Singer-songerwiriter Anthony Starble joins us at Stir Crazy Coffee House in Hollywood, CA to discuss his latest single “Paperweight,” balancing his work and home life, and his thoughts on the quality of modern popular music.
So right now you are riding the high tides of your latest single “Paperweight.” Wanted to say congratulations!
Anthony Starble: Thank you!
For those who haven’t added it to their playlists yet, what inspired its lyrics and the instrumental elements that you chose to include?
Anthony: So the instrumentation for the song came about when I was sitting down at the piano writing music for a follow up to my EP that I had released in 2014, so it had been a long time coming. It was a co-write that I got to do with a few really good friends who I’ve written music with in the past. We just sat down at the piano, and we had this idea of using the image of a paperweight as a metaphor for being held down by the weights that we’re being held down by, and the song just sort of wrote itself. Once you have the concept and you have that hook, you sort of just know what to do and then the song writes itself. I knew I wanted it to have strings on it because of just how emotional the concept is, and then I decided to do some really ambient and textures with electronic drums and pads to give it a more polished pop sound. Hopefully, it could sit in-between a big singer-songwriter ballad with strings and also a polished pop production. That was the goal.
It definitely came across, so I think you did a wonderful job! And how would you say the songwriting and recording process for “Paperweight” was similar different than that of your past work? Especially in relation to the different remixes that you’ve released as well.
Anthony: In terms of the original “Paperweight” recording it’s somewhat similar. If I’m sitting down to write a song for myself or for my own projects, I always start on the piano and I usually start sort of from an emotional place, so in that regard the songwriting process was quite similar. In terms of the remixes, I had never done a remix before so that whole process was completely new to me. I found my people that I wanted to do the remixes with, and everybody was just so talented and very passionate about the song and had an idea in their head about what they wanted to do. So what you do is you give them the recording and then they do what they do with it, and I sort of gently guided them as I was getting the rough mixes back with other ideas in terms of keeping the emotional qualities but taking it in a new direction or bringing out a new flavor or element. But for the most part, I wanted everybody’s voice to be heard and everybody’s style to come through. So that whole process I’d say was new to me and I learned a lot, so I definitely want to do more remixes in the future. It’s just so exciting to see how one song can change, you know? Each producer has a different style and flavor and has a take on a song and approaches doing a remix completely different than the other.
Yeah. And the fun thing about remixes it that you’ll hopefully reach a new listener that you may not have been able to hit before.
Anthony: And that really was the goal for these remixes. I’ve got like my little staple core audience of singer-songwriter folks who’d like to hear the broody ballads, but you know, I haven’t necessarily tapped into those like cool millennials listening to those more remix-y type, more Spotify playlist-y type aesthetics.
And going along with that line about playlists and Spotify, do you feel that music streaming for modern music listeners kind of puts a pressure to constantly have new things to promote?
Anthony: Yes. I do think there’s a bit of a pressure to always be creating new things, but it’s way easier to put music out now, you know? But on the flipside of that it’s also easy to get lost in a sea of music on this big platform, and to pop out of it can be quite difficult.
And then you combine all the social media facets too.
Anthony: Yeah, it certainly adds onto it and makes it a crazy sea to sort of be swimming in. But I’m still trying to stand by this principle that I have, which is to put out stuff that’s quality and that I feel like really represents my aesthetics, so I’m taking my time on my work instead of putting it all out there. Maybe a little too much and maybe a little bit to my detriment, *laughs* but I’m always trying to sort of find what I want to what I want to say and what I want to put up to remain as authentic as possible in this big cluster fuck of music that’s being put out.
And you can’t rush art.
Anthony: You can’t rush art, no.
I mean you can, but it may be very good. *both laugh*
Anthony: Or it might be brilliant! You just never know.
So do you tend to write your lyrics first or compose your music first?
Anthony: I’m a believer that it’s not just lyrics and it’s not just music, everything sort of happens at once. I think what makes either a melody or lyric turn into what makes it a song is the combination of the two and how they interact with each other. You can have a lyric with the wrong melody, or what I would hear is the wrong melody or feel is the wrong melody. It can also go vice versa where you could have a melody with what I would feel is the wrong lyric. I try to find the synergy right at the beginning of a process of a melody and a lyric, and it could be just a small line in a chorus or it could be the beginning of a song or even a verse, and then once I have that and it feels good then I let the song write itself. Like, if I’ve got a chorus, I know exactly what the verses need to say in order to strengthen the it. Or if I’ve got a verse, I want to figure out the direction that it goes and what needs to be the take away sentiment for the song. So for me, everything all happens at once.
And it’s so awesome to hear that you take the time to really flush out each aspect of the song to make it the best it could be. There are so many cases where somebody can just churn out lyrics and melodies left and right only to just sell it off to someone else and the pieces might not fit as well as what they intended.
Anthony: Yeah. I certainly think that melodies are super important, maybe even more important than lyrics. For me, and this is going to sound cheesy, but when I sing a melody for the first time, I want to use it to sort of take me off on the songwriting train. It’s just got to feel right with the melody because I’ll know right away if the lyrics are wrong.
So going into the way that music is released right now, would you say that singles-based releases are more of what today’s music listeners are looking for in terms of consumption?
Anthony: I think people are listening for small doses of consent that they can throw onto their playlists, but then they’re looking for quick, new content to come out pretty much right after. So yeah, I think multiple singles lined up in a row is just what the norm is for music listeners. But getting ready for a full-length release, I think people still listen to albums. I know me personally, if I discover an artist, say on a playlist, actively, I’ll listen to that song and then I’ll go and listen to their album. Unless I don’t like their album after like three or four songs then I’ll dump it. So sometimes depending on how strong and creative the album is or how strong of a creative voice that artist has, the album could either be a detriment or could be an enhancement. It really just depends. But I think people in general are listening for singles because they’re listening for a specific song, you know? They’re listening for something to add to their playlists and something to share with their friends quickly before the train moves on and something else is cool and new. I mean, so many things could catch somebody’s ear, so it really just depends on what you’re listening for.
Definitely. And there has been discussion about the average music listener is not quite delving deep enough into the lyrics but is more about the melody aspect in regards to popular music. As an artist who really takes the time and effort to make sure that there is a harmonious bond between the lyrics and the melody, would you say that that idea is true?
Anthony: I really do think that it depends on how you’re consuming music and what kind of music you listen into. With modern pop music, yes, I think lyrics are being sacrificed at the extent of melody. Though I do think people are paying attention to the lyrics, I also think it’s more about the ‘sexy’ title and about like the hooky ness of that title, and then it’s about the melody, the production and how the record sounds. It’s about how different it sounds in terms of like, ‘Oh I’ve never heard anything that sounds like that!’ but also about how similar it sounds in a sense that it’s like ‘Oh yeah. This melody is catchy, and it sort of reminds me of that other song that I heard a couple of years ago so I like it.’ So I think lyrics in terms of the pop-sphere and radio Top 40 and such, they’re definitely an afterthought compared to the melody and the production.
And then you realize that they totally used the same melody as that one song. *laughs*
Anthony: *laughs* Yeah. It’s because they know it’s going to be stuck in people’s heads and they’ll play it in the car and sing along to it.
They’re just like, ‘Well, this works so we’re gonna use it.’ *both laugh*
Anthony: ‘It’s gonna make us money because people are familiar with it.’ Yeah, it’s definitely still a huge part of the business aspect.
And speaking of business, social media is a big part of that nowadays. Do you think it’s made it easier or harder for artists to reach out to a broader audience?
Anthony: I definitely think it’s creates an opportunity to reach a broader audience, but it definitely is determinate on a lot of factors like how well you’re using social media and how well you understand how to use it. I’m certainly not going to pretend to be an expert.
I don’t think anyone can really claim they’re an expert because it’s constantly changing.
Anthony: *laughs* No totally! I think your ability to have your content reach people is incredible and is different than what we had access to in the past, and I do think social media is the reason for that. But as we mentioned earlier, it’s also very easy to get lost in a sea of other people and other content that’s similar to yours or perhaps better than yours. And maybe perhaps their content may not be as good as yours, but with if this person is using social media better, then that gives their content a chance to be seen. So it’s all a game that you have to really learn how to play and figure out how intensely you want to play it.
Do you feel like there is a pressure to not only constantly put out content, but to reveal a certain amount about yourself and your personal life to your fans?
Anthony: I don’t know about pressure perse, but I think people have different attitudes about it. Some people approach it more from a branding perspective where their social media is a way to market themselves as a brand. And then some people are completely candid and Instagram-ing everything from them doing mundane things like them just sitting on a couch to them on stage performing in front of thousands of people.
Also what they eat for breakfast.
Anthony: Yeah! Or what they look like after the shower. *laughs* I mean, personally, I just forget to post or I don’t know what to post. I definitely overthink it because I have this idea that I want to create this really branded and very curated social media, but then what ends up happening I think is I get the most joy and also the most engagement out of the posts that are a little bit more candid and just sort of what I’m naturally doing or feeling. People are curious about what you look like when you first wake up in the morning and what you eat for breakfast sometimes, but they also want to see you recording in the studio and performing in front of your audience. In terms of if I do feel any pressure, I think it’s to encapsulate the whole experience and to put myself out there as a brand while also being open and honest enough to be able to be like, ‘This is who I am. This is me in my much natural state.’ But it’s also good to keep a little bit of privacy because I think that’s important to not just be completely open for the world to see. There’s gotta be a little part of you that you keep private just for yourself, your close friends, and loved ones. So that’s my relationship with it.
The love/hate relationship with social media. *both laugh*
Anthony: Oh yeah. I’d say it’s 65 percent hate. 35 percent love. Maybe 60-40.
So you chose to attend CalArts to pursue your music degree. Do you think it’s important for musicians to take even just a few music business classes in order to understand the different parts of the industry or even to better understand their craft?
Anthony: I had formal training in music, so for me, it wasn’t difficult in terms of when I decided I wanted to be an artist and when I wanted to create my own music and release it because it was a natural extension of my music training. The hard part was figuring out the business side and how to navigate it. Like, ‘How was I gonna make money? How am I going to reach people? How does it work at all?’ So if I had to go back to do classes I wish I did more business classes because I had zero classes when I was in school. If I had a Music Publishing 101, or a Music Licensing 101, or even just a Copyright 101, those would have been helpful. For those people that do have that, I think it’s absolutely important to have the formal music classes in order to understand, not necessarily from like a lyrical or melody perspective, but sort of from a music composition perspective to understand how music works, how chords communicate with each other, and how song structure works. I think that’s I think it’s not as difficult as people think, and you can learn enough to be able to write hit songs with only a few classes. So yeah, I would definitely recommend some sort of music education before you jump in and just start creating.
Absolutely. And kind of staying along the lines of music education. Just even in school and afterschool programs right now, it’s either lacking or completely dying out. Do you think there is still an importance to having these kinds of arts classes available for the younger generation?
Anthony: Oh my gosh, yes, absolutely! What I think is most important is kids having the ability to discover art, whether it be music or in fine art or in drama, and to have the possibility of technical music education. But not only that, having the possibility to just have their creativity being nurtured and their boundaries being pushed. So I guess that all stems from the opportunity to have educational arts classes at all. It’s super important. I mean, I fell into music because we had an arts elective in elementary school where we rotated between music, fine art, drama, and P.E. In music, gosh, I don’t even honestly remember what we did, *laughs* but we sang songs, played little hand bells…
Played those little plastic recorders…
Anthony: Yes! The plastic recorders! *laughs* But one day my music teacher went up to my mom and said, ‘Hey, he shows a real gift. You should think about putting him in an instrument.’ My mom was like, ‘Ok!’ I don’t come from a musical family or anything, so when my mom asked me if I would like to take lessons I said, “Sure.” Then by happenstance we found an incredible piano teacher and I just fell in love with it instantly. But because I had that music education in elementary school, I was able to discover that and then it was able to be nurtured. So without those classes that I took when I was a little kid, who knows where I would be today. I might have been set off on a completely different path, so I’m very grateful for that and I do think all kids deserve it.
Yeah. And you hear so many stories about how artists discover their love for music when they were very young.
Anthony: They also really need more time. Nowadays, kids have don’t have any time because they’re just going from school to this after school activity to tutoring to sports one to theater class to whatever community groups they’re involved in, so there’s no time to sit and mess around and figure out what their true passions are. But creativity is important no matter if you’re going into the arts or if you’re going into tech or whatever field you’re trying to get into. Creativity is arguably the most important thing to foster and nurture and just pull out of you so you can be successful.
Absolutely. Now a few fun questions for you.
Anthony: Oh yay! *both laugh*
So you’ve gotten the chance to have your music featured in a few well-known TV shows. If you were able to provide a full soundtrack to a tv show or movie, what genre would you choose and why?
Anthony: I think I would pick a Netflix mini-series, and I would probably do something that was a little bit more period like something that was like 90s. I grew up in the 90s, so the chance to do something that was sort of like the soundtrack of my childhood would be really appealing to me.
Anthony: Yes! Nostalgia vibes all the way!
And if you could choose three artists to go on a world tour with, who would you choose and what would you name your tour?
Anthony: Oooh! I feel like it’d be important to get along with the people who go on a world tour, so I’d probably pick Sam Smith because I feel like we’d be buddies and that my music would do well with his music. Lady Gaga for another one because she’s amazing. And then Elton John even though he says he’s done touring. *laughs*
Oh, he’ll be back. *laughs*
Anthony: I don’t know. *laughs* And then we would sing ABBA songs and call it the ‘Björn This Way Tour.’ I’ve always wanted to do an ABBA show.
And especially with Mamma Mia being as popular as it is, I’m sure it’ll be successful!
Anthony: Yeah! It would definitely be a fun tour.
How do you balance your personal life with your professional life?
Anthony: That’s a good question and that’s a really good question. I think the easiest way to answer this is to say that my personal life is my professional life and my professional life is my personal life. I feel like anybody who’s doing anything remotely entrepreneurial sort of grapples with the complexity of work-life balance, but I try my best to segment it as much as possible. I try to give myself my creative time and then some sort of administrative or bookkeeping time when I’m sending emails, working on payments, all that kind of stuff. So I segment those with time for my friends and family, which would be the personal time, and then other hobbies like physical activity or even just little mundane things that bring me joy like sitting down to read a book and going to the grocery store. I have everything color coded in my in my G-calendar, like, my creative time is green and my personal time is pink, so I try to see as much of a rainbow on my gmail calendar as possible. *laughs* And sometimes personal time trumps over the creative time and administrative time, sometimes creative time trumps the other two, and then sometimes I have to get a bunch of stuff done like sending invoices and emails and making phone calls. Sometimes I spend a whole day doing that. *laughs* At any point I have to be ready to let my career take off, so I just want to give as much time to my friends and family and loved ones as I possibly can at any moment in order to create whatever bit of balance that I have. If it looks like my calendar is a big beautiful colorful email calendar then I’m happy, but if it’s leaning all towards one a little bit towards one color then I’m like, ‘Ok, let me see if I can add a little bit more creative time in this month.’ or ‘Let me see if I can go away for the weekend with my guy because I’m missing that color in my calendar.’
You’ll find it for sure.
Anthony: Oh yeah definitely. That’s an ongoing question and I think the balance changes at times. Like, I think asking Beyoncé that question would be even more difficult. So if I ever become Beyoncé level I would say you’ll have to ask me again to see if anything changes.*laughs* Or even just to see if the personal time is impossible to get in or how somebody who’s that busy gets personal time in.
If you could give your younger self advice in regards to where you are in your music career, what kind of advice would you give him?
Anthony: Hmm, what would I say? I mean, I definitely nurtured my creative and technical music side quite a bit. I got a degree in music. I studied classical piano for a long time. But I do wish that I saw the trends coming, like, how musicians are producing their own records in their house. I’m a little bit behind the curve in producing my own music, so I wish I could go back to my younger self and be like, ‘Get off the piano. Instead of spending four hours, like, dicking around *Heather laughs*spend four hours and in Pro Tools and record yourself doing a song so you can get a little bit more comfortable with the technological aspect of it.’ That would be my best my advice to myself.
And what one word describes you as an artist?
Anthony: I would say ‘soulful,’ because whether I’m doing a singer-songwriter track, or one of my artist projects, or topline writing for a dj, or even just writing another song’s pitch for a boy band or something, I’m always trying for it to be soulful, for it to have a little bit of gravitas, and for it to have presence.
What do you hope that your audience will take away from your music?
Anthony: I hope that they feel cathartic. I hope that by allowing them to listen to me pour my heart out and talk about complicated emotions and situations that they somehow become more open to feeling those complicated feelings themselves. Hopefully it ends up becoming somewhat cathartic, hopeful, even necessary for them to grieve in some way or to have it be a part of this larger emotional construct that we’re all feeling. I just hope it opens them up.
Every artist’s goal.
Anthony: Yes, it should definitely be every artist’s goal.
And finally, apart from riding the highs of the release of “Paperweight” and its remixes, what other fun things should we be expecting from you in the near future?
Anthony: So definitely expect more singles in the coming year. Be expecting some features of varying styles, like, everything from R&B to 70s funk to straight up pop. And be expecting a lot more writing credits for me on some, hopefully, big pop records here in The States, but definitely a lot of stuff overseas. So yeah, a little bit of a smorgasbord of everything including new music from me!
About Stir Crazy Coffee House:
Stir Crazy Coffee House got lucky with its location on Melrose Avenue. Not only is it close to all of the various shops in the area, but its intersection is relatively quiet and calm, something that tends to lack in the Hollywood adjacent area. We had visited on a Sunday afternoon, and I was surprised (and grateful) with how relaxing our stay was during that time of the day. It was no surprise that you had clients that had set up shop inside to work on their laptops, read, or even just people watch while sitting in the outdoor patio area. It’s very much the type of coffeeshop that you would have no problem with spending a longer amount of time there with its quirky décor and interior style, welcoming atmosphere, and of course, it’s wonderful options for food and drink. Whether you’re on the go or ready to chill for a few hours, your taste buds will be tempted by giant pastries, a mouth-watering variety of sandwiches (including all-day breakfast), burgers, and salads. Complete your meal with a classic espresso drink, tea, latte, or something a little stronger with their Red Eye (one espresso shot) and Black Eye (double espresso shot) drip coffee/espresso hybrids for the perfect amount of pick me up for any time of day.