Sound Source: SESP professor’s band, They Won’t Win discusses songwriting process, meaning behind their lyrics

Daniella Tello-Garzon, Reporter

DANIELLA TELLO-GARZON: Hello everyone, this is Daniella Tello-Garzon from The Daily Northwestern, and you’re listening to Sound Source, a podcast that features people on campus who make music. Thanks for tuning in.

DANIELLA TELLO-GARZON: Today, I am here with the band They Won’t Win, a group that just released its debut album, “Lost at Sea,” and features SESP professor Danny M. Cohen. They Won’t Win describes their music as “alternative folk,” rooted in classic folk, but lyrically pushing the boundaries of that genre through the stories told in the songs. As their music deals with topics such as domestic violence, LGBTQ rights and homelessness. In this episode, They Won’t Win discusses the meaning behind their name, the stories behind some of their lyrics, and their songwriting process.

CHAI WOLFMAN: I’m Chai Wolfman, I am the cellist.

DANNY COHEN: I’m Danny M. Cohen, I am vocalist.

GREG LANIER: And I’m Greg Lanier, and I play guitar and sing along with Danny.

BEN WALTER: I’m Ben Walter, I play keyboard with the band.

DANIELLA TELLO-GARZON: So how did you come up with the name, “They Won’t Win?” What’s the story behind that?

GREG LANIER: The very first song I played in the basement when we kind of auditioned each other was a song called “Fall At Your Feet” by Crowded House, and they’re a band he [Danny] and I both love. And so years later, when we got more serious about kinda putting our music out into the world, we kind of said, “Hey, let’s use a Crowded House lyric.” And so there’s a really famous Crowded House song from a song called “Don’t Dream It’s Over.” The line goes, “Hey now, hey now, don’t dream it’s over” and then, “They come, they come, to build a wall between us, but you know they won’t win.”

DANNY COHEN: So, “They won’t win” I think is both serious and funny. There’s political connotations to it like, we’re not going to let them win. But we also think it’s really funny because we’ve joked that wouldn’t it be fun if we were like, nominated for some, some musical award and they say, “And the nominees are…”

GREG LANIER: “They won’t win.” And the whole crowd will laugh.

DANIELLA TELLO-GARZON: In your Dungeons & Dragons song, you say, “This band of misfits.” Can you elaborate the meaning behind this lyric?

DANNY COHEN: Dungeons and Dragons is about, literally speaking, it’s about Greg’s friend, Brad, who passed away a number of years ago. While we were writing it, a friend of mine passed away back in London. And so, sort of thinking back to our group, or the friends that we grew up with, whether it’s high school or college.

GREG LANIER: I think there’s very few of us who grow up and we’re like, “My life is perfect and I’m part of the A-crowd and like, everything’s just great in high school, and I’ve got the perfect friends and you know.” But most of us aren’t like that, right? We’re part of a group of misfits, and we try to make it work, and we love who we love, and we love our friends and we stick with each other as flawed as we are. And so that’s what that’s about, is this idea of owning that and loving that, that we’re all freaks and geeks in some way.

DANIELLA TELLO-GARZON: In your song, “War,” you said one plus one equals war, so, can you just explain that?

GREG LANIER: Sometimes, you know, two people get together and it’s, it’s lovely. In this instance where, I think, domestic violence comes to play, it is not good. You know, there might have been some good things there at one point, but at another point it becomes this battle line is drawn, and you choose whether you’re going to move on and heal or, unfortunately, I think some people, and I’ve learned more about this over the years, you know, some people get trapped in that place and they’re fighting that war daily.

DANIELLA TELLO-GARZON: A lot of work goes behind making these lyrics, and SESP professor Danny Cohen describes an important part of the songwriting process.

DANNY COHEN: We try to write about our experiences, so everything that we’ve experienced in life sort of goes into our writing and I always joke, but it’s true that, like, the writing process in many ways is very therapeutic. We share with each other as we’re writing very personal stuff, stuff that doesn’t necessarily come out in the final version of the song, but in finding the lyrics and finding the music, a necessary part of the process is us really being honest with each other.

DANIELLA TELLO-GARZON: Thanks for listening. This is Daniella Tello-Garzon, and I’ll see you next time.

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Twitter: @daniellatgarzon