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Pop writers band together at Lizard

Posted by Scott McLennan  June 11, 2013 12:21 PM

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Scott Janovitz.jpg
Scott Janovitz will be airing songs slated for the next Russians album when he teams with fellow songwriters Friday

The solitary songwriter is no myth based on the life of Brian Wilson. Pull back the curtain on some of the great indie pop coming out of Boston, and there stands the writer, often the one constant in a revolving cast of musicians bringing the songs to life on records and at shows.

Musician and journalist Jonathan Donaldson is luring some of his fellow pop-smiths out of the woodshed for a unique gathering Friday, June 14, at the Lizard Lounge in Cambridge. Corin Ashley, Scott Janovitz, Emeen Zarookian, and Brian E. King will join Donaldson for three "rounds" of song swapping.

In the first round, the players will perform their songs on piano and acoustic guitar, with each artist taking a turn and maybe the others jumping in with a little accompaniment. Round two will feature duo performances, and for the finale, the five writers will be a band, playing their original songs and covers.

"It's great to hear any ideas," Janovitz says of working with this ad hoc group, which wasn't about to wing the "band" portion of the show and has had a rehearsal to better learn the collective repertoire. "I may hear a melody line or an arrangement idea, and that's really helpful."

And while the writers themselves act as sounding boards for each other, the audience should be able to get a sense of the diversity beneath Boston's broad indie-pop umbrella.

Janovitz's last album with the Russians, "Crashing the Party," had a strain of glam detachment in it. Donaldson's new work with the Nimbleines is pop with a psychedelic gleam. Zarookian's recent outings with Spirit Kid boast a crisp, cool sophistication. Ashley's recently released "New Lion Terraces" was partially recorded at Abbey Road studios in London and includes the single "Badfinger Bridge," which says a little about the direction the former Pills leader was heading in with this project. With the band Parks, King, formerly of Oranjuly, is working on a full-length album, and the first couple of songs released boast a big, open sound.

The influences coursing through the combined efforts of these writers are not surprising: the Beatles, Kinks, Big Star, Beach Boys, Posies, and so forth. But this is a crew smart about advancing the pop, not wading in it.

"There was a point where some in the pop scene were slavishly trying to recreate pop moments of the past," Janovitz says. "I think with this group, you're seeing people trying to do something new."

Emeen Zarookian of Spirit Kid

Zarookian is among those in this writers group working on a new album, so this song-swap will be a bit of a workshop for him. Like Janovitz, he looks forward to seeing what is to be gained by working with people who are not totally familiar with his work nor typical collaborators.

"In this situation, there can't be egos," Zarookian says. "Sometimes I have trouble teaching other people the parts to my songs. But in a situation like this do I worry about the intricacies of the original recording, or let someone bring their own thing to it? I think sometimes you can come up with something new and like it."

Zarookian's love of pop is longstanding; he cites Oldies 103 as the favorite radio station of his youth.

"I loved '50's rock and doo wop," he says. "Then in middle school, I discovered the Beatles, and since then just followed a natural progression through the '60s, '70s, '80s, and 90's. I do like everything. I'll listen to metal and electronic music and find value in it."

Watching these artists break down their songs and recast them in fresh settings may provide some insight into how songwriters spin ideas and influences into tunes that seem to easily sweep us up (which is what at the very least you can count on hearing).

The music on Friday begins at 9 p.m. and the Lizard Lounge is at 1667 Massachusetts Ave., Cambridge. Here's a little compilation of the participating artists' work:

This blog is not written or edited by or the Boston Globe.
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About the author

Scott McLennan is a Boston Globe music correspondent and previously wrote a music and entertainment column for the Worcester Telegram & Gazette for 15 years. After seeing the band Boston in the Boston Garden as a teenager he never looked back and eventually figured out how to be a professional fan. Scott is very good at writing in the dark. This blog is an ongoing discussion about music happening in and around Boston. Scott will be leading the trek across genres looking for new releases and hot shows as well as just checking in with the people who make Boston such a great place to listen. More »
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