SONG FEATURE & WEB-EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW
Songwriter: GREG FRIIA
Song Video: BONNIE TYLER
Song: “You Try”
Songwriters: Greg Friia, Mary Danna, Anthony Little, Andrew Lane
GREG FRIIA Web-Exclusive Interview
with M Music & Musicians magazine publisher, Merlin David
How did the idea of “You Try” come to you?
I wrote this song with Mary Danna, Anthony Little and Los Angeles producer Andrew Lane. At the time, Andrew was producing the pop group Clique Girlz on Interscope Records. He was looking for a song for them that had a positive message. We came up with “You Try” which was an idea about never giving up—always keep trying.
What is your creative process for writing songs?
There is no formula for me. Sometimes it starts with an idea or title, and then other times someone will just begin to groove and the lyrics then just start to flow. Or maybe you set out to write a specific idea, and then the muse will tell you something different. Then you have to just sit back and let the song come through you. Divine intervention is a great thing. (Laughs)
What songwriting tip would you like to offer?
Show up! I know that sounds obvious, but it’s the truth. Show up, and great ideas will eventually show themselves. It’s all about having a great idea. Always try and say something that hasn’t been said before. For example “The House That Built Me.” I have never heard that said before until the great team of Tom Douglas and Allen Shamblin so eloquently and masterfully put it into words. The bottom line is artists don’t want to say the same thing over and over again, so you have to really keep thinking of fresh ideas and fresh new ways to write them. It’s a competitive market and you have to be better than the top writers who are at the top of their game. Say something they haven’t, write it in a fresh and never-heard-before way, and put a new melodic spin on it. This will always give you a leg up.
How do you keep song ideas fresh—and continue to think of new ideas?
They come from everywhere. I read and watch movies and am always inspired when I just listen to life. A beach always works. I find that downtime is important. Like I said, showing up is a major factor. Sometimes, your downtime is showing up. Thinking about ideas is still showing up. I always push myself and my co-writers to find new ways to say the same old thing.
Tell us one experience where something unique inspired you to write a song that is still a personal favorite.
It’s funny as I have many of those stories, but one in particular that comes to mind is a song I wrote with Mary Danna, Jimmy Nichols and Ariel Orifici called “Wooden Spoons.” Now imagine this: Four Italians in a room, all reminiscing about our Moms and Grand Moms, and the way that they would spend countless hours behind a stove cooking pasta and sauce. Someone mentioned the wooden spoon and it all hit us very hard. Many tears were shed while writing this one because it just hit so close to home. Jimmy and I are producing a Danielle Peck record, and when she heard it, it drove her to tears and she asked to record it. To this day, Jimmy and I perform it live and neither of us can get through the song without tearing up.
How does where you geographically live or travel influence your music?
Baltimore will always be my home, but Nashville is where I call home and have for the last 15 years. I think influences change all the time. Growing up, my influences were that of anything Beatles, Billy Joel, Chicago. Too many to list here, but those influences always stay with you. That being said, it is easy to be influenced by travel and time spent on the road. Believe me, when you’re sitting on a beach in Destin [FL], somehow beach themed ideas seep into your mind.
How has co-writing shaped your music?
I love co-writing—so many different influences, all converging together for a common good. To me it makes for a more interesting song. In addition, working with younger artists has always been a good thing for me. Not 20 years old anymore, you find that clichés and phrases change over the years. So to stay current in the language, it is always a plus to work with one who has a handle on the pulse, so to speak. As I always like to joke, we have all been in the back seat of a car. But when I was a kid it was a Camaro. Today it’s a Kia. Same experience, different language.
Tell us about your favorite co-writing experience.
Well, two come to mind, and they are equally as special to me. The first would have to be working with the legendary Bill Champlin. Being a fan of his for years and seeing him live so many times with Chicago, I was thrilled to finally get into a room with him. We have written some really cool songs together. The second would be working with Rock and Roll Hall of Famer Felix Cavaliere [The Young Rascals]. His voice just cuts through anything, and honestly just stops time for me. Listening to his stories were almost as fun as writing the songs. He has stories from his Atlantic Records days that would just blow your mind. From Arif Mardin to James Brown, he has stories.
Is there anyone you’d like to write with—but haven’t yet?
My pal Jason Scheff and I have been friends for over 25 years. We played a show together a few years back and have been talking about writing for years now. He and I have always threatened to do it, but I’m still hopeful. If you grant me a second wish it would have to be Diane Warren. She is the master.
What was your first big cut, and where you were when you heard about it?
I have had many cuts, but my first big cut would have to be this one. “You Try” by Bonnie Tyler. We originally wrote it for the Clique Girlz on Interscope. They broke up, as things go. It then got recorded by Mica Roberts, who at the time was on Toby Keith’s ShowDog Universal label. She moved on from that label, but she sang the heck out of it. Then a year later, I’m sitting at a Starbucks back home in Maryland over the holidays, and I got the call from Anthony Little, my co-writer telling me that Bonnie Tyler just cut the song. I thought I was hearing things. Never in a million years would I have expected to have a song recorded by Bonnie Tyler. I bought all of her records back in the day, so to have that happen was a pretty special thing for me personally and for my career.
Tell us about your highest charting song.
Anthony Little and I had been working for some time on a record with Consuelo Vanderbilt Costin, a seventh generation descendant of Cornelius Vanderbilt. We recruited Swedish producer Mans Ek, and wrote the song “Body Needs.” It reached #5 on the Billboard Dance Club Songs Chart. That was a big thrill for us.
Who influenced you to pick up an instrument and write? How old were you?
The Beatles, and I was probably about 10 years old. Also, my Mom is a great singer, and my Grandfather was not only a singer but also an amazing piano player. I guess it was in my DNA.
Tell us about any other revenue streams for songwriters/musicians that have helped you continue your career in music.
I am fortunate to be writing for Sea The Desert Entertainment here in Nashville. I’ve been with them for the past 4 years. They make me feel like part of the family. Also, being able to perform around the country has been a huge blessing. Moving to Nashville at a later age than most, I never really thought about being the “artist.” I always wanted to be more behind the scenes as a writer and a producer. That being said, I don’t like to sit still so I am always out there performing and touring—quite a bit, alongside some very talented friends. We love connecting with fans who enjoy hearing the songs from the writers, and who love to hear the stories behind those songs.
Top 5 Songwriters or Musicians who inspired you to become a songwriter?
Richard Carpenter, Barry Manilow, Billy Joel, David Foster and Diane Warren
What instrument/equipment can you not live without—that helps you write, record or perform?
I couldn’t live without my Korg Triton LE. It gives me the versatility that I need. It’s a beast to carry on the road, but it is my right arm—without question.
What PRO are you with—and how do they help a songwriter/artist you?
I have been with BMI since 2003. The Nashville office is stacked with folks who want to help. Leslie Roberts, for example, has been my champion for some time now. Anytime I have an artist that I am trying to help gain some momentum and attention, she is always ready to assist. For some reason, she trusts my intuition and for that I am forever grateful.
What are your Top 5 favorite albums of all time?
Abbey Road (1969) – The Beatles
The Stranger (1977) – Billy Joel
Chicago 17 (1984) – Chicago
Escape (1981) – Journey
Moving Pictures (1981) – Rush
Tell us about Songwriters Singing for Coffee.
Songwriters Singing for Coffee was an idea that I had for some time. I’m a coffee junkie, and found myself hanging out at coffee shops way too often. I love the creative energy that exists there. When I first moved to Nashville in 2001, I saw DreamWorks artist Jimmy Wayne, perform an intimate show at Starbucks. I thought that was very cool, and loved the intimacy created that night. I used my business background to build the idea and connect with Starbucks on a local level here in Nashville. They loved the idea, so we moved forward and the show has grown into something very special. We play several locations here in town and look forward to taking it on the road. Some folks at Starbucks Corporate have attended the show, and they liked what they saw—so we will continue to work toward that. The Downtown Nashville Partnership had asked us to be part of their Downtown Art Crawl last year, so we did two huge outdoor shows for them—which was way beyond my dreams. We feature top songwriters to up-and-coming artists, and have been blessed to now have five sponsors, including M Music & Musicians magazine—and look forward to growing the show alongside them.
How do you define success for these shows?
If the fans have a good time, and feel that they had a memorable experience—that’s success. We always wanted to re-create the “Bluebird” experience. Folks want to feel something and feel as though they are part of the show. That’s all we ever try to do. And when they keep coming back, then you know you are doing all of the right things. We have a built-in audience these days, and we are very thankful for that.
How can people get involved?
Fans can follow along through all of the usual social media spots.
And artists can reach out to us either by the website or email us at email@example.com
What are your plans to grow Songwriters Singing for Coffee?
We are continually looking for new locations to play, and have been scouting out locations for the better part of the year. While we are not exclusive with Starbucks, we do hope to create enough buzz to have Starbucks Corporate realize the benefit of having the show in their stores. Partnered with them locally has proven to be a winner. Since we have five major sponsors for the show, we feel that there are many cross-marketing opportunities for all companies involved. You certainly never see ads for Starbucks on Audio-Technica, Breedlove Guitars, LR Baggs, Mmusicmag.com or BMI websites, and vice versa. We’re trying to merge it all together and feel that it’s a great fit.
What’s next for you?
I am currently co-producing former Big Machine country artist Danielle Peck’s new album, alongside pal Jimmy Nichols. Another project that I’m very excited to be a part of is with Ethan Bortnick. Billy Joel’s music director and keyboard genius David Rosenthal is producing this phenomenal young talent, whose early success has come from PBS. He has the highest-rated concert special of all time called The Power of Music, and can be seen frequently on local PBS stations across the country. David and I teamed up with Ethan, alongside some of Nashville’s top songwriters, and together came up with an exciting batch of new material. I am thrilled to be playing a part in this amazing young man’s career. A personal highlight was having a few of Billy Joel’s musicians as guests on Ethan’s recordings, including legendary sax player Mark Rivera and the amazing Crystal Taliefero on background vocals.
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