The Art of Dreaming in Song, Interview with Singer-Songwriter Elaine Lucia

Tell us about yourself and your music

I was 12 years old when I had my first professional gig – singing with my middle school choir teacher’s jazz trio at an Italian wedding! Also at that age, I begged my uncle for an old unused guitar he had and began teaching myself to play by listening to James Taylor and Joni Mitchell records, and by making up my own little songs. Growing up, I was obsessed with great singers like Judy Garland and especially worshipped jazz legends Ella Fitzgerald and Anita O’Day. I dreamed of being a Broadway star, too! I guess you could say I loved listening to and singing music from all genres…all I wanted was to be a great singer. During my teenage years, and then on through college and music school (where I studied the classical vocal repertoire), I was very fortunate to be able to ‘sing for my supper,’ as our family had no money for me to take private lessons or for school tuition.

In the early 80’s I sold my flute and bought a one-way ticket to the San Francisco Bay Area, arriving with only a suitcase and my guitar. Back then, the music scene in San Francisco was really hot and for years I performed with my own quartet as a jazz singer. We also recorded three full-length jazz records that got some good radio play and good reviews. We were playing pretty consistently for years. I continued playing guitar and writing songs but for decades I never performed any of my original music in my shows, and I didn’t think my playing could hold up to the amazing musicians I was so blessed to have in my band. Finally, about six years ago, the guys pretty much insisted on hearing – and playing – my original songs. The first time I heard my compositions performed by these incredible musicians I just cried my eyes out and could barely sing. The band continued to encourage me to keep writing and they really listened to, and played, my music with so much care. It’s still amazing for me to hear songs that I’ve written played so beautifully by my cherished musician friends, who are all virtuosos on their instruments. Today, I have so many songs, and they just keep coming, so I plan to jump right back into recording as soon as possible. We’re working out how to record our tracks remotely, and putting together my own recording set up for getting guitar and vocal tracks down at home. It’s a work in progress, always, but as long as there’s Music in my Life…Life is Good.

Talk to us more about your latest release

My newest record is titled, “Twist Run Road,” which is the name of the street I grew up on in upstate New York. They are songs mostly about the Place…the fireflies underneath the pines. Milkweed “like snow, falling from a summer sky.” The “trees in the autumn, and the leaves.” They are dream songs, memorable songs. They come from a place of love and hopefully evoke feelings of love, hope, peace, forgiveness. It was a painful time, growing up on Twist Run Road, but I kept the best remembrances, the ones that feel good, for my songs.

What inspired you to write this release?

I remember about six years ago reading page after page of lyrics I had written; I was reading them as if they were poetry, not songs. And I realized that so many of them had a common theme: they were remembrances from dreams; I had experienced much of the imagery while sleeping. Others were daydreams or memories of the few times when I was growing up that I felt happy, peaceful, or safe….those songs were about being out in nature. So many of my song lyrics are about the trees, the moon, the stars, water. Going back over my lyrics was like looking at old movies of myself, it brought up so many feelings. And I thought: these are beautiful and I should record these. I hadn’t really realized how many songs I had written over the years and hadn’t considered recording an all-original record. At the same time this happened, I was feeling a bit uninspired by singing jazz; maybe it was time to just go for it and sing my own songs rather than someone else’s vision or story. I decided to do this recording and call it “Twist Run Road” because it’s a pretty cool name and it just happens to be the name of the street I grew up on. The title song is about the lady who lived across the street from us, and she was a loving presence when I was really young.

Describe the writing and recording process

I don’t really have a writing “process,” as many of my songs come from my dreams. I may be actively singing in the dream, or, there is a scene in the dream with me singing a song as the ‘soundtrack.’ I’ve had dreams where one part of my mind is in the music and the scene, and another part of my mind is saying: “Oh my gosh I need to remember this!” That has happened more than a few times and it’s so trippy. The only time I ever sit myself down with the intention of “OK, I’m going to write a song now” is when I have to write a jingle or a theme song for a paying client! I never “craft” a song consciously.

It’s more like the Music already exists in the Universe (or within myself) and I just tune in to it. The key is to be always listening, and I do have music in my head pretty much 24 hours a day. I’ve ‘tuned in’ to new songs while washing the dishes, while in my car at the drive-through getting Starbucks, daydreaming at the beach. When I hear something in my head, I’ll grab my iPhone and record snippets of lyrics, or melody lines, or just free-flow thoughts. Sometimes I’ll get almost an entire song all at once, although that’s rare. Mostly I’ll get a hook or a chorus or a verse or two….or maybe just a beautiful melodic line. I take whatever I can get! and then just let it incubate. I’ll sing it over and over….I’ll sing it before going to sleep and ask my higher Self to bring me the rest of the song. I tried that with one song in particular and it worked, to my delight and surprise. Ask and you shall receive! Anyway, every single song is different, so there is no consistent songwriting process for any of them.

As for my recording process: my first three records were all jazz records, and were recorded with the same engineer: my ex-husband. We’re good friends and always have had a great working relationship. But with this record, I play guitar on every song except for one, so I wanted to try a different recording process. When I perform my original songs on stage, I play guitar and sing. But in the studio, I had to just play the guitar without singing, and I found that really challenging. I had been practicing hard for years to prepare for this recording, but being in the studio was another story. The lead guitarist on the record, Dave MacNab, is just so fantastic, I felt I needed to keep up with him best I could. And bassist Cliff Hugo, another amazing player, I admired him so much that I also wanted to be able to hold my head up with my guitar chops!!!  So, after laying down reference guitar and vocal tracks with the band, I then went in later and recorded my keeper guitar tracks (without singing at the same time, of course). That was a lot of work because man, I made a lot of mistakes! I really did not want to fix my guitar parts in Protools, so I insisted on playing full takes all the way through. That was physically grueling, some sessions I was playing for 6 hours, which was hard on my body…I have such respect for session players!! It was a great experience, though, and thank goodness my recording engineer Kenny Evans has the patience of a saint.

One super cool thing that did happen in the studio was that Dave (MacNab) surprised me by telling me he had taken one of the songs (“Fireflies”) to the orchestra pit of the show “Hamilton” (he was playing guitar in the show). He played the rough tracks for the string quartet and asked them if they would be interested in recording the song if he wrote the string arrangement. They say yes!!  And all this took place without me knowing about it. Dave then asked me if I would be OK with him writing a string arrangement to the song and if the “Hamilton” orchestra pit string quartet could record it?  Ummmmm…YES!! It was a gift from heaven, I must say because I had wanted a string quartet but did not have the arrangement or a string quartet! I also did not have the money for it. But incredibly, that very same night that Dave told me about this, I received a phone call from a friend who had seen my Facebook posts about the recording sessions for “Twist Run Road.” The friend said that he really wanted to help me finish the record, and would I accept a financial gift from him? Uhmmmm…YES!!! And it just so happened that he gave me exactly the amount I needed to record the string quartet. So…thanks, Universe!!

Finally, I had my last recording session the weekend before we went into ‘shelter-in-place’ here in California in mid-March. And so I had the mixing engineer mix the songs remotely, and we communicated via email, sending song files back and forth. It was pretty complicated and took a long time, but he did a great job under trying circumstances. It was wonderful to have this project to work on during the pandemic, it kept me sane since I was isolated with just my cat.

Any plans to release a video?

Any plans to hit the road?

not at this time, hopefully in 2021

As an indie artist, how do you brand yourself and your music to stand out from the rest of the artists out there?

My day job (for many years now) is as a marketing director; I started in a newspaper advertising pre-internet. So, I think about branding a lot.
But to be honest, when it comes to my music, I don’t have a brand or logo, or slogan that makes me stand out. I’m not even trying to sell my music at this time…I’m giving it away. I know that’s probably crazy, but I decided long ago that my goal is to simply make people feel good with my songs, to help them escape for a little while into what I call “magical musical moments.”

During these very dark days and hard times, I didn’t want to charge anyone for the record or downloads. I’d love for as many people as possible to hear it; and then, they can pass it along, share it. That’s it!

I do spend considerable time promoting my playlists on social media, and on my website, you can listen to all my records, full tracks, as well.

So…I don’t have a brand. I guess you could say my advertising campaign is: “Here is some beautiful music for you…I hope you will enjoy it!

Who have you been listening to lately?

I listen mostly to classical music; my favorites are Debussy, Fauré, Satie, Chopin. I listen to a lot of Brazilian music, love Marisa Monte, and all the classic Jobim repertoire by various artists; the music of Cape Verde is another favorite genre. Ooh, I love Lianne La Havas, her guitar playing and singing is so beautiful. My friend Jasnam Daya Singh has a wonderful record called “Ekta: The Unity Project” with the Portland Jazz Composers Ensemble that I’ve listened to several times lately. The past few weeks I’m feeling kind of nostalgic so listening to childhood favorites: James Taylor, Joni Mitchell, Phoebe Snow, Stevie Wonder, Elton John…ya know, the ’70s had some great songwriters. I listen to the Beatles a lot, and also Paul Simon is a genius songwriter and guitarist. Current songwriters, I like a lot are Ed Sheeran, Brandi Carlile, and I’m listening now to Lucinda Williams’ new record, “Good Souls Better Angels.” The other day I watched the new Dolly Parton documentary on Netflix and got to relive all of her hits and realize again what an incredible songwriter she is. The “Trio” album with Dolly, Linda Ronstadt, and Emmylou Harris was life-changing for me when I was a kid. There are so much music and so little time.

Who are your biggest influences?

Musical influences, just a few of them! are Joni Mitchell, James Taylor, Ella Fitzgerald, Mozart, Debussy, Antonio Carlos Jobim, Judy Garland, Doc Watson, Sting, Stevie Wonder…there are so many.

Tell us about your passions

My daughter is my Sunshine, so just being her Mom has brought the greatest love of my life. I am passionate about my spiritual path, which I don’t really discuss or go into detail about but it is an exciting journey that is a constant force and keeps me going. Art in every form is another passion – I love literature and read voraciously; art history, painting, sculpture, photography, film, dance, theater…all kinds of creative expression thrills me! Nature: I go to the wild Sonoma Coast almost every single weekend and hope to live right on the beach one day soon. The redwoods. Just walking anywhere outdoors. And birds…I am that crazy bird lady ’cause I am crazy about birds! And I love plants and gardening and recently got into bonsais.

And then there’s Music: it’s not something I think of as a separate passion…it’s just everywhere and with me all the time.

What else is happening next in your world?

I’m getting set up to record guitar and vocal tracks at home. I have a little experience with ProTools and LogicPro, but I need to learn how to best mic my guitars, to get a great sound so that I can then send tracks to the guys and start working on the next record. We’re figuring out how we’re going to record remotely; our drummer moved to the East Coast and with the pandemic don’t know when or how we’ll be able to record together.  Recently we’re experiencing our third year in a row of terrible wildfires and the resulting smoke, ash, and bad air quality, which, combined with the pandemic and all that’s going on with that, is making for challenging times. If I can start this next recording project, that will really help keep me focused on the creative process. I’m also learning PremierPro and have created two videos of my songs (they’re on YouTube) and I’m working on two more…I love that project, it’s really fun but very time-consuming….video editors., you have my respect!!



Thanks for an awesome interview, Elaine Lucia



Connect with Elaine Lucia

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