Showcasing & Supporting Scotland's Songwriters & Composers
The Homebird Sessions - with BBC Radio Scotland Songwriter of the Year, Mike McKenzie
'THE HOMEBIRD SESSIONS' is a Facebook Live Series on @ElaineLennonMusic, started by Elaine to provide a place for music lovers to come each Wednesday for a 'musical hug' when the Lockdown started - somewhere they could check in regularly and feel part of a community, listen to some songs and hear the stories behind them.
Now in it's second series, the ‘Homebird' Community has grown while managing to maintain that central ‘feel-good’ factor. While Series 1 was all about the stories behind Elaine's own original songs, Series 2 is about delving into the stories behind some of her fellow Songwriter buddies and has a mix of music from both artists for you to enjoy! With her warm, infectious personality shining through Elaine chats with some superb Singer Songwriters and she wanted to share their stories with you the readers of Songwriters and Composers Scotland Magazine.
You can also catch up on any of the FB live episodes you may have missed on Elaine’s website www.elainelennon.com.
If you'd like to join Elaine after any future Wednesday Sessions for a LIVE Q&A over on THE HOMEBIRD SESSIONS Facebook GROUP page please request to become a member of the group (You will have to be a member to watch and participate so why not head over and join just now and get your questions ready for Elaine and her guests!)
Elaine says: “Series 1 was all about the stories behind my own original songs - Series 2 is about delving into the stories behind some of my fellow Songwriter buddies and have a mix of music from us both for you to enjoy!
The core of these sessions will always be to give you a weekly 'musical hug' and have a little fun! My guests join me after the Session for a LIVE Q&A over on THE HOMEBIRD SESSIONS Facebook GROUP page - if you’d like to watch or participate in these weekly live Q&A sessions then head over to the Facebook Group Page and become a member.”
In Episode 1 of Series 2 of ‘The Homebird Sessions’ Elaine was joined by guest BBC Radio Scotland Songwriter of the Year Mike McKenzie, who also joined her afterwards for a LIVE Q&A over on THE HOMEBIRD SESSIONS Facebook GROUP page:
E: Mike, tell us a little about your background and your journey to becoming a songwriter…
M: I’ve had a few different musical ‘lives’… I grew up in a musical home, playing piano - we were always singing in the house …my mum played piano for the playgroup and directed ‘am-dram’ musical theatre and my dad would always be in them, so we were a singing musical family! I didn’t really get into performing properly until later on though. In High school I was actually the drummer in a band…
E: So how do you go from drummer in the band to frontman yourself?
M: Kind of by accident. The band were becoming successful and we reached a point, when I was around 20, when the ‘move to London’ moment came…but at that point it didn’t line up with my life outside the band so we parted ways amicably. The guitarist from the band, Liam Narrie, just produced one of my recent singles…
E: It makes such a massive creative difference to be able to work with people you respect and trust doesn’t it…?
M: Definitely. There is definitely something scary, being a songwriter, about putting yourself out there and baring your soul, sharing your darkest or most joyous moments…so to then step into a studio where you are making arrangements and working with other musicians, finding that direction is daunting and to have a familiar face is definitely reassuring and helpful.
E: So…BBC Radio Scotland Songwriter of the Year…how did that come about and what does it mean to you to be awarded that?
M: After the band I ‘pretended to be a grown-up’ for a while, got a regular job and hid in normal society…then realised quickly that’s not what I needed to be doing and that I needed to be writing again. When I first met my now fiancé, I would write songs that would sit on a computer somewhere. He would ask “What are you going to do with these songs?”. I’d say there were some songs that I would like other people to perform and others I wanted to perform myself… As a rule he always says the third time you say “I would like to / I should do that” then you should make the decision to do it or stop talking about it altogether, so that’s exactly what happened with me - I said three times that maybe I should just release music as ‘me’ and he said “thiiird tiiime…so you have to do it!”
E: So how did you take the next step then…?
M: I started playing open mics and found that lots of people started enjoying and connecting to it, then someone posted about the Award on Facebook about the BBC Scotland Songwriting competition and I thought “this could be something” to try to help me get my music out there. It was based purely on the song so I filmed myself in my living room performing ‘Love Like This’ plus a cover and sent it in. A few months later I received an email saying they had put me through to the final ten. That was such an amazing experience! I was blown away!
E: So how is the writing going now in the midst of the lockdown?
M: My friend Mally Smith talks about living on this rollercoaster of life and without the dips you would never really fully experience the peaks, so why choose to live in the mid line and never experience the highs. During lockdown that rollercoaster experience has been almost condensed so it’s now like white noise. One day I will wake up and I’m high and the next I’ll wake up really low, so it’s just a case of embracing the days when you are up and being OK and surviving the days you are down. Some people say ‘you’re a songwriter and you now have every day to write so you’ll have enough songs for 20 albums….” but it doesn’t really work like that….sometimes you can write on command and other times you just can’t.
E: How would you describe your creative process of songwriting? How do you know when a song is finished?
M: I think it’s important to play them live… they kind of become what they are once you’ve played them, once people have heard them… The first song I put out there only Chris (fiancé) and I had heard before. I just put it out as a recording I’d made at home and then once you start playing it to others you suddenly stop sounding like what you ‘think’ people want you to sound like and start to find your own voice. That’s kind of like a lot of songs… I feel sometimes we take credit for something that just ‘happens’… like a song sometimes just writes itself and then you have to figure out how it’s supposed to sound and where it’s supposed to be… once you’ve played it a few times you find that some lyrics have naturally changed into something else and it all sits more comfortably. So yeah just go out and play it loads and when you realise you are playing it the same every time, you are then like “OK - this is ready now!”
E: Is there one thing from Lockdown, a new tradition for example, that you will now continue after Lockdown is removed?
M: Definitely. The past few Wednesdays have been glorious sunshine so I have cooked a ‘proper’ breakfast and sat outside and listened to music, so taking that time out to just chill and ‘breathe’ is something I will take into after the lockdown is lifted…enjoy the downtime when you have it as much as you can.
The following are taken from the live Q&A over on ‘The Homebird Sessions Facebook Group Page’ after the live Session had ended over on @ElaineLennonMusic
Member (Annie Watson): What was the hardest song you’ve ever had to write or sing?
M: One of the first songs I ever wrote in a cathartic way was called ‘Don’t Hold Me Down’ and when I wrote it it was attached to the end of a previous life with an ex. It was like a letter to myself in a way and I thought at the time the lyrics were born from a negative emotion, but looking back at it now it means so much more than that. It was one of the hardest songs to ‘become friends’ with again as a songwriter - it was a real challenge but eventually the meaning of it entirely changed for me and that was mainly because I had changed so much as a person.
Member (David Prentice): Who would you like to do a duet with most?
M: Apart from Elaine Lennon of course (!) :) …Brandie Carlisle. Her music is so honest and heart-wrenching.
Member (Lesley Murray): Do any of your songs mean something different to you now due to COVID?
M: ‘Love Like This’ is one I’m struggling to play just now as I was supposed to be getting married tomorrow but my partner is in Brooklyn just now so with the travel restrictions etc that’s no longer possible. The song is about our long distance relationship, one of the lines being ‘learning to love like this’; figuring out how to love in a different way. I’m finding that one hard to sing right now.
Member (unknown) : What was the first records / tape / CD you bought?
M: My dad had lots of Elvis records so I grew up listening to Elvis, but the first CD I ever bought was The Vengaboys…. the second album was Wheatus which was slightly cooler! lol!
Many thanks to Mike McKenzie for joining us on The Homebird Sessions and for taking the time to answer our musical questions.