An Introduction To The Spring Thing

Singer/songwriter Spring is the archetype of an independent musician. Working hard to develop her craft, as well as promote her career, she has earned recognition both for a tireless work ethic, as well as an angelic voice and the inspirational quality of her original music. Two albums, "the spring thing" and "my little artist," and consistent touring have gained the Keyport, New Jersey resident critical recognition, radio airplay and growing popularity among her fans.

While in the midst of recording for her new album, and recently back from a successful tour of Florida, Chorus and Verse caught up with Spring to ask about her approach to music, her style of performing and recording, creativity and the relationship with her fans.

Additional information can be found on her web site, at www.springmusic.net.

The reviews about your music and your shows often talk about the mood that you create, both with your music and your voice. Can you describe how you want fans to feel during your performances and how you want them to walk away talking about your performance?

Actually, the last thing on my mind is about making someone feel a certain way. Every person is a unique human being with their own life experiences. And it is based on these experiences that they will interpret my music. The same song that makes one person feel depressed, might make another feel comforted that they are not alone. I would go crazy trying to please everyone.

However, I do enjoy getting compliments on my voice and talents. That always feels nice for people to walk away from a show saying that they were moved or touched in some way that makes their life a little better. I guess that is what I would really want is for people to leave feeling like they got a gift for their soul. Perhaps a new way of looking at something.

The only expectation I have, is of myself, to put every bit of sincerity behind each note and lyric that I sing. I enter every performance with an offering of my experience for them to take and do with what is right for them. That focus and freedom is what probably creates the mood that has been described in reviews.

Many of your gigs take place in churches, and you promote your music to spiritual retreats, as well as more typical venues. It is fair to characterize your music as having a religious element, new age, spiritual, or something else?

One of the more difficult aspects for me as an artist is that labeling thing. If I had to choose a word, I would pick "spiritual". I wish I did not have to characterize myself as anything, because that leaves little room to grow and change. The songs all come from the same place - from a place of inner adjusting/human condition/soul searching, asking questions like, "what does this thing called life mean anyway?" I think that I ended up singing at churches and retreats because people who attend these places are asking similar questions.

Are there specific spiritual or religious topics you are trying to focus on in your songwriting?

I think that answer could change minute by minute. But, in this minute, I am enjoying the goal of spreading inspiration. I try to take the victim out of struggle and just embrace the feelings, letting them pass and moving on. I like to present a "problem" or "struggle" in the verses and then resolve them in the chorus. That is so rewarding for me. After years of writing and performing many sad, pensive songs it is fun to inspire and uplift people, as well as myself. They approach me saying, "I feel a bit brighter and less alone after hearing you sing." And, I am still being true to my artist's heart, which is everything right there! Who could ask for more?

You perform solo acoustic shows, as well as with a full band. Do you have a preference of one over the other?

I love them both. I need to do both. The biggest difference is in how I use the voice. Singing over a band of instruments is more difficult volume-wise. But, then again, especially if I am not playing another instrument, guitar/piano, I am totally freed up to do singing from a place free of any distraction. During my recent tour of Florida, I sat in with a three-piece jazz ensemble and crooned some old classics. The upright bass, nylon string guitar and laid-back drum sound was nice and mellow and I got the best of both worlds. I enjoyed being the singer and did not have to struggle with overpowering rock instruments, totally focusing on letting the voice go!

However, the solo acoustic thing is nice, because it is simple and organic. The voice sounds beautiful with just a guitar or piano and, in fact, the voice becomes much more the focus in a solo situation. And I am also in charge of the tempo and mood of the song in that case, which gives some more flexibility than when musicians are following or leading me.

Who are some of the musicians you perform with currently?

Drums, David Ross. Electric Guitar, The Legendary Alvis. Bass guitar and acoustic guitar, Frank Rafferty.

These guys are so awesome. David really knows how to breathe into a song and let me just dance around within it. Frank always knows what to do to make the song click and has a great ear for what is needed and not needed. He is the foundation that holds it all together. He also has the greatest sense of humor. Alvis is so modest for his talent. He is an excellent guitar player. He really loves my music and that passion rings in every note he plays.

Let's backtrack a little bit. Your web site briefly mentions your time in Greenwich Village, New York City. Can you talk about your time in New York, some of your venues you've played at, and how you enjoyed your time there?

Before moving to NYC, I had not spent too much time there. So, living in the Village was a great opportunity to learn the ropes of how to get around and just immerse myself in the energy of the place. I had a full-time video production job that supported me. On my off times I would walk by Washington Square Park and people watch; the street performers and regular people. I also volunteered time with Fast Folk Magazine - where I attended a weekly songwriting group. We had to write at least one new song each week and what a great exercise. They were very supportive, but I began to see that I was not really fitting into the "folk" genre officially. I performed at open mikes in small village venues. Can't really remember venue names, but really had some debilitating stage fright at that point, and so when I lost my apartment, I went back to NJ where I had support of friends and family, tackled stage fright and recorded my first album, "the spring thing". Now, the city is like a second home to me and I am very comfortable there.

How did you come to live in and become a New Jersey-based artist? What are some of your favorite places to play in the Garden State?

I was born and raised in NJ by the shore, so there you go!

I love singing in concert style settings where there is a piano, great acoustics, lots of audience silence so everyone can enjoy the music without distraction, no smoking and mood lighting. Churches and theatres have great acoustics and ambience. My favorite place to play up to this point was the Count Basie Theatre in Red Bank. To hear my voice radiating in that huge room, was a privilege and honor!

You had an opportunity to perform at the Clearwater Festival. Can you tell us what that experience was like?

Monmouth County Friends of Clearwater is a great organization that fights for our rights to clean drinking water and swimming water, etc. They put on an annual Festival that I have sang at for the past five years or so. It is always a joy for me to contribute to their events. There is great community there. I feel very appreciated, personally and musically and from what I have seen, they treat all the musicians with utmost respect and consideration.

On your album, "the spring thing", you are credited with playing seven instruments, as well as the vocals. How did you handle this in the studio? Which instruments were laid down first, and how were the tracks put together?

This was the joy of my life. The making of this album was so much fun, because it was this amazing process of layering sounds and watching the songs, my babies, grow and grow to be larger than I could even imagine.

I always swear that angels were in the studio guiding me every step of the way. Whatever I needed at the time, seemed to appear. I did not even know how to play piano very well, but I taught myself the chords I needed, as I went along in the studio. The parts I played were very simple, actually, but once layered, you would not really notice. In fact, my mastering guy, Alan Douches, said that it was better that I did not have too much going on, on each track, because it would have sounded cluttered.

So, even my handicap proved to be an asset!

Often, I had no idea where the song was going to go, like "One Deep Breath" on "the spring thing" album. I sat down and said "What am I gonna do with this one?", and as I started playing the guitar and then singing, the mood began to form. I put background vocals on and then the breathing parts. The dynamics began to appear, including the percussive hits which were added last. That is unusual, to add percussion last like that. Usually, a recording begins with the drum beat, then guitars, bass piano/keys for atmosphere and vocals are always last, lead then backing.

Is playing so many instruments while recording something you intend to keep doing?

Originally, I played the instruments because it was faster and easier to experiment. In other words, I did not have to coordinate musician schedules and/or figure out what parts they should play. So much of my recording is sitting there in the moment and strumming or tapping the keys and saying "Mmmm. Do I like this?"

And I love watching the magic unfold that way. Being alone in the studio with me and my muse!

However, the joint creative process can be a pure joy as well. Over the years, I have been fortunate to connect with some amazing talents, the guys mentioned in this interview, my band, who really know how to jump in and add something special. I love that joint creative process. In the future, I will do a bit of both. There are some instruments like the bass guitar, that I can play if need be, but a real bass player would play so much better.

So, I am approaching it now from the point of view of: Who will lay down the best part in this case?

And more and more, as I see myself as the singer, I do like to reach out to other pianists and even guitarists for their specialties. We all have our own special talents and when we share them, the results are so unique. Like a moment that can only be created once.

I have never been totally an island unto myself. Even for "the spring thing", Frank Rafferty was an instrumental contributing creative force for me. He played guitar, bass and helped tremendously in the mixing. He has a great ear in terms of creating tasteful, moving productions of songs and he is a great writer himself. When I would get stuck on a song mix, I would bring him in, and he always had the perfect touch to make the song come alive.

How have you come to perform so many different instruments? Which came first, and how did you develop an interest in learning one new piece after another?

I first began playing guitar, when mom dug hers out of the closet and put it in my hand. An old, rusty stringed nylon acoustic. I could not put it down! I was really bad at first, but loved playing so much, I kept at it until I got good.

After I learned three chords, I was writing songs. I was primarily a guitar player and songwriter. I had stuff to say as a teenager and writing music was always a safe place to express feelings. The singing came, because I was writing songs. Then, while singing with my first rock band and having trouble projecting over the drums, etc. I decided to get vocal training and took lessons for several years. After that, I felt like my main niche and joy was as a singer. I had little interest in getting great on the guitar.

Learning the piano came after five years with the rock band, when I was recording "the spring thing". I needed to learn keyboard to lay down the tracks I needed! To this day, I view my guitar playing and piano playing as supports to my voice, which is my main instrument. I even began singing other people's songs as if they were my own, so the songwriting aspect of my musicianship also took second place to the singing. But, really, it all works together in the end. They are all connected, and I totally think that even if your primary thing is a singer, being able to play instruments is a huge plus. Stevie Nicks is an example of someone who plays everything a little - enough to write - but does not have to play on stage. Yet, she could if she needed to. Yet, we all think of her as a singer. Flexibility is key in this business of art!

Can you remember the first time you heard one of your songs on the radio?

Yes. A real thrill. Sort of surreal. I actually remember a related incident where on my day off, I was walking down the streets of Red Bank past a coffee house called No Ordinary Joe. And, apparently, they were playing my CD over the outdoor PA, so as I approached the Cafe I heard it and had the reaction like, "This sounds strangely familiar. Oh, wait, it's me!" It was kind of cool. I get a bit giddy and so happy that I put all the hard work into putting my art into a tangible form so that the world can, hopefully, enjoy it! It is like sending children out into the world. I think, "there's my baby out there." Recently I got airplay [with] Evan Toth on WFDU up [in the] north Jersey area and he chose a slow, moody track called "frustration" and no one else has chosen that song for airplay before. [T]hat kind of thrilled me, too, like "Oooooo, my quiet child had the spotlight for a brief moment in time."

A couple of the journal entries on your web site mention your paintings. Are you still painting, and how often do you get to do so?

Doing artwork is really cathartic for me. I like to get lost in color and process. It helps me commune with myself and my spirit. The best part is not worrying about great results. No worrying about an "acceptable product" which is a pressure that sometimes seeps into the music when I am recording. I paint or pastel, another medium I love working with, every week. The amount of time varies.

How would you compare the creative energy in painting, to writing lyrics or composing music?

I approach art and music from a place of feeling and expression. Not thinking. In art, I express through color and visual imagery, texture, etc. In music, there are lyrics; actual language and sound. But, even in the language of my lyrics, I try to create a sort of imagery, not always a direct hit. In the song "pieces" for example, I tried to sonically create a soft, dreamy cloudlike image. For example: a lyric that says "in peace I now look at the world with wonder, it's no longer your cloud i'm under", here is a person sort of floating back into their life and saying goodbye to an old love that is no longer serving them. If I were painting the song, I would use light colors and perhaps cloud imagery. In the recording of the song, I put some reverb on the voice, whispery vocal performance, and this slow melodic haunting-type lead guitar in the background. I like to match what I am saying and feeling with what I am hearing or seeing. I have always heard music in terms of texture and color. I approach recording from almost a visual place. The guitar and keyboards, have different textures to me. Just like painting, pasteling or watercolors have different textures to the artist. As it follows, I enjoy mixing mediums in art. I will do acrylic paint and then pastel over it in parts, and then add ink in places. I love breaking whatever rules there are in art and music. (Laughs.) I have never been much of a music theory person. Just go by what sounds good, and in art, I don't worry about getting the lines perfect either. Just go by what looks good to me and then, do I feel anything when looking at it, or listening to it?

Any interest in trying to sell or promote your paintings?

Not a one! My paintings and artwork is like my private *safe place*, not to be price-tagged or open to any opinions other than mine. Feels great even saying that. Although, I did print up t-shirts that have a design on the front pocket that I created. I will definitely do more of that in the future. And maybe if I do a painting that feels ok to put out there, I will make up some prints and post it on the website. But I don't see myself doing the art gallery thing. (Laughs.) Never say never, though!

What are your short-term plans with regards to touring? Any interest in performing outside of the New York and New Jersey area?

Having just come off of a very successful tour of Florida, churches and clubs, I am very excited to go back and do more of this. It is a great thing for a musician to go to other states and perform. This northern/city area is highly compressed with people and activities, which is stimulating, but at times exhausting! The south is more laid back, so it is a nice change of pace for me. My music goes over very well there. I used to read things from other musicians saying that their style of music went over better in certain areas and now I see firsthand what they mean by that. I feel supported wherever I go, but traveling is a way to expand and enjoy different audience energies.

Any plans for a new CD?

It is in the works right now. In fact, I am answering these questions on my break from recording! I have enough material for three more albums, but the most pressing one is of many of the recent inspirational songs I have been writing. It is, once again, a labor of love to record, just like my first album, "the spring thing" was. I am getting giddy with excitement while working on it.

Long-term plans? Are there goals you're working towards that you'll consider as milestones in your musical career?

Yes! My biggest goal is to stay fully present in the moment, focus on my joys in life and follow those moments into whatever surprises lay ahead - whether it be a new performance venue, new song, life experience, or whatever! Personally, I would like to continue creating musical works/albums that I am excited about and have them go as far as any set of legs can carry them. But also, to always see the triumphs through the innocent eyes of a child who is totally enamored with every little thing he or she discovers and who has no judgment.

Matt Mrowicki

Matt Mrowicki founded Chorus and Verse in 2001. He is a rock star designer and technologist, Internet professional, content creator, and entrepreneur specializing in web development, IT consulting, branding, social media and online marketing. www.imprtech.com