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Episode 65: All about SONGWRITING! with Jean Cochrane of Hard Femme

Transcript + Show Notes

Listen to Hard Femme at
https://hardfemme.bandcamp.com/

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Show Notes

In this week's music interview podcast, I talked with Chicago musician Jean Cochrane of Hard Femme!  Jean was less interested in talking specifically about themselves and more interested in talking about songwriting - how we both approach it, how we work with lyrics, how we come up with ideas for songs, and collaborating with others on songwriting - and of course, Hard Femme's newest album "A Layer of Topsoil"

 

Jean is so smart and sweet and has a million great thoughts on songwriting.  My favorite quote from Jean was:

 

"It's very appealing to believe that protecting your own vulnerability is in some way a noble thing, but then almost always in the world, it's better to be vulnerable and open yourself up to being hurt and trade that off for a deeper connection with other people."

Wise words from Jean!

And here's a few links to some things we talked about.  Listen to our full conversation here or read the transcript below!

 

 

And don't forget to subscribe to the podcast!

 

Transcript

Conversation has been lightly edited for clarity

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Jessica Risker:

Hey, everybody. Welcome to Music Therapy!

 

How do people song write? Do they start with a melody or some chords or do they actually hear the whole thing in their heads? Do people use music theory to decide what chords to use? Or is it more of an intuitive approach?

 

Today I'm going to talk with Jean Cochrane of Hard Femme, and we're going to talk about all of these questions and much more on Music Therapy.

 

Hey, welcome to Music Therapy. I'm Jessica Risker and I'm a musician based here in Chicago, Illinois. I'm also a licensed clinical professional counselor. Music therapy is a show where I dive deep into the psyche of musicians. We talk about music, the creative process, music, careers, mental health, the music, business, touring, recording, balancing life and music, and anything else me and my guests want to talk about. If you want to learn more about music therapy and see upcoming guests events, please visit musictherapypodcast.com.

 

You can also visit jessicarisker.com to learn more about me and my own music. And if you're a fan of the show, please consider leaving us a review on apple podcasts. Every review helps us reach more listeners 

 

Today I'm talking songwriting with Chicago artist Jean Cochrane of Hard Femme. Here's a little bit of information about Jean: Jean Cochrane was born and raised in Chicago and has been involved in DIY on and off since 2013. They write and record soft pop under the name Hard Femme. Started as a solo project in 2014, Hard Femme has recently blossomed into a five-piece band to support the latest album, A Layer of Topsoil.

 

We're going to hear some music from both myself and Jean coming up as we talk about some of the choices we made in some songwriting. So let's turn now to my conversation with Jean.

Jean Cochrane:

Hi, how are you? Good. Can you see me okay?

Jessica Risker:

Yeah, but I have this, can you see this fundraiser? It's blocking your mouth.

Jean Cochrane:

I can see the fundraising. Do you think I did that? Or did you do that? I mean, it sounds great.

Jessica Risker:

It sounds great. And I don’t think that that will go in the original video. I didn't know I was going to block your mouth, but I don't want to not have the fundraiser on there. I used to work at Heartland Alliance. Oh, great. Putting that up there anyway. Thank you for being on the show.

Jean Cochrane:

Thank you for having me. I'm a huge fan of the show. I feel like I was just reflecting that seven years ago, all of my friends were artists and now all of my friends are therapists and I feel like you really like straddle both of those worlds and kind of synthesize them in a way that that does something for me. So I'm a huge fan and I'm really excited to be here.

Jessica Risker:

So are those the same friends? Did your musician friends turn into therapists or is that different friends that now you have,?

Jean Cochrane:

That's a good question. I mean, I feel like maybe different friends. I think I have heard that many people kind of cycle through friend groups over a period of about five to seven years. I dunno. I feel like that has happened for me. But I do also think that there's an effective kind of entering your late twenties and in some ways, like becoming more attached to the labor force or like academic institutions or a career path. And I think probably a lot of the people who were artists still are, but have sort of decided on therapy as a way that you can kind of contribute meaningfully to the world and also get paid to do it.

Jessica Risker:

100%. I feel that totally. And it's funny when I started this podcast, I had quite a few people reach out who are musicians and say, this is something I'm doing or thinking about doing, what does this path look like for you? And it was great. I feel like it was a struggle for me when I wanted to be a musician and was thinking about grad school and didn't really have anybody to talk to about how to bridge those worlds. So it's nice that people are finding that, and it felt to me like it was either one or the other, but now I feel like it's not. So we're going to talk about songwriting, which I'm really excited about. But before we do that, what's up with you? What does your life look like these days?

Jean Cochrane:

What is up with me? I feel like I'm at this point where like lots of plans are coming together, I'm executing on a lot of plans and it feels really good, but also extremely hectic. Just like the world opening back up in some ways and being able to see my friends again in a way that feels comfortable. So I think it's something that a lot of people are experiencing, but it's kind of like joy combined with this overwhelmed feeling of doing a million things at once.

Jessica Risker:

Totally. So what are some of the things that are coming together for you?

Jean Cochrane:

Well, so the album is coming out, which is exciting. Or the album's out, I guess. We're having a release show you're going to have, yeah, I haven't put out new music in like six years and I forgot that  it's an ongoing process. Every time it happens. Like there's always something new to do. So the album is officially out on Bandcamp, but we're working on tapes right now. And like, my partner is designing the J-cards for that. We're working on our release show, which is going to be at the end of the month in Chicago. So there's just kind of like a lot, a lot of it's done, but it's not done. It's always a new thing that can happen with it.

Jessica Risker

Do you like that?

Jean Cochrane:

I do. I think I do like that. I'm a very project oriented person. I think projects are how I kind of relate to other people in the world. So it feels good to always be executing on something and it feels like a structure that is in place to help you relate to other people. But then also at the same time, I do a lot of projects for work during the day. And then I start thinking about like, I'm just always executing projects and there's something weird about being productive like that all the time. So I think maybe I should slow it down. I was just talking to my friend Misha the other day, and they were like, I'm not doing any hobbies this summer, like the summer is for hanging out with people. I really respected that. I think there's some wisdom in there.

Jessica Risker:

That's great. I mean, it definitely feels like you see people kind of hitting the ground running, tours booked and all that stuff and it can be like, oh, that's so great. But also, should I be doing that? I don't know.

Jean Cochrane:

It's like the return of FOMO, you know, I had a year of not being afraid of missing anything and now I'm afraid of missing things all the time.

Jessica Risker:

So are you able to work this past year?

Jean Cochrane:

I was, yeah. I feel super fortunate for that. I work from home. I've had a really stable last year and a lot of ways but was super destabilized by - I was very strict about not seeing friends inside. So I think I had a really hard winter emotionally, as a lot of people did.

Jessica Risker:

Do you live with anybody?

Jean Cochrane:

I do. Yeah. I live with my partner, and I think that also makes a huge difference. That's another thing I was thinking about a lot is that I feel in some ways I had the most privileged quarantine experience for lack of a better word. Like I live with my partner. I don't have any kids. I work from home. I was financially stable. There's really like, not, it couldn't have gotten any better for 2020 in the United States. But at the same time it was just so emotionally difficult for me this year. So it's kind of a humbling experience to think, I had it the best that anyone could have had it. And I still struggled so much. It really puts in perspective the kinds of struggles that other people have.

Jessica Risker:

I mean, I was preparing a blog post today was how contradictory the feelings were, for example, excitement about opening back up. But a lot of people are so stressed about their commute again and returning to work and losing this time, or maybe I sort of liked being home all the time, but I feel guilty for feeling that way. You know, it's like all these different opposing emotions or just a mix of emotions about the whole experience. You can be grateful that you had these things in place, but also that it was still really hard.

Jean Cochrane:

Yeah, absolutely.

Jessica Risker:

Can you share what you do for work?

Jean Cochrane:

Yeah, so I'm a software engineer. I work for an app that helps migrants send money to friends and family internationally. So extremely different from music. There's no artistic component to it. But I actually love that aspect of it. I feel like I completely separate from my job when I leave, I have a very flexible job. And fortunately have a lot of liberty to kind of do the things that interest me outside of work hours. So it's a very good gig and I feel very fortunate to have it.

Jessica Risker:

Do you feel as though using a totally different part of your brain, is nice to sort of bounce between the two, like doing a very creative thing and a more analytic kind of work? Do you like that or would you rather just be all one?

Jean Cochrane:

Yeah, that's a good question. I actually think that they kind of activate similar parts of your brain in an interesting way. I feel like a lot of the software people I know are also musicians. I'm really curious to hear how you think about this. I approach songwriting from a very analytical perspective to start with - it kind of feels like puzzle-solving in a way where you have bits and pieces of things. You sometimes have a larger picture of where you want it to go. And then it's a challenge of fitting everything together in a way that makes sense. And that feels really good. So I think that aspect of the work between music and software is actually very similar, but very, very different social situations, which I think is really important to get different perspectives, particularly coming from like a computer place.

Jessica Risker:

What are you talking about there? Could you be more specific?

Jean Cochrane:

Yeah, I mean tech is just like an extremely homogeneous social world. There's a very specific way of thinking about the world, who we are and how we inhabit it that's very different from music. And I think on the other end, music has its own - and particularly artistic scenes - have their own ideologies about how the world should work and how people should interact with it. So I think it's healthy for me to kind of straddle those two worlds.

Jessica Risker:

And you talked about doing a lot of projects at work. Does that require a certain amount of organizational, managerial skills. Is that true? And if so, do you apply those when you're doing your music projects?

Jean Cochrane:

Yeah, I think so. I mean, I was just thinking about this. I think that generalized project management skills are really good for sustaining an active music life, because so much of what we're doing to try to set up this release show up is managerial. Like we are trying to get a permit from the park district. We actually just got a permit from the health department that was a two month bureaucratic process where you had to deliver all kinds of documents and we had to get insurance or no you know releasing a record. I imagine it's pretty similar for a lot of people. I actually have never released a record on a record label which I feel like probably is an even larger, managerial endeavor.

Jessica Risker:

Yeah, I think it is really, really planned.

Jean Cochrane:

Yeah. I mean, you've released a bunch of records on record labels. Like what is the managerial experience like there?

Jessica Risker:

I've done a couple of smaller labels and one larger - for me - label and it was definitely very thought through and planned. And it was months in advance from when the album the recording was complete from mastering to artwork, to production, to publicity, to release shows and all that. It was timed out. And that wasn't something that I did. That was something the label, you know, they're the experts at doing that, but it was interesting to see that and think about how much... I mean, you kind of know that a lot goes behind it, but you didn't appreciate it maybe until I saw it. So yeah, I think there is a lot of planning and it probably is a helpful skill to have if you're in the arts in trying to do a career with it or make things happen.

Jean Cochrane:

Yeah.

Jessica Risker:

But that's a whole different skill set than sometimes writing a song is, it's hard to do everything.

Jean Cochrane:

Oh yeah, totally ! A lot of people think of songwriting as a very expressive act, which it is in a lot of ways. And I think there are also managerial aspects to it. And particularly any type of presentation of music. I think back to Shelby Turner, I think was a very influential person for me. Shelby has organized shows in Chicago for over a decade at this point. And seeing the degree of project management, for lack of a better word that it takes to throw a show, even just in your house, like you have to book people, you have to organize equipment, you have to promote it. You have to host it. You have to make sure that everyone is safe at the show. There's just so much that goes into it to produce that 30 minutes of the expressive act.

Jessica Risker:

Absolutely. Well, let's go back to songwriting, we want to talk about songwriting. So I'm curious to go back to what you were saying before, about how you approach a song and you were saying it's like a puzzle and sometimes you'll have where you're going and how do I get there? And I wonder if you could give an example of how you sort through that and how that looks for you?

Jean Cochrane:

Yeah, yeah, definitely. I mean, so I'm interested in talking about the life cycle of a song for sure. And maybe I'll share a little bit of how I feel like it happens for me. And then I would love to hear how it happens for you too.

Jean Cochrane:

I feel like often they're kind of different entry points where you come into a song or where I come into a song at least, like sometimes it starts with a title that I think is just really interesting. And I wanna elaborate on it. Sometimes it starts with a riff or like a collection of riffs. Sometimes there's a phrase that really sounds like it fits a melody in an appealing way. And you want to figure out where that goes. And then I think from there, there are a couple of different paths that it follows. Sometimes the whole thing just like comes out in one word vomit essentially where it feels like the song existed already on some sort of platonic level and just sort of like came into your head and then you put it down on the page,

Jessica Risker:

The words and melody, or just words, or....

Jean Cochrane:

Sometimes it's words and melody, sometimes just melody, but it feels coherent in a kind of mystical way. I think that is maybe like 5% of the songwriting that happens for me and the other 95% is having an idea, really liking it and then feeling kind of stuck and not knowing what comes next. And then there's like a waiting period. And then you start to collect other little pieces of just things like phrases or riffs. And then I'll have a collection of these and I'll start to notice that some of them have a melodic or maybe like a mood or a texture that fits with other pieces. And then it's like a puzzle. It's like a combinatorics exercise, essentially. You're putting all these pieces together and finding out what did these want to be and how can they fit together in an engaging kind of way? And I really would prefer if that first way was how all songs were written. I think that's how people's perception of songwriting is, is that it just comes out of you. But for me it's mostly the second way, which is just extremely painful, but then there's also just the reality of how my brain works. So I don't know. Does that resonate with you? Like how does the song come together for you?

Jessica Risker:

First, I've asked a lot of people who've been on the show this type of question and many people, it sounds like approach songs that way. Sometimes something will be more fully formed, but a lot of times it starts with a seed and something kind of grows out of that. I mean, it's interesting to hear you talk about how you'll get - I'm hearing you say that you'll get like sections of the song and it's sort of figuring out how do they flow together and how do they create a whole from those parts. But it feels like a lot of people approach it. And I would say that I start with an idea and I will sort of play on it and I'll be recording the whole time and maybe I'll go back and listen, and then I'll cut out something that I liked from the recording and put it together, and then play on those ideas. And then if you see my Logic file, it's like a huge long strip of lots and lots of time, just kind of working something through and then reaching, reaching where it goes. 

Jean Cochrane:

So you're recording while you're writing at the same time.

Jessica Risker:

I'm recording just the ideas so I can go back and listen to them because I'll often take it to bed and then just sit in the dark and kind of listen to that part there and mark it.

Jean Cochrane:

Yeah. That makes a lot of sense. I mean, I feel like it reminds me, so have you read David Byrne's book about How Music Works?

Jessica Risker:

Yeah, it's right there!

Jean Cochrane:

It's such a good book. I found it really profound when he talks about the experience of recording in a studio with Brian Eno for the first time and realizing that the studio was a compositional tool and they were having ideas that they wouldn't have had if they weren't recording. And so I definitely feel that with you, I feel like the process of putting it to tape, lets you kind of separate yourself. You kind of alienate yourself from it a little bit and then you can do parts of it that you weren't hearing before. And you can kind of think of where that wants to go. Maybe separate from where you were earlier.

Jessica Risker:

You know, I will say, I mean I have two types of songwriting - I would say in one is me and the guitar, folk style, but then the other is more experimental. I think of it as a collage and I'll take samples of things maybe that I've created or a friend has created. And that is very much using the studio, using sounds and trying to put them together. And it's, it's less about, um ling a story of melody and more about experimenting with just different sounds and the way things can fit together, but also trying to keep in mind some kind of flow.

Jean Cochrane:

Okay. Yeah. I feel like I hear that difference between your Big Forever record and I See You Among The Stars record where yeah, it's like full band on Big Forever. It's very psychedelic. You can go through the interplay between the musicians and then the latest record is like a very, it feels to me very carefully constructed in a way that it's like fully emerging from, from your brain.

Jessica Risker:

I would say that the instrumentation was definitely Josh and I but yeah, the songs themselves, I would say that's true.

Jean Cochrane:

Yeah. And I think what I haven't acknowledged yet is the importance of the collaborative process too, for writing. Like I think very rarely is a song one person. I think I had entered into this most recent album, kind of the writing and recording process, really wanting it to be a collaborative process. I started winter 2019 to 2020. And then as I was starting to put demos to tape to share,COVID hit and suddenly the possibility of collaborating just didn't exist in the same way that I wanted it to. Like, I want it to be in a room with people and really be hearing what they thought. And so what I wanted to be a collaborative record really became an intensely isolated record, like a record that's just entirely about ideas that I had, hich I try not to be disappointed with it because I think that's a different artistic expression. It's interesting to see where that went. But at the same time, there's such a different energy between an album that is crafted as a collaboration with other people. Even if you have written the songs, just when you're having other people write parts, they suggest things that you never would have thought of that are so much magical to you because they don't come from your head.

Jessica Risker:

Absolutely. So when you're thinking about collaborating, are you thinking, oh, I'd like someone to, I can't think of lyrics for this spot, you know, maybe they'll add some lyrics here. Maybe they'll add a little melody line. Are you thinking more about how they're filling out the instrumentation, but you're bringing the skeleton?

Jean Cochrane:

I really wish. I mean, I think that is a type of writing that I have found really romantic and that I've also never been in a place where I feel comfortable being vulnerable enough to do it, but I grew up on very basic music, but I think like Lennon and McCartney was a huge touchstone for me growing up. And I think that idea of bringing a half finished song to someone and they provide an idea that's just totally new and different, like add a bridge on that you wouldn't have thought of,to me is the source of the magic in their work and the reason why I don't really like their solo work very much, but I've just never been able to get vulnerable enough to get there. I don't know. I think it's something that I need to get over in myself. And I'm curious if you've experienced that type of songwriting and how you've gotten to that place?

Jessica Risker:

I was probably very over-protective of some ideas at first, but as I realized, when I open up things are so much better because people add amazing ideas. I've been looser with that as time goes on. Probably with my folk songs, it's more like here's the thing and let's figure out the instrumentation together. It's more confessional, and personal. The thing I wrote last year that I'm working on was, again, I was at home just like you. Uso it was very all by myself, but with full band stuff, that's been great to hear people's ideas and then you get to know people and you trust them a little bit more and everybody kind of understands what everyone's trying to do. So kind of getting those relationships, I think helps to, to trust that the ideas are gonna come together.

Jean Cochrane:

Yeah, it's like an allegory for a social life in general. You know, I think it's very appealing as a somewhat introverted person. It's very appealing to believe that protecting your own vulnerability is in some way a noble thing, but then almost always in the world, it's better to be vulnerable and open yourself up to being hurt and trade that off for a deeper connection with other people. But it's just so hard to let go of that basically.

Jessica Risker:

Well I can see that being a cool project, like doing an EP, one person that you trust and you're going to switch back and forth two times or something like that. And then the album, you know, that'd be kind of a fun thing to experiment with.

Jean Cochrane:

Totally like maybe bring kind of intentionally half finished work together and then kind of like, see what can you create from that half finished work?

Jessica Risker:

I think of a few years ago, there's a few Chicago bands that rearranged themselves and all the members kind of threw their names in a hat. And for a month, they did a band with whomever they drew out of the hat. It was a really cool idea.

Jean Cochrane:

Yeah, that's another thing. There's a very similar running show in Philly that was happening for many years. I don't know if it's still going and I can't remember the name, but the pitch was very similar. It was like, this is going to be the first show for a bunch of bands. And every band has to be started by people who are essentially like entering into a random band for this show. And then they're going to come together and they're going to write something and they're going to perform it. I think that - again, kind of the combinatorics exercise and leaning into their randomness, I think feels really appealing to me. I'm really interested in where that goes. And then I also find myself so resistant to it emotionally where I'm like, oh, I can't do that. Like I have to have full control over this little thing. Yeah. I would hate that.

Jessica Risker:

I would maybe be open to it, but it would be really hard that basic creative like struggle with someone else , I don't know. But no, I think it's good to do that. I mean, stretching, for sure. Yeah, it does sound a little bit stressful.

Jean Cochrane:

There's also another aspect of it. I think that's, again, coming back to management, I think like the lines of authority and ownership in a group are sometimes , they're almost always implicit and sometimes can become toxic by how implicit they are, where sometimes a group just has a hierarchical structure. But nobody wants to acknowledge that the group has a hierarchical structure and it would probably be better for everyone to just acknowledge that one person is essentially the authoritarian leader of this group. But instead we're kind of invested in a facade of democratic ownership of the group. So I think managing those types of relationships between members and deciding how is creative control going to happen in this group can also be really hard.

Jessica Risker:

That's a big, you know, this is la little bit of a plug here, but that's a big part of what I want to explore in the Group Therapy, I'm doing Music Therapy: Group Therapy sessions with full bands, because you know, bands and fighting and creative control is a tale as old as time. And just thinking about how bands can create amazing things, but they also have the biggest blow outs. And a lot of times it does seem like it's, you know, maybe not being clear on communicating or expectations or, or just people have good ideas and they're fighting for them. But yeah, I think you're right. I think it is a very, a natural thing for humans to ,when you get into group, to sort yourself into roles.

Jean Cochrane:

Yeah. It's such a good insight. I think most bands like most marriages don't last, you know, but I think nobody, it's very rare to acknowledge that it's the mayor to do the type of community of work that people often do in marriages when they acknowledge that this is actually really hard to sustain over a long period of time. And we need to actually work at making it work basically. So Group Therapy for bands is such a great idea and for a podcast. Also drama. Everybody loves band drama.

Jessica Risker:

I'm hoping some chairs get thrown. Not really. Okay. So how has it been for you ? You said that you have gathered a group of musicians to support your new album, and how has that been for you guys working together?

Jean Cochrane:

I think it's been amazing from my perspective. I think I've been very intentional about it this time in a way that, well, I think I have been in the past too, but this time, I just went seven, six or seven years where I didn't really release any music. I didn't do any music stuff. I really didn't understand what I wanted out of music anymore. And I think coming back into it, I realized that the thing I want is kind of the relationships with the people that I'm making it with. And so I think for this group, I really wanted to put those relationships at the forefront. So I asked people to be in the band who I was already really good friends with. It was essentially like, who do I want to hang out with more? Or I don't get to hang out with enough.

Jean Cochrane:

I think I really lucked out that all of them are just incredible musicians and are really inspiring to me in the work that they're able to do. So I'm very pleasantly surprised with how good it sounds to me, but at the same time, I feel like we're sticking true to what I wanted to do, which is, this is always, this is like first and foremost, a fun thing for us to do together. Any sense of the business or promotional side of what we're doing is entirely separate from that. And if it doesn't sound great, but we're having a really good time, that is the most important thing.

Jessica Risker:

Oh, good. Okay. That sounds great. You're going to be spending a lot of time with them, you know, if you're gonna be playing shows, so sure. You sent this really great kind of bullet point list of songwriting things too.

Jean Cochrane:

Yeah. I've got my notes here too. If you want me to jump into those. Yeah, we're perfect.

Jessica Risker:

Which one should we dive into?

Jean Cochrane:

Well actually I think I'm probably looking at it as separate lists from you, but I think one big question I have for you is I'm curious how you define done when you're working on a song. I think songs like all art can kind of go on forever. You can tweak them for ages. I think Leonard Cohen worked on the lyrics for Hallelujah for months before he decided on the set that he thought was the best. So where do you know when you're ready to put something down?

Jessica Risker:

I think that the way that I've sort of solved that, cause that was really difficult, especially at first when the gap between what I wanted to do and what I could do was huge. So it was very frustrating and it was hard to call things done. But I think the thing that has been put into place is I, I have deadlines. So this past year I was part of, still am part of a Songwriting Club and we would meet once a month or so. And that was this amazing deadline where I knew five buds were going to listen to my song and give me feedback on it, but I wanted it to be done and they were people I respected. So it pushed me to, you know, I want to impress them or whatever it pushed me to take it seriously.

 

And so I think there's something about the deadline that forces me to get to a point where I think is complete if I didn't have the deadline, but as far as when I arrive at, okay, I think this is complete and ready to present - I think I just have to feel kind of pleased with it, I guess. I mean, when I listen back, there's parts that I'm pleased with it overall. And then I have to reconcile that with, if it's not a hundred percent, well, there's a deadline. And it was kind of like over time, I had to think what's a reasonable amount of time to devote to a song that you're working on in your life and thinking about, well, I'm going to try to write other songs. So at some point you have to let it go and it may not be totally great. That being said, I have songs that I've had for years and I'll be thinking about the lyrics and I'll have a new, you know, that's the word that should go there moment at times.

Jean Cochrane:

Absolutely. And that's the hardest, I think lyrics for me are the hardest to know when it's done, because I think you're right. Like hearing you talk about it. I agree that in terms of structure and melody, there's a certain intuitiveness to it. To me, I know in my gut what feels like a complete song, but lyrics, I think can just, they can always be better. And there's always a part in the song that is just so much cleverer than the rest of the song. And I think I can spend months trying to make the entire song as clever as that one moment. But I think you're right, that you have to acknowledge that this is not going to be the best song you've ever written. Hopefully not. You want to write better things in the future. You need to put it down at some point and things like deadlines, different forcing functions like that, I think can be super helpful for you do that.

Jessica Risker:

Yeah. I'm thinking about lyrics. I feel like some lyrics, there's been some times where I've thought about them too hard and they feel forced. I don't want to be too loosey goosey with them. Cause that's just, I don't know. I want to put some thought into them, but there's definitely overworking things too.

Jean Cochrane:

Yeah. I think that's so true. You can especially hear it when you listen back to old work. I feel like that's when you hear like, oh, I was trying to be way too clever with that line. Like it's just clever.

Jessica Risker:

You've used the word clever -  that makes me think there's like, you know, some wit going on.

Jean Cochrane:

So maybe I'm jumping the gun here. I really want to listen to I See You Among the Stars and kind of talk about it.

 

That to me is such a great example of lyrical cleverness where just that opening line that starts with the doo-doo-doo I see you coming in my, in my darkest hour humming, you realize like it starts with essentially placeholder lyrics. And then as the phrase moves out, you kind of weave that back into a narrative that you're telling about a moment that's happening. And that's how, what I think of as lyrical cleverness, where I'm like that could've just been a doo-doo-doo like thousands of songs have been written with placeholder lyrics and people loved them, but, but by weaving it in, I think you, you kind of like for me, at least my attention is really grabbed. I want to hear so much more about what's happening in that moment.

Jessica Risker:

I love hearing how you take that!

Jean Cochrane:

Is that what you intended with that line? Maybe I'm just reading too much into that.

Jessica Risker:

I think that that song was one that more, the lyrics very much were just sort of there. It was one of those kind of luckier moments. The doo-doo-doo was - I didn't think of it as a placeholder. I do think of it in part as an homage to, I really, I still love her, but Jessica Pratt,her music and she does that sometimes. And it was a little bit of a touchstone to what I'd been listening to and a couple moments in her songs where she does it. So it was a connection between that, too.

Jean Cochrane:

Sure. That makes sense. So it's, maybe it's kind of like a fortuitous thing that just sort of happens. It's like things converge. And then I don't know what, what I'm hearing when I hear that is I hear the humming that comes later in the verse. Then I see that reflected earlier in the song and that kind of symmetry for me is like just really appealing and grabs my attention.

Jessica Risker:

Great. I love that. I, you know, it's so - hearing interpretations of lyrics, anybody, you know, bands that I've liked and how I interpret them. I mean, I almost, I will say the one thing that I like with lyrics is sometimes purposefully leaving them somewhat ambiguous because I do want to invite a listener to project their own meaning onto it a little bit. I think that that' can be really powerful for someone to fill in their own blanks of what that means. So there's some intention behind some of that.

Jean Cochrane:

Yeah. I think that's so true. And really that's kind of what you're after is the emotional connection with the listener. And I think you're right. That can be so much, so much more powerful when you give space to the listener, to project what they're feeling into the song. And I think ultimately that's maybe where the cringe factor comes in when you're listening to old, or at least when I'm listening to old work where I was trying to be really clever and I just don't resonate with it anymore because the cleverness is like, in some ways a lack of that space that you're trying to give to the listener, like I'm really projecting a lot as an artist and trying to kind of show you this wit and really make you like, see the thing I'm seeing. And it's just, it can be harder you're not in that exact emotional space to receive that. I think it's, it's so much more jarring.

Jessica Risker:

Do you think that it's over-intellectualized?

Jean Cochrane:

Oh yeah. I mean, I over intellectualize everything I do. So that makes a lot of sense. But at the same time, I think I'm also like I'm really - the intellectual really appeals to me. So it's what I want to achieve too. I think being a little bit too intellectual, I think it can be really good, but it's such a fine line to straddle.

Jessica Risker:

Yeah. No, I think that that's, you know, that's an honest place to come from. To me it's all about as you grow as any kind of artist, I think it's all about how intentional is every choice that you're making? And even if you've decided not to make a choice, was that intentional? I feel like if you work at it long enough, you get more control during those moments.

Jean Cochrane:

You feel like you're more intentional with your writing now than you were when you were younger.

Jessica Risker:

Yeah, definitely.

Jean Cochrane:

Wow. And where does that intentionality come in in the process?

Jessica Risker:

Um what do you mean by that?

Jean Cochrane:

The lyrics, is it, you know, is it thinking about the theme that you're trying to address that this song, is it like editing? Is it when you're thinking about, does this all come together into something or do I want to leave this for another time when I can come back to it? I think there's many places where you can be intentional or at the same time you can kind of let something happen.

Jessica Risker:

Yeah, no, I think it's something that I'm certainly still working at, but I do feel like being able to hold all of the, the capacity to hold all of the pieces of the album. So there's themes to the album I want to nod to, and I want this mood to start the album and then it goes there and then it flows this way. And I want the listener to experience this moment of tension. You know, it's just like all these things. I think I'm more aware of and able to hold, you know, and be aware of while I'm working on something rather than just like, oh, this melody sounds great and I'll listen to it 30 times and get super excited about it and which, again, I do not feel I've mastered this by any means, but I feel like your capacity to do that grows with every song you write and every piece of art that you make. And it's just about doing it more.

Jean Cochrane:

It's really true. I mean, at the same time, hearing you describe what it's like to just turn your brain off and listen to something you wrote and be like, yeah, this rocks. I also think about how the more intentionality that I have in a piece of work, I think sometimes the lesser is my capacity to actually enjoy it for what it is, because I'm just so deep in what I'm trying to do. I can see all the pieces that I've tried to set up and in a lot of ways I can see how I'm kind of failing to hit those marks that I want to hit. Whereas like, I think about how so recently my partner discovered an old song that I had written for her like eight years ago at this point, and recorded for a mixed tape as a one-off and sent to her.

And I had no memory of this song at all. At first, I actually didn't believe that it existed. I was like, maybe you just invented this song that you thought was for me. But she found it. And then I listened to it. And the experience of listening to it was so strange and kind of joyful. It was like hearing my own music with someone else's ears. I had none of the context for what I was trying to do with the song. I didn't know where it was going to go. I didn't know what the themes were and I could kind of just sit back, and hear it and experience it. And then in some ways, like come up with my own interpretation of maybe what I was trying to do at the time. So there's a way I think in which I've kind of, and maybe it just comes, maybe it's just a natural part of creating a new thing, but I feel like over time as I've become more intentional, I also have fewer of those experiences of just like really vibing with the thing that I made.

Jessica Risker:

That's interesting. I don't know if that's a good thing or a bad thing.

Jean Cochrane:

I don't know. I think it's a trade-off. I'm curious if you feel the same way too. I think by no means is that a universal experience? Probably people make music because they like the way that it sounds. And they're really vibing off of the music they make. But for me, at least I think it, it feels like I'm hitting more of what I want to do. Like I want to do very specific things with the album that I'm creating. Maybe they're not perfect, but I think I have more control over those things. Uand just like my own personal, like how proud I am a bit is less important now than it was seven years ago, basically. So the trade-off feels appropriate.

Jessica Risker:

I actually have a hard time, even though I don't say this to be disparaging or dismissive of the great work that Dave Vettraino and Josh did on, I See You Among the Stars, but actually I listened back, I'm like, I don't know if I got that right.

Jean Cochrane:

Yeah. Right. I think that's a classic experience. Every great singer hates the sound of their voice.

Jessica Risker:

You know, it's not even that it's, you know, it's the sounds, or I don't know, it's like, are you just too close to it? Or maybe it's just not what you picture. I don't know.

Jean Cochrane:

Gotta revisit it in 15 years. And you're gonna be like, this is awesome. This rips.

Jessica Risker:

So when you listened to that song that you didn't remember, did you like it?

Jean Cochrane:

I liked it! I'm going to put it on the next album. I feel like it was great and I should've done something with it, but I'm also glad I didn't too, because I think that I can present it now in a much more intentional way.

Jessica Risker:

Yeah, sure. Hold on, I'm looking back at your list. So, one thing that I'm always curious about is how academically someone approaches - I mean, that's my word for it, but, you know, are you thinking of chord progressions? And, I know Paul Simon was like, I needed a G6 here because I wanted to convey this tone. And he was thinking about it in a very, like, I know what that sounds like, and I know where it should go and really has his mine wrapped around that. I don't write that way at all, but I'm curious. Do you think of chord progressions - my husband, I think is really good at that. Do you think of things in terms of, is it more of an intuitive writing, I guess, or is it more chord progression ideas of what works or how does it...?

Jean Cochrane:

I think academic is a good word for it. You know, I think there is an academic study of music theory. I think I have really benefited from a lot of that in the past. I've been able to take music theory classes and I think it has had a huge influence on the way that I write. I mean, partly because I'm very analytical and I kind of over intellectualize everything, but I have found that kind of having the structure of theory gives me in some ways kind of a default to fall back on, because I feel like personally, I have very few good ideas, like ideas that I just really solidly stand behind. Often a song will be different pieces of things that I really liked. And I don't really know why I liked them and I want them to come together. I don't know if that's going to happen.

And for me, theory is kind of a structure underneath that that gives you good defaults that you can reach to, to help sew together different pieces of a song. So I'll often fall back. And I think, you know, it reminds me of how I think people who improvise talk about improvisation. So one of my favorite books is this book called “Chairs Are Where the People Go" by Misha Glouberman, which is kind of all about community and improvisation. He teaches improv classes,for lack of a better word. They're like very strange types of more performance art improv. Umut for him, he says like in improvisation, that the way that the public thinks about it is that you're just making up everything as you go along. But the way that improvisers actually do it is you have a structure underlying what you're going to do, and then you play off of that, but you always have kind of that safety net that you're coming back to. And I feel like for me, theory is that type of structure for songwriting in the same way that, you know, h plot line for a sketch might be for an improviser where when I don't have an idea that I think is good, I can reach to theory. And I can say, you know, I think the five is going to be a good way to modulate this key, and then I can move into this other section that I want to move.

Jessica Risker:

Yeah, okay. So you had mentioned a song that's on your new album, A Man In A Dress, was there any of that kind of stitching together and, and falling back to, you know, theory?

Jean Cochrane:

Totally, absolutely. Yeah. And I also chose this one because I feel like a lot of the choices that I made in that song to help stitch together different parts. I see similar choices in I See You Among the Stars too, as ways of stitching together pieces that are in different keys. So there was definitely like, you know, there's a distinct verse section in that song that's in a minor key, then there's a distinct chorus section that's in some other key. I actually don't really even understand because my music theory knowledge is very beginner, intermediate. I don't really even know what's going on there, but I know that it's sort of centering around a B major chord. Whereas the first section was centering around a minor and I kind of need to get between those two sections. And that happens through the major chord, which is the five for a minor and the four for B major, something like that.

Jean Cochrane:

It's one of those two, and I don't really know which one it is, but that kind of serves as the bridge for jumping between both of those sections. And then I also think the like half step move from an F sharp to an E major is a very weird chord progression, but can be very spooky serves as a way to kind of introduce that jumping off point into a new section. So I feel like that happens in both and address. It also happens in I See You Among the Stars where you're going from this easy major verse section into an, a minor, it might be B minor, a chorus section it's the minor or what I think of as the chorus section. And you have to kind of bridge those in an interesting way. And you do that to like an unusual chord choice that winds up being the five for the new key.

Jessica Risker:

That's great. It's beautiful. And all the twists and turns are just lovely surprises in there. And it's very interesting,

Jean Cochrane:

So many twists and turns. So I think what I'm talking about when I'm talking about like that E chord that serves as the jumping off point. So for the verse, like we're in that name minor, and then towards the end of it, switching off between C and an F like the [humming]

J

But then we want to get from that place to the chorus, which is the B where we're going to [humming]

So it happens around that that E chord, which goes from UN can go from that F to the E and that's kind of weird, but then that goes into the B and feels like kind of natural in a way at the end of the chorus, that happens again, where we move from the G to the F, to the E, and then that brings us back to the A minor at the end, too. That's kind of those like pivot points, knowing that the five here is going to be a way that we can kind of transition between different keys that, that lets you sew together, those two different pieces of the song, and it can kind of help like artificially in some ways construct or put the puzzle pieces together when you're writing.

Jessica Risker:

Oh, it's, it's beautiful. I mean, it's great. It works, it feels emotional. Yeah, I love it. I think it's a really beautiful song.

Jean Cochrane:

Thank you. It's, it's very explicitly Jessica Risker-inspired song too.

Jessica Risker:

Aw. We have a few more minutes. I want to make sure at the very end that we come back and talk about your album a little bit more and your show coming up, but let's see. Is there anything else that we should talk about? I'm looking at this list here. Yeah. With songwriting,uoh, you know, one, we're talking about chord progressions, but what about song

Jean Cochrane:

Structures? How do you, I feel like I sometimes lean too much on structure. I think verse chorus, verse chorus, bridge chorus, chorus is like such an easy thing to fall back on. It just always sounds good. But I think particularly on the most recent album, like a lot of the songs have that structure and it was a great way to help me kind of get through the writing process and get it on paper. But then when I listened back to 2014 where I think I was in a much more emotionally unstable place in a lot of ways, I was writing songs that didn't have such a rigid structure. Some songs are kind of like one phrase repeated over and over and then elaborated on. I think there's just, again, it's maybe it's the same thing as the cleverness over intellectualizing, but there's something that just doesn't feel as emotionally resonant about it. So, that's kind of the ambiguous feelings that I have about structure. And I wonder, like how much does structure play into the way that you think about your own songs?

Jessica Risker:

Well, what about your feelings are ambiguous?

Jean Cochrane:

About the, the more recent work that's very structured.

Jessica Risker:

Yeah. I don't think I actually caught like what the ambiguity was just, I prefer that-

Jean Cochrane:

I don't know. It feels like it wasn't to it and I'm like, I know exactly what's going to happen.

Jessica Risker:

There's a predictability to it.

Jean Cochrane:

There's a predictability to it. Yeah. I imagine listening to someone else's album like this and recognizing that the structure is the same for every single song and maybe being a little bit bored by it. So it loses some amount of that magic and unpredictability.

Jessica Risker:

Yeah. That's yeah, I was reading some New York Times - actually I need to go back to it, but it was basically talking about how song structures have looked for a while now, but now with Tik Tok and people are like looking for these like 15 second, you know, this really great moment in the song, that it's actually shaping the way people are structuring their songs so that, you know, you can provide this Tik Tok moment and you get the drop or whatever. And it just made me feel like, oh man, I'm I need to catch up. But,yeah, I don't know. I think for awhile, I really fought traditional song structures. It seemed like it was really interesting to try to work around them, it seems to me like it's kind of the, you have to know the rules in order to break them kind of idea.

And then also just, you know, this goes back to the intention thing. I mean, if you're kind of doing a one word, one note thing that lasts 10 minutes, what are you trying to convey with that experiment? You know, is it kind of experimental or what are you trying to make the listener feel? Are you being intentional about that? I unapologetically love a nice melody. I don't, I don't want it to be too sugar sweet or too repetitive so that it gets stuck in your head, but I love a nice melody that sounds good. And it's catchy, you know.

Jean Cochrane:

Yeah.

Jessica Risker:

So I feel like when I'm trying to work within a song structure, you know, the song structure will lend itself to that kind of writing, I guess.

Jean Cochrane:

Totally. I think I'm also obsessed with catchiness. And so it's like the rules are there for a reason, they help you, they push you towards that kind of catchiness that you're after. And when you think about like catchy as means, too, I think in a lot of cases, it is like measured familiarity or like managed familiarity that a catchy song, a catchy chord progression will often give you something that, you know a little bit already and feel comfortable with and then sort of tweak it a little bit so that you, that like sense of excitement that comes with novelty, but you can kind of feel safe and something that you know, already. So I think that that's another reason why I lean on traditional structures too, because I think verse chorus, verse chorus, bridge chorus, chorus has like that is in some ways the ideal structure for managing the unfamiliarity that people have with a song. And it's hard to beat that, but then sometimes you really strike gold when you find, I think a structure that can manage that familiarity in a totally unexpected way. And, you can kind of break parallel from these, you know, tried and true structures that we have. So I'm always chasing that, but I think it's really hard to find.

Jessica Risker:

It's a very natural flow of the life of something. There's this entry and there's a build and a climax and, you know, it just kind of follows an arc, I think is very natural and it works. Beck is my favorite artist and I always thought he was really great at twisting, you know, taking a chord that you thought would be there and he twisted, he goes a little different direction with it or something like that. It was just so, and I was recently on a car trip and was listening to The Shins, which I love, I hadn't listened to him for awhile. And he is amazing at - do you ever listen to The Shins?

Jean Cochrane:

Absolutely masterful songwriting.

Jessica Risker:

Yeah. Just taking melodies in different directions and playing with the structure, but it always, it's always catchy once you learn the song, it's so great to sing with and amazing.

Jean Cochrane:

And that's the experience that you want your listeners to have, you know, you want them to be psyched by the song. It should be really catchy. And then you also want them to feel like there's just something there that they don't fully understand and they need to keep coming back to it.

Jessica Risker:

Well, yeah, that's another point of intentionality is how accessible immediately do you want it to be? Do you want people to immediately be like, MMMBop, that's a catchy song, you know, whatever, but, or are you expecting them to listen to it seven times before they start to appreciate the twists and turns? And just thinking about thinking about their experience, you know, what are you trying? Not that it's all about them, but it's sort of about them. The listening experience. Anyway - 

Jean Cochrane:

That's a great question. I respect both approaches. I think I've always been very obsessed with the first approach. I think just like I have to be true to myself that I care so much more about, about pop. I really appreciate people who can write for that second mode in a way where you need to listen to it many times to really appreciate what's going on, but you know, people have a lot going on in their lives. I think it's a lot to ask of someone to listen to a song once, let alone seven times. So I really want to get them at the start. And you know, you mentioning Tik Tok I is an excellent, excellent point. So like for this record, I've been trying to release - for each song I've invited a friend to do an Instagram reel video for it, just like a 30 second video for one clip of the song, very intentionally with the thought of like, I think most people I know won't listen to this album all the way through.

That's completely fine. I think it's like a lot to ask of your friends to spend 45 minutes with something that you've made. And so I want to really craft this experience for someone who only has four or five minutes to put into the music. But at the same time, then you do that and you come to realize like how challenging that is and how much our history goes into crafting songs that fit for Tik TOK, like songs that work really well on Tik TOK often it's actually five or six seconds is like duly engaging part. And making the videos, I realized all of my songs have these like 30 second choruses with phrases that go up and down and it takes like the entire 30 seconds to understand what's going on. And like, I find that really engaging. But when you have five or six seconds, which the lesson of Vine was, that's basically everyone's attention span. Like you need to compress it down a lot more than that. So it's challenging. It's challenging to work with the actual attention spans people have and, and make something that's going to be meaningful to them within those constraints.

Jessica Risker:

And fascinating how it's shaping songwriting.

Jean Cochrane:

Yeah, totally. I think there's some amazing stuff that is going on. As you were saying, there's already, you can listen to songs that were written for Tik Tok and they sound completely different in this really exciting.

Jessica Risker:

Yeah. Well, before we have to sign off, can you share please again your new album and your release show information?

Jean Cochrane:

The album is A Layer of Topsoil. The band is Hard Femme and we're going to have a release show for free in Ping Tom park on Sunday, August 1st at 3:00 PM. I'm very excited. We're going to have Anna from the band Ester is going to play solo,uand Erie Ola is going to play as well before us. So I'm really excited to see them play. Uit also seems like it's the Chinatown summer festival that same day, which I just,uso I'm really excited for that. I think it's going to be a great time and one of my favorite parks and would definitely encourage anyone who has a free afternoon to stop by. It's also Lollapalooza. So if you're trying to avoid Lollapalooza!

Jessica Risker:

Yeah, that sounds, that sounds great. well thank you so much. This is really a really great conversation. I really enjoyed it. And, thank you so much for being on the show. This was

Jean Cochrane:

This was a dream. Thank you for having me. And I'm really excited to hear your work that's coming up next too after this conversation and your songwriting means so much to me. And it's such a great experience to hear more about it.

Jessica Risker:

That was a really great conversation about songwriting. I love hearing how other people think about it and approach it. And it definitely affirms to me that there is no right way to do it. It's just whatever way makes the most sense for you.

 

I hope you guys are all doing well out there. Please subscribe, leave us a review and visit musictherapypodcast.com. Music Therapy is hosted by Jessica Risker, produced by Sullivan Davis and engineered by Joshua Wentz in Chicago. Hope you guys are doing well and see you next week!