Billy Joel‘s birthday is coming up, and Rock On Philly decided to celebrate, dedicating the upcoming Songwriters in the Round to the fabled musician. We caught up with some of the performing artists, including Laura Cheadle, Dominic Tursi, Ashton John, and host Jennifer Logue and talked Billy.
Rock On Philly: Billy Joel one of those artists that some people consider a guilty pleasure, or others just shrug him off and, then, there are the millions that love his work. What does his music mean to you?
Laura Cheadle: It’s funny because I grew up on more soul music, but I always really dug Billy Joel and his music. His music generates memories from my childhood and he always has such a vivid story in his songs that create beautiful images in my mind.
Dominic Tursi: I have always had a huge respect for Billy Joel and his gift to write stories that so many people can relate to and find some type of therapy in. It wasn’t until recently that I started to really dig in and analyze his music. It is much more complex then people may think. He finds very subtle ways to throw in key changes or accidentals. He really knows how to turn heads with his lyrics, and chord structures. He has always been an influence of mine, but now that I am starting to analyze his music, I can’t help but be in awe about his writing.
Ashton John: Billy Joel’s music has a special place in my heart, when I was in high school I was really big on him. “She’s Got A Way” is one of the very first songs I ever learned to play on piano.
Jennifer Logue: Billy Joel was probably one of the first singer/songwriters I started listening to as a kid. I was a theatre child (explains a lot) so I grew up singing Broadway tunes. Mr. Joel was a nice segue into the singer/songwriter genre for me. His style has a touch of theatre and flash forward to 2002, Movin’ Out came to Broadway. So, I guess I wasn’t too far off!
Rock On Philly: If Billy Joel were to cover one of your songs, which would it be? Why?
LC: I would love for him to cover my song “It’s Not Okay.” It’s an anthem about equality and very moving. It would definitely fit with his vibe.
DT: Oh man, that is really tough to say. I would probably have to say one of my most recent originals I wrote, “The Story.” The reason I believe he would choose that song is because I wrote that song with inspiration from Billy Joel, Bob Dylan, and Eric Clapton. All of their songs provide a theme and a story of some sort. The story unfolds with the music and it’s almost as if you are watching a movie or reading a book. I wanted to write something with that in mind, and it was surprisingly more difficult than I originally thought it would be.
AJ: If Billy were to cover one of my songs it would probably be “Old Familiar Love” just because the style seems right up his alley [laughs].
JL: That’s tough! I’d probably say “Can’t Sleep,” because while I normally play guitar on it, it would be even better with Billy Joel on piano.
Rock On Philly: What are some of the challenges that come with covering a song that you think most people don’t realize?
LC: One of the main challenges is getting the original version out of your audience’s mind. I love to personally make the song my own. Once I make it my own completely, I feel much more comfortable and more like myself. Putting your own spin on a cover song shows your true artistry.
DT: The number one challenge people have, without noticing, is making the song “their own.” When people hear a cover, they don’t want to hear someone trying to sing or play like the artist they are covering. They want you to sing/play like you. That’s why they are watching you!
AJ: The challenges that are faced are mainly just trying to get the song to a relatable point. Even if people aren’t familiar with the individual track, you can still convey your message with a strong arrangement.
JL: The biggest challenge I think is finding your own voice with the song. The best covers for me are ones that interpret the original in a unique way. Another challenge is shaking off the nerves and just owning your rendition.
Rock On Philly: What was the first–or the earliest to memory–song that you covered? What was that experience like?
LC: Since a baby performer, I have been covering Stevie Wonder songs since my father is such a huge influence in my music and I was basically raised with that music. With my band being all family, I have always ended my sets with a tribute to Stevie Wonder and funky music. The audience always loves it!
DT: “Banana Pancakes” by Jack Johnson! To this day, it is one of my favorite tunes, only because it holds so many memories. Jack Johnson was one of my first huge inspirations in music, and still is today, although Jason has taken the number one spot… Sorry, Jack. Although, Jill Scott has been really creeping up to the top spot lately
AJ: The first song I ever covered unfortunately was “Wonder Wall” which I suppose is where everyone starts. The experience was good until playing it became the bane of my existence [laughs]. Now, I cringe if I hear it at open mics.
JL: This is tough! I’ve been singing since I was a baby so obviously everything I sang was a cover, I guess. One that I remember, and it was only because it was captured on a video camera, was a cover of Mariah Carey’s “Vision of Love” for a vocal recital. I was obsessed with Mariah as a kid and studied her note for note. It was great practice, but I hadn’t found my own voice yet. I think if I saw the video now I’d totally cringe and turn it off.
Rock On Philly: Billy Joel’s birthday is on May 9th, a couple of days after the Songwriters in the Round. If you could throw a Songwriters in the Round for a performer’s birthday, who would you pick? What kind of party would it be?
LC: I would pick a James Brown themed birthday party! The party would great energy and funky music. That would be super fun acoustic too :-).
DT: It would have to be Jason Mraz. I would have it somewhere like a tea lounge, with oriental rugs, couches, and dim lighting everywhere. It would just be relaxed vibes and inspirational tunes all night, with the occasional reggae jam, of course. Jason is a really chill dude with a go with the flow vibe, so it would be interesting to see where the night would go [laughs].
AJ: I’m gonna go ahead and use the term “performer” loosely, because I’d like to throw a party of Peewee Herman. It would be themed like his show and probably would be a killer time.
JL: I think David Bowie would be fun! We could all dress up, too.
Rock On Philly: Recently, the Rock On Philly staff picked our favorite Guilty Pleasures–the artists whom we might not always be willing to admit we love. Who is your guilty pleasure?
LC: My guilty pleasure would be Hanson! I grew up with them and they bring back great memories
DT: Taylor Swift… She’s beautiful and her music, especially her last album, is killer. A few songs are questionable on the album, but over all, it is the perfect example of a utopic record deal where the artist has a lot of the say in what music they write and release.
AJ: My guilty pleasure is John Mayer. A lot of people knock him because they say he’s a mean fella when it comes to the ladies, but truthfully he’s the reason I play music. His genre and writing style mesh perfectly with mine, mainly because he’s my biggest influence. Some people claim that he’s corny, but I honestly believe he is one of the greatest song writers of our generation.
JL: I already confessed my *NSYNC obsession. Here’s an opportunity to confess my obsession with Spanish pop: I really love Shakira’s music from her early days, beginning with Pies Descalzos. The songs have a classic pop/rock structure, but the lyrics are incredible. All of her Spanish lyrics are worth a closer look. She’s absolutely brilliant. I consider this a guilty pleasure because I find myself going back to her old school music some days when I should be discovering new sounds for Rock On Philly.
Rock On Philly: Let’s talk about you. How would you describe your music? What TV or movie soundtrack would you fit best in?
LC: My music is a mix of blues, soul, R&B with a singer-songwriter twist. A great TV show for my music would be True Blood, even though it ended already :-). I always saw some of my sultry songs on that show!
DT: All of my music is different. It’s really hard to put me really in one category. My first album was very upbeat and alive. I could see that music in happy movies, of chick flicks. Hey, don’t laugh, that’s a huge score as a musician to be discovered! My second album will be much more relaxed and laid back, more inspirational. I could see it being played in movies such as The Secret Life of Walter Mitty or some type of travel or inspirational indie film. I’d love to get my music anywhere it could possibly fit. I write about things in life that make people really think about our existence and finding ourselves. I believe that to be the most important aspect of one’s life and journey. So any movie with that outlook, I believe my music could fit in!
AJ: Our music is a bit of a mix between folk/indie/pop/R&B and a little bit of funk. To be honest, I’m not exactly sure where we would for into a movie, though I think we’d be pretty flexible. I like to think our music has the ability to span multiple platforms and emotions. Though if I had to choose I see us being on Orange Is The New Black‘s soundtrack
JL: Ah, that is tough to say right now because I haven’t recorded a new album in years but have been performing a ton, which has changed my approach to everything. As far as my latest record, The Split Sessions, it’s earthy and dark for the most part. I think it would do well on a Vampire show of sorts. I couldn’t give you names because all I have is Netflix. Is True Blood still on?
Songwriters in the Round: Billy Joel Edition will take place Thursday, May 7th at the Tin Angel. Buy tickets here.
Featured image retrieved via the artist’s Facebook page.