’s such a great way of dealing with life.
“I’m a musician more than I’m a critic, and I have genuine reverence for songwriters. If someone wrote one great song that the whole world knows that lasts beyond the season of its creation for years, that is a great accomplishment. There are few things more exciting than that. So anytime I’m in the room with someone who’s written one of those, it’s still thrilling to me. I’ve never gotten jaded about that. To write a real song like that, that has that impact — it’s not a trick.”
Goffin and Zollo host their songwriting masterclass from 2 to 5 p.m. Saturday (Nov. 11) at Village Recording Studio, 1616 Butler Ave., West L.A. Tuition is $107. Visit louisegoffin.com and click “store.”