From her humble Magnolia State roots to the blood-sucking lights of Hollywood, Grammy-nominated songwriter and producer Garrison Starr is at it again, this time with her new band, My Sister, My Brother.
Starr has had a prolific songwriting career, as she’s released a whopping 15 albums as a solo artist since the 90s, and has seen her songs appear on numerous television shows and commercials.
In talking to Starr on the phone, despite her overall enthusiastic personality, she was expressively whooped after three weeks touring in Europe with fellow band mate Sean McConnell. “I’m telling you, it fucking wiped me out! I’ve not felt like myself for an entire week…but I appreciate you being flexible with time, and thank you so much for working with me.”
Starr’s passion and enthusiasm was palpable and inspiring as she discussed the band forming, their debut EP, (which is being released as I type this) excellent advice for young songwriters, and much more.
Music Mecca: So I was hoping you could first talk about the genesis of your music career, and if you could perhaps recall the moment or moments that made you decide, “I’m going to dedicate my life’s work to music.”
Garrison Starr: I just remember that it was something I was always doing. I was always singing, playing guitar- I was always expressing myself in that way. Mimicking things and people, performing, and always had to put some creative energy out. When I was five or six, my mom got me into piano, and I hated it. But I wish I’d stuck with it. I think my mom asked somebody, and they said, “piano is a good place to start.” They were right and she was right, but I hated the theory of piano, probably just because my mom liked it. I wanted to play guitar. At first I wanted to play drums, and then she said no to that. She flat out said, “no daughter of mine is going to be a drummer.” (laughs) So I went to guitar. My parents have always been really supportive of my music my entire life, so I’ll always be grateful for that.
MM: So when and how did My Sister, My Brother form?
GS: We were at a writing camp for Concord Music Publishing. It was like two years ago or so, but we got set up with Peter Groenwald, me and Sean McConnell. And he [Peter] brought in this verse and chorus to “Nothing Without You”. So we basically just helped flesh out the rest of that song. So we wrote another verse, chorus, and helped put the rest of it together. “Nothing Without You” is a gift from Peter to Sean and I in my opinion, and that’s basically how it started. Those two guys are two of the most beautiful, open, sensitive, just loving people I’ve ever come into contact with. Being with them is like being with someone you’ve been with your whole life. We felt something special going on. We just clicked.
MM: Now what all does a songwriting camp entail? I picture bunk beds and cabins and bonfires.
GS: (laughs) That’s hilarious. Basically what it is, is that they split you up into groups, and they choose the groups. They invite maybe like, 80 people? 70 songwriters maybe? Let’s say 50. I’m probably inflating the numbers. And then they break them all up into groups of threes. And within the groups there’s usually a producer. They’ll put people together that they think- for instance there’s one artist great with lyrics, or everybody’s great at everything, but there’s somebody who can produce. They orchestrate it so they can get a track fast out of the whole thing. Usually you’re writing three songs per group. You know so, imagine that, you’re walking away with that many songs. So one of the days, we were paired up and wrote “Nothing Without You.”
MM: So you didn’t know Peter and Sean prior to this then?
GS: No. Well, I kind of knew Peter. I knew who he was, but I had never written with him or worked with him at all. And I only heard amazing things about him, and Sean too. Somebody was like, “Oh my gosh you’re going to freak out, this guy’s fucking amazing.” And I did, and he was.
MM: I see the band has their debut EP set for release this Friday. What kind of songs can fans of each of yours kind of expect on the EP? Will they largely be in the same heavy harmony, gospel-songwriter type vein as your single, “Nothing Without You?”
GS: Well, for the most part the record is pretty ballad-heavy. We have one, in my opinion, Fleetwood Mac-y Rumours era song that I love called “Forever Now”, but they’re all pretty dirgey. And they’re definitely heavy harmonies. Mostly duets between me and Sean, and Peter definitely had a heavy hand in producing it, and played all the keys and stuff.
MM: Being that you’re in LA and the other two are in Nashville, how does the songwriting process work among the three of you?
GS: You know we just make time for it. The last time we just planned two more trips for me to come out and schedule a couple days each to write. We have six songs, but one didn’t make the cut. [on the EP]
MM: What’s the primary theme or influence behind the EP would you say?
GS: We talked about that, and just musically what blends it together is that we all have gospel backgrounds. To us, the songs all have hymn-like qualities. It reminds us of singing in church. Sean and I really love singing together, and there’s definitely a gospel feel to the music. In a spiritual sense, we hope that the music will bring people together.
MM: Are y’all hitting the road after the release of the EP?
GS: We don’t know yet. That’s something we hope will happen, and we’re definitely pursuing some opportunities there, but there’s noting set in stone at the moment.
MM: What is something you want to accomplish in 2020 whether it be with the band, or on your own?
GS: Gosh, well. Hmm. That’s a great question. Well, I think that this year I want to just embrace good things, embrace success, embrace new ventures, and embrace the possibilities of those things. Instead of being afraid, or thinking I know how everything is going to turn out, I hope I can stay open and joyful and excited to be a part of all of it. I feel like in my past I’ve been so fearful, and I’m trying to let that go.
MM: What advice might you have for young songwriters who are looking to forge a musical path similar to yours?
GS: I would say to be smart, and to always trust your gut. I know it sounds like real generalizations, but I guess for me, I had something special when I first got started, and I let a lot of people get into my head and talk me out of things that I knew were right for me, or talk me into things that I knew were not right for me. And I didn’t trust myself. At the end of the day, the trusting of ourselves is one of the most important cornerstones that we can have. This business is a snake pit. The music business is a shithole. You have to protect yourself and be smart. Know who you are, know where you want to go, take ownership of your own business, and find people who can support you in what it is you want to accomplish. That’s probably the best advice I can think of, especially for young females. That’s a challenge in itself to be a female leader in an industry full of men, and that’s tough.