** Songwriter **
Artists grow, artists change: the hallmark of Norman Salant's career and life. During the long period as saxophonist and new music composer, it was easier to map as he moved from project to project. Songwriting could be viewed as just one more stage along the path, but the reality is that songwriting has always been there, even before the saxophone career took off.
Throughout his musical journey, there would be pauses for taking stock before venturing out again into something new. During those gaps, he would always turn to songwriting. In San Francisco in the late 1970s he spent time with the Mission District poets that gathered at Kush's legendary Cloud House on 16th Street, absorbing the influence of the writers there: Steve Abbott (the subject of daughter Alicia Abbott's impactful memoir Fairyland, currently being made into a Hollywood film produced by Sofia Copola), Dennis Dunn, Anthony Vaughan, Jack Micheline, and Kush himself. He joined songwriter Andrew Shulman's Berkeley band Deakin and contributed a couple of songs. But when he founded his signature band in San Francisco, the Norman Salant Group, it was an entirely instrumental effort and songwriting went on the back burner.
By the end of that band's run, a couple of vocal songs had found their way into the repertoire. This was followed by a short-lived collaboration with a pair of producers and Cal Arts graduates, electronic music artists Roy Sablosky and Gregory Jones, in a project called Invisible Man, which merged electronic music, dance grooves and pop structures with vocals and lyrics. Salant sang and contributed most of the lyrics. This was followed by a more committed move in that direction -- a partnership with former Parliament-Funkadelic/Bride of Funkenstein singer Lynn Mabry, who was just coming off the Talking Heads' Stop Making Sense tour. With the help of downtown New York impressario Joel Weber and P-Funk's (and Talking Heads) Bernie Worrell, they produced nearly an album's worth of joyful, intelligent, and slightly subversive dance pop, combining saxophone orchestra studio effects with electronic grooves and r&b soul.
After which, he returned to serious sax art for a long stretch, and in the process relocated to NYC.
In 1998, he picked up songwriting again, but something had changed. After years of working in a nonverbal form, and with a lifetime of ups and downs to draw upon, translating that experience into words proved seductive. Over time, the writing developed and the songs got more involved, more colorful. Songs came faster and he fell into the songwriting scene, first in workshops with nonprofit downtown arts organizations like The Field, then at the East Houston Street apartment of stalwart Jack Hardy and his long-running weekly NY Songwriter's Exchange, where he encountered the vociferous and cantankerous views of Jack, David Massengill, Suzanne Vega, Bruce Balmer, John Hodel, Frank Tedesso, Tim Robinson, Dawn Landes, Noelle Jones...pretty much everybody came through the Exchange at one time or another.
The new songs were an attempt to put a face on the most moving elements of life. They were songs for today, melodious, intricate, with lyrical wordplay and larger themes, poetic imagery and abstract impressions, and above all honest. The songs were deceptively complex, as the musicians who learned to played them discovered. They reconstituted all the music he'd ever heard, from the Beatles to Coltrane to Dylan to Philip Glass, into something fresh and new. Pop songwriting, yes, but radically different than any particular genre might produce.
When he turned away from the music industry in 1998 and began to seriously write songs, he didn't expect to return. He'd discovered that the creative process itself was his prime motivation, not the opinion of others. He no longer needed an audience. As he continued to write, he developed a large body of work, which pretty much went unheard outside of his circle of friends.
He would occasionally test the waters at some of his early Salons, and there might be an occasional public performance -- an independently produced concert with friend and mentor Frank Tedesso at a small midtown theater, a solo loft concert -- usually promoted only by word of mouth. Or a random show somewhere (Living Room, Mickey's Blue Room, Banjo Jim's, Christopher Street Coffeehouse), a showcase by The Field (Here Arts Center, Dance Theater Workshop), and even an occasional show in Vermont (an accidental meeting in a Middlebury diner led to a friendship with Anais Mitchell) or a drop-in at the Cafe Improv's cable simulcast in Princeton. But that's been about it.
Washington D.C. choreographer Laura Schandelmeier (DanceNow) used some of his songs (July, Riding Horses On The Moon) in her work, and a few other singers have recorded or performed them. But that changed.
[artwork by Kristen Copham]
In June 2011 he suddenly began two independent recording projects simutaneously, one at GaluminumFoil Studio in Williamsburg with Mya Byrne producing and Jeff Berner at the console, and the other with producer/guitarist JP Bowersock (The Strokes, Ryan Adams) and engineer/multi-instrumentalist Mark Dann working at Dann's Tribeca studio -- those three would continue recording together for more than three years. Only one track from the Galuminum sessions was kept, "At The End Of The World," which was brought over to Mark Dann's for final overdubs and mixing. The first 12 songs from the first two years went out on a series of 4-song EPs: Postcards From The Hanging, Tag and Wong Gar-Ku.
Over the next two years 20 more songs were recorded for a project called Yodeling Goodbye. The phrase came from the libretto of Escalator Over The Hill, Carla Bley and Paul Haines' avant garde masterpiece about life, death, and the in-between, which seemed appropriate given the commonality of the songs chosen. At first two songs were released as singles: "Grace," followed by "Nebraska," "Nebraska" being inspired by the publication of Fairyland, Alysia Abbott's hugely successful memoir about her father, Steve Abbott, and their life when she was growing up in San Francisco in the 1970s and 1980s. Steve had been a friend of Salant's during their Cloud House/San Francisco days in the late 1970s, and he'd set one of Steve's favorite poems to music, "Walking This Abandoned Field." After reading the book, he retrieved the song and did an arrangement, now calling it "Nebraska" after one of the lines in the poem ("like rain in Nebraska, after a field was plowed"). The other songs followed and, as before, were released as a series of 4-song EPs.
Yodeling Goodbye - May 2018
In 2017 he decided to release Yodeling Goodbye as a full-length album. He chose eight of the songs, which were then edited, remixed, remastered and sequenced. The release was originally scheduled for that summer, but the manufacturer halted production after noticing that one of the songs contained the f-word (twice!). Things came to a standstill, and it took another year to get the record out. When it did come out during the first part of 2018, it was almost universally ignored, which was not surprising as Salant had been pretty much a hermit for 20 years, and was also abandoning the instrument and music he was most known for. So maybe no one was waiting for Norman Salant's new songwriter album. But those who gave it a listen responded with raves. NBTProject ranked it among the best albums of the year, and Divide And Conquer named it its Top Album of the month. Encouraged, Salant began considering a follow-up.
Always All Around You - December 2018
In October of 2018, back in NYC after a long stint in the country, he began working on Always All Around You with an eye toward a year-end release. The title was taken from a lyric in the opening song, "At The End Of The World"...
As 2019 begins, Salant has begun work on a new album, tentatively called Ten Songs, No Filler. The title came as a challenge during some party banter, and soon after that Salant wrote a song called "Filler" for the album which begins, "Filler bought a gun..." The record will include some new songs and some from the Yodeling Goodbye project. A release is projected for late spring.
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