A Q & A with Teddy Thompson and Kelly Jones
by Kelly McCartney (@theKELword) for FolkAlley.com
Sometimes, two artists come together out of nowhere and, as great as the parts might be, the whole is even greater. That’s just what happened with Teddy Thompson and Kelly Jones. The singer/songwriters discovered a shared love of a classic sound and set about crafting a collection of their own. Through ‘Little Windows,’ Thompson and Jones give us a glimpse into a simpler musical time, when affairs of the heart needed not more than three minutes to work themselves out.
Kelly McCartney: What’s the key to writing classic-sounding, highly versatile tunes? Simple, timeless themes, certainly. But what are the musical secrets involved?
Teddy Thompson: You need to be concise! All of our songs are two-and-a-half minutes long, so you can’t waste a word or a bar. It helped to have three writers. We were able to bounce everything off each other and be sure it was good enough and spoke to all of us.
Kelly Jones: I agree, and also think you need to maintain a harmonic simplicity in the chords you choose and deviate to something more clever only in select moments or sections. More musical interest can be created through how you use those chords rhythmically, or in the instrumental hooks throughout, but ultimately the music should support a very singable and memorable melody.
How is it that all the great love songs have yet to be written? Is that ever a concern?
Teddy Thompson: I don’t think that all the great love songs have yet to be written. I feel like most of them have already been written. It’s all been done before. It’s hard to come up with something new!
Kelly Jones: One of the ongoing challenges as a songwriter is to get away from what now are well-worn clichÃ©s in love songs. There are countless beautiful love songs out there, but I think the best new love songs access something true and specific about our human experience in a unique way. The heartbreaking love song “Whiskey and You” by Chris Stapleton is a great example of this for me.
Within the era, style, and craft that you guys looked to, who would you say are the masters… and why?
Teddy Thompson: Felice and Boudleaux Bryant, Chuck Berry, Buddy Holly. We tried to work the way they did. Quickly, to the point, heartbreaking and hopefully a touch witty to boot.
Kelly Jones: Yes, and Dolly Parton, too. She sings about profoundly moving truths, in deceptively simple ways.
Forget the three-minute pop song, you guys got down to two minutes on some of these. Obviously, every song has different needs, but if there were a magic number for the perfect song length, what would it be?
Teddy Thompson: I’d say three minutes. I like the idea that we shaved 30 seconds off the best time, though!
Kelly Jones: Yes, I’ve been raised in the three minute school of songwriting, too. Just short enough to hopefully inspire an instant repeat!
How rare is it to find two voices that blend so readily and so beautifully — particularly when they come from such different musical backgrounds? And what is it about your voices that works so well?
Teddy Thompson: We are actually very different singers with very different voices. We got lucky that we were able to find a good blend. It’s an intangible thing. A magical thing at times.
Kelly Jones: It’s quite rare (in my experience) no matter what the singers’ backgrounds are. It helps that Teddy and I admire the same kinds of vocal performances. I think it inspires us sing from a similar emotional place.
‘Little Windows’ is out now via Cooking Vinyl and available at iTunes and Amazon.com