3 Quick Minutes, with… Donnie Biggins of the Shams Band

3 Quick Minutes, with…

Donnie Biggins, The Shams Band

Interview January 17, 2011


I saw on your Facebook page that you list three members as songwriters, which stood out to me. Tell me: what is the band’s songwriting process? Do you guys do it individually and come back and say “Hey…” or is it a poetry and music session…?

The majority of the songs are written by Paul Gulyas and myself. Brian’s the bass player, and he’s still pretty new to songwriting. We write the songs on our own and then we approach the group once it’s ready. Or even if it’s not ready, if we just have an idea for a song. Like if all the lyrics aren’t finished but you have the melody, then we still present it and build from there.

Shel Silverstein is a big writing influence to me. He was a songwriter. That was his number one thing. All the books were just to make publishers happy. Just trying to be honest with myself and my lyrics, writing about real life experience and how I feel in the moment, verses trying to tell fairy tales or made-up stories that I haven’t lived. I try to stay true to my life and let it come out naturally.

I probably always put words down before I pick up a guitar. But I have written songs where I’ve just been playing little, random country chords, and then I’ll start speaking, and then I’ll put the guitar down and write about what I was just talking about.

It’s always interesting to hear if people are listening to the words or if they’re listening to the instruments. I always found myself being someone who listens to lyrics more than I listen to the actual music. Woody Guthrie was a big influence for that. He would write and teach you how to live in his time, and a lot of his lyrics are relevant to people’s lives today, even though we’re in a different world.

Sure. You guys are a roots band, a sort of old-timey, Americana band. What is it about the old-timey music, and the music that you guys play, that you love?

I just love how easy it is to sing along to it, to learn from it. I went through a huge Woody Guthrie and Bob Dylan thing, and I know everybody talks about Dylan. It was a strange obsession that I had. Even with artists such as Tom Petty. Everyone sings Tom Petty songs, even people who may not be that big a fan. Everybody knows at least one of his songs.

We’re not trying to reinvent anything. We’re just being ourselves, trying to write catchy hooks, and letting it be natural and easy for us to perform and get along. The song “The Des Plaines River,” Paul wrote that song, and playing that song live has probably been the greatest feeling of my life. Being able to step away from the mic and have the whole room singing the song (pause). And even the fact that I didn’t write it, and I’m next to the guy who wrote it and I’m singing with him and harmonizing with him – that’s a great feeling.

In Chicago? Catch The Shams Band January 27 at Lincoln Hall, and check them out online at theshamsband.com.

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