Eef Barzelay: Song And Dance Man
If this was the ‘80s, and Eef Barzelay was some self-promoting sap in a loud jacket and matching hairpiece, you might see him on late-night television hawking his wares. ‘Need a song for your grandfather’s birthday or your nephew’s christening?’ he might ask, ‘well, you’ve come to the right place! I can custom fit a tune for any occasion.’ And you’d laugh and wonder who this sideshow geek was.
Well, it’s the new millennium, and the frontman for the critically-acclaimed rock band Clem Snide, once signed to Sire Records, is actually penning songs for anybody who wants one. And can cough up 200 bucks. But he’s doing it in his own quiet way. Through the Internet. Writing funny, quirky, warm or sad songs for the people and helping to forge a new paradigm for songwriters.
“This whole thing began, in a general way, as my attempt to create a social network with my fans,” says Barzelay. “I wanted to find a way to create a circular exchange with them, via my website. It also grew out of some pressure from the real world, too. My publishing company is always after me to write a hit song for … somebody. And I have a wife and two little mouths to feed. So I put the word out, and people started asking for songs.”
Since he posted his idea, Barzelay has penned around 90 tunes. The initial asking price was $100. But due to demand, this wry, slightly-twisted tunesmith, whose songs betray the influence of country music, Loudon Wainwright III and ‘80s alternative rock, has had to double his price.
And the whole enterprise has paid off, both financially and creatively.
“It’s amazing to get paid so fast,” says Barzelay. “Usually, if you make any money from an album, it makes about ten different stops before you see any of it. From your label to your publisher to your manager to whoever and it takes forever. The first time I did a bunch of songs for people, I made a couple thousand bucks in a pretty short period of time. These folks put the money in my Paypal account and I was flush. And I thought, ‘I’m onto something here.’”
Barzelay usually gets the germ of the idea sent to him, then writes a song with the appropriate sentiment, records it on Garage Band and e-mails an mp3 to the lucky listener. Sometimes they’ll send their own lyric to be set to music, but mostly Eef does the whole thing from start-to-finish.
“I’ve covered the spectrum so far. Songs for kids, songs for teens, songs for people in middle-age, songs for people who are dying. I don’t think I’ve missed any part of the circle of life.”
Barzelay likes living in Nashville, where he moved about seven years ago, but it’s mostly for the peace and quiet.
“My wife and I were living in Brooklyn, but we were tired of the lack of space. We really wanted to have a backyard, so we sold our apartment and came here. It’s really lovely and peaceful, but I don’t schmooze too much, industry-wise. I’m not really part of The Bluebird Cafe scene, or even the Todd Snider scene. Actually Ben Folds hipped me to the town. He was living here and said I might like it. He was right.”
As far as Clem Snide goes, they’ve just completed an EP under that sobriquet. But it’s not a batch of originals they’ve come out with. True to his offbeat, indie rock integrity, it features some odd and oddly-touching versions of, uh, Journey songs. Clem Snide’s Journey shows that when stripped of their high-gloss ‘80s sheen, these Steve Perry-sung songs are winsome and winning.
“That was something that happened because of the net, too,” Barzelay says. “I raised the money on Kickstarter. People got to request their favorite Journey songs and they only had to kick in $150 for me to cut one. I still have a bunch more to do to get all the requests done, but I think everyone will be happy with the ones I’ve done so far, like ‘Lights’ and ‘Don’t Stop Believin’.’
All in all, Barzelay claims to be really pleased with the end of (most) record companies and the rise of the self-supporting, do-what-thou-wilt musician.
“This new model is fantastic, doing what you want, getting paid better, no one making bad corporate decisions or companies burying your product,” he said. “Sure, sometimes you wish there was someone in your corner, bugging radio about playing your songs, stuff like that. But overall, our new way of reaching fans and interacting with them is so much better than it was, even in the ‘90s. Now, all I have to do is find a webmaster I can afford. Or, maybe, someone who can ship my records out to my fans. I’d like my kids to do it, but they’re too young. Other than that? Things in the music world are really exciting again.”