A Songwriter on Songwriting: Two Story Melody contributing writer Luci Turner of Americana Rock band BEAU + LUCI shares her thoughts on the songwriting process and what it means to be a part of the modern Southern Rock genre.
My sister, Beau, and I have been making music (read: noise) together in some capacity since we were too young to know the difference between The Beatles and The Rolling Stones.
Whether we were dragging our mom’s pots and pans out of the cabinets and strewing them across the kitchen floor to beat with wooden spoons, or being moved to the back row of the children’s choir at church because we had our grandfather’s lungs (he was famous in our hometown for never needing a microphone), our childhood was set to a soundtrack we knew every word to, and if we didn’t, we made them up.
Like so many kids in the south, we were raised in a Southern Baptist church where we knew everyone and everyone knew us. That familiarity often caused raised eyebrows, because, unlike most of the other kids in our Sunday School classes, we could belt out an impressive rotation of classic rock songs in addition to favorites like “Jesus Loves Me” and “Power in the Blood.” Some may have blamed our obvious waywardness on the devil’s schemes. We blame our parents.
Specifically, we blame our dad. He left college with an accounting degree and an impressive collection of rock records — all that was left of his previous career as a drummer — and took full responsibility of this integral part of his children’s education. In fact, one of my earliest memories is riding in the backseat of his truck with my sister while he listened to the radio. “This is the Allman Brothers,” he said.
“We know,” we replied, and proceeded to sing “Midnight Rider” word for word.
But it wasn’t until we were older and experiencing the eternal injustice and angst of our pre-teen years that we realized something about music: it could be written. And more importantly, it could be written by us.
This may seem obvious, because of course songs are written by musicians, and musicians don’t generally emerge from the mist brandishing a flaming guitar and a song to shake the very foundations of the planet (with a few exceptions).
We, however, were not one of those exceptions. I don’t recall the first song we ever wrote, but I’m going to assume it’s because my brain has erased it from memory in order to preserve my confidence and belief in my songwriting ability.
What was remarkable about that first song, though, was that it was the first. We kept writing, together and separately, and at times more regularly than others. It paid off, in experience and also in prolificacy. In 2015, three years after we began our writing journey, we were no longer two girls who wrote songs, but a songwriting team, with a sound and a story we needed to share.
Beau and I are opposites in almost every sense of the word, and our approach to songwriting is no exception.
My methods are more habitual; whether it’s a single line or five songs, I write something — though not necessarily something usable — almost every day. Beau is cyclical, going through seasons of drought before the floodgates open and she jumps headfirst into a project; unable to take a break until it’s done. Writer’s block never lasts very long, and we attribute it to our yin and yang relationship. When one of us is ready to quit, the other is there to push both of us forward and, when we need it, to force growth.
The songwriting process itself is constantly changing form.
In most instances, we bounce ideas off of each other, sending lines back and forth, until we can sit down together and finish a song, though there have been occasions where one of us brings a completed song to the table. We’ve spent six weeks locked in a basement, entirely focused on writing songs for a record, but we’ve also written some of our best lyrics in green rooms before a show, in the car on the way back home, or sitting in our bedroom with a stack of notebooks. When inspiration strikes, it cares very little about the location (or the time of day). All that matters is that there’s a story to tell, one that’s never been told from our points of view, and we’ve been chosen to tell it.
Like the two of us, our sound was born somewhere between the blues-rock scene of the 70s and a Southern Baptist hymnal, taking a harder turn toward rock ‘n roll as we worked songs out on the stage rather than the studio. At the core, however, it remains rooted in the swampy soul of the southern rock tradition. Our trademark harmonies wrap around a grooving bass line and heavy kick drum while an ominous, overdriven guitar and screaming organ licks weave a heady incantation.
When we’re asked about our sound — how it developed, who influenced it — the answer might be a bit of a surprise: we’re as heavily influenced by Emmylou Harris’s raw vocals and folk sensibilities as we are by the crushing weight of Led Zeppelin’s most iconic riffs. We might reference drums from an Arctic Monkeys record, backing vocals from Aretha Franklin’s early days at Muscle Shoals, or the blend of Delta blues and hip-hop found on Beck’s Mellow Gold on any given day in the studio.
It’s that eclectic, swampy shake ’n bake of rock legends and modern classics, combined with our signature writing style and harmonic connection, that defined our sound before we ever called it “Swamp Rock.”
We never wanted to be “the next” anybody; as much as we love and respect the Allman Brothers Band, Johnny Cash, and Otis Redding, they would forever be the best version of themselves. We simply drew from what moved us, then made it our own.
And that, to us, is at the heart of our music. There’s a deep connection to the past and a commitment to the integrity of the music, but there’s also a hardscrabble ingenuity and a tenacious drive to define our own identity — our own sound — against a backdrop of music as rich and varied as the region we call home. It’s gritty and raw at times; a soul-baring, heartbreaking search for honesty. But there’s beauty in the process.
Songwriting is not always easy; in fact, there have been more moments of frustration than I care to mention. That’s to be expected when creating something that can heal a broken heart, ease a lonely soul, or completely change a life with nothing but an idea, a melody, or a chord on a guitar.