Doug Blumer is an Americana singer-songwriter currently living in Northern California. He has lived all over California, toured and recorded all over America and garnered airplay on most major internet outlets. He currently writes, performs, and records with his band, The Bohemian Highway.
His music, songs and message show a dedication to the craft of songwriting and song delivery. He can flat-out sing. And his great folk-pop song gems continue to flow as he and the band head into the studio this year.
What inspires you to write original music?
Two things come to mind…
1. Some of my earliest memories are of my paternal grandfather reading his own original poetry at our family gatherings. The poems were usually written specifically for whatever occasion we were gathering for and included family references. He would generally break down and cry before he could finish. Every time. I could always tell how much honesty was in the lines. I began writing poetry as soon as I was able. In my case, 4th grade.
2. Like millions of others, my first ‘musician-crush’ was on The Beatles. I remember reading stories about how amazing and ground-breaking it was that they wrote most (and eventually ALL) of their material. ’nuff said.
You grew up in Southern Missouri listening to the Beatles and Buck Owens interwoven with bluegrass, gospel and folk. Since migrating to California you’ve toured nationally with the Westerleys and Dallas Wayne and worked in the SF Bay Area with Valerie Jay and the Americanos, the Cowlicks, Misisipi Rider, the Cheatin’ Hearts, and your current band, Doug Blumer and the Bohemian Highway. How has that broad range of styles and experience influenced the way you write original music?
It’s a double-edged sword, really. On one hand, I feel totally free to write any song I please. Regardless of whether it’s anything I can currently use. It’s a blast. Jazz, Country, Lounge, Rock n’ Roll. I go with it.
On the other hand, it can be challenging to promote my live act because the material is all over the place. One ends up promoting the words – Doug Blumer! – and hoping they mean something to someone.
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The CD you released in 2003 — [easyazon-link asin=”B000CAGQQU” locale=”us”]Ten of Hearts[/easyazon-link] — features nine original love songs, plus a cover of Beyond the Blue Horizon. This is truly a delightful CD with great arrangements, smoky vocals and perfectly suited yet diverse instrumentation, including piano (Woman of a Certain Age), solo guitar (Where We Should Be) and pedal steel on the cover Beyond the Blue Horizon. Tell me about your songwriting process on this project.
I approached that album with a lot of love. Literally. It is about love. Love for others, love of place, love of dreams, love of tradition. There are actual bonds that exist when someone loves something. You take it with you, you are guided by and responsible for that connection. Love is the greatest drug, so I sang about it.
What is your process for writing an original song?
It has changed over the years. I have slowly accepted the tremendous amount of discipline and effort involved. For instance, I have abandoned many, many song ideas in the past. Probably for good reason. However, more often, it was out of laziness. I mean, I started writing that song for some reason, right? Why did I let that initial inspiration slip away? Laziness. Now I recognize the commitment involved. The time, focus and vision that must be maintained for, what? 4 hours? More? Sometimes. These days, I’m suspect if the song doesn’t materialize in a couple days.
What’s typically the easiest part of writing a song for you? What’s the hardest part?
Easiest: guitar riffs. right? Every cool song has a cool guitar riff.
No, actually, I’d say I have the most fun (because it’s the easiest?) with the rhyme and rhythm of the words. The majority of the time, I am going to be singing the dang thing myself, so might as well make it tickle my tongue.
What’s the hardest part?
The hardest part is getting started. Clearing the mind enough to focus on one thing for a while. The sensory overload of modern life is pretty substantial. I eventually moved to the country.
Have you ever written a song specifically for a performer other than yourself in mind? How did that influence how you went about writing the song?
Only once. I was watching Laurie Lewis at Sweetwater in Mill Valley, CA several years back and I got this ‘high lonesome feeling’ that I wanted to express in a song for her to sing. It was mainly built around melody, range and rhythm, not lyrics. The lyrics wound up being about a pact with the devil so I never showed it to her.
What are your thoughts on performing original music versus covers?
That’s a big subject at my house. I write and perform a lot with my wife of 22 years, Nancy Irish. As I said earlier, I was inspired by poets in my family (there were others besides my grandfather); but my wife’s family is filled with poets, painters, actors, singers, and assorted Bohemians. She feels that one should always strive to present original material to the world. BE an individual. Fair enough. I also know that presenting original (read: unfamiliar) material to an audience is asking a lot of them. They’ll need to pay attention, etc. If I sing a song by Dean Martin, Hank Williams, or The Carpenters, the audience gets to “kick-back” for a minute or two. I’ve tried to strike a balance.
However, inevitably, understandably and justifiably, I now perform 95% original material. One cover song I just can’t stop doing is “Gentle on my Mind” by John Hartford/Glen Cambell.
What have you learned so far about the process of marketing original music?
Nothing. Apparently. Because I have killer songs and only about two dozen people know it.
What advice can you offer to aspiring songwriters?
You know, as far as I can tell (correct me if I’m wrong) we are the only animals that actually write poetry. I know lots of animals sing. That’s great. More power to ’em. Some of them can fly, too. Whatever. But WE can write poetry. Good stuff, too, eh?
So, I am driven to use my grey matter for lyrics and songs that other animals can’t match. IMHO. I totally recommend that other humans do it, too. It’s pretty cool.
Tools of the Trade
What instrument do you use when developing a new song?
Doug: These days, a Santa Cruz VJ model sunburst guitar. Although, today I wrote a song on my wife’s Epiphone EJ-200 VS. It just sounded so sweet with a capo up the neck (which I rarely do).
What devices do you use to record your songwriting ideas?
Doug: Garageband. period. Until I get to a studio.
Do you use any software or apps in your songwriting process?
Doug:Occasionally, my wife will whip out her iPhone to capture some of the inspiration. I also work well completing/editing lyrics in Word. It’s just easier than going through all those erasers.
Are there any other items you consider essential for your songwriting toolkit?
Doug: Pencils. Paper Guitar. Check, please.
Music by Doug Blumer:
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[easyazon-link asin=”B000CAGQQU” locale=”us”]Ten of Hearts[/easyazon-link]
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[easyazon-link asin=”B0039073PI” locale=”us”]Sounds Like This[/easyazon-link]
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[easyazon-link asin=”B009A9W33O” locale=”us”]The New Birthday Song[/easyazon-link]