Inside “Tangled Up In You,” the New Song by Joelle Montoya
Written and Recorded Live in One Week for The Acoustic Guitar Project
The New York City chapter of The Acoustic Guitar Project continues its tenth season with a new original song by Brooklyn-based singer-songwriter and actor Joelle Montoya.
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 Montoya’s makes 81.
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.
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, Akpanoluo and I wanted to delve deeper into the conversation with them to learn more about their songwriting processes and the unique experience of writing for TAGP, continuing with Joelle and her new song, “Tangled Up In You.”
N: There’s a “Mr. Blue” in your song, “Tangled Up In You,” so I’ve got to ask: Did Bob Dylan’s “Tangled Up In Blue” factor in to your writing process?
JM: Absolutely not, no…. Funnily enough, I have a song that hasn’t come out yet that I wrote around the time of the Brett Kavanaugh hearings about my experience with sexual assault and it’s called “Mr. Blue.” That “Mr. Blue” is about transcending grief and trauma in my life.
N: Is “Mr. Blue” an alias for another person? Describing it just now, it almost sounded like an aspect of yourself.
JM: In a way, absolutely. “Mr. Blue” started as a person, but really, it’s about me dealing with my own “Mr. Blue.” That’s a cool take. And you’re not wrong.
N: I was going to ask you this later, but, while we’re on the subject, when does “Mr. Blue” the song come out?
JM: Possibly September, though I may wait for spring to release it during Sexual Assault Awareness Month, to bring some light to that. Short answer: There is a new song coming!
N: So, back to TAGP: Have you ever written a song in one week before?
JM: I have not. It was so interesting. It helped me realize that I am more nitpicky with myself than I fully grasped. Once an idea comes it can come fast and furious, but that’s just the beginning… I realized, “Oh, I’m a little bit more precious than I thought I was!” But it was a blast to not be, and to throw my own mental process to the wind. It was an interesting and very welcome challenge.
N: I remember you saying in your introduction video that you had to let go of being precious. I think that is a big part of TAGP in general, with the time limit and the rules about everyone using the same Zoom recorder, doing a live take with no effects, etc…. It’s about the challenge and keeping it essentially about the song itself.
JM: Exactly! When I was in grad school, we had this saying: “Hold on tightly, let go lightly.” There were definitely things I held on to tightly…and others that I just let go, letting it be about the process, about the fun.
N: I really like that. Who can we credit for that saying?
JM: I guess my main teacher, Andrea Brooks, but it’s hard to say…. I don’t know where she might have gotten it. Anyway, I’ll take it!
N: What else did you do that week? Books read, TV watched, etc.? And how did it influence the writing of “Tangled Up In You”?
JM: My main influence was seeing the images from the James Webb Telescope, seeing those stars — that was the main thing — Man! I personally find comfort in seeing the vast universe like that. Some people feel really small. I also meditate and do yoga daily, and that was a part of my process as well, but just quieting my mind and recognizing: Okay, this is my universe [gestures to surroundings], but here are stars sending light from billions of years ago…. I’ve never felt the universe inside of me so much as seeing those photos.
And I am a rom-com, love-story type of gal, so I tied it into the idea of being tangled up in a universe with another person. And bringing the perspective of seeing the larger universe into a personal universe, grounding it in that.
N: I loved it! It sounded like a love song to the universe, and at times to another person, and at times to yourself. Which comes back to what we were talking about with Mr. Blue…
N: Regarding those James Webb Telescope images: When did they come out during your songwriting process, and how did they impact your song?
JM: I was playing with a couple different chord progressions and sounds that I liked…. That happened first. The photos came to me in the middle of the process, which narrowed down which progression I was going to go with.
N: How did this particular chord progression resonate with the images to you?
JM: The best way I can put it into words is: For the first half, you’re repeating these two chords, but then it shifts into this other realm. There’s an unexpected soulful vibe. It felt like [sings] “Hallelujah” [by Leonard Cohen]. I think it was that sense of soulfulness, as opposed to the other chord progressions, which were sweeter.
N: Did the guitar itself influence the writing of the chord progression?
JM: Yes! I embraced it…. I spent time with the guitar. I played songs I already knew on it. I messed around. I did fret warm-ups. I was just spending a lot of time with the guitar at first. I can honestly say that when I played around with it, this series of chords just came to me. They never had before on any of my guitars, so I just let that live.
N: This season, I’ve found that a lot of the participating musicians have other creative endeavors, as well, and I know you are an actor, too. How do your creative endeavors in theater and film impact your writing process?
JM: Definitely story. Story. Story. Story. Even in songs. What’s the story that I’m trying to tell? [Both are] about maintaining curiosity. I also write for screen and write poetry, and I find many commonalities: developing characters, etc… stepping into their shoes, and yes: staying curious.
To tie it back to the song, I know the sensation about being “tangled up in a person”; even though [the song] isn’t about anyone specifically, [as an actor] I could put myself in that mindset.
N: Back to your music project. You’ve got another single coming soon — and I heard you’re moving to LA — what else is on the horizon?
JM: I found music for myself during the pandemic. It was one of the most gratifying things. That I could learn a song and share it in a short amount of time. This time last year, I was reaching out to Katie Buchanan, who is an amazing producer and friend, and I was like, ‘I fall short on these areas, but I have these ideas….’ She helped me bring them to fruition. So, I’m still in the process of learning about the creation of music and seeing what comes of it. [My first] singles were a beginning. I’m still revving up. I’d love to have an album one day and get some performances under my belt — actually, this [salon on September 16) will be my first time singing and playing a guitar at the same time live, so it’s gonna be nerve-wracking and exciting.
N: Since TAGP is centered around our songwriting community, is there a local artist that you’d recommend we check out?
JM: Jake Corcoran. He’s more in the Broadway community. He wrote a musical called The Dead Beach. I think he’d be able to come up with something really cool for TAGP! Also, Shauni, she has a beautiful voice and I think she is a great songwriter and would slay at this!
— Noah Evan Wilson