Billy Squier: Squier Sticks To His Guns As Writer

Videos by American Songwriter

Videos by American Songwriter

After stints in two bands which he didn’t feel were playing the kind of material he wanted to be doing, Billy Squier decided to give it one more chance before quitting the music business.

The Massachusetts native had chosen New York City as the town where he would break into music because, as he puts it, “If you can make it there, you can make it anywhere.” After his initial move to the Big Apple, Squier returned to the Boston area where he studied at the Berklee School of Music, but decided against becoming a music teacher.

“After stints in two bands which he didn’t feel were playing the kind of material he wanted to be doing, Billy Squier decided to give it one more chance before quitting the music business.

The Massachusetts native had chosen New York City as the town where he would break into music because, as he puts it, “If you can make it there, you can make it anywhere.” After his initial move to the Big Apple, Squier returned to the Boston area where he studied at the Berklee School of Music, but decided against becoming a music teacher.

Back in New York City, with $40 in his pocket, he found a place in Soho and started writing songs. After two years, Squier joined the Sidewinders, then moved on to a band called Piper. Both groups had recording deals, but neither was where Squier felt he should be, so he left them to return to writing the rock n’ roll with hard-hitting lyrics with which he felt comfortable.

Most songwriters will tell new writers to write, write and write, and that’s exactly what Squier did. Once the songs were written, he recorded home demoes, just himself and an acoustic guitar, and sent them out to anyone he thought might listen. He caught the attention of someone at Capitol Records, who called him in to audition. Squier felt it was his last chance; he didn’t want to blow it.

“I think it’s hard (to get started in music) anywhere. New York is very tough. I still think it’s the most competitive place I know. That’s why I went there; I felt I needed that stimulation. I think if you can make it in New York you can make it anywhere. I figured I might as well find out if I could do it.”

His debut album, Tale of The Tape was released in 1980, followed with Don’t Say No in 1981. It was the second one that produced “The Stroke” and “My Kinda Lover,” garnering Squier sales of more than three million records. Emotions in Motion, featuring “Everybody Wants You,” was followed by Signs Of Life with the single “Rock Me Tonite.” In 1986 he released Enough is Enough, and most recently, the 1989 release Hear & Now. Record sales now top the 10 million mark for Squier, who’s success has come through doing his music the way he thought it should be done.

Squier picked up a guitar while still in high school, mostly because it called attention to him. He didn’t start writing immediately, but says the advantages of being a songwriter became obvious to him when he began to pursue music as a career.

“I think that at a certain point, when I was playing music, I became aware that there was a potential to communicate through the music, and I think that I didn’t necessarily want or see that much of a future in just doing other people’s songs.” Squier explained why he started writing. “It was a natural progression. I didn’t grow up being a writer, I was very intelligent and had a good education, but I wasn’t a writer. Growing up with some of the great lyricists, (John) Lennon, (Paul) McCartney, (Mick) Jagger, I had a lot of influences which made me very aware that songwriting was important.”

Squier says the he doesn’t like to use gimmicks in his live show, but believes that the music should do the talking. That attitude carries over into his writing as well. His songs are straightforward, yet are intentionally written so they can be open to interpretation by the listening. An example of that possibility can be found in his song “Sweet Relief.”

“I think the music should be designed to present possibilities to people in their lives and let them interpret it themselves,” Squier says. “The song was born out of a sense of sometimes being overwhelmed by life, the problems in life, and having to just cope with things that you don’t necessarily know, or have the answers. Sometimes I think we’re all vulnerable with just being lonely and overwhelmed. And I think that’s what this song is about.”

Squier was off the road for five years before releasing his current project, so he had ample time to write material for the album. On the road, he is like most other writers who don’t find that they have time to write while their mind is on performing.

“I don’t think about writing on the road, I don’t have time. That’s not to say I never do,” Squier adds. “Generally speaking, when I’m on the road, I deal with that one space, and when it’s time to make a record, I sit down for a few months and work on ideas for it. I work better that way.”

The writer in Squier doesn’t totally go on vacation when he’s on the road, however. He’s continually jotting down ideas and lines that come to him while he’s doing other things.

“I think that as a writer, at least the kind of writer I am, my writing reflects what I am going through or what I perceive I’m to be going on,” Squier says. “I would try to always infuse my music with some sort of positive aspect or relative optimism. I didn’t intend it (Hear * Now) to be that way, but I feel as a person that I’m going through positive times. I work at my life pretty hard and I’m trying to sort things out, so if I’m having success I try to translate that (to his music).”

Though Squier writes mostly by himself, he does occasionally work with other writers. In these cases, he points out that compromise might take place, but it’s what he terms “positive compromise.” Such was the case of his collaboration with Desmond Child on the current album.

“I’ve known Desmond for a long time, we wrote songs for my very first record,” Squier explains how the two came to write this project. “When I was finishing this record and getting near the end, I had spent so much time doing it myself, I thought it would be interesting to get someone to come in from the outside world who kinda had his finger on the pulse to see what his perspective would bring to some of my songs.

“I think Desmond is a good example of positive compromising…I think there were things he wanted, and I originally didn’t want, but we worked through it together. Desmond and I work pretty well together. We both have to modify our original ideas but I don’t think either one of us feels we’re short-changed in the process.”
Another song on the album in which Squier had a hand came about after meeting up with an old friend he hadn’t seen in some time. Bobby Held played Squier a song he had written with Jimmy Klein, and Squier liked what he heard.

“Bobby was a friend of mine from years ago in New York. He had been a fledgling writer for awhile, and I hadn’t seen him, and then I ran into him so he was playing me some songs and I heard “Mine Tonight” and I thought it was something that I liked and it had potential. It certainly was the kind of song that with a little bit of reworking that I would like to do.

“They had written it by themselves, and I had to rewrite the lyrics to make it have a little more depth and have it commensurate with the kind of things I do,” Squier explained. “It wasn’t a terribly collaborative effort. It wasn’t like working with someone like Desmond, where we actually sat down and wrote together.”

Squier doesn’t mince words when he offers advice to beginning writers.

“New York is pretty tough. Wherever you are, you have to really be certain of your commitment because things don’t come easy. They take a lot of work a lot of heartache involved. It really goes way beyond the talent that an individual has. You have to believe in it and want it and work very hard for it.”


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