“I have a tendency to make things more complicated than they need to be,” says musician, composer, filmmaker and producer Ben Lovett. The Asheville-based artist is known for his labors of love — namely his nine-song Highway Collection, released in 2011, for which he’s been pairing each track with its own video. Watch the cinematic visualizations for “Heartattack,” “Eye of the Storm,” “Ghost of Old Highways,” “The Fear,” “All the Time” and “Black Curtain” online.
Five years later, Lovett is still working to complete that project. But another idea recently captured his imagination. Through friends, he was introduced to 12 songwriters in Los Angeles, and during a series of blind-date-type meetups, composed songs with each of those strangers-turned-collaborators. “My experience in co-writing had mostly been as a producer, working with an artist who had songs that were mostly written,” he says. “Never sitting down from a blank canvas and starting from scratch. That was new, and I didn’t know if anything would come out of it, but that was exactly why I wanted to do it.”
The result is the four-EP series, Lovers & Friends, which launched in September. A new EP will be released each month through December (the final installment features alternate versions of four songs from the previous EPs), and a new episode documenting the making of each song comes out weekly. Follow the series at youtube.com/user/LoversLabel.
“I did three all in one week, and three songs came out of that,” Lovett says. “But when you walk out of that experience, you have song that [only] exists on paper. There’s no real recording.” He realized there was the distinct possibility that the songs could spend their lives as demos, never reaching completion. “So I decided to adopt all of these songs.”
Each track is unique, and there’s no common denominator other than the overarching concept. Some of the songwriting dates even proved fruitless. “They were cool people and we got along, but there was no real magic on that day,” Lovett says. “A little bit of natural chemistry has to exist, and you need some good luck. It has to be the right day, or it can’t be the wrong day.”
Other songs, he says, came from collaborations with people whom he didn’t necessarily hit it off with right away. “But when you go in with the intention to write something, you’re less critical of every little thing,” Lovett says. For the writing process, he and his collaborators went back to basics, eschewing studios full of gear for just two people, pen and paper, words and melody.
Lovers & Friends, Season One launches with the energetic, retro-tinged, Lovett-sung “Just Ain’t Right,” penned with Chris Seefried (Fitz and the Tantrums, Lana Del Ray). Seefried had worked on a Joseph Arthur track that Lovett especially liked, so “I was optimistic going into that one,” he says of the songwriting session. (Other featured musicians also write for bands like Rogue Wave and Panic! at the Disco) “Came a Long Way,” featuring Sydney Wayser, was the project’s first song collaboration and crackles with poignancy even as the strings swoon. “Somewhere behind us is everything we know, everywhere we come from, but not where we must go,” she sings.
Lovett says that he hopes to do similar collections with musicians based in Nashville and Asheville, though the local project — due to his close ties with the music scene — “would be all people I do know but have never written with,” he says. And, “there’s always someone you don’t know, who’s doing great stuff. … This seemed like such a wonderful experiment because there’s so much to learn as a songwriter.”
Some of the most important lessons might have been those Lovett learned long ago, though, such as how to embrace the awkwardness of an unfamiliar situation in order to break through to greater discoveries. An early experience with scoring a film in college proved rewarding and set Lovett on his current path. “If you were to find a common thread [between all the things I’ve done] it’s that I charged into them without any idea what I was doing,” he says. “If you’re trapped in the fear of coming across as stupid or untalented, you’re not allowing access to all those other parts of you that you need to create art.”
He adds, “You need to know that even your most embarrassing moments are not going to kill you.” They might not even be all that embarrassing, in retrospect. And, in the case of Lovers & Friends, a little risk can lead to some sublime moments.
The second installment of the Lovers & Friends project was released Friday, Oct. 16. Lovers & Friends, Season Three comes out Friday, Nov. 13, and the final EP will be released Friday, Dec. 4. Download the albums at loversandfriendsmusic.com.