DAVID SAFRAN

What are you working on and why are you excited about it?  I finished a novella called “Fenichel” last October. I hope to get this published soon. Beyond that, I’m co-writing a musical, “The Hotwife of Hyde Park,” gruelingly in development since 2014.

Did you grow up with music in your family?  A bit, yes. My mother listened to sixties folk music. The genres my father admired are better left unsaid.

Was there a live concert experience that impacted you early on?  In 2001, John Cale played a pub in Evanston. I had a ticket but, because I was underage, the pub (Tommy Nevin’s) wouldn’t let me into the showAnyway, I unhappily roamed downtown Evanston when, suddenly, I spotted Cale and his people leaving Pete Miller’s Steakhouse. I approached him, explained the Nevin’s issue, and mentioned I saw him live a few years earlier at the Knitting Factory—and no one at that venue cared I was a teenager. “Well, aren’t you a little recidivist,” he said, snobbishly dismissing me. His entourage chuckled. I felt incredibly stupid, but still asked Cale to sign a copy of “Fragments of a Rainy Season” I had with meUsing a needlepoint pen, instead of a signature, he drew various squiggles across the disc. After rigorously scratching my CD—making his music unplayable—the old Welsh rocker in the neon orange hoodie and baseball hat departed down Sherman Avenue.

What was your first public performance?  I can’t recall my first public performance. But I remember my last one: I performed with a friend who, in addition to songwriting, is a Chicago television journalist. Before soundcheck, he mentioned Rahm Emanuel would be at our show. This rumor swirled around the venue for an hour or two. In the end, of course, Rahm didn’t appear. I played to a small crowd utterly indifferent to my music, and a room smelling of calamari. A pretty typical David Safran gig.

How do songs come about for you?  At the moment, my songwriting process means fighting the urge to write songs.

How do you feel about playing covers and what are your personal fail-safe go-to’s?  I’ve never really played covers before. It’s a beautiful skill I seem to lack. But a few years ago, for Valentine’s Day, I recorded Lou Reed’s “HookyWooky” and sent it to my girlfriend, Emma.

What songwriters are on your Mt. Rushmore?  After my John Cale encounter, I stopped carving human beings into a rock.

What advice would you give to a young musician seeking a path?  My advice? Be sure that alongside your career path there is a revenue stream. The best advice, though, comes via my maternal grandmother, Hilda. Many years ago, my cousin was in the middle of his bar mitzvah, and flubbing it. He couldn’t remember the Hebrew bits. Aware her grandson was panicked, Hilda called out from her seat, “Just keep going—it’s not like we have any idea what you’re saying.” Really, that’s my only advice. Just keep going—it’s not like we have any idea what you’re saying.

Are you jazzed about any new artists or releases we should know about?  Actually, I was about to ask you the same question. I’ve been listening to the same five songs for the last twenty years.

Your time machine is set for the 70’s, what recording session do you sit in on and what suggestions might you offer to slightly alter rock & roll history?  Recording is a horribly boring activity. A studio is the last place I’d send my time machine. That said, I own a Smithsonian Folkways record called, “Calypso Awakening from the Emory Cook Collection.” I wish I could travel back to, I think, the 1950s and watch Small Island Pride record a song called “Taxi Driver.” – David Safran

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GILLIAN ROSE

GillianRose4When did you realize you enjoyed singing?  For as long as I can remember, singing has been something I’m passionate about. If I were to try and pinpoint a starting point, it would probably be one of the many times that I sang through every song in Avril Lavigne’s Let Go album for my parents and their friends (with the TV clicker as my microphone of course).

Who did you grow up listening to?  Growing up I was heavily influenced by the music that my parents were listening to, so I’ve always found comfort in artists from the 90’s and early 2000’s like Norah Jones and Sheryl Crow. Billy Joel has also stood out because his song “Vienna” resonated so strongly with me from such an early age.

What was the first song you ever learned to play on guitar and sing at the same time?  The first time I picked up a guitar it was with the goal of singing along, so I started teaching myself song by song. I’ve mentioned Sheryl Crow, and her song “The First Cut is the Deepest” was the first one I learned as a surprise for my Mom’s birthday. It was rough to say the least, but she shed a few proud tears so I’d call it a success!

What was the first concert you ever attended and what impression did it leave on you?  I’ve been going to concerts since a very young age with my family, but the first one I can really remember was seeing Avril Lavigne when I was probably around 10 years old (the height of my obsession with her). The second she came on stage I started crying, and have cried at almost every concert I’ve attended since. I think it’s a combination of overwhelming admiration for the artists, and a longing to experience what they’re feeling on stage.

Can you describe how the writing process works for you?  My writing process is pretty inconsistent. Some of my songs, like “Already Miss You”, I finished in under an hour because I was so emotional at the time and it was really the only way I could find to deal with those feelings. But other times I find myself coming up with a chord progression and the first verse of a song, then hitting a wall and leaving it for a while in hopes that I’m more inspired the next time I work on it. That is definitely the most frustrating thing as a writer; to feel like you’ve had a great start and a song has potential, but you just can’t seem to find where it’s supposed to go. I’ve probably started and abandoned a hundred songs by now. 

Do you think living abroad has informed your music, or love of it, in any way?  Absolutely! Music has always been a constant in my life. Whenever we moved, it felt like I was starting over, reestablishing who I was each time. My guitar was one of the things that I could always bring with me and be reminded that that piece of me was still there. Having lived in three different countries, I am a strong believer that your surroundings influence your views of the world quite heavily. My experiences have shaped who I am as a person and a songwriter, and intensified the love that I have for music.

As a 19 year-old, what is the most daunting thing to you about embarking on a career in music?  The uncertainty is very unnerving to me. I will forever be happy performing for crowds of any size, and sharing my music with whoever will listen. But to earn a living in music, that all has to be on a much grander scale. With so many talented musicians out there it’s unrealistic to just assume that I will become a popular name, so it helps that I focus more on using music for personal expression. It has also been incredibly reassuring to me when fans reach out and tell me how my music has effected them, or how they enjoy it. I am also attending DePaul as a full-time student so that I will have additional opportunities available to me outside of music.

Gillian Rose (PaulNatkin)
Photo by PAUL NATKIN

 What’s your perspective on shows like The Voice and American Idol?  Like many, I grew up watching American Idol, pretending to be a contestant on the show during commercial breaks while my sisters judged. I think those programs have given many singers a lot of hope, and do a great job of inspiring individuals to pursue their dreams. They have also produced a number of great role models and talented professionals. Though at one time in my life I would have loved to be on those shows, currently I am pursuing my music career in a different way. I am hoping that my small population of loyal fans continues to gradually grow so, rather than a quick rise and possible fall, I can be heard for many years to come.

If you could open up for anyone on a Midwest run of dates this Spring who would it be?  John Mayer! I absolutely love his music and I respect that his live performances are even better than the recordings (which I didn’t think was even possible). He is incredibly talented and I would love the opportunity to learn from him.

The genie nods: your wish has been granted …in a puff of smoke Bob Dylan appears in your dorm room and you may ask him one question …what say ye?  I swear I’ve dreamt about this scenario… Once I regained consciousness from fainting, and the tears had subsided, I would ask him what his favorite decade was for music. And since there is already a genie present… I would then wish to go back in time to that decade with him! – GILLIAN ROSE