The Star Prairie Project is the brainchild of Nolen R. Chew Jr., a songwriter from Star Prairie, Wisconsin. Nolen collaborates with musicians and producers from LA to London to bring his songs to life. The project is named after the village of Star Prairie (50) miles North East of Minneapolis/St Paul and the Alan Parsons Project from back in the day.
The Star Prairie Project’s latest album was ‘Panacea’ which ‘Frantic Mind’ is taken from. The album included Nolen R. Chew Jr., Songwriter (Star Prairie, WI). Rudiger (LA) Vocals, Instrumentation, and Production. Marcello Vierira (Portugal), Vocals, and Production and Dikk (London) Instrumentation, Engineering, and Production.
Lisa: Define the mission of The Star Prairie Project.
Nolen: The mission of The Star Prairie Project is to write original songs, make them into records, and grow a fan base and listening audience. Like it’s namesake the Alan Parson’s Project, The Star Prairie Project focus is songwriting and recording rather than performing and touring. This has allowed me to release two full length albums, one five song EP and four singles in less than two years. When I was growing up I was a huge fan of the Alan Parson’s Project. Alan produced Pink Floyd’s, ‘Dark Side of the Moon’ (One of my all time favorite albums) and concentrated on recording instead of touring. It was a studio gig just like The Star Prairie Project.
Lisa: Describe the musical frameworks your Music explores.
Nolen: Song writing isn’t a science but there is a basic framework for how a song is structured, how one’s ear anticipates a melody of a riff. Certain chord progressions and patterns (verse, verse, chorus, verse, chorus, bridge , chorus) are familiar to modern pop/rock culture. Many of my songs follow familiar progressions and patterns. Others do not. As I grew in confidence and experience I became bolder and more experimental with my songs. My songs are very lyrical. Many of my songs are driven by a strong lyrical melody. I love a good melody and a powerful story line that draws the listener in.
Lisa: Who are some of your favorite artists or rather, what musicians have
continued to inspire you and your music? Who would you absolutely still
love to work with in the future?
Nolen: Growing up I was really into The Beatles, Stones, Byrds, CSNY, Eagles, Led Zeplin, Pink Floyd, Bob Seger, Elton John, Linda Ronstad, Joni Mitchell, Carly Simon and Carol king to name a few. Now days I’m listening to more alt rock and indie music like Beck, The Decemberists, Spoon, Broken Bells, Ray Lamontange, Cold War Kids and the like. I would love to work with Paul McCartney. He’s still putting out great new music. He was a huge influence in my song writing and musical growth.
Lisa: What types of change do you feel your music can initiate?
Nolen: Change is what it’s all about. Life is defined by change and how we adapt to change. The type of change I would like to aspire to through my music is growth, evolution and acceptance. Lately, my songs are both anticipatory and nostalgic in nature. Perfectly reflective of the bi-polarity and duality of the times. On my new album ‘Panacea’ change is reflected in the song ‘Bygone Days’, a yearning for the carefree past combined with the maturity of learning experiences. A line from the song goes, “I didn’t know, what I didn’t know… through my mistakes I have grown.” Another song, “My Dear Lady” speaks of the inability to adapt to change; self destructive tendencies as I watch a friend crash and burn, “flying too close to the sun”. Change. Ready or not it’s coming, and I hope any changes my music inspires are positive.
Lisa: Do you tend to follow any pre-defined patterns when composing a song?
Nolen: Not really, though there are some general conditions and trends. The biggest condition for me is being left the hell alone. I need open and undisturbed periods of time. Unstructured time allows me to pick up my guitar and noodle around. The vast majority of my songs start with a spontaneous burst of creativity from something I just stumble on, or a chord progression I reveres or invert. Once I find a riff or a series of notes or chords I like I try to build a verse or chorus melody. Sometimes the hook will come first. I pretty much start with a clean slate with no preconceived notions. Generally the lyrics come after I have timed out and structured the song. But not always. Sometimes I’ve got two or three new songs floating around at the same time. Song writing is putting poetry to music to me. Like Paul McCartney said, (I’m paraphrasing) “How song writing works? Who knows!”
Lisa: I really liked your song “Frantic Mind”. What inspired you to write it?
Nolen: Ha! Frantic Mind was a trip!. One hectic day, like everyday for the past several years, I was overwhelmed with the magnitude of crazy, surrealistic events unfolding on cable news. i started having an anxiety attack with my heart beat exploding, sweat breaking out and my mind racing. I said to myself, “My God you’re a mess, start writing down what you are thinking and feeling.” I pick up my electric guitar and started pounding out some power chords to express the angst. “Frantic Mind” was born. It started out as a self therapy song and became very popular with my wife and friends I’d play it to. I made a quick demo of the song on my home recorder and sent the song to my friend and singer Marcello Vieira in Portugal who worked with DIkk out of London to engineer and produce it. I was surprised by the success of the song. I thought there were three or four other songs on the Panacea album that were as good or better. But this song is timely and it fits the mood millions are feeling these days. I think the world is having a massive anxiety attack ha!
Lisa: How did you document the music while it was being formulated?
Nolen: I use a notebook and a pencil to record my initial thoughts and ideas. I write down the chord progressions and the key I’m writing in. I’ll record the strumming pattern, timing and any initial ideas about the lyrics. Then I’ll write down the verse and chorus chords. Once I’ve developed the basic structure of the song I record a quick demo on my Spire Isotope home recording system so I don’t forget what I started. It’s a songwriters nightmare to lose or forget a cool lick you’re working on. Frustrating! After my demo tracks are complete I register the song for copyrights.
Lisa: Describe your approach to recording.
Nolen: I have one firm premise about recording. It’s all about the song! I want to fully manifest the songs potential. I want the best talent for the song. I use the best vocalists and session musicians, engineers and producers I can find. The Star Prairie Project ebbs and flows of talent. I work with international artists on my projects. On Panacea, Rudiger is from LA, Marcello lives in Portugal, Dikk works out of London and I work from my lake home in Star Prairie, Wisconsin. How a song is recorded can radically effect a song, especially the production phase. Finally I would rather under produce a song then overproduce one. I have heard so many songs, in my opinion, ruined by trying to be too cute in recording it.
Lisa: What non-musical entities and ideas have impacted your music?
Nolen: I wrote poetry for years before I began songwriting. So without question poetry impacted my music tremendously. My music is a form of poetry put in motion. Also, the historical events of our everyday lives have impacted my songwriting. We are living in very dynamic and tumultuous times, very divisive times. It’s so hard to stay centered and balanced. Truth itself is being challenged and our lives have shifted suddenly and personally. This social, cultural and political storm has really captured my songwriting the last several years. We sense our world will never be the same again and we’re struggling to adjust. My music reflects all of these dynamics. That’s why often I like to throw in a traditional or nostalgic song to balance out the chaos and sooth our minds and souls.
Lisa: What advice or philosophy might you impart to other musicians, be it in
forms of creativity, technical stuff, the business side of it, or anything else?
Nolen: I remember watching a documentary on the “Eagles” where they were interviewing Glenn Frey about music and songwriting. His advice was, “Just do it”. Apparently, that’s what Bob Seger told him. And I’ve always remembered that advice and taken it to heart. So that’s my advice to other songwriters and aspiring musicians. “Just do it”!!! Just try and write songs. They’ll probably terrible at first! I know some of mine were. But make music. Write bad songs and eventually you’ll get better and succeed or you’ll find it’s not for you. But you have to do the grunt work you have to log the reps.
Lisa: What is your view on technology in music?
Nolen: My view of technology is ‘Skies the Limit’. The Star Prairie Project is a child of technology. A generation ago this was not possible. My song files are often 400M or more. Manipulating these files and sharing them around the world is what The Star Prairie Project does. One night this past march I wrote an acoustic song that I recorded on my Spire home recording system. I added a drum and bass track to create a basic demo file. I sent the mp3 file to my friend Rudiger in LA and he fully engineered and produced the song and made it radio ready in less than 72 hours. Two weeks later my latest single about the pandemic, “Home of Hope” was released worldwide. Music Technology made this happen.
Lisa: What are your plans for the future?
Nolen: The Panacea release is imminent. I’m so pleased at how the album turned out. I really hope our listeners like it as much as we do ha! I have another 10 song album in the can, ready to go! I just finished the album with Rudiger. We named it ‘Rudiger’s Revenge’. It’s got a distinct Americana Rock flavor. We started out after we finished ‘Panacea’ to clean up a couple of songs that were left over from the Panacea sessions and just kept going. Next thing we knew we completed an entire ten song album in about six weeks. Now I’m finishing up a five song EP called ‘Surreal” with Marcello and Rudiger. So the good news there is plenty of new material on the way for our fans.