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Krista Detor: Chasing Down Art

Krista Detor talks about what comes first, words or melody, how she teaches songwriting and if she feels like all things in music have already been done.

Krista Detor plays piano with guitarist Dave Weber.

Sing Me A Song, Tell Me A Tale

My name is Krista Detor and I’m a singer songwriter from Bloomington, Indiana.

I think of myself as more of a lyricist than a melody writer. It’s almost always word first.

Some songs come in a whirlwind, and they’re on paper, and the whole thing is finished in an hour, and I wouldn’t change anything. Then there are some songs that I struggle with for years. Sometimes three years later I’ll stumble on the right word or the right innuendo, the right phrase.

Nature Vs. Nurture

I think you can teach anyone to write a song.

You don’t have to be a musician to be a lyricist. Not at all. Anybody can learn to put a lyrical structure together for a song, anybody can do that. It’s going to take somebody’s who’s got at least three chords to make a song, to put together a melody and chord structure.

The one thing I can do as someone who instructs people is lay out a framework that allows a kind of fill-in-the-blanks for somebody who’s never written one. So, if I said give me the name of your favorite pet, your favorite color or some memory, in verse-chorus-verse-chorus structure, you could write a song.

It might not be a song you’d want to submit to the Grammy nominating committee or it might not be something you would even necessarily perform in public, but maybe on the second or third or fifth or twentieth time, you might.

The Times In Which We Live

It’s an interesting time to be a writer. It’s such a wide-open, creative playing field.

You think of these songwriters like Bon Iver. There are so many fine writers out there right now that aren’t necessarily writing hooky, catchy anything. They’re writing really beautiful, ambient stuff that I love listening to it, but I can’t give you the name of a song of his, I can’t give you a melody or a hook line.

I can just give you my recollection of the feeling.

Has It All Been Said?

I have minutes where I think how many new musical phrases can there be that are within the realm of pleasing, listenable, evocative, human? Especially in the market I play in, under this gigantic “folk” umbrella, hasn’t it already pretty much been said?

Then I remind myself of the head of the patent office years and years ago, in the early part of the 20th century, who essentially wanted to shut down the U.S. patent office because everything that could be invented had been invented. And I think, don’t be shortsighted then!

Do I think that I’m going to do something melodically or lyrically thoroughly groundbreaking? I think groundbreaking isn’t necessarily what songwriters are shooting for. I think we’re shooting for crystal clarity of the thought we’re trying to convey, and I think that’s the best that I can do as a writer. I’m shooting to have you understand what I mean at a very visceral level, to be able to apply it to your own experience.

In those minutes when I do start to question why I didn’t go to law school… Especially in this time of the world, the notion of chasing down fame seems so myopic when we’re facing so much in terms of world changes and crises. I think if you do manage to ever convey something emotional, and someone’s life is made slightly better for a minute or two, that’s valid.

Chasing down art if you have any calling for it is always a worthwhile effort.

So yeah, even though I think a lot of it has been done, I’m still doing it.

Annie Corrigan

Annie Corrigan is a producer and announcer for WFIU. In addition to serving as the local voice for NPR's Morning Edition, she produces WFIU's weekly sustainable food program Earth Eats. She earned degrees in oboe performance from Indiana University and Bowling Green State University.

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