Inside “Gulf Shores,” the New Song by Candid Bandit

Caitlin Cook, a.k.a. Candid Bandit (Source: Thomas Allison)

The New York City chapter of The Acoustic Guitar Project continues its tenth season with a new original song by Brooklyn-based singer-songwriter Caitlin Cook, known for many creative endeavors including indie music under the name Candid Bandit.

The Acoustic Guitar Project (TAGP) is a global music platform and concert series that inspires musicians to write an original song and record it live in one week. TAGP was created by Dave Adams in 2012. He launched the first season in New York City and Detroit, and the project has since expanded to more than 50 cities worldwide, with songs from over 1,000 artists. Every year, in each city, curators select five local artists to participate, using the same recorder and guitar, which they then sign. The NYC guitar alone had 78 signatures at the end of last season, and Candid Bandit’s makes 80.

I began curating the project in Denver in 2017 and in NYC in 2018. This year, I have teamed up with Soundshop founder Akpanoluo Etteh to curate our first season since the COVID-19 pandemic locked down the city.

Left: Candid Bandit (Source: Arin Sang-urai), Right: Noah Evan Wilson

The songs will be accompanied by introduction videos on The Acoustic Guitar Project website in which each artist discusses their week with the guitar, and the inspiration behind their new original song. As we gear up for the coming releases and the salon and concert at The City Reliquary on September 16, Akponoluo and I wanted to delve deeper into the conversation with the artists to learn more about their songwriting process and the unique experience of writing for TAGP. We continue this series with Caitlin and her new song, “Gulf Shores.”

N: How did Candid Bandit come to be your moniker as an artist?

CB: Because I do comedy (under my given name) as well as music, I wanted to create a little bit of separation between the two. I’m an avid collector of band name ideas. Candid Bandit just happened to be one of them, and it felt fitting to who I am and the kind of music I wanted to make: honest and a little rebellious.

N: How did it feel to write and complete a song in one week?

CB: This was actually pretty normal for me. I’m fairly prolific when it comes to songwriting. During the pandemic, I actually challenged myself to write a song a day and post it on my social media platforms. I made it to 250 days. So this just felt like an extension of that.

N: What did you do that week? (Besides writing the song, of course.) And how did it influence the creation of “Gulf Shores”?

CB: That was a crazy week! I flew back from California at the start of the week, had one day to pack up my apartment, and then I moved to a new place. And then a couple days later, I flew to Gulf Shores for a much-needed family vacation. I swam in the ocean, I read my friend’s novel, and I listened to some of my favorite podcasts (“Conan O’Brien Needs a Friend”). The trip in Alabama definitely influenced the creation of “Gulf Shores,” since I pretty much wrote the song while on the beach of Gulf Shores.

N: Did the guitar itself influence your writing process in any way?

CB: Sure! Every guitar is different and has its own voice, timbre, and feel that’s going to influence any song written on it.

N: In your video, you mentioned that the song is about a “shift in a relationship,” which seemed apt to me as it struck me as unconventional for a breakup song. For example, at times it sounds like a love song, until you listen closer to the lyrics. Did this come about organically, or did you use a specific method/strategy for planning it?

CB: This came out organically. But fitting for the work I’ve been doing lately. For the past several years, I’ve been tasked with writing songs for my friends’ and family members’ weddings, and it’s such a challenge to write a unique and genuine love song without it coming off as cliche. Because of how many I’ve had to write, I’ve started working on an album called Songs I Wrote for Other People’s Weddings, and it’s a mix of those songs I was tasked to write and songs about my own romantic entanglements. This song feels like an extension of that.

N: It also struck me that “Gulf Shores” is only mentioned once in the song, at the very beginning, in the line, “The water is warm in Gulf Shores, Alabama.” How does setting impact this song and your songwriting general?

CB: I like to use specific details to set a song in a particular place or aesthetic. Since I wrote most of the song in Gulf Shores, and I mention that location specifically right up top, it feels inextricable to that place.

N: You are also a comedian and multimedia designer. How do these practices influence your music?

CB: Oh, they’re huge influences. I write a lot of musical comedy (but I promise, it’s good), and when I’m not writing a song specifically for a comedic audience, I still find myself using language, structure, and skills I’ve developed in comedy. Same with design. When I’m designing and when I’m writing a song, I think deeply about the tone, the colors, and the world I’m constructing and how a viewer or listener may navigate that world.

N: What’s next?

CB: I’m about to bring The Writing on the Stall, my one-woman bathroom stall graffiti musical, to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival (with a final preview at Union Hall in NYC on July 28). It’s a really different show from anything I’ve done before, and it combines my three major outlets: music, comedy, and visual art. It’s literally set in a dive bar bathroom, and all of the lyrics in all of the songs are taken from bathroom stall graffiti that I’ve photographed over the last decade.

N: Since TAGP is centered around our songwriting community, is there a local artist that you’d recommend we check out?

Sure! Steve Murillo (Someone in a Tree), Emily Frembgen, and Sami Petrucci (Mt. Juliet).

— Noah Evan Wilson

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The Soundshop Music Blog

The Soundshop Music Blog

This is the blog of The Soundshop music salon and community of New York City. This blog aims to analyze music in a way that enhances general music knowledge.