Vincent Newsom is another musician I first heard last October during the month of SOTA songwriting contests. He is part of the organization, and as such, his performance was what you might call an exhibition – he wasn’t permitted to compete. This was good fortune for the actual contestants. The song Newsom delivered was simple, melodic, and beautiful. His voice matches naturally with the vibrations coming from the wound steel strings of his Fender acoustic guitar.
It was a pleasure to find that Newsom is gracious and engaging. We met over beers at Joe’s Bar on 5th Street to talk about music, creation, the road to Chico, and fiction writing.
The evening I met up with Newsom, he’d just come off helping put together the talk given on campus by guitarist and seminal member of the legendary Dead Kennedy’s, East Bay Ray. It had been a long day. Newsom’s task was to create the PowerPoint presentation East Bay Ray was going to flip through as he lectured. It should have been no problem, but at the last minute, Ray decided he wanted to change everything, and Newsom had spent the day, right up until minutes before the presentation, putting together the new slideshow. Nevertheless, Newsom was in good spirits and generally satisfied with how the presentation unfolded, though not unwilling to quaff a couple well-deserved brews after a stressful day.
Joe’s is essentially Newsom’s neighborhood bar, and also nearby is the 100th Monkey Café, where he regularly takes part in the Wednesday night open mic events.
Newsom made his way to Chico from his hometown of Newport Beach, where at the age of thirteen he started singing, playing guitar, and drums. By the age of fourteen he was already recording, working with the oft-sited and user-friendly GarageBand multi-track recording program. We spoke about the genuine wonders of the digital realm, and the countless doors it has opened for music-creators, both in terms of music production and distribution, and in seeking out and being exposed to new artists and influences. Contrary to much of the message contained in the presentation he’d just put together for East Bay Ray – that downloading music is theft, and that music should be fiercely guarded intellectual property – Newsom holds a much more open vision of how music should be disseminated and utilized.
“I think music is something that everyone should have at hand, at all times,” he explained, and then took a step further. “Everybody needs to trade around their ideas, and make something great, collectively.” We hashed this idea around – with modern technology it would be no great feat to create a riff, or a lyric, or a passage, and then put it out there, allowing anyone to build and expand on it, remix it, or reinterpret the original theme. It’s something like using crowdsourcing to create music.
Newsom illustrated the idea by explaining an exercise he and his roommates sometimes take part in. In this game, person A draws the head of a figure, then folds the paper over so that person B is drawing the torso of the body, but without being able to see what person A started with. Then, person C draws the lower half of the figure’s body. The collaborative effort can yield creations an individual would never have thought up on their own.
Newsom is also studying creative writing, and spoke with affection about the process of storytelling. He mentioned Stephen King’s non-fiction work, On Writing, and we discovered a shared mutual respect for the master of horror’s literature.
Back to the subject of music, we talked influences. Newsom sites an album by Thrice called Artist In The Ambulance. He revealed admiration for the complex chord progressions of Elliot Smith, and the whispering sonic forays of Iron and Wine. He gave Grizzly Bear’s, Shields, a glowing review, and also spoke highly of Sufjian Stevens, particularly his album, Come On! Feel The Illinoise!
When I asked him about his approach to crafting songs, Newsom talks about finding the poignant melody lines that are hiding inside every chord progression. He said he works “to make something memorable out of simplicity.”
We talked about a project Newsom’s been working on. He’s finished organizing nine songs for a solo album tentatively titled Long Time, No See. It sounds like something of a concept album.
“On the new album the songs are more simplistic and similar,” Newsom opined. “But the idea is that they are all sort of one long song – choices to go backwards…or forward; to breathe.”
Check out Newsom’s available music creations at: