After Nearly 20 Years Of Making Music, San Diego Songwriter ‘Hopes It All Matters’
KPBS Midday Edition / June 29, 2019
From the archive: As the co-founder of the Redwoods Music, a San Diego-based record label, Alfred Howard writes lyrics for five bands that span various genres. Since moving to San Diego nearly 20 years ago, he's recorded 21 albums. This First Person was originally released on Sept. 18, 2017.
Our first-person series tells stories of San Diego ends in their own words. In 1999 Alfred Howard moved to San Diego from the East Coast and he was not much of a musician back then but one outing to a spoken word night event change everything. Now he is the songwriter behind a majority of the lyrics for musicians with the redwoods music collective and here is a Howard on how he found his voice as a songwriter.
Hello my name is Alfred Howard one of the founders of redwoods music in San Diego California. I started off as a spoken word artist, and a friend of mind, Jodi, was having a birthday party at a vegan Indian restaurant/art gallery in La Jolla that had performance of Avagard jazz. And for her birthday everyone was supposed to read a poem and I had never really written a poem but I wrote one for her birthday. The guy who runs the club asked if I would come back in a couple weeks to be the featured artist and do a 40 minute spoken word performance I was like absolutely, that sounds great. But I only had one poem. So had to go home and write and write and write and so I had a whole set. And I became a member of a band called the K 23 orchestra and I did spoken word then. After doing that for seven years I lost my voice. I've had chronic Lyme disease for 20 years and I got bitten by a deer tick on the East Coast and I also have a hiatal hernia in the stomach acids scarred off my esophageal lining so I could barely speak at the end of that band. There was a Yuri did not perform at all but I was still writing. And I was like let me see if I could translate this into writing songs for people who have more capable voices and I. So the song take it all away is a special one to me. You know a captive audience captured by the low and the phantom rings of a lifeless phone, paper song is a broken lullaby and give me open road give me setting sun before a overdose on rhetoric and guns and I cannot take the weight of another word so I will wait for you like a dream that is been deferred. That is the first verse. Give me open road, give me setting sun, tired of overdose. I can't take the weight of another word and I will wait for you like a dream that has been deferred. And that one and bodies a lot of what I need is a person, I just have to take breaks from the city and be forced to put my phone away and stop updating headlines all the time. So that song was written during the election process as it was going on. And everything was overwhelming. Every bit of news I just needed to escape. And it is about getting outside of that for a minute and having a different vantage point. It escalates from there and in her vocal delivery it gets more powerful.
Take it all away, take it all away from me.
Because that is what that timeframe look and felt like, it felt like a frenzied cacophony of news and we tried to capture that in that song. And so the Redwoods is a collective we started a few years ago. All of our members are in multiple bands and there is a lot of overlap. Three of the founders all just happened to watch the muscle Shoals documentary one night on the same evening and we are like let us do what they are doing and they basically had a house studio band that performed with a lot of different singers so we used studio caliber musicians that we are good friends with and have worked with another bands. They are the house band for all the records we do basically. And the singers will sing lead on their albums and backing vocals on some of the other albums. Our goal is to be very eclectic with the kind of music we're doing. And so we spent a lot of different genres although it is the same musicians performing them. Now that I have been doing this for a long time and writing lyrics for a bunch of different voices, I try to specifically write for the intent of a voice, what song, what idea or words would best be conveyed by this particular voice? It has been different for everyone that I write with. I have like a 1700 page document of unused songs that I will send it to our keyboardist and he will just scroll through that and told lyric applies to something he is working on and he will turn into a song we will iron it out together. If I am working with Shelby Bennett from the Midnight Pine, a lot of times she will have a melody in mind and we will kind of sit down and write something together. She will also contribute lyrics at times. Oh, hope and Matters is one of those songs were Shelby's delivery of the lyrics floors me. It is her delivery and general that gets me.
I know midnight train, no sweet refrain. No realization, no remains. No bones about it anymore, no guns a blazing, no more war.
It is a sentiment that all the artists share, a lot of the toilet hard work turns into something, hope and matters, I felt the simplest course, the more direct chorus, those are the most potent.
I am hoping that in some way,.
Recently came to the realization I recorded 21 records since I moved to San Diego in 1999 and it is hard to imagine five or 10 years down the road because I'm focused on the five records we're working on right now. I want to keep making great music and I hope to work with others singers which expands the pallet I am able to paint with as a writer. I don't know how to do anything else I will be doing this for a long time.
This is person was produced with the assistance of Emily Jankowski and you can catch some of the artist from Redwoods music at my 56 at Balboa Park where they are starting a residency from this Friday through mid-October.