The Refugees on Songwriting

April 1, 2009

THE REFUGEES ARE A TRIUMVIRATE OF Grammy-nominated singer-songwriters that banded together in 2007. Deborah Holland (guitar, bass, accordion) partnered with Stewart Copeland and Stanley Clarke in Animal Logic, and has scored music for television and film. Wendy Waldman (guitar, dulcimer) is a successful producer and multiple-mega-hit songstress. Cindy Bullens (guitar, mandolin, harmonica) worked with Elton John, contributed to the Grease soundtrack, and has composed for Broadway and film. All three artists also sport robust solo catalogs. The Refugees’ debut disc, Unbound [Wabuho], is a rootsy outing replete with catchy arrangements and sparkling three-part vocal harmonies. Here, they each share an insight into their songwriting.

“I have changed the way I write songs over the years,” explains Holland. “These days, I always write music and lyrics simultaneously, and I don’t go on to the next part of a song until I have both. I may finetune the lyrics later, but I find having to go back and write lyrics once I’ve completed the music to be torturous.”

“One reason I enjoy writing songs with the Refugees is that, when you work with others, there’s no waiting to hear the harmony,” relates Waldman. “Instead of building up instrumental or vocal parts using a recorder, we play and sing them as we go along, and being able to hear the parts immediately provides extra inspiration to continue. You can’t get that sort of instant gratification by yourself.”

“I really enjoy writing by myself,” offers Bullens. “Sometimes a riff or chord structure inspires a song, or a title comes to me, or I come up with a lyric line first. Inspiration happens in different ways, but I like to be struck by an idea before I begin. Not being a nine-to-five writer limits my output, but it also guarantees that I’ll like all of the songs that I eventually do write.

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