The Argotist Online

Home       Articles       Interviews       Features       Poetry       Ebooks       Submissions       Links

 

 

Jeff Berry

 

Jeff Berry was born in Killen, Alabama, USA to a musical family. His mother plays and taught piano, his father plays guitar. He began playing guitar regularly in the 1990s and started writing songs shortly thereafter. He frequently plays in jam sessions in Tuscaloosa and around the southeastern U.S. In 2005 he played guitar on the album Doppelganger Blues by the American folk band Bare Knuckles. The following year he played guitar on Jake Berry's album Naked as Rain and the Animal Beneath. In 2009 he helped arrange a songwriting session that became the songwriters collectiveóThe Cahoots. Members include Van Eaton, Max Russell, Tony Butler, Chris Mansel, Philip Johns, and his brothers Jake and Jon Berry. He is currently working on an album with Jake Berry as a founding member of the band Six Mile  as songwriter, guitarist and producer.

 

 

 

Q: Do you think of your lyrics as poetry?

 

A: No, I think of my lyrics as telling a story in a poetic way. I may tell a story for various reasons but for me itís more storytelling than poetry writing.

 

Q: Do you think it is important that songs rhyme and if so why?

 

A: No, if the melody and/or groove are strong enough then you can sing most anything and itíll sound good. 'Louie, Louie', who can understand the words to that song? But we all love it. Also, I would always sacrifice the rhyme to get the feeling right or to tell the story accurately.

 

Q: Do you think song lyrics must conform to recognised song structures such as clear rhyming schemes, choruses, refrains, hooks and bridges or that songs can also be like free verse?

 

A: No, songs lyrics donít have to conform to any structures. Free verse, streams of consciousness are fine but the melody will have to grab me and hold my attention if the lyrics arenít carrying me along. For example 'Beercan' by Beck, I have no idea what heís singing about but the melody and the groove and the arrangement are so good it really doesnít matter. So 'Beercan' gets you with the music. But on the other side of the coin 'Thunder Road' doesnít conform to the verse, chorus, bridge format but ďThe screen door slams, Mary's dress waves. Like a vision she dances across the porch as the radio playsĒ gets me every time. So both songs abandon conventional song structure but both are still great songs but for different reasons.

 

Q: When you read poetry in school or elsewhere did you recognize any connection to the music you enjoyed?

 

A: No not really, not specifically. Iíve always thought of lyrics as a poetic way of saying everyday things but not that they were poetry. McCartney once said that 'Fixing a Hole' was simply a poetic way of telling about patching his roof, and cracks in his door and painting a room. So song lyrics can be poetic without being able to stand alone as a poem. However, there is a world of great songs that are simply poems set to music. Poems can be great song lyrics but song lyrics arenít necessarily great poems.

 

Q: Was there anything about poetry in books that influenced your songwriting? 

 

A: Not directly. I like the feel of a poem that has a strong meter. In that way a poem becomes like a song with no music. If you can write a lyric with a strong meter then set it to music youíve got the best of both worlds.

 

Q: Why do you think songs are more popular with people than poetry is?

 

A: Recall, words are much easier remembered when set to music. Songs are more popular because people can remember them. They can sing them in the car and in the shower and play them on their guitar. And people want to celebrate, they want to move and music can get most people to that place more easily than poetry.

 

 

 

 

copyright © Jeff Berry