An Interview with Jed Marum: Celtic & Civil War Songwriter

Those who know me, know that I’ve been a fan of Jed Marum’s music for years. Fortunately, Jed agreed to an interview. I am so impressed with this talented, charismatic, passionate artist, as I hope you will be too after you read this interview. I know that songwriters can learn much from Marum. This interview may be freely printed and distributed in its entirety with acknowledgment and listing of this blog’s address, and of Jed Marum’s website

Ten Questions for Jed Marum: Celtic and Civil War Songwriter

1. How many songs have you written?

I have published 43 original songs. I don’t know how many I have written, certainly twice that number.

2. Is songwriting a part of your daily schedule?

I always have songs in the works. I always have ideas for songs or for collections of songs that I am working in my head. The writing part is usually quick for me – a few hours one day, a few hours the next. Most of the work is in the “fermentation” process, which is the time I work the ideas in my head.

3. I know you’re an avid reader. How does your reading affect your songwriting? What are you reading these days?

I often read now-a-days, with an eye for background on a song. I’ve been asked to write a couple of songs for a new film about the life of the Bushwackers – so I researched the subject and read two books: THE DAY DIXIE DIED by Tom and Deb Goodrich, BLACK FLAG also by Tom Goodrich – and I researched some particular detail in other histories.

I also watched a couple of the songs featured in the films, RIDE WITH THE DEVIL and BLOODY DAWN (documentary).

I liked to be “steeped” in the subject when I write. Even when I’m reading for non-writing purposes, I often find inspiring stories that make me consider writing.

As for what I’m reading; I just read LANDSCAPE TURNED RED by Stephen W. Sears and ROBERT E. LEE by Emory M. Thomas. I also read another great bio on Lee by James J Robertson Jr. call ROBERT E. LEE: Virginian Soldier, American Citizen. And I just read NARRATIVE OF THE LIFE OF FREDERICK DOUGLASS: An American Slave. I have just started CO. AYTCH by Sam R. Watkins and will read ElishaHunt Rhodes’s ALL FOR THE UNION after that.

I have a collection of favorites that I hang on to, which I keep on the bookshelf for reference and occasional rereading.

4. What songs of yours have gone over well in Ireland?

On my first album, STREETS OF FALL RIVER I recorded an Irish favorite called GRACE about the execution of one of the Easter Rebellion’s leaders. That song was the #25 most played single on Ireland’s Country music charts in 2001. My FIGHTING TIGERS OF IRELAND album and its title track have played enough in Ireland to make the charts as well, but I am unsure of just how to quantify that airplay. I do sell albums and MP3s in Ireland regularly – and most of those sales are from my two Civil War albums.

5. You’ve written some songs that have made it into the movies. Tell my readers about those songs.

My first album was licensed by Blackhawk Productions for use in a TV Series they sold to HBO and the Playboy Channel. I know the series ran on the Playboy Channel in Europe, UK, Ireland and Canada. I don’t know if it played elsewhere or if it will rerun. The series was called TRUE LIVES (you can find them on the Web, certainly at Myspace).

I licensed songs and recordings to an independent film, a documentary called BLOODY DAWN by Lone Chimney Films that ran at a series of film festivals and independent theaters and that has just been licensed by PBS to run in several of its markets later this year. That same film company has asked me to write and perform music for its next film, BLACK FLAG that is expected to begin filming late in 2009. I will produce the whole soundtrack for the film.

I also have an offer to produce the sound track for a feature called LOST WARRIOR, TIES THAT BIND (working title). This is a project by Film Services of Louisiana and Joshua International. They’ve asked me to base the sound track on my SOUL OF A WANDERER album. If this project actually gets funded and in production it will probably be a full year of my time. I have my fingers crossed!

6. When you write a song, which comes first: The words or the melody?

The rhythm. Songs for me usually develop in a bit of a fog. I’ve developed the ideas of the song, those few points I want to make – and then I have a feel for how the story wants to be told; is it bluesy? is it melancholy? is it marching? waltzing? driving? Or is it pretty? Is it told through a beautiful air? I make all those decisions before I am serious about developing a melody or setting lyrics. Now when I have all those kernels set, I sit down with my guitar and have the basic “feeling” of the song in my head – my first thought is the rhythm – then I decide on the key and the instrument (I write on banjo and guitar mostly). A melody begins to develop out that process. Sometime I purposely write to sound like something you’ve heard before … to tie the new song tightly to a known genre – and sometimes I want the melody to be entirely original sounding.

Every time I pick up an instrument I am toying with new melodic ideas. Sometimes I do develop one of those melodic phrases into a true melody and think about what kind of song it might become. So in these cases, the melodies come first. This is the way I used to write when I first started. But now when this happens, if I actually fully develop the new ideas into a full melody (with multiple parts and dynamic ideas) I often hang onto those melodies for a very long time, waiting for the appropriate story or motivation to complete the song. I have a few of these in my “quiver” right now.

7. Who are some song writers that you admire?

Robert Burns, Brian McNeill, Stan Rogers, Andy M. Stewart, all come to mind right away. There are a handful of songs that just stand out in mind as true works of genius, as well – for various reasons: SEVEN SPANISH ANGELS is a song that gives every listener a whole two-hour movie image with a simple two-verse song. What genius to tell such big rich story so simply and so beautifully. Percy French was a popular songwriter in early 19th Century Ireland who wrote such very very clever lyrics – beautiful, rich language full of Irish culture and humor. Then I look at songs like SWING LOW SWEET CHARIOT or even YOU ARE MY SUNSHINE – these are two songs that everybody respond to instantly and immediately. I can sing SWING LOW SWEET CHARIOT in a bar full of hard partiers at midnight, and they will always stop what their doing and sing along! What makes songs like that so universally loved?

8. How did you become a song writer?

I’ve always loved music. I’ve always loved singing. I never intended to be a songwriter, and in my early days as a musician, didn’t write or didn’t wrote much. Eventually I started writing songs that I wanted to hear and wanted to sing. Just a few at first – and then that increased over the years.

9. What advice would you give song writers today?

Jump in the deep end. When I decided to go back to performing music (I had stopped performing for 15 years) I decided to go back to it full-time. I gave up the day job and was forced to take my music seriously. Advice? Listen a lot to the songs and the performers that turn you on. Read, analyze your music and that of others. Just do it!

10. What was the first song you wrote?

The first song I wrote after I returned to music, (and this is the point at which I consider my music career begins) was LOOK AHEAD TOMMY – the story my great grandfather told my father about his emigration to America.

Is there anything else you’d like to add?

Music is the heart of my songwriting interest. I never set out to be a songwriter. I love music. I love to sing and I love to play guitar and banjo. The songwriting thing just sort of followed naturally in the wake of my overall music experience.

One thought on “An Interview with Jed Marum: Celtic & Civil War Songwriter

  1. I’ve been a fan of Jed’s for quite a while now–since the time when Streets of Fall River was his only album. It was great to learn here that “Look Ahead Tommy” was the first song Jed wrote. That song is my favorite out of all of Jed’s music.

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