November/December 2016 Lyric Contest Spotlight: Jay Madera

1st Place

“You Make Sense”
Written by Jay Madera
Interview by Caine O’Rear

What was the inspiration for this song?

The origin of this song came from a conversation I had with a friend about art. I said something along the lines of: “If you framed all the graffiti in a subway station, and put a plaque next to it, you could probably charge people museum admission.” I wrote that down on my phone, and then for weeks I thought about the value systems and the institutions in our society, and how they may not be what we think. Art, science, religion, etc. are bigger than any one person can know. All of these things I am able to doubt. But, I can get a grasp on those I care about and love. These thoughts inspired my first verse of lyrics, and then momentum did the rest.

Do you have a line or a couplet from the song that you’re particularly proud of?

“The more that I know, the more that I doubt, the more that I just can’t get off my couch.” I think this line speaks to the collective apathy and cynicism in our communities. We see it at the polls on election day, we see it on talk shows, and we see it in the classroom. I think a lot of us are frustrated with how disconnected and indifferent we have become, and how it is so difficult to get up off the couch and make a difference.

Did you flesh out a melody for this and did you record it?

“You Make Sense” is a song I wrote for the piano. I was aiming for an intense, impassioned ballad about the search for answers in a time of great confusion. The music itself combines a rock progression with a classical piano spin. You can check out a recording of “You Make Sense” on my YouTube channel and on my Soundcloud.

Do you do any other kinds of writing? Poems? Prose?

Besides songwriting, I am also an avid blogger and journalist. I have my own music blog, called Songscripts (, where I give my own take on what is happening in the world of music. I discuss lyrics, musical themes and imagery, music culture, and the industry itself.

Do you have a favorite songwriter or songwriters? What is it you like about their work?

It’s a three-way tie right now between Okkervil River, Conor Oberst, and The Avett Brothers. I love these artists because they are innovative in their storytelling, taking a specific mood and confronting the listener with it. Their instrumentation is purposely incomplete at times, and their lyrics pack a punch. At some times their work is poignant and political, at other times, deeply personal, and in a few cases, mysterious and whimsical.

What are the goals for your songwriting?

I would love to make a career out of songwriting. The craft of songwriting — starting from scratch and building a melody or a lyric from the ground up — is so gripping. In the long run, I want to write songs for other artists and/or make albums of my own. If that puts enough bread on the table, I’d be thrilled. In the short-term, I want to open up opportunities for collaborating with other musicians and write for different genres.

Are you also a performer?

Yes, I’m a performer at heart. I play piano and guitar mainly, but I also love to experiment with different types of instrumentation. I have spent a lot of my life singing in a cappella groups, accompanying bands, and singing in musical theater, but I thrive when it is just me on stage with my instrument, where I can tell a story and rock a groovy melody, true to the singer-songwriter ideal.

What is one thing you’ve learned about songwriting that you wish you’d known when you got started?

I wish I knew a lot of things about songwriting that I know now, and I’m sure I’ll be saying the same thing ten years from now. I have written about 150 songs since I began songwriting, and if you looked back at my first few (embarrassing) songs, you can tell I’ve come a long way. Now I have learned that an initial idea can take a song in thousands of different directions, and that there is no formula to writing a good song. Once I broke out of the mindset of how my songs should be, the creativity really began to flow.

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