You Sing, I Write: Q&A with Eren Cannata

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Q&A with Eren Cannata

Introduced to music at an early age, Eren Cannata, grew up on tour with notable acts like the Beach Boys and Billy Joel. Quite the versatile musician and producer, Cannata was one of 24 students accepted into New York University's Clive Davis Recorded Music program. Not to mention, the song he submitted for his application, “Part of Me” was selected for the "Dawson's Creek" DVD in 2003.

Earlier this year, Cannata released his debut album, Blame It On the City. A diverse mix of emotional ballads and radio friendly tracks with catchy hooks and infectious melodies, Cannata is well on his way. I was lucky enough to sit down and chat with Cannata this past summer when he was opening for Ryan Cabrera. Filling me in on his songwriting process, the advice he has taken from the Beach Boys and Billy Joel and his latest project, E.K. Ink, Cannata proves that hard work and passion pay off.

"What it comes down to is that I’ll take any gig. I love my name being out there. I love playing music and I love being creative. And when people respect that I like doing that, it’s pretty infectious," he said.

Read below for my interview with Eren and be sure to visit him on MySpace and catch a show when he's in town.

You’ve helped produce many albums in the past. How was recording your album different as an artist vs. producer?

Well, my album I took a step back and didn’t produce it, I had my dad produce it. It was great. It allowed me to learn. It was cool too because I got to step back and be really honest with the music and be a songwriter more than anything else. And I do suggest that to a lot of people. I think all of my solo albums are going to be produced by someone else. There’s a nice thing about being a songwriter and stepping back and hearing your songs develop the way someone else hears them.

There are plenty of times where I write a song and I definitely can make it so sad where someone who is listening isn’t intrigued enough because I’m more intrigued about the song. An outside production will say, “Okay, well this is a really sad song, but we’re going to put a really fast drum beat together and see how that sounds.” “Blame It On the City” started out as a ballad. We were in a rehearsal for a show and the drummer was like, “Hey I’ve got this idea for the track.” And I thought it was neat.

That’s my favorite track on the album. What was the inspiration behind it? (Video below)
The whole bit about me is, I feel like I’m a no frills type of person and it’s silly that I write love songs in my friends eyes and in everybody’s eyes. “Blame It On the City” is about a friend of mine who was on the verge of having a nervous breakdown. She was moving to India to try and solve her problems and the only thing I could possibly say to her as a good friend was, “Blame it on something else.” You’re blaming yourself and trying to fix it. Blame it on the laziness of urbanization. Just let it be. That’s what it’s about.

When life gets a little rocky, no matter where you are, it’s not just New York City. It can be in Austin, Texas, it can be LA, as laid-back as it is, you can blame it on LA for being too laid-back. Those feelings are worldwide feelings and everybody has them so I do think it does relate. When I say, “Blame it on Rome” I don’t mean Rome, I mean blame it on the phrase, “When in Rome, do as the Romans do.” That’s how I felt. Blame it on Rome. Okay, you’re just doing this because you’re in Rome. You don’t have to have people breathing down your throat scrutinizing what you do.

The first song you played tonight, “Other Side,” you have a line where you sing, “I still get embarrassed when I sing.” Is that true?
Yeah, it is. That used to be number six or seven in the set. Now it’s number one because I feel like I need to state, “I still get embarrassed when I sing” right off the bat. I’m extremely comfortable onstage, probably more comfortable onstage than I am right now. In any social setting I’m more comfortable onstage. When it comes down to it, it’s not like I’m writing poems. I’m writing about my life. I never come off and try to be arrogant and say, “This art that I’m doing, I’m doing it this way.” I’m writing little excerpts from my autobiography. Being onstage doesn’t make me feel that way, but singing about those things makes me feel a little embarrassed.

That song especially, is about being with someone where I’m not sure her intentions are right. I need a little reassurance that you’re going to be mine. I keep writing period pieces of what’s going on in my life and they seem to be framed and put into songs and they turn into these big productions when I have to sing them. That song, obviously at a certain point captures how I feel still to this day.

I ask this a lot, because writing is like a diary entry. Do you ever hold back because you’re afraid that person is going to hear it?
It’s sad to say, but I do hold back. I do hold back unfortunately, but it’s not a bad thing. The things that I do hold back are things that I wind up writing about later and I usually get a lot of time. In retrospect, sometimes they really affect me even more, so sometimes it works for the better. After an argument with somebody, I can’t write about how much I hate them. I just can’t do that, especially because I play a lot of shows and they can be there. The thing that comes out of it, which is really good, is that I never forget a moment. Moments that really affect me, I don’t forget. There is something that burns a mark into who I am. I don’t have any regret of anything that I’ve ever done and that’s what I try to write about, period art pieces and things that are going on with me.

You pretty much grew up on tour with your dad while he was playing saxophone for Billy Joel and the Beach Boys. How has that affected your music?
Billy Joel, songwriting alone, just listening to the way he makes stories and poses questions and the way he sings . . . he never had a great voice. I never believed he had a great voice, nobody around him believed he had a great voice. He just had an amazing thing to write about and he always came up with those things. “Piano Man” oh God, why didn’t I think of that? One after another, that’s what I learned from him; the simplicity of ideas. You don’t have to be so complicated, you don’t have to say many words; you just have to be like, “I believe this. This is really cool. Okay, I’m going to write about it.”

As far as the Beach Boys, I spent most time on tour with the Beach Boys. My dad went to the Beach Boys when I was doing music, that’s when I really understood. Honestly, it blew my mind. Carl Wilson was a mentor of mine. May he rest in peace, but he was someone who would take me into his dressing room and teach me how to warm up my voice. He’d be like, “Hey I’m going to sing ‘Good Vibrations’ or ‘God Only Knows,’ I want you to sing the top harmony.” Every concert “God Only Knows” came on or “Wouldn’t It Be Nice” I was standing right next to him onstage just being like, “Man I want to be like him one day.”

The cool thing about him was, he was like,“ You can. There is nothing stopping you. You’re a good person. If you’re a good person, you try really hard and you put your heart into what you’re writing and what you’re doing, you’re going to be fine.” I learned probably most of my valuable lessons from Carl Wilson. He was the glue that kept the Beach Boys together.

Do you remember the moment you decided you want to be involved in music the rest of your life?
There probably is. My dad and I have a recording studio out in Long Island and its called Cove City Sound Studios and that’s where I learned a lot of my musicianship. Obviously, I wasn’t allowed to play onstage on tour. I did play saxophone and tambourine a ton of a lot. My dad taught me saxophone and would be like, “Play this with me.” But really, I played tambourine for both tours. I wasn’t the shining member of the band.

My dad has a studio and a lot of great artists have come — from JLo to Celine Dion to 'N Sync. There is a moment where my first band that I ever had, I thought I was serious. The name of our original band was Loose Cannon. We stayed up until 1 in the morning — wild — for 12-year-olds. We went there and my dad’s like, “I’m going to record your first original song.” And the drummer’s mom called the studio and cursed out my dad. My dad and I had no idea, because that’s the lifestyle. There was a moment there where me and the guitarist, who is still doing music, we’re the only two of our original band still doing music. There was a moment there that we talked about it, saying, “I don’t care what our parents say. This is what we want to do. How does nobody understand that?”

What’s your songwriting process like?
It’s neither here or there. It’s a weird process for me. I have my Blackberry notes filled with random song lyrics. Whether I go back to them and read them or not, is a different story. The song I played tonight, “All My Friends Moved to Brooklyn,” I wrote that while in Brooklyn on the train. Coming back from the train, I’m like “This sucks! I hate Brooklyn.”

I sometimes write lyrics down. I feel like, because of Carl Wilson I’m a real melody based person. I try and keep it really simple, but memorable. Sometimes lyrics come first, sometimes melody, sometimes a guitar part. But, really what it comes down to is that the song comes first. I never think I have a song written until I sit down and play a song. Sometimes I’ll go, “Man, that lyric is really cool. I’m going to write that down.” I’ll put it in my phone, on a piece of paper, I have my notebook. That being said, it doesn’t mean very much. Sometimes those things are never looked at. What it really comes down to is if something sticks with me. I wrote down “All My Friends Moved to Brooklyn” in my phone and when it came down that I really wanted to write something like that, I remembered all the lyrics without looking in my phone. So that said I should write that song. It’s an arbitrary process that just comes together. I try to write every day, but six days a week it’s pretty terrible or I just don’t even think about it.

You’ve produced a lot of tracks for upcoming bands.
I actually just worked on this project for Interscope Records. A girl named Soshy. What it comes down to is that I’ll take any gig. I love my name being out there. I love playing music and I love being creative. And when people respect that I like doing that, it’s pretty infectious. I have a project coming up called E.K. Ink. The engineer for Jim Beans and Timbaland is the K, and I’m the E. It’s a really unique project we have going on. Its half pop-rock, half hip-hop, half electro. It’s half everything. It definitely does not skip any beat that you can possibly ask for. So we do that. He works at the studio and he worked for Ashanti. Ashanti came into the studio and I was like, “You have to put Koil on the session.” Jim Beanz, who is Timbaland’s production guy, was doing the production and was like, “Hey, you want to work for me?” And then Koil was gone. One thing led to another, and now he’s doing all this crazy stuff.

That being said, I’m playing guitar on Timbaland beats, going down to Philly where his studio is and playing bass. It’s a lot of fun because it’s great to step out of the artist world and be someone that someone isn’t like, “Oh, it’s got to be this if it needs to be hit.” When I play something, they’re like, “Oh my gosh it’s live music!” They’re so psyched that I’m playing it live. It makes me feel good, but at the same time it’s really good to be in a position where you can wow them a little bit. It works out.

How would you rather someone hear you first? Live or on the record?
It’s a difficult situation. I feel like I’ve really grown as a writer. My album, I really love and truly believe in it, but at the same time I’m really tired of playing those songs. But, I’m opening for Ryan [Cabrera] tonight, and he’s been playing “On the Way Down” since 2003. I’ve asked him how he does it and he’s like, “If people like it, you’ve got to do it.” What it comes down to is, I would love for people to hear me live first. But, chances are people in South Dakota aren’t going to see me live first. So, there’s only one way they can hear me: MySpace, or buy the album on iTunes or however they get it. The album is in stores, but I don’t think people are doing that unfortunately.

Talking to Ryan, he’s the same way. There’s this type of in the box recording that you have to do for people that don’t understand music like that. There’s a difference from the Brooklyn indie-rock and the pop rock that sells records. It’s difficult for every artist; I’m not going to say it’s just difficult for me. Ryan is an amazing singer and guitar player, but he has to hold back because they want three minutes and 25 seconds of that. I can do eight minutes and 45 seconds, but I can’t do that, so I keep it short to three minutes and 45 seconds.

You can see your passion onstage while performing. You’re constantly smiling and dancing throughout the set.
I never really hold back live. I have no problem calling people out in the audience. I have no problem really loving it being up there.

Do you feel you have to be in love to write a love song or depressed to write a sad song?
No, no, no, no, no, no! You know when you go to the emergency room and they ask you on a scale from 1 to 10, 1 being the smiley face? You don’t have to be at a 1 or at a 10 to write a song. You can be at a three. Sometimes 3 can be worried. It doesn’t have to be sad. You don’t have to be in the extreme of emotions to write that. You have to feel an emotion strongly. Sometimes I feel 5 really strongly. I feel really mediocre right now; this is what I’m going to write about. I’m not crying that my friends moved to Brooklyn, but it makes me sad, I don’t want to talk about it. I like to chit-chat, and that’s what it comes down to. I talk about the things that are going on.

Do you feel a song comes out better when it really happened to you?
Always. 100%. I never really make anything up. That’s something I envy Billy Joel about. He writes songs about fictional characters and events and things that happened. I’m not yet successful in doing that. Maybe one day. I should learn piano.

For more on Eren and his projects visit E.K. Ink and MySpace.

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