I first met Tamara Colonna when she came to record at my studio with Willie Mae, the blues band she was singing with at the time. As I recall, her first words after settling in and tuning her guitar were "I really love the energy of this place. This is going to be fun!" We ended up playing together in several bands after that and she recorded her album Born to Ride at my studio and provided excellent background vocals on my album, All is Well, and Lauren Fincham's album One Red Wing. Tamara currently plays in an Americana duo called Dixie Rodeo along with Bill Gibson.
Roy: Okay, you have an idea for a song—how do you get started, what’s your process for starting and finishing a song? When do you know for sure that a song is truly finished?
Tamara: I usually get a tune in my
head. Sometimes in the middle of the night. I use my phone to
record those tunes or melodies. Then, when I can get to my
guitar, I figure out where it is. Usually the chorus comes
first. I will play the chorus, and see what other chords fit,
and then the verses appear. It's such a channeled process. I
don't usually sit down with the intention of writing a song. It
just flows down from the songwriting angels. For me, it's all
about being open and allowing the flow.
Tamara: I really like pen and paper and have many journals. It's best to for me to physically write the lyrics out. I do end up revising a lot. First, it is a stream of consciousness thing where I allow the words just to spill out. Then, I go back and tweak or find better words. I sometimes do this several times, so my paper looks very messy. When it's finally to where I want it to be, I will type it out.
Roy: Do you look for inspiration or do you write only when an idea comes to you?
Tamara: Mostly, the ideas just come to me. Unless, I really want to write about a certain topic. Then, I may sit down and see what comes up. I try to allow things to flow out at first, and see where that takes me.
Roy: Do you ever write stream of consciousness style?
Tamara: Yes, that is what I mostly do.
Roy: How do you think that being an English teacher has affected your songwriting?
Tamara: It definitely has affected my writing.. I read a lot of classic literature. I especially love Southern Gothic writers like Flannery O'Connor and Harry Crews. I also love African American Lit. I have written songs about Zora Neale Hurston, "The Crucible", Jack Kerouac, and "The Heart's a Lonely Hunter." After reading Steve Earle's biography, I wrote a song about a musician addicted to heroin called "Deep" After Reading, "Here, There, and Everywhere" I wrote a song about John Lennon called "Mr. Nobody." So yeah, I think books are a huge inspiration for me.
Roy: Do you consider song lyrics as poetry or is that something else altogether?
Tamara: Some poems turn into songs and some songs can be poetry. I love songwriters who are poets like Dylan, Leonard Cohen, Tom Waits, and Lucinda Williams. They inspire me to really care about the words and how things are written. I strive on a regular basis to write like them.
Roy: What’s a song you wish you had written and why?
Tamara: Drunken Angel by Lucinda Williams. It's my favorite song of hers. It's a sad story, and the words are so truthful. I love that she pours her hear out in that song. You can feel the emotion and it is so real. I think that is why I connect so much to her music. She sings about the truth.
Roy: If someone asked you to play at their wedding, is there a song of yours that you feel would fit? If not whose song would you play and why?
Tamara: My duo, Dixie Rodeo, has been doing Harvest Moon. I think it is one of the best love songs ever written, so I would vote for that one. It's so simple and beautiful. I have written a love song or two myself, so maybe some of those as well.
Roy: Um, tea or coffee?
Tamara: I love coffee, but I went to an Ashram this summer where we had nothing but tea for two weeks, so I got used to that.
Currently, I drink tea during the week, and drink coffee on the weekends. Honestly, I love them both.
Roy: What sort of music do you like to listen to before you go on stage? Like maybe in the car on the way to the gig.
Tamara: I love to listen to Lucinda, Dylan, Johnny Cash, Neil Young, or anything that's upbeat before a show.
Roy: Have you ever written a song that makes you cry when you play it?
Tamara: Yes, that's how you know it comes from the heart. When my friend Parke Saffer died, I wrote a song called "The Thief",
It's about not having enough time with someone you really care about, and I could barely get through it as I was writing it. Also, a tune I wrote called "Sunset Georgia" It's a song about redemption, and it still makes me cry. I just love that shit - redemption.
Roy: Who would you want in your rock ‘n’ roll heaven band?
Tamara: Okay, well just give me Mudcrutch - Tom Petty's band. I would also take any of the bands Lucinda plays with especially her guitarists. They are the best! I really like an edgy sound.
Roy: What music are you listening to lately? Anything new we should be checking out?
Tamara: There are so many great new artists. I try to listen to new music on a regular basis. It is so inspiring. If you love female harmonies check out love First Aid Kit, The Staves, and the Good Harvest - Heavenly voices and music. If you like old time country - Lindi Ortega. If you are into Tex Mex Western - Fatboy, Ponderosa, and Escondido. For a trippy vibe - I like Mazzy Star, and if you like a rootsy New Orleans sound - Hooray for the Riff Raff is great. Also, one of my favorite new voices, is Dylan LeBlanc. He is a cross between Ray LaMontagne and Neil Young. I have to say that Jacksonville has one of the best local music scenes around, The musicians in this town are definitely worth checking out. If you want to be truly inspired, go out and hear some live music.
Tamara's solo album, Born to Ride can be purchased at CD Baby, her band, Dixie Rodeo, has several albums available, also on CD Baby.