July/August 2012 Lyric Spotlight Q&A: Mark Stepakoff

Videos by American Songwriter

1st Place
“Cold Blood”
Written by Mark Stepakoff

What inspired you to write “Cold Blood”?

Well, I had it in mind for a while that I wanted to write lyrics in the form of a narrative describing the events of a murder. I am also a fan of the old classic film noirs. The ones with crime, murder, greed, some sort of betrayal or double crossing, and a twist at the end.

Can you explain the writing process for this song?

I had the murder ballad idea in mind, but I didn’t really know where I was going at first. I liked the femme fatale and the idea of a protagonist with a dark past. So, I had to start with an idea and just see where it would take me. The process was probably close to a month of writing. I wrote a little everyday. I just needed three or four good lines a day to advance the plot and there was also a lot of revision. I went through several drafts.

How long have you been writing songs?

I’ve been writing well over 25 years and have gotten more serious about it in the last ten years or so.

Are you a songwriter by profession?

No, I am an attorney [laughs]. I have a wife and two children, a boy and a girl. They are 16 and 19. Now that they’re older, I have had more time to write songs. In order to find time to write songs I have to compartmentalize my life.

Can you tell us about yourself as a performer?

I am a solo performer and most of my material is in the folk-country vain. I like playing around Boston bars, particularly on the Boston folk circuit. Club Passim is an all-time great Boston venue I really enjoy playing.

Have you recorded “Cold Blood”?

Yeah, I recorded with Duke Levine, who is an incredible guitarist. The recording went really well.

What is your favorite line in the song?

That’s tough. I have two lines tied as my favorites, “Yes, I shot that bastard in cold blood,” and, “As easy as painting a bruise on her chin.” Both lines are a significant development in the story. “Yes I shot that bastard in cold blood” is the murder of the story, and it’s the perfect example of the tone I wanted for the “gun-for-hire” protagonist who tells the story. “As easy as painting a bruise on her chin” is the line that reveals the twist of the story – the femme fatale used the narrator to kill her husband so that she could take his money.

What is the most difficult part of songwriting for you?

The most difficult part for me is writing a good story and also making sure it’s a good song. It’s easy for details of a story not to matter. You have to focus a listener completely on the story for it to be a successful song. You have to make sure every line advances the story or plot in some way.

Who influences you as a songwriter?

Warren Zevon, Steve Earle, Bruce Springsteen, Smokey Robinson and John Prine.

Where can people go to hear your music?


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