Many people mistakenly think of Nashville as strictly a creative center for country music. Fortunately, there are many talented individuals in other musical genres who are dispelling that myth. Among the most successful are Atlantic recording artist Judson Spence and his songwriting partner Monroe Jones.Many people mistakenly think of Nashville as strictly a creative center for country music. Fortunately, there are many talented individuals in other musical genres who are dispelling that myth. Among the most successful are Atlantic recording artist Judson Spence and his songwriting partner Monroe Jones.
After three weeks if intensive Nashville showcases in the fall of 1987, Spence received offers from 12 record companies. He signed with Atlantic and subsequently released his self-titled debut album, filled with his energetic blend of soulful rock.
Spence co-wrote all but one of the songs on the album with Jones. Thus far the album has spawned two successful singles, “Yeah, Yeah, Yeah” and “Love Dies In Slow Motion.” The duo also wrote a tune called “A Wonderful Life” for the soundtrack of Bill Murray’s film Scrooged .
Spence says he and Jones draw songwriting inspiration from a variety of sources ranging from music industry attitudes to Willem Dafoe’s death scene in Platoon . Every aspect of the human experience is fuel for their songwriting muse. They both feel songwriting is an integral part of their lives and they attack it with passion.
However, as successful as they’ve become as co-writers, they both admit they were rather wary when they first began collaborating. “We were a little leery of each other because there are very few writing relationships that turn out great,” Jones stated. “Managers and publishing companies are always putting you with people and very rarely do those relationships work out.”
“Monroe had short hair. So I wasn’t too sure of him,” Spence said with a smile. “Then he started letting his hair grown out and I knew there was something there.”
The two writers were originally introduced by Spence’s manager, but became reacquainted when they ran into each other in a Nashville club.
“The next thing I knew he was on my floor for the next three months,” Jones said regarding their salad days which actually consisted of eating fried rice three times a day.
During their first co-writing session, they didn’t start out being really impressed with each other’s material. “I remember Monroe playing me some stuff and (me) thinking, ‘well that’s okay.’ And I remember Monroe playing some of my stuff and his reaction was ‘well that’s okay,'” Spence recalled. “It wasn’t like we were going ‘God this is great! We’ve got to write together.’
“We decided to get together and try something, but neither one of us was swinging from the trees gung ho about it. But we got together and within two or three hours we wrote a song called “Dance With Me” and it just blew us away. It was not like anything I had written or anything Monroe had written.”
Once they discovered how well their creative energies meshed, the tunes just kept coming. They finished “Dance With Me” and then wrote the lyrics to “Attitude” and then began penning “Forever Me, Forever You.”
Spence and Jones feel one thing that is essential to creating good songs is to keep the approach fresh and uncalculated.
“So much in pop music today and music in general is so calculated. A producer goes in and mashes a button and gets a nice haircut to come in and sing the vocals and they clip it out on an assembly line. That’s something I really dislike,” Spence said. “That’s the same way I look at songwriting. Our songwriting is something that’s very uncalculated. We don’t sit down and say ‘hey, we’re gonna do this.’ We just get together and stuff starts happening and we say to ourselves ‘My God, here comes a song.’ We enjoy it.”
Monroe adds, “I think once you start working on an idea you get so excited about it, it’s like everything else goes out the door. You just do whatever you need to at the moment to make that song work. That’s the way every song we’ve written has been.”
They readily admit that even when writing the serious ballads, songwriting is still fun. Judson said he and his brother Jody had seen Platoon and Jody commented, ‘Isn’t it neat how directors use slow motion to emphasize death and pain,’ while discussing Willem Dafoe’s death scene as Sgt. Elias.
“Monroe says ‘yeah you know it’s like love. Love dies in slow motion,'” Judson said. “I remembered looking at him and saying, ‘Man, that’s great.'”
“So for the rest of the night we were sitting here, shooting each other in slow motion like a bunch of kids,” Jones said of their mock battle scene.
Another element both young men agree is essential to writing good songs is remaining true to yourself and writing from your own background and experiences. Spence says that is one of the reasons he chose to make Nashville home after having tried Los Angeles.
“I grew up in Pascagoula, MS. I have lots of things inside me that influenced me in music,” the 23 year-old minister’s son commented on his childhood. “When I stepped off the plane in L.A. I had people telling me I should cut my hair, what kind of clothes I should wear and how to make my music. I thought ‘how do you know what kind of music I want to make. You have no idea. You have no idea where I come from and how it feels to grow up where I did.’ So it made a lot of sense for me to be here. For me this [Nashville] represented a place where I could do what I wanted to do and if it did well people would sit up and take notice. I feel happy about the situation.
“I wish me songwriters would be like this. I wish they’d write about the things they truly feel and believe. If you’re from Pascagoula, MS, write about things from Pascagoula because nobody else knows about that. So many people try to do something different from what they’re all about. To me it’s just important for songwriters to be real and true to who they are, where they come from, people they’ve grown up with and things like that. People by far make the best songs.”
Jones grew up just south of Nashville in Huntsville, AL. Prior to teaming with Spence he’d already had several cuts in the Christian music field by Kim Boyce, Kenny Marks, The Dixie Melody Boys, and Joe English. Jones says the songwriting community attracted him to Music City.
“Nashville is a songwriter’s town,” the 29 year old tunesmith enthused. “And I think that is one thing Nashville has not lost sight of. There’s a lot of talent here. And I think Nashville is going to emerge as a great pop city. The country music is great and it’s going to be here also. We’re never going to lose that, but I think a lot of pop doors are going to open in Nashville.”
When asked what made a song a great song, they both agreed if they had the definitive answer they’d be writing one as we spoke.
“I think the things that are going to last are going to be honest songs,” Spence said. “When you hear a song like “Yesterday” or “Send In The Clowns,” those songs have lasted because they feel honest when you listen to them.”
Spence and Jones feel very passionate about songwriting and its place in the music industry. “Songs are the lifeblood of the industry,” Spence said. “I love performing more than anything, but if my knees break and I can’t perform, the songs are what it’s all about. They are the cornerstone of everything we do.”