Talk Thursday to Me – Loren Gurman

Today we talk with Loren Gurman, frontman for Met City (formerly known as Gardendale & Berkley) and the founder of the Brio Pop Society about songwriting and why the world doesn’t need any more melancholy anthems.

Postcard Editor: How are you doing? Ready to bare your soul?

Loren Gurman: Ha. Yes I am sir, thanks for asking. It’s what a soul’s for, right?

PE: True. Already getting deep. Blowing minds and it’s not even noon. So let’s start with the basics, and I think this info is more relevant to Gardendale & Berkley/Met City than it usually would be – you’re a graduate student at IU in the music department, correct?

LG: Actually, no. I don’t really read music. And I’m not in school now, I graduated from undergrad last May as a theatre major.

PE: Ah, see – good thing I asked. So was it through your theater experience that you sort of fell into the Brio Pop Society – which you were musical director of right?

LG: Well within the theatre major my concentration was playwriting. And for the Brio Pop Society, for what I called ‘the writers’ circle’ I just adapted Ken Weitzman’s writing exercises to be songwriting exercises. I should say though that this portion of the project still needs a lot of work.

PE: How so? What were some of the hurdles of adapting that model to songwriting as opposed to playwriting?

LG: The biggest hurdle is getting a group of artists together who don’t know each other, and actually get them excited about firstly even wanting to share themselves in a potentially intimate way with others while taking part in a creative process they’re not even comfortable with yet. Lot’s of “even”s

PE: Even so, it sounds like you plan on keeping the BPS going, no?

LG: I do. I’m in the very early stages of planning to expand, perhaps on a national level. And I’m starting by making its home in Portland, Oregon in the fall.

PE: Excellent – so let’s backtrack for a second, and start with a clarification – is it Gardendale & Berkley or is it Met City? Because it’s been marketed as both.

LG: Good question…So we played Culture Shock and a house show as ‘Met City’…so I’ll go with that for now. I suppose I don’t mind what it’s called ’til I move in the fall. And the guys I’m playing with now prefer Met City.

PE: Are the guys moving with you, or are you going all David Lee Roth?

LG: Oh I’ve resolved myself to go Lee Roth style. I’ve always looked for two things in finding musicians: Good people, and willing to move to a bigger city with me. So I’ll just move and take care of half of the equation.

PE: There you go. So while you have this background in theater and playwriting, it sounds like your driving passion right now is music, true?

LG: True. I’ve been writing quite a bit to though. I’m working on some screenplays. It’s a nice way of getting out of my normal head or something.

PE: Gotcha. So let’s talk music. You first caught my attention with the performance of “Eva’s Tikkun Olam” at the Brio Pop Society debut performance – I then dug into more of your music online, and it’s refreshing to find someone local doing something a little more ambitious than the standard indie rock or singer-songwriter stuff. What are some of your musical influences?

LG: Thanks so much. Well the album that first got me into music in the 7th grade…was a Sting album. The only person to guess that accurately so far was Larry Jacobson, an original LFB director now at Universal Records. Naturally, he was the one I was hoping to get some positive feedback from at BPS-and what he said was, “You should really start a Sting cover band.” Twas heartbreaking, as much as I love Sting. But seriously, I seem to have a hand-full of piano and lyrics heroes including Rufus Wainwright, Keane, Regina Spektor, Emily Haines of Metric and Ben Folds. Most recently and unexpectedly though, yesterday morning actually, I downloaded the entire Billy Joel discography about 8 years after old friends told me too. I love ‘Cold Spring Harbor’ now. Random.

PE: Nothing wrong with a little Joel. Or a lot.

LG: Yep. Oh and I should mention the Killers. I played bass along to ‘Hot Fuss’ when I was 16 for like three months.

PE: I definitely heard shades of Wainwright, but that comes mostly I think from the rather elaborate and baroque style arrangements that you apply to some of your music. This is what made me think you were in music school actually, not only that you would write arrangements like that, but have the contacts to pull it together for live shows.

LG: Oh, well instead of getting a music degree and doing the real work, I decided to work in the bakery adjacent to the music school. Contacts come more easily that way. And do try the City Bakery if you haven’t already. Wait-adjacent? I dunno if that’s the word but whatever. I should mention-I generally don’t arrange things like the strings myself though. Some of my ideas make it in but it’s David Benson who has arranged for me so far.

PE: Networking for success and musical accompaniment. Excellent.

LG: One needs a smile along with their poetry. Or nobody’ll hear the poetry and they’ll subsequently never smile. Eh.

PE: So, what about lyrically – as a playwright I imagine that you draw from some different wells than the usual “woman broke my heart” or “I’m young and angry but I don’t know what at” ones.

LG: Well he’s not a playwright, but I adore the poetry of Billy Collins. And I do think that being in Ken Weitzman’s playwriting classes did introduce me to some great stuff. Things that sort of free you a bit by just reading them. You’re like, “Oh, that’s out there. Or clearly stream of consciousness.” And it inspires you to loosen your tie a bit.

PE: For example, what are some lyrical themes or ideas that you’ve been working with on with the latest songs?

LG: So right now I’m working on this idea that you should work out your sorrow before you get to the piano. Maybe it’s a bit lofty but I believe this world doesn’t need any more melancholy anthems. I always try to stop myself when writing something completely strife ridden and think – wait, what’s still good here? What am I grateful for? And I think that makes a better song for people. Right now I’m writing some things involving the peace one feels when they sort of leave their wants at the door in friendship.

PE: What a crazy theory. It’ll never work.

LG: Ha! *awkward silence, marked by imagined baristas collecting our phone numbers and never calling us in the weeks we sit here.

PE: Just kidding, sounds very cool. So with this new lyrical direction do you find yourself also changing the type of music that you’re writing? Is it more upbeat and simple?

LG: More upbeat and simple, I’m not sure. So I recently started making myself try to write lyrics and melody before the rest and I think that lends itself to giving things some more complexity. Now sometimes I’ll choose multiple chord progressions to sit under the same melodies of the same section of a song, stuff like that. So maybe simpler, but with more variety now…

PE: Very cool – so what is next – when is this move to Portland happening?

LG: Well I’m touring the first couple weeks in August, making it to Portland for that on August 4th. Then I’ll get back around the 16th, I’ll get my things in order, and I’ll move a bit later in August I think. Back for my big sis’ wedding in September though.

PE: Are you touring under your name, G&B, Met City?

LG: I think we’re Met City. ‘G&B’ is definitely done and I might finally use a third and final name soon.

PE: So is this tour on behalf of a new release? I know you had the three song e.p. come out last November, but I also know there’s quite a few more songs on your youtube page. Is there a new proper release?

LG: We’re recording a CD hopefully later this month at Farm Fresh with Jake Belser.

PE: An excellent idea – Jake is a beautiful man. So the plan is to have that ready for the August tour, and I assume as a type of closure for this chapter of G&B/Met City?

LG: That he really is. And yeah, that’s the plan. And if I’m really ambitious, David Benson and I might work on some more things in June or so.

PE: Well very cool. I’m glad we had a chance to talk, as I said before I find your work very refreshing. We always end the same way, list three things that are totally rocking your world right now. Could be anything, doesn’t have to be Billy Joel related.

LG: Thanks again for having me! I appreciate it. So three things that are rocking my world as of late:

1. Finally seeing Billy Joel’s ‘The Longest Time’ video
2. The IU Cinema and that French animated l’illusionniste
3. A girl named Jess and her showing me the band Hey Marseilles!

You can check out more from Loren here, or catch Met City on tour at one of these shows.

-August 4th
 Portland, OR
 Ella Street Social Club
-August 6th
 Portland, OR
 Portland State University
-August 9th
 Omaha, Nebraska
 Nebraska Pop Festival

One Comment to “Talk Thursday to Me – Loren Gurman”

  1. Excellent interview, sounds so exciting, continue with much success!!

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