Interview with Aaron Ankrum – ep9

Finally a new interview!  In this episode we unveil the inner most thoughts of Minneapolis musician/songwriter Aaron Ankrum.  Aaron is well known through the Twin Cities and heads the uncanny “Grayshot“.  It would be wise to keep your eye and ears open for this band.  Here is a sampling (please ignore the cheesy morning news show feel)


FFTB: How did the name ‘Grayshot’ come about?

[a]My grandpa was born in a town called Gratiot Ohio. Obviously we took a few liberties with the spelling, but essentially we chose the name because it was a bit of a tip of the cap to our family that at the same time didn’t have some incredibly deep meaning that would take away from the band itself.

FFTB: What are some of your non-musical influences and why?

[a] Movies and books are huge for me, but most art forms find a way of asserting influence on me. Anytime I’m left feeling like I’ve lost something when it’s over– like that feeling when you’re so attached to characters in a book that it makes you sad you won’t get to spend time with them anymore when you’ve finished reading it. I think one factor that makes me subjectively decide if I think a certain work of art is “great” or not is whether or not it has stirred something in me to the point of missing it when it’s over. Another factor is if the emotion it evokes leaves me wanting to make a change or create something in my life that seeks to establish that feeling again, or avoid a feeling if it is a painful one.

FFTB: Do you find yourself writing lyrics in common themes to other songs you’ve written?

[a] For sure, the timeline of my life is marked most strongly by the things I was sorting out in my head. I try to make each song its own, and often times I will end up combining songs that I thought were totally independent thoughts after realizing that they needed each other in order to be complete. That also helps me by not having to fluff my way through 2 separate songs that are saying the exact same thing. One great song is better than 2 ok songs, even when the band is trying to pull together a 60 minute set. 🙂

FFTB: Would you consider Lyric’s to be music?

[a]I think lyrics are art, but not music. It is hard for me to separate the 2, but the more I’ve thought about it I believe that lyrics aren’t music. The one exception that I’m still a little bit foggy on is when there is a line that just does not ‘sing well’ in the studio and a small change to the lyrics makes all the musical difference in the world… that seems pretty musical for me. Contradiction? yes.

FFTB: Is it better to be great at 1 instrument or decent at many?

[a]That all depends on the musical motivation of the individual. I want to be able to create the music that I write and no single instrument, no matter how proficient I am, will be able to accomplish that. So the answer for me is decent at many. For other friends of mine, the instrument itself is a major driving force behind their endeavors, and usually along with that comes the desire to be able to execute whatever is asked of them in the moment. I’m probably not saying this as accurately as someone with this mindset would, but that’s because it’s just not me 🙂

FFTB: What creates a better song one motivated by fiction or non-fiction?

[a] Both can be truth, so whether it’s an experience, a concept, or a great story– the more ‘truth’ a song contains the better the song is regardless of whether it is based on real events.

FFTB: How important is a good band to a songwriter?

[a]It depends on what good is. I’ve been challenged on that a lot recently because it is all so subjective with art. Some bands that I think are perfect for the songwriter are far from being great technical players, but there is something about the vibe that they bring that is right for that particular artist. Other songwriters really need a band that is just nailing it all the time musically and the vibe comes from that kind of energy. So, the answer would be that a good band is very important, but good can mean many things. If U2 had a drummer and bass player that were able to go around and do clinics on separation, I would put my reputation on the line to say that they would be nowhere near the level they are today and that far less people would have connected with them–its all about the chemistry of those 4 guys in particular and their ability to capitalize on their strengths AND their limitations. First of all, that is not a knock on Larry Mullen Jr. or Adam Clayton, I LOVE their playing, but I’m sure they hang their hat on the fact that they are musicians, not technicians. Back to my statement about connecting with them– there is something about the chemistry of a group of people playing music that cannot be improved by simply replacing one member with a member that has better chops–it just doesn’t work that way. Sometimes it is the right move to upgrade to a player that is at the level you need him or her to be, but it is not a mathematical equation says band + better drummer/bassist/guitarist/singer = better band.

FFTB: What songwriters inspire you? Do any songwriters discourage you?

[a]Almost all of the songwriters that inspire me discourage me. I have to fight the feeling of “I’ll never write anything this good” and turn it into motivation. As for the writers in particular I’ll drop a list on you the randomly pops into my head: Andy Stochansky, Matthew Hales (Aqualung), Doves, Bono and U2 (of course, but come on!), Paul McCartney, John Lennon, Brian Wilson, Luke Reynolds (Blue Merle), Pete Yorn, Clarence Greenwood (Citizen Cope), Chris Martin and Coldplay, Fran Healy (Travis), Adam Levy (Honeydogs), Jason Falkner, Jeff Buckley, Even Johannsen (Magnet), Joel Hanson, John Mayer, Wheat, Jellyfish

FFTB: Any advice for young punk aspiring musicians and songwriters?

[a]As usual, I need to answer this question in a roundabout way. Here are some things I believe to be true about songwriting: You can’t control what anyone thinks of your music, musical trends or whether what is ‘you’ is ‘hip’ at the moment. You can only control how honestly you portray your heart and who you are in your songs, when you decide that a song is done and what is heard by the public (whether that is 5 people or 60,000). How that plays out for me is this: I work hard to turn off my critical ear when I’m writing so I can just get the words and melodies out—this is a simple concept but probably my biggest struggle in writing. Once I’ve written something I listen to it like someone else wrote it, break it down to what is good (if anything) and what needs work. Then I enter the process of trying to retain the honesty in the song but improve upon the package that it is delivered in. There are times when I know that a line isn’t hip or poetic but that it is honest and accurate to how I feel and it stays in. That is where it comes down to when I as the songwriter make the final decision that a song is ready to present to whoever is going to hear it. I think my most often given advice to songwriters (including myself) is to rewrite. Don’t be afraid of the rewrite. I’ve written entire songs, scrapped everything except one line, written a new song around it and not even retained the original line! Sometimes I just need to get things out of my system and see it on paper to realize that I don’t feel as strongly about something or that I can say it better (either more clearly or more poetically). That being said, not every song needs to be rewritten! Sometimes it goes down right away the way that it is supposed to be and that is a beautiful thing. Remember this though- the original version isn’t going anywhere, exploring other ideas doesn’t erase the original but it does give you the opportunity to improve upon it if you find there is room to do so.


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