Inside the 32nd Annual ASCAP Pop Awards

ASCAP President Paul Williams presents Gene Simmons of KISS with the ASCAP Founders Award. Photo by Paul Zollo.

ASCAP held its 32nd annual Pop Awards, in which they award current hit-makers and legendary songwriters, at the Loews Hotel in Hollywood on April 29th.

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Legends awarded included two iconic bands, KISS and The Doobie Brothers, as well as a new icon, St. Vincent. Swedish songwriter-producer  phenomenon  Max Martin won the Songwriter of the Year for his 8th Time, while Toby Gad’s “All of Me,”  recorded by John Legend, won Song of the Year.

On the red carpet ASCAP President Paul Williams introduced the press first to new ASCAP CEO ASCAP CEO Elizabeth Matthews, and then talked songs and business with the wisdom and clarity of an enlightened, but very warm, elder statesman. Asked by a different magazine how a songwriter could make any living in the context of these modern times, he expounded on all aspects of modern songwriting, embracing rather than condemning modern forms of music use, such as Pandora.

“The truth is,” said Williams, “more people are listening to songs now than ever. All of this new technology results in the song being more important than ever. Why would we attack a system that is bringing the songs of our members to the world?” Instead, he explained, songwriters need to be well represented, so that such services bring fair compensation, without destroying those places where people now go for their songs… All songwriters deserve to be paid. ASCAP is adapting to how we make sure you are compensated.”

Williams served as the host of the red carpet, welcoming old friends like Gene Simmons and Paul Stanley of KISS, and the four members of the Doobie Brothers that were present, including both of their separate lead singers, Michael McDonald and Tom Johnston, as well as longtime Doobie Pat Simmons and multi-instrumentalist John McFee.

Although the Doobies performed through the years with either Michael McDonald or Tom Johnston leading the band, on this night they were all together, though McDonald and Johnston stood at opposite sides, with Simmons, as always, in the middle. Asked if the whole band might reunite, Simmons laughed and said, “Well, you know, we are going to do a show this summer in Sonoma, all of us. But Michael, you know, he is working still on his solo career.”

When asked what makes a song timeless, McDonald didn’t want to take credit. But when I suggested any song with his voice on it, one of the most soulful voices ever heard in pop music, made something timeless, he laughed humbly and said, “When I still got it. I don’t always got it.”

Tom Johnston, who seems not to have aged in decades, said “The best songs write themselves. Sometimes we don’t even know where the riffs come from.

Kevin Kadish, who wrote and produced “All About That Bass” with Meghan Trainor, confirmed that this song was written for fun. “We never thought anyone would want it,” he explained. “We wrote it to make each other laugh. But we never thought it could be a hit.”

Still they infused it with their great fusion of retro and modern, creating an irresistible record of this unique song. “I love ‘50’s, early ‘60’s and doo-wop music,” he said. “And so does Meghan. I grew up on it and always wanted to play it and never thought I would get the opportunity. You get tired of chasing cuts and sometimes you just want to follow your passion and that’s we did. It was our little side project. We were going for that soda pop era and trying to conjure up that feeling. And educate the kids on what they missed. It’s an amazing era of music that doesn’t exist. Musically, our songs are real music. There’s programming on it but it’s not manufactured.”

Annie Clark, better known as the amazing St. Vincent, was given the Vanguard award for her dynamic records and songs such as “Digital Witness.” It’s the award given to songwriters who have “impacted musical genres that are shaping the future of American music.”

A Berklee alumni known for her distinctively fierce guitar playing, she said she learned to play guitar “from playing along to records, the old-fashioned way. And from watching my uncle Tuck Andress play his guitar.” (Tuck is a respected acoustic guitarist.)

Asked what records she listened to, she said, “Well I like shredders. I listened to bands like Pantera.”

Gene Simmons and Paul Stanley came to accept the ASCAP Founders Award for their decades of song. “I’m humbled,” said Stanley, who pointed not to the visuals, but the songs, at the heart of their success. “From the very beginning it was always about the songs. A band is only as good as its songs. For a band to last forty years it’s not about the smoke and the makeup, you’ve got to have music.

Gene Simmons said, “We are blessed and proud. Forty years ago, we decided … well, we decided nothing! We didn’t have a clue. We never heard the word marketing.  We didn’t know squat! What we did know was what we loved. We loved what the British were doing. Humble Pie, The Who … smashing guitars, and the Stones with their androgyny. We saw greatness and said, ‘Let’s put together the dream band, something we never saw on stage.’”

Toby Gad, the songwriter of “All Of Me,” said, “The whole song, the whole way through, has to feel like it’s coming from your gut. If there’s one little part that might throw somebody off, that part needs to be taken out.  Make sure you get it right. It’s so important that the whole song, in your opinion, is consistently great.”

Joel Little, who co-wrote and produced all the songs on Lorde’s debut, including “Royals,” said that he had moved to Hollywood from his native New Zealand, and “recently started work on new songs with Lorde. We’re just starting, experimenting with new grooves and beats and sounds.”


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