Hello and welcome to an English episode of Nickos Saturday Couch where I discuss poetry and lyrics with poets, musicians and authors. Today’s guest, Rob Costlow, is a contemporary piano composer that I have listened to a lot while writing poetry.
Rob has released three solo piano albums: “Sophomore Jinx,” “Woods of Chaos” and “Reconstruction.” He was born in Indiana and lives in Illinois (close to Chicago) in the United States.
Welcome to my Saturday Couch Rob. It´s nice to have you here! What is your relation to poetry and what is poetry for you?
– In high school and college English classes, I studied Edgar Allen Poe, Robert Frost, Walt Whitman, Emily Dickenson, and a few other poets. However, nothing has really impacted me more than music. Music is poetry to me, as many times it can be shaped into more than one experience or story. A song could relate to me very differently than it would you. Poetry to me is storytelling through art — the art of words and/or the art of sound (music).
How much is poetry in the music you create, beyond the titles of your songs?
– All my music is based on something I have experienced — good or bad. Thus, it’s my expression, my story, of how that experience made me feel. And, I hope that it helps inspire and create a positive emotional experience for those who listen to one of my songs.
I have listen alot to your music to get in the right mood to write poetry for a while and sometimes you have a very soft melancholy that shimmer in some of your compositions. Where do you get inspirations to your compositions? I think you are doing a really good work to create a sober balance between hope and melancholy, which I feel is present back and forth in your music.
– Thank you. I think your comment ”sober balance between hope and melancholy” is on point, and what I am trying to achieve in my work. Think of it as ”unforced” passion; a natural observation or experience. I only compose when I have a real story to tell… something that moved me deeply. My inspiration comes from several sources, from traveling to new places to memories of falling in love to memories of lost loved ones to becoming a father… and many from the natural struggles of life — stress, balancing work and family, not getting my way (LOL) and fighting to help overcome the evil in this world.
Poets you like to read, that has impressed you?
– E.E Cummings, Shel Silverstein, Edgar Allen Poe — and musically, the lyrics of Sting, Bob Marley, R.E.M., and U2 to name a few.
What do you think about lyrics in general in music nowadays? For my own sake I think there can be some good music out there, but the lyrics often destroys the music with just unispired lyrics. I wonder if it is harder to write lyrics in same quality as music and that some musicians just thinks that the listeners cares more about the music than lyrics in general. What is your opinion of this?
– Yes, I agree with you 100%. There are way too many uninspired (or meaningless, trashy) lyrics in music nowadays. If you’re going to write lyrics, the lyrics and the music need equal respect. In many cases, I connect with the music more, even with songs that contain great lyrics. You’ve got to have a solid foundation in order to properly tell a story or have a listener create their own story — be it a song with lyrics or not. If the music is not ”sound” the lyrics are lost on me. I believe the music needs to be something that a listener can shape their own ideas and stories around.
How important are the songtitles for your compositions? I mean, they are the only lyrics to relate to in your music. Is it much work for you to find the right titles for your compositions?
– Yes, it’s different than I think many people imagine. All of my titles took quite a bit of thought. I try to find terms that truly match my personal experience. That seems obvious, right? However, many of these terms don’t resonate immediately with the listener. For example, ”Woods of Chaos” and ”Tulip Trees” are two of the most personal songs I’ve composed. But, what do they mean to you or others? Probably very different things.
My intent, as I mentioned in your previous question, by sharing my own stories/songs is to help listeners to create their own story or complement a mood or experience they are (or have) endured. Sometimes the listener may have the same thoughts or directly relate to the title of one of my songs… and sometimes not. My music is a little piece of my soul, something I felt had to be shared. I truly hope it positively helps others within their own life journey.
Is it a good or bad och neural thing for you that your listeners have so much freedom to build their experiences of your compositions, when there are so few words in them (just the titles), I mean if you make music with lyrics the whole concept are made obvious (or is it?))) and the listener have less freedom to create their own experience of the music.?
– It’s more of a neutral thing to me. I honestly prefer listeners to create their own experience with each song. And, I believe they can do that with or without lyrics. If my songs had lyrics, I believe listeners would still create their own experiences. Yes, the experience would be more influenced by the lyrics, however, we often interpret things differently.
Take Sting’s lyrics for The Police song ”Every Breath You Take” — the majority of the world took this song to be a love song when it was about a stalker. Many of us still interpret lyrics to how we want them to relate to us.
Have you ever wanted to write lyrics for any of your compositions or just write poetry without music?
– Yes. I’d honestly love to work with a poet or lyrical songwriter one day and put words to (and re-record) my most popular songs. I’ve done just a little writing on my own. Here is something I wrote up back in 2010 on an old blog: http://robcostlow.blogspot.com/2010/01/2010-creed.html