NCU Podcast #010: John Presnell on Disconnecting from Technology, Songwriting, and the Power of Joy in His Creative Process

John Presnell is a singer/songwriter who composes songs in light and dark tones that range thematically from romantic to political, and dramatic to whimsical.

In this episode we discuss John’s socially conscious song “Pills,” as well as his song “Life’s So Unfair,” on which he collaborated with Stephane Wrembel, who wrote the theme song to the Grammy winning soundtrack to Midnight In Paris.

We also discuss John’s songwriting process, inspirations, and advice to songwriters.

Please welcome our next creator up, John Presnell.

Episode Highlights

1:32 Why John decided to pursue a creative life and when he got started

3:00 What John attributed to learning how to play the guitar quickly

4:17 Where John’s love for writing came from

5:08 John’s biggest sacrifice in his career so far

6:30 John’s feelings about playing live

7:45 John’s song “Life’s So Unfair” and its inspiration

10:42 John’s song “Pills” and what inspired it

11:41 How John found his voice as an artist

14:41 How much of John’s life is reflected in his own work

15:35 If John could change something about society with his art, what would it be?

18:40 Why John disconnected from technology

22:43 John’s creative process from idea to completed song

23:50 John’s influences

28:05  John’s brief diversion from music and lessons along the way

34:30 Advice for aspiring songwriters and musicians

35:48 John’s share worthy

37:38 The lightning round! The questions aired in this episode:

  • How do you define creativity?
  • What’s the most important part of your creative routine?
  • How do you think one can expand one’s mind and creative abilities?
  • How do you know an idea is the right idea?
  • What is the most helpful thing you’ve learned or useful skill developed during your career?
  • What is something you do to ignite your creativity and get into a creative zone?
  • Do you believe in being creatively blocked?
  • When I’m feeling unmotivated it helps me to?
  • Do you ask yourself questions about your work?
  • Has anyone ever given you any words of inspiration that you’d like to pass along to others?

John Presnell Quotes Worth Remembering

“I’ve sacrificed everything, personal life, financial stability, everything in pursuit of my art. It’s not an easy thing to do, but I do it for the joy of it.”

“You let the art and the beauty of the art sustain you, that is what gets you through. You’re not living a typical life or a conventional life, so you have to rely on other things to help you get through. Just the ability to create does something to one.”

“For me getting up onstage is an act of joyous abandonment… I just focus on the words and try to get my message across.”

“Let the music enchant you and you will enchant the audience.”

“Not everyone has the same endowment of life force. Some people can take on a lot of loss and a lot of sorrow and bounce back. And there are other people who have lived completely privileged, easy lives and one thing comes along and they’re destroyed by it. I think it’s fascinating that some people can roll with it and other people can’t.”

“I have an idea of what I want to do, then I look for the collaborators that I think would be right… I kind of look at it like a coloring book. The songwriter is the person who creates the picture and the musicians are the crayons that give it a certain tone.”

”Trial and error, you find your voice. You just have to keep at it.”

“Art can be whatever, you can have any kind of message. It can be constructive or destructive. However, I think it would be a better world if we took responsibility for the messages we put out there.”

“It’s an artist’s world, and we’re just living in it. From the shirt you’re wearing to the car you’re driving, someone has designed it. There is art everywhere. Art exerts an enormous influence on people. People often say that art reflects society, which I think is true, but I also think society reflects art.”

“Even if you’re plugged in remember you’re going to get an echo chamber. Your ideas will already be reinforced. The algorithms of YouTube for example see what you like  and will feed that to you… You are only going to end up with the stuff you’re interested in… Unlike an echo chamber I’m not getting my ideas reinforced with more of the same, I’m looking for as many points of view as possible.”

“The art of writing a lyric is that the listener gets it clearly the first time they hear it.”

“There is a lot of attendant insanity for any profession you’re involved in, so if you love something you will happily go through it, but if you don’t it’s torture.”

“Take in as many points of view as possible. Listen to what people have to say. Watch what people are doing. Take it all in, that’s the beauty of life, that there are so many different points of view. That will certainly expand your creativity.”

“Don’t take it all so seriously. We’re here to enjoy life, and the people who have fun are the ones who win.”

“The joy is in creating. Let the universe take care of the rest.”

“If you’re an artist keep on creating. You never know when the thing you create is perfect for the times.”

“I think that when you struggle or when you desperately want something you can’t have it, but if you’re light about something and have fun it comes easily.”

Mentioned in This Episode

Connect with John

*digital painting of John Presnell by Gary Kaleda


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