St. Paul musician writes a song a day, for a year

Terry's man cave
Musician and songwriter Terry Eason is writing and recording a song a day, every day in 2011. He spends a lot of time in his man cave/basement studio, engaged in songcraft.
MPR Photo/Chris Roberts

It's easier and cheaper than ever to make your own high quality recordings, and local musicians are getting more and more ambitious with their output. A St. Paul singer/songwriter is committed to reaching a formidable goal -- writing and recording a song a day for an entire year.

Terry Eason is measuring his days in 2011 by beats and melodies, loops, licks and lyrics. When he's not attending to his stay-at-home dad duties, Eason's usually ensconced in his man cave/basement studio cobbling together songs, piece by piece.

You can see all of Terry Eason's videos on his YouTube channel.

"This sounds like some sort of majestic movie thing or something," he said. "I don't know if this is the direction we want to go today."

Well maybe not today, but what about tomorrow, or two months from now?

Why someone would be willing to put himself through the rigors of writing and recording a song a day, and then posting it on YouTube in video form, is hard to fathom. And to do it for no pay, Eason admits "It is kind of crazy."

Family time
Terry Eason takes a break from songwriting with his daughter Eleanor and wife Heidi Raschke. Eason says he knows he's asking a lot of his family to do the song-a-day project.
MPR Photo/Chris Roberts

Especially for the 49-year-old Eason, for years a respected guitar slinger, songwriter and sideman with groups like Dylan Hicks and Patches and Gretchen. But Eason isn't doing it to prove anything. Last year, he went to a gallery opening featuring artist Brock Davis, and Davis' yearlong "Make Something Cool Everyday" project.

"I was like, you know, I should do this with a song," he said. "I can do a song a day. That'd be cool."

It's pretty apparent that Eason's personal makeup really lends itself to creative challenges, even if they're marathon sized.

"My brain is just constantly thinking of things, and so this is just a really good outlet," he said.

In fact, Eason can summon melodic lines and rhythms at will, which he polishes, augments or distorts with his studio machinery. For example, a beat and synthesizer riff he played a short time earlier turned into an unexpectantly strange, spacey song.

While the music is a snap for him, the words usually come more slowly. Sometimes it takes a long dog walk or the memory of a vivid dream to form the lyrics. Occasionally Eason will rip them from the headlines after he's read the paper. Other times they'll come right out of his daughter's mouth.

Terry Eason has a sound-proof basement studio, with keys, drums and a guitar amp. This is where much of the magic happens, or he forces it to happen.
MPR Photo/Chris Roberts

"A song, called "Her Love was Magic," from January 8, was written after Eason took his two young daughters to see the Disney movie "Tangled." Later, he heard his daughter Iris singing "her love was magic" instead of "her hair was magic," and Eason was touched.

"I thought that was kind of a pretty cool thing for a 4-year-old to say. And I was like, 'I think I'm gonna use that,'" he said.

The tune Eason ultimately wrote could have been the movie's theme song.

"It's just a nice little bouncy sweet pop song," he said. "I kinda like that one."

More than three months and 90 songs into the project, the music and lyrics continue to flow. But more important, Eason's family members remain supportive, for the most part.

"I do sort of wrestle with the self indulgence of it, having a family and kids and a spouse," he said.

"When Terry first told me about the project I was pretty excited about it," said his spouse, Heidi Raschke.

Raschke is arts and entertainment editor for the St. Paul Pioneer Press, and the main breadwinner in the house. Rashke thought it was a good idea until Eason gave it a test drive over the holidays, and disappeared for six hours.

"My parents are kind of like, 'What are you doing?' And I was like, 'Where are you? Why is this taking six hours?'" she recalled.

After having to make more meals and put the kids to bed more than she normally does, Raschke began to realize that maybe the family rushed into this without thinking it through.

"I think I posted on Facebook when he first started doing it, that it's a marital test," she said. "He makes me crazy by spending all this time working on the song. And then the next day I listen to the song and I'm like, 'Wow, that's really cool, I really like this person I married."

It's Friday March 25 when we talked, and Terry Eason said his muse is treating him pretty well on this day.

"Got some ideas going here," he said.

The main idea so far is a briskly strummed chord progression Eason pegs as kind of Replacements-esque. He'll add more touches later, but it's a strong start.

The biggest lesson Eason's learned so far from his song-a day project is to drop his perfectionist tendencies.

"It forces me to not rethink stuff too much," he said. "I realize if today's song stinks, there's always tomorrow. And the days go pretty fast."

If Eason can keep this up through the end of the year, he realizes he'll have an amazing, artistically rich record of a year in the life of Terry Eason.

"Even after the first few months, I look back on some of the pieces ... and I'll go, 'Oh that one, yeah,'" he said. "There are some songs that I thought at the time. I'm really proud of. ... And then I hear it back a couple weeks later and go, 'What was I thinking?' You know, it's not always what you think it is."

But Eason can also see how there's something kind of sad about what he's doing. He's making this Herculean effort. But so are millions of other songwriters entrenched in their basement studios, like tiny fish in the sea.

"Yeah," he laughs. "I've accepted that a long, long time ago."

Eason has never been a very good self promoter. He's hoping, and his wife is too, that the project will lead to more work composing scores for commercials and films.

But that will mean he'll have to hustle in a really competitive environment, and send links of his music to people and companies who might hire him. To Eason, that'll probably be harder than writing and recording a song a day for a whole year.

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