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Interviews: Shwa Losben

Shwa Losben: Interview
March 2008
By: Lauren Jonik

Blending the lyrical and melodic sensibilities of a classic American songwriter, Shwa Losben's new album, Chop, Chop embraces the art of storytelling. A deliberate shift from drawing on the autobiographical to the observational, Losben found that the potential ideas for songs and themes were endless. "It was a big thing with this album, more so than anything else I've ever done before. photo of Shwa Losben copyright Lauren JonikI had always felt that I could only write songs in the first person and that it had to be about my life. On this album in particular, I made a conscious effort to mix up the narratives. There is a song based on a friend of mine, a song about a dream, a song about a relationship that I wasn't in, stories that have absolutely nothing to do with anything that I have ever experienced," Losben explains before continuing, "It was a big step in expanding the whole songwriting process and I hope it's a path that I can continue down."

After growing up in the suburban Philadelphia area and then attending college in Washington, DC, Losben now calls NYC - and the road - home. "New York has turned me more into a writer. I've been focusing on it a lot more. I see a lot of shows supporting friends and there's a nice little creative energy off of it that you can't help but to absorb." On describing his current writing process, Losben says that he is inspired by melodies first. "The best songs I've written have just come to me and were inspired by something that caused me to take a step back. If a melody sticks in your head, you can always change the production of a song." Losben feels that attending Late Night at Rockwood Music Hall, a weekly event where local musicians perform cover songs, has influenced his realization of the importance of strong, catchy melodies. "That's one of the cool thing about Late Night in that there are pop songs that can be incredibly cheesy with horrible production, but if you put the right beat and rock music behind them, the melodies are timeless."

It was at Late Night that Shwa Losben first played Walkin' On Sunshine by Katrina and the Waves, a song that is now often included in his own set. "I wanted to make it dark because it's such an optimistic song, which if you study the lyrics, it's really not that optimistic. She's away from this dude that she really likes. There's something to be said for making really happy songs dark and the other way around too." And, on that particular evening, Losben remembers, "A couple of the guys from Counting Crows were sitting in. I grew up listening to them, so I was pretty floored by it."

Chop, Chop was produced and engineered by Texas-based musicians Johnny Goudie and Taylor Davis. Losben first crossed paths with Davis at a college booking conference three years ago and then, met Goudie through Davis. "I've gone to Texas at least once a year since meeting them and have played at places like Flipnotics and Momo's in Austin." Davis and Losben toured together in 2005 and afterward, Davis told Losben that "there were a few songs that I had been playing live that we could do together and it grew from that." Goudie opened his studio to them and the three worked on the album together.

Frequently touring, Losben enjoys bringing his music to new audiences and endeavors to reinvent his songs. "I've made it a conscious effort to make every show different lately and in the process, it's a chance to be more creative by changing the set as much as possible and doing things that are maybe counterintuitive to see how to expand the songs a little bit.. Whenever I go to another town and people are singing the words to songs, it's one of the best feelings." When drawing in audiences, Losben jokes that "talent is a far worse motivator than peer pressure and guilt," before continuing, "Seriously though, at the end of the day, if we can get people singing along or bobbing their heads in unison, then something has gone right."

Interview originally appeared in IndieSoundsNY (Issue #30 March 2008).