Saturday, March 26, 2011

Celebrity Saturday: Meet Joe Schermann

He's a composer, a singer and vocal coach, an actor, a poet - there's practically nothing this guy can't do, and I've seen it with my own eyes.  He holds a BFA in Musical Theatre Performance from Viterbo University, and knows the life of the starving (but soon to be filthy rich) artist intimately.  He's come to talk to us about himself, but in particular his writing - and this interview illuminates that whether it be music, lyrics or novels, the same rules of the game apply.  Everyone... meet Joe Schermann!

Cayla: Welcome Joe! You are an artist extraordinaire. You sing, you act, you compose music – what would you say is your favorite art form, if you had to choose one?

Joe: Writing musical theatre tunes has to be the most personally rewarding of my trades once the work comes to fruition. To create something and hand it off to another actor or actors and allow them to interpret it and shape it in their own way and then see what comes of it is just unendingly thrilling to me. And I really love musical theatre so much, it’s such a lovely and unique way of telling a story that I believe has the most potential for really touching an audience.

Cayla: Were you one of those crazy child prodigies like Mozart, where someone put a piano in front of you and symphonies just started flowing out?

Joe: Yes and no. I picked up piano very easily as a child… this was both good and bad. While it was great for me as a kid to find something I was naturally good at (at that point in my life all I’d ever tried in terms of recreational activities were some sports and I was beyond terrible at all of them) it also made me not want to work as hard at it, and when it came time to really get serious about my work as a pianist, I just wasn’t ready to take on the work I needed to take on in order to succeed. So, I stopped taking lessons before I hit high school. It wasn’t until I started working as an accompanist in college that I started to really get serious about playing piano well again.

As far as song-writing goes, that depends on whom you ask. I have friends and family who are no slouches when it comes to music (including my mother, a band director in her last year of teaching) that swear by the stuff I was writing when I got started in high school. I personally look at my first batch of songs, and my first show for that matter, and I cringe. To myself the marks of inexperience are obvious. Having said that, I’m not at all ashamed of my early work, and I’m downright proud of just how productive I was at an early age. I wrote about 50 songs between February of my junior year of high school and my graduation the next year. I still play about three of those songs regularly, and I would file most of the other 47 under “terrible.” But I think it’s very important for any writer or artist, when they first get started, to allow themselves to stop thinking so hard about what they’re doing and just be terrible. Just write as much as you can and don’t worry about how much of it is actually any good. I think of it as working out a particular muscle, the more one does it, the more one develops that muscle and the stronger that muscle gets. It’s the same with writing, the more you do it, the more you develop your instincts and skills as a writer. I also feel that this is why it’s important to start writing as young as possible, because the older you get the more self-conscious you get, and the less willing you are to just throw caution to the wind and allow yourself to develop.

So, in short, yes and no to the above question. :)

Cayla: You’re from Minnesota, studied Musical Theatre at Viterbo University in Wisconsin, and are now living in New York – how did you make the transition from Midwestern boy to fast-talking east coaster? Was the adjustment difficult?

Joe: My first job out of college was a production of Les Miserables in New Bedford, MA, which I got from auditioning at the New England Theatre Conference that year. I was in the male ensemble, and was sharing housing with the other seven non-union actors in the production who weren’t locals. The eight of us all became fast friends. Most of these folks were either from New York or were planning on moving there very shortly. So, I simply decided to follow suit, since I knew I wanted to be in NYC in the long run anyway.

As for the transition, it was incredibly difficult, but I did not make my move in a very intelligent or reasonable fashion. I approached the move more as an adventure, a chance to test my mettle. Whereas most people move to the city with thousands of dollars in savings, a solid place to live and a day-job awaiting them, I moved with enough money for maybe a month’s rent, a month-long sublet and no job. The first few months were very scary; it looked like it was going to be a pretty short-lived adventure as I was barely surviving off the occasional odd accompaniment/vocal coaching job and favors from friends and family. Then a few months into it, I got a day-job at a restaurant AND a music directing gig upstate within a week. Since then life’s been significantly more steady both in terms of theatre work and day-job income, though I’ve mixed things up a bit by quitting the restaurant business last month in order to devote all of my time to my artistic pursuits.

Cayla: Tell us about the Gary King project you’re currently headlining, “How Do You Write a Joe Schermann Song?”. How did this production get started, and how has it progressed?

Joe: It started with a disgustingly talented young man named Mark DiConzo, who I met and worked with on the above-mentioned production of Les Miz (and whom you can see in the film, he’s the handsome bald fellow in the trailers). Mr. DiConzo had worked with Gary King on one of his earlier projects, the indie drama “New York Lately.” Not too long after I had settled into New York, Mark pointed Mr. King in the direction of my YouTube page, which prompted Gary to call a meeting between all three of us. It was at this meeting that Gary proposed to me the idea of an indie musical drama, which he would write and direct and I would write the music and lyrics for as well as star in. The unique title came from a song which I had finished writing shortly before said meeting, which has since been tweaked and will be featured in the film. At first we figured we’d change the name of the protagonist and therefore the title, but soon decided that the current title just had the right ring to it, and since the main character is loosely based on yours truly anyway, it just made sense to keep it as it was.

Cayla: Of the songs you’ve composed for “How Do You Write a Joe Schermann Song?” which is your favorite and why?

Joe: God, I’m very proud of all of these songs, and they’re all very different from each other and difficult to compare because we primarily assigned different styles of music to different characters. Musically I’d have to say my favorite is the title song, I think that might be one of the best melodies I’ve ever written, and the composition itself is very complex while catchy. Lyrically, there’s a tune called “I Hate Summer” where the rhyme pattern for each verse is A, A, A, A, A, A, B, B, A. That took some time and thought.

Cayla: What can people do to help raise funds for the post-production of this unique project?

Joe: So glad you asked that. They can visit our Kickstarter page and make a pledge towards our project. is a fantastic website that allows independent projects to raise funds by setting up a pledge drive with a set monetary goal that has to be met within a set period of time. The downside is that if your project doesn’t reach the goal in pledges, then your project won’t get any funding. The upside is, depending on how much you pledge, you can get some fabulous and creative prizes in exchange for your donation. The one that’s affected yours truly the most is the prize in which you get to request a song for myself and/or someone else in the cast to sing and post a video of said performance online. We’ve also recently made it so that ANYONE who pledges any amount of money will be allowed to choose one word for a song lyric that I will have to write and perform with members of the cast. It’s really important that we reach our final goal here, because this is the money we’re going to need to hire a full, live orchestra to perform the score and orchestrations to the songs, which are being arranged by the great Kenneth Lampl. Here’s the link, I’d love for everyone to check it out: How Do You Write a Joe Schermann Song Kickstarter.

Cayla: All writers hate this question, but I’m going to ask it anyway. What inspires you?

Joe: It’s a perfectly legitimate question. It comes from multiple sources, some more prominent than others, and it depends on the project. First of all, fast-approaching deadlines are probably the most effective form of inspiration, and I only say that with some jest. I think the one thing that holds true with any lyric I write is that it was brought on by something that got stuck in my mind or heart that I just needed to get out of myself and onto a page. It’s really a form of venting more than anything else. My story songs are usually based off something I encountered or read about or saw on the news that shook me to my core. Love songs have pretty much come from the same muse for some time now, but in respect to that individual I shouldn’t go into greater detail on that subject. Listening to other artists do great work often gets me going, so I’ll usually end up writing after listening to any Bruce Springsteen album or watching a Stephen Sondheim musical. If I’m writing music for someone else’s lyric, which I’ve been doing much more frequently in the last month or so, it’s a much more technical, systematic process. I start with melody, because that should always be what drives a song if you want to make it memorable and natural sounding, then the accompaniment tends to just sort of find itself on its own.

Cayla: I ask this of all guests because so many of the readers of this blog are wonderfully book-crazy. Would you mind sharing a few of your favorite books/authors with us?

Joe: Absolutely. Hugo’s Les Miserables has always been one of my favorites, one of the best parts about doing the show a few years ago was it gave me a reason to tackle that 1,500 page beast again. Marjane Satrapi’s Persepolis is something that I feel everyone should read. It’s an autobiographical account of a woman who grew up in Iran when the Shah was overthrown and the religious fundamentalists took control. Art Spiegelman’s Maus is right up there, and is probably one of the most important graphic novels ever published.

Cayla: Last week for Celebrity Saturday, I did an interview with David Andino, whom you know. How would you describe him in five words or less?

Joe and David during the college days.

Joe: “Unfairly gifted, sexy Puerto Rican.”

Cayla: Is there anything you’d like to add about yourself, your experiences, or a topic I totally missed?

Joe: You were pretty thorough. I just want to quickly acknowledge my awesome P.R. team of Mark DiConzo who designed and built my website and Andrew Williams who does my poster and cover work, as well as the photographers who took many of the above photographs, Travis Nunes who did my most recent headshots, Dan Quinn and Ian Hanson. I’d like to remind everyone once again to check out the film’s Kickstarter page and strongly consider making a pledge.

All I’d like to add is that I really appreciate you having me as your guest this week. And if you ever see David Andino, kick him in the shin for me, because he is so friggin’ talented that it just upsets me sometimes (unless of course he’s singing my songs or directing my shows, in which case, I have no complaints).

Thank you so much to Joe for being here this week!  Check him out at the following sites:

Joe Schermann Official Website

To learn more about 'How Do You Write a Joe Schermann Song' check out:

And a little bonus...

David and Joe perform "A Miracle Would Happen"

Thanks to all!


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