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This truly special StoryBeat episode features three divine talents who’ve come together to create a magnificent song tribute to those on the medical front lines of the COVID-19 pandemic. Songwriters Michele Brourman and Hillary Rollins joined forces with the angelic-voiced singer, Maude Maggart, to produce the gorgeous song, “While There is Still Time,” which is the focus of this StoryBeat episode.

Composer, Michele Brourman, who’s one of our most memorable StoryBeat guests, has enjoyed a wide-ranging career in music.  Her song “My Favorite Year”, co-written with Karen Gottlieb, has become a cabaret standard.  Her music for the theatre includes “The Belle of Tombstone” with Sheilah Rae, “Dangerous Beauty” with Amanda McBroom, and the 2019 Ovation Award-winning “Bronco Billy” with Chip Rosenbloom and John Torres.  She’s been musical director for Amanda McBroom, Ann Hampton Callaway, Dixie Carter, Heather MacRae, Wendy Lane Bailey, Donna McKechnie, and more.

Hillary Rollins is an award-winning lyricist, librettist, playwright, TV writer and essayist. In addition to writing, she is a performer and producer of live music and theatre events in intimate venues in Los Angeles and New York through her company “Hillary Rollins Presents.”

Since her cabaret debut in 2001, singer Maude Maggart has performed in cabarets and theaters across the United States and Europe. Her performances have included her yearly engagement at the Oak Room of the Algonquin Hotel, the Oregon Festival of American Music, Michael Feinstein’s concert series at Carnegie Hall and the national live radio broadcast of “A Prairie Home Companion.” Maude has recorded songs with such talents as Ray Jessel, John Lithgow, David Lucky, Molly Ryan, Brent Spiner and her sister, Fiona Apple, with whom she is currently recording a new project. Maude has five solo albums to her credit, the latest of which, “Here Come the Dreamers,” will be available this summer. She can be seen in the TCM documentary “Johnny Mercer: The Dream’s on Me” and on the PBS series “The American Songbook.”

At the end of the show, be sure to stick around to hear their beautiful song, “While There is Still Time.” You can also find below a link to the video of the song, created by folk legend, Christine Lavin.  Listeners are encouraged to donate to directrelief.org, which is a humanitarian aid organization, active in all 50 states and more than 80 countries, with a mission to improve the health and lives of people affected by poverty or emergencies without regard to politics, religion, or the ability to pay.  Direct Relief is currently focused on getting protective gear and critical care medications to as many health workers as possible, as quickly as possible.

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STORYBEAT WITH STEVE CUDEN – TRANSCRIPT

STEVE CUDEN INTERVIEWS SONGWRITERS MICHELE BROURMAN AND HILLARY ROLLINS AND SINGER MAUDE MAGGART

ANNOUNCER:

This is StoryBeat, storytellers on storytelling, an exploration into how master storytellers and artists develop and build brilliant stories and works of art that people everywhere love and admire. So join us as we discover how talented creators of all kinds find success in the worlds of imagination and entertainment. Here now is your host, Steve Cuden.

Steve Cuden:

Thanks for joining us on StoryBeat. If you like this podcast, please take a moment to give us a rating or review on whatever app or platform you’re listening to. Your support helps us bring more great StoryBeat episodes to you. Well, we have a really special show today. My guests are three divine talents who’ve come together to create a magnificent song tribute to those on the medical front lines of the COVID-19 pandemic. Songwriters, Michele Brourman and Hillary Rollins joined forces with the angelic voice singer Maude Maggart to produce the gorgeous song While There Is Still Time, which will be the focus of today’s StoryBeat.

Composer Michele Brourman, who’s one of my most memorable StoryBeat guests, has enjoyed a wide ranging career in music. Her song, My Favorite Year, co-written with Karen Gottlieb has become a cabaret standard. Her music for the theater includes The Bell Of Tombstone with Sheila Ray, Dangerous Beauty with Amanda McBroom and the 2019 ovation award-winning Bronco Billy with Chip Rosenbloom and John Torres. She’s been musical director for Amanda McBroom and Hampton Callaway, Dixie Carter, Heather McRae, Wendy Lane Bailey, Donna McKechnie and more.

Hillary Rollins is an award winning lyricist, librettist, playwright, TV writer and essayist. In addition to writing, she’s a performer and producer of live music and theater events in intimate venues in Los Angeles and New York through her company Hillary Rollins Presents. Since her cabaret debut in 2001, singer Maude Maggart has performed in cabarets and theaters across the United States and Europe. Her performances have included her yearly engagement at the Oak Room of the Algonquin Hotel, the Oregon festival of American Music, Michael Feinstein’s concert series at Carnegie Hall and the National Live Radio broadcast of a Prairie Home Companion.

Maude has recorded songs with such talents as Ray Jessel, John Lithgow, David Lucky, Molly Ryan, Brent Spiner and her sister Fiona Apple with whom she is currently recording a new project. Maude has five solo albums to her credit, the latest of which Here Come The Dreamers will be available this summer. That would be 2020. She can be seen in the TCM documentary, Johnny Mercer, The Dreams On Me and on the PBS series, The American Songbook. At the end of today’s show, stick around to hear their song While There Is Still Time. A link to a video of the song created by folk legend Christine Lavin will also be on storybeat.com. Listeners are encouraged to donate to directrelief.org which is a humanitarian aid organization active in all 50 states and more than 80 countries with a mission to improve the health and lives of people affected by poverty or emergencies without regard to politics, religion, or the ability to pay.

Direct Relief is currently focused on getting protective gear and critical care medications to as many health workers as possible, as quickly as possible. So for all of those amazing reasons, I’m beyond thrilled to welcome the exceptionally gifted Michele Brourman, Hillary Rollins and Maude Maggart to StoryBeat today. Welcome to you all.

Hillary Rollins:

Thank you.

Steve Cuden:

We’re so glad to have you on the show. So first of all, I’m really glad to see that you’re all well and not in trouble on a health-what basis and that you’re being somehow creatively productive. Because I know some people are and some aren’t during this pandemic. I’m curious about how being sheltered in place has impacted your creativity and productivity in general, just in genera. Maude, how’s it impacting you? Are you still able to sing every day?

Maude Maggart:

Sure. I sing every day, but I have to say that when the song came along, it really shined a light in my life because I wasn’t being productive musically all that much except for making up little songs to my daughter or just singing around the house. But this was really a beautiful sense of purpose that this song gave me and it was fun.

Steve Cuden:

Hillary, how has this impacted you?

Hillary Rollins:

You know, it’s interesting, I keep saying a quote that I’m often using in my life, which is the Dickens, it’s the best of times. It’s the worst of times.

Steve Cuden:

Oh, indeed.

Hillary Rollins:

And I find that to be true, just spiritually true in everything. It’s true writ large right now. So in some ways it’s been the greatest gift to creative people or to me anyway as a creative person because the excuses of got to run to the gym. That ain’t happening. It’s like all the time that I’ve complained about not having time to write is now I have time to write. I also have experienced the difficulty with having unscheduled time to write and facing the demons that are, there’s no one stopping me but me. So I’ve been very, very productive in some areas creatively and in others very scattered and frustrated and it’s not all that different than how it was before the pandemic. It’s just turned up several notches. It’s at 11.

Steve Cuden:

Well, there’s an element of anxiety in it for most people. I know it is for me. And that that anxiety has a tendency to impact the way you’re thinking. At least it does in my world. And I’ve spoken to any number of artists who say the same thing. Michele, how’s this impacted you? I know you’ve been busy, but how’s it impacted you?

Michele Brourman:

Yeah. It’s the oddest thing. I mean, right before we started sheltering in place, I was in New York getting an award, Bistro Award and spending time with friends and going to the theater and then I came home on an empty plane and just went, “Wait a minute, this is more real than I wanted to see.”

Steve Cuden:

Yeah, no kidding.

Michele Brourman:

But since I’ve been home, partially I’ve been, I’m still working. I’m working on an animation project with Amanda for … We’re writing songs for, like a series of animation projects for kids. So I’ve had work and deadlines and songs to get rejected. So it seems to me, I thought I was going to come home and take out my knitting needles. That is just so not happening. I am baking sourdough bread and I had no idea that I was absolutely on trend with that. But yeah, it feels like an oddly productive time and that word gift keeps coming up. I’m very aware of what’s going on around me. I’m very aware that there’s this strange, subtle, scary, dangerous thing happening and I’m terribly aware of how many people are being hurt right now economically as well as health wise. But in my cocoon here, life is wonderful.

Steve Cuden:

Well, that’s encouraging to hear because like I say, some people are struggling with this and it’s good to know that some of us are not. You’re not struggling with it. All right, so we’re here to talk about the song While There Is Still Time. Where did this come from? Where did the beginning of the song come from? How did it begin?

Hillary Rollins:

Yeah, I’ll take that because it came from me originally and…

Steve Cuden:

And this is Hillary. Good.

Hillary Rollins:

Yes, sorry, Hillary here. So it’s funny, my secondary passion aside from writing and art, music and all of that is medicine. There’s no real explanation for it. It’s just something that’s always been interesting to me. And I always said I would have been a doctor if I could have done math, and I was from that period of girls don’t do math. They certainly didn’t teach it well where I was. So I just, I couldn’t compete in that arena, but I always stayed interested in psychology and medicine and human biology and that kind of thing. So in addition to all the stuff that I do for my writing and research, I have this little secret thing that I subscribe to something called Medscape, which is a really for doctors.

Hillary Rollins:

But it’s an online publication about medicine and health and science. And it’s not totally, it’s not news. It’s not partisan in any way. It’s just medical stuff. And while, and most of it is beyond me. Most of it I read and I go, “I have no idea what they’re talking about.” But every so often, there’s something that I can sort of wrap my brain around. And there was an interesting video during the COVID-19 crisis where some … during this crisis and some doctor was talking about some aspect of it on video. And at the end of the video, he said something that really struck me. And he said, I want to quote the lines of the poet Philip Larkin who’s a famous British poet.

Steve Cuden:

Right. Sure.

Hillary Rollins:

And he said, “We need to be kind while there is still time.” And of course as a lyricist, immediately I heard the rhythm of that. I heard the rhyme of that and I was so struck by the simplicity and the truth of it and that it came from a poet and was being quoted to me by a doctor. And I thought, well, this is beshared as we say in Yiddish, this is meant to be. And I just went, I looked up the poem and I didn’t know much about … I mean, I know his famous poem, they fuck you up, your mom and dad. But I really didn’t know the rest of his work.

And this was a gorgeous, brief, beautiful poem called The Mower and it totally spoke to me and it spoke to the moment and it was the perfect combination of all these factors. So I took those two lines and I didn’t want to … you’ll hear in the lyric, I referred to the poet. I say a poet of sorrow because I didn’t want to own those lines for myself. Those were given to me by him and spoke to me and I thought-

Steve Cuden:

That’s your opening line for the song.

Hillary Rollins:

Yeah, that is the opening line. But I used the lines from the poem as the last two lines of the song and it’s the most … I didn’t work very hard. It flowed out of me. It was inspiration. It just wrote itself.

Steve Cuden:

So how long did it take you to write the lyrics?

Hillary Rollins:

I can’t even say. Probably in one sitting.

Steve Cuden:

So less than a few hours then?

Hillary Rollins:

Yes. I mean, there were tweaks, there were some changes. Once I got Michele on board to do the music, we made some improvements and as one does. But the song had a shape and it was just one of those things that happens where you go, “Well, that’s divine inspiration. The rest of the time it’s work.”

Steve Cuden:

Yes, of course. When it comes, it comes. When it flows, it flows. It’s an amazing thing. All writers experience that where nothing comes and then yes, everything comes at one time. So yeah, it’s a really cool thing when that does happen. So then how did you get it to Michele? How did that come to be?

Hillary Rollins:

Well, Michele and I have worked together before. We’re friends and we wrote a song, oddly enough, the other song that we’ve written together was also inspired by a poem. And I became, I’ve sort of as a side project have gotten really interested in poems that inspire lyrics, inspire songs, but are not settings of poems. So where as a lyricist, I feel it somewhere else completely with it. But I’m sort of triggered by a poem. And so I’ve done that once with a close friend’s poem, a beautiful poem and we were very happy with the song that came out of that. So we were talking and I mentioned that I had just written a new lyric and she said, “Send it to me right away.” So I did and I was thrilled because she’s the best.

Steve Cuden:

Well, that we know.

Hillary Rollins:

And she’s the best for this. I knew that she understood my sensibility.

Steve Cuden:

And you know what the proof of that is in the pudding, right?

Hillary Rollins:

Yeah.

Steve Cuden:

You could say that all day long, but unless the evidence of it is there later, forget it. But the evidence is clearly there. I’m just curious how this then, and we’ll get into the details of this in a moment, but how this all wound up being dedicated to directrelief.org. How did that happen?

Michele Brourman:

I’ll take it from there for that part.

Steve Cuden:

This is Michele.

Michele Brourman:

First of all … Yeah, this is Michele. Hillary had mentioned that she thought that the music should be Dylanesque, which I was in Bob Dylan’s band for two weeks, many, many years ago, decades ago.

Steve Cuden:

You have some really good Bob Dylan stories. I know, I’ve heard them.

Michele Brourman:

I know you have and I do. Yeah. We’ve told each other our kiss off stories. But so I mean, and again, the music came very quickly too. And so sent Hillary and MP3 and said, “Here’s where I am right now. Let’s talk about it.” And as soon as we were talking about the song, I said, “We should tie this to a charity.” And my son, his band had just done a fundraiser a week or two earlier for Direct Relief and I’ve donated to them. Actually I am an ongoing donor to them because they jumped in after we had the wildfires here a few years ago. These were on the spot and effective, present and helpful. And I just thought, I like organizations like that who do something when you need them. They’re there when you need them. So I suggested that and we looked them up online and checked them out on charity navigator and all that and just went, “Yeah, let’s do this.”

Steve Cuden:

So then you then contacted them or did you just put it up that way?

Michele Brourman:

No. We tried to contact them and we’re hoping to speak with somebody from their organization honestly, later today. But they’re very busy right now. They’re not necessarily looking at emails from songwriters saying, hi, I wrote a song we think you might want to use. So we just did it. We just put it on. And then Hillary suggested doing a video and asking Christine Lavin to create the video because it’s something that Christine does and does extremely well. So-

Steve Cuden:

It’s a very moving video. And I encourage all the listeners to click on the link on this site or find it on YouTube. It’s a very moving, powerful video of images. It’s mostly just still images that are pinned and scanned so to speak. But it’s very powerful. So I encourage people to look it up. Alright. So once you had the lyrics in hand, I know Michele, it changes for you song by song as to how difficult songs are to get into one way or another. But in this case it was easy.

Michele Brourman:

This one just, it flowed through me the way it flowed through Hillary. There was something in it. I mean, first of all, she wrote a perfect lyric. It’s a gorgeous lyric. We changed really one line in it at Christine’s suggestion and it probably was a good suggestion. Although I really, I thought the original line was very hip and really Dylanesque.

Hillary Rollins:

Yeah, we love the original line too. Someday they will be me. The bonus track.

Steve Cuden:

I call it the director’s cut, but there’s no director. It’s the composer’s cut.

Michele Brourman:

I don’t know that it’s … I mean, I feel that for where we’ve purposed the song right now, the rewrite serves that purpose. The original would not have served it the same way. But it was very cool. But when somebody really understands song form and they have genuine content in that, it makes it a lot easier to write the music.

Steve Cuden:

And so was it an afternoon? Was it a couple of days? How long did it take?

Michele Brourman:

No, I think it was an hour and a half.

Steve Cuden:

An hour and a half. It just came.

Michele Brourman:

To sketch it out. After that then, I write with my keyboard and computer and then I started working on the … It was, I started it as a sample guitar part and then I added a piano and I added a bass and that takes more time.

Steve Cuden:

Did you use that in the actual recording or did you…

Michele Brourman:

Oh, yeah. You’re hearing it when you hear the recording. And then my dear and brilliant friend, I’ve been recording and producing with the same genius for 25 years. His name is Stephan Oberhoff and he’s worked with me on both albums that I’ve made and a bunch of albums that we’ve produced for other artists. And every song that I do for Universal, and I’ve done like 20 animated features for them now. So he’s worked with me on everything.

Steve Cuden:

So you only had to rework one line and that was based on a suggestion from Christine?

Michele Brourman:

That’s right.

Steve Cuden:

And otherwise it is what Hilary handed to you.

Michele Brourman:

It is.

Steve Cuden:

That’s pretty awesome because that doesn’t happen every time, does it?

Hillary Rollins:

Nope.

Michele Brourman:

I have the original print out here and we might’ve changed an and or a but or an if or one syllable somewhere, but that was it. Oh, and then I sent Hillary the music and she had some thoughts about the melody and suggested a change and I made the change sent it to her and she said, “No, it was better the first time.” It’s as if the song spun through us both. And then Christine was the one who said, “This has to be sang by Maude Maggart. No one else should sing this. Just Maude.” Then we had-

Steve Cuden:

Wow. So that decision was right out of the gate?

Michele Brourman:

Out of the gate. And she-

Hillary Rollins:

Well, it wasn’t out of the gate when we wrote it, because who knew where we were going to go with any of it? But as soon as it became a project, it was apparent that first of all, Maude is just a glorious singer.

Steve Cuden:

That is true.

Hillary Rollins:

And so in my opinion, anything I write should be sung by Maude, period.

Michele Brourman:

Yeah. And we had performed together for the first time in New York just in October Maude and I, and I just thought, oh my God, I love her singing, I love her actually.

Maude Maggart:

The feeling’s mutual.

Michele Brourman:

That one where he’s like, “Oh, okay. Fine.”

Hillary Rollins:

But especially this song, if I can just add to it because I feel like Maude does, she could sing anything. They say the real thing singers can sing the phone book.

Steve Cuden:

Sing the phone book. Sure. Right. So Maude, they contacted you. Yes? Somebody said-

Maude Maggart:

Yeah. Well yeah because, well, I didn’t know that they were writing a song. So letting me know that they’d written the song. And I think-

Steve Cuden:

Right. And you obviously listened to it and what was your first impression?

Maude Maggart:

I loved it. And I really, I was moved by the first line because it’s so unusual to begin … I guess it’s kind of like a pop song I guess, but begin kind of a poppy song with the words a poet. So unusual.

Steve Cuden:

That’s unusual.

Maude Maggart:

And no, of course I loved it. I mean, I think everybody who hears it loves it. It’s one of those magical creations. And I did think that I would do a good job with it. I mean, if I had loved the song and thought, but I’m not the right person for it, then I would have declined for that reason. But I thought, no, I can do this.

Steve Cuden:

Your voice reminds me a little bit of Vera Lynn, if you know who I’m talking about.

Maude Maggart:

Oh, really? That’s a compliment. Wow.

Steve Cuden:

Yes. Your voice definitely I thought this sounds like somebody, and then I had to think, and I wonder if it’s like Vera Lynn and so this lyric-

Maude Maggart:

The white cliffs of Dover.

Steve Cuden:

Absolutely. So we meet again.

Maude Maggart:

Oh God, that’s so beautiful.

Steve Cuden:

We’ll meet again.

Michele Brourman:

That song makes me cry. Just the name of the song makes me cry.

Steve Cuden:

Exactly. So yeah, I think your voice is actually perfectly melded to this particular piece of music and lyrics. No question about it. It’s not out of your range in any way, shape or form. It’s right in the pocket of what you do. So I think you’re a very wise choice.

Maude Maggart:

It is in the pocket of what I do, but in a different way because it is like, it’s a folk song, rather than pop song. It’s a folk song. And so I’m more closely associated with early American song book material and a lot of people liken my voice too. And I love that you liked it to Vera Lynn. But I get like Helen Morgan and little tiny voiced people and stuff, but I love folk music and-

Steve Cuden:

You don’t have a tiny voice.

Maude Maggart:

Well I can say something, but then you’d have to cut it out.

Hillary Rollins:

She has a voice that’s-

Maude Maggart:

Because it’s going to name a name, but I won’t do it.

Steve Cuden:

What were you going to say Hillary?

Hillary Rollins:

Oh, just it’s like spun glass. I mean, and so even though it is very well suited to those twenties and thirties songs that Maude is associated with and American songbook stuff and very suited to this kind of folk vibe, I think. And we haven’t heard these kinds of folk vibe singers in a long time because the folk, the kind of Americana or acoustic folk stuff I generally hear these days is just a different style. It’s kind of throatier. I haven’t, and there’s something, this is … I harken back to the string band, what were they called? The amazing-

Michele Brourman:

Are you talking about the Jug band with Maria Muldaur?

Hillary Rollins:

No, I can’t think of the name of it, but a lot of the folk stuff in the sixties, which had more sort of Judy Collins and Joni Mitchell vocal styles and Maude’s like that.

Steve Cuden:

Peter, Paul and Mary?

Hillary Rollins:

Yeah. I mean, not that she sounds like them, but there’s a sort of singerly beauty, simplicity and influenced by the English and the Irish, that kind of vocal.

Steve Cuden:

Absolutely. This song at this time to me feels like comfort food. It’s not testing the envelope of my tolerance for something brand new. No, it’s fitting into a beautiful pocket that just is like very comfortable and new and beautiful, but it’s like comfort food to me. It just sounds like something that makes me relaxed rather than I’m not being challenged by the song in any harsh way. And that I think is what’s great about it. Okay. So now I’m curious, when you’re writing a song and then Maude, when you’re saying the song, do you write the song with a certain audience in mind? Do you sing a song with a certain audience in mind or are you just writing it to write it and sing it to sing it?

Michele Brourman:

The latter.

Steve Cuden:

That’s Michele saying the latter. Because you’re just writing it to write it.

Michele Brourman:

At least that’s where we start. And then every choice is what’s right for this song. We write in a lot of different styles, but this particular song wrote itself through us and dictated the other choices. It absolutely screamed at us, call Maude Maggart.

Steve Cuden:

And when you set it down in the arrangement that you made in the computer, you had an arrangement that would then fit naturally with Maude. You didn’t suddenly make screechy guitars out of it or something.

Michele Brourman:

Oh no. No, no, no.

Steve Cuden:

That’s what I’m saying. So you arranged it in a way that belonged in that pocket.

Michele Brourman:

I arranged it in a way that was appropriate to the song. Every song tells you what it needs. I mean, there’s rhythm and there’s nuance and there’s color and texture and songs make their own demands, each one.

Hillary Rollins:

I have to say that’s the genius of working with a composer who really understands lyrics. And I would hope a lyricist who really understands music. We have the same language for song form, for song, for the impact of the words, the way the words can be sung or not sung in the music. In fact, we did have one word that I remember we talked about fate rather than lives and we just knew it wouldn’t sing well. We liked the word on paper, but there are songs, you also have to know. Our lives intertwined was our fates intertwined and we went, “No, let’s make it lives. It’ll sing better.”

Michele Brourman:

I don’t remember fates ever showing … It never showed up in my … you never sent me that.

Hillary Rollins:

Yeah, I did. It’s in the first draft. But anyway-

Steve Cuden:

So I’m curious Maude, you’ve gotten the song in hand and you know you’re going to sing it, you’ve decided you’re going to sing it and you’re happy to do so. What are the first steps that you go through? How do you start to think your way into how you’re going to sing?

Maude Maggart:

Key is the first step because through the right key, then I can use the nuances in the range of my voice to make the words land and make them … like two favorite words in the song are kind and sorrow. And I think those two words describe the feeling of the entire song pretty well. And so I wanted a key that would allow me to express sorrow and kindness and to really make those emotions come through. So the key is the first step and then breaking down the lines so that I understand them really well. And they’re very simple, but they’re so beautiful, so that I can tell the story.

Steve Cuden:

And that is of course really where your milieux is in terms of you’re a storyteller more than just a singer. You’re telling us a story and that is what makes it so wonderful to listen to is because we then understand what the song means.

Maude Maggart:

And it makes it interesting to sing too.

Steve Cuden:

Absolutely. I mean it draws you in rather than you’re just listening to a song. No, it actually draws you in. And I think that’s what’s really special about this particular-

Maude Maggart:

And the lyricists tend to like it when you do that too.

Steve Cuden:

I would think the composer does as well.

Maude Maggart:

The composer does too.

Michele Brourman:

I just want to add something is kind of like a little bit of a tangent, but this song is not about COVID-19.

Steve Cuden:

No, clearly not.

Michele Brourman:

It relates to this moment and it ties into it, but it is about nuclear threat. It’s about global warming. One of my associations to the lyric that I shared with Hillary early on, do you remember the book On The Beach?

Steve Cuden:

Yes.

Michele Brourman:

And it ends or if you’ve seen the movie with Gregory Peck and Ava Gardner, it ends with this banner flapping in Australia, which is like the last place that people were still surviving. And the banner says there is still time brother.

Hillary Rollins:

Wow. I didn’t realize that.

Michele Brourman:

Yeah. And so this song has a lot of different levels I think of importance lyrically. I think that it’s speaking to us in a lot of ways and after hopefully this particular crisis has come and gone, the song will still be relevant. It’s going to carry forward a lot of resonance.

Steve Cuden:

Well, this song is While There Is Still Time could apply to so many different things, you just hit it at a specific special time. But yeah, you could use this song in myriad different ways. Yeah. And it would work in a movie, it would work in a TV show. It would work in a play. It would work all kinds of places.

Michele Brourman:

From your mouth to God’s ears.

Hillary Rollins:

I was also going to say from your mouth to God’s ears. And also that what has the pandemic really focused for all of us? I mean, there’s always going to be not enough … No, we always should be kind while there is still time and time is the only thing we don’t have really. We have it and we don’t have it. Coming up against that as a human being, being aware of our mortality that separates us from cows and chickens probably is both a gift and a burden. And so that’s just a spiritual truth for the human condition. And that’s why it’s such a pleasure to find a line from a poet and expand upon that, that really speaks to that because that’s always the case. And it’s what we have right now in this moment is a light shined on it.

Steve Cuden:

I’m not aware of any human who’s ever been able to expand time out into infinity. We all have a limit to how long we’re going to be around as souls in this planet unless you’re vampire I guess.

Michele Brourman:

Or believe in reincarnation.

Steve Cuden:

Well, but yet in this incarnation, you only have a limited amount of time. Then you can have multiple lives that can go on into infinity for sure if you believe in Buddhism or various different religious thoughts or not necessarily spiritual thoughts more than religious sometimes. Okay. So that’s what I think I was going to ask what makes you think this song is special? And I think that’s what makes the song special is that it has this kind of unlimited feeling to it. Do you agree with that?

Hillary Rollins:

Absolutely. I mean, it’s hard to … I don’t want to be the one to say it’s timeless because I wrote it and that’s a little self serving. But I write a lot. I write musical theater as you do Steve and as Michele does as well. And I write other kinds of songs. I write in lots of different styles. I write comedy songs, I write stuff that’s very specific to the context, but it’s also a pleasure and a joy and frankly a desire I’ve always had to also write something that isn’t just contextually, doesn’t just live in the context that it’s written for, but has its own sense of classicism or lasting outside of me and the context. And it feels like this song is simple but could have that same resonance the way those songs do.

Steve Cuden:

I agree with you. I think the song is timeless. There’s nothing topical in it. It doesn’t, like Michele says, it’s not talking about the COVID pandemic, although it applies in terms of an emotion and an emotional resonance. So it is timeless in that way. It has a kind of, I don’t know Johnny Mercer-esque quality to it. So-

Hillary Rollins:

Also a compliment. Thank you.

Steve Cuden:

It’s just you’ve done a beautiful job crafting it and you know what, it shows artists in maturity, not age wise, just the maturity of your craft. Because I don’t think you would find too many 22 year olds that would knock this out and especially not in as timely manner as you did. So I want to talk about production a little bit because it must have been very unusual in this case to do production the way you did it. Or am I wrong? You didn’t go into a studio. No? You did everything from your homes. And so Maude-

Hillary Rollins:

And masked.

Steve Cuden:

And masked. No wonder-

Maude Maggart:

Yeah. I recorded the vocal with a mask.

Steve Cuden:

No wonder why it has that muffled quality. No, no, I’m kidding. Do you have a studio in your home Maude? Do you have a … How did you record it?

Maude Maggart:

No, my husband has a really high quality microphone and we did it through a garage band and we tried our best to keep our daughter … our daughter was in the room with us for some of the time and she was very good. She was just listening but then my husband took her away. But yeah, just a microphone and garage band and really trying to keep it quiet.

Michele Brourman:

Her husband, David Lucky, is a very talented songwriter.

Steve Cuden:

Say that again Michele.

Michele Brourman:

Her husband David Lucky is a very talented songwriter. Lovely man and a really good song writer and performer.

Steve Cuden:

Right. So now Michele, you orchestrated, arranged whatever is orchestrated and arranged in it. Yes?

Michele Brourman:

Well, I did the those first three layers, then I sent it to Stephan. He added an actual acoustic guitar because mine’s sample, but we kept mine. It’s the sort of spine of the accompaniment. And then Stephan also added this marvelous sounding sample pedal steel sound and beautifully too, just sort of wove in these textures. And then he also, he’s just a brilliant mixing engineer and he and I got … we did a remote session and ever so gently pitch corrected a note here and there of Maude’s. But mostly Maude your pitch is gorgeous. You can edit that out.

Steve Cuden:

Is there such a thing as a recording today that doesn’t have some little pitch correction in it?

Michele Brourman:

Not that I’m aware of. And if there is, I probably don’t want to hear it. But Maude is good.

Steve Cuden:

No. But again, back to the proof of the pudding. You can easily check out, listeners you can easily check out not only Maude’s recordings, but you can see her on YouTube plenty. And she doesn’t have any pitch correction in front of a live audience. So it’s not a fake, it’s the real deal.

Michele Brourman:

But the other thing is Stephan is brilliant at how do you treat a vocal, what kind of reverb do you use? What of EQ? How much compression do you use so that the vocal is, it’s almost like he makes a halo around it. I don’t know how to explain what he does because I couldn’t do it if my life depended on it.

Steve Cuden:

It’s not Phil Spector’s wall of sound. It just has a way of being a halo.

Michele Brourman:

No, he just almost makes a space so that the vocal can shine in the center of everything. And so you can hear all the nuances that Maude injected into it.

Steve Cuden:

Yes, for sure.

Michele Brourman:

He lets you hear it beautifully and he builds a mix that’s always impeccable.

Steve Cuden:

All right. So I’m curious, is this what you’re doing? Is this now common recording practice to be in separate locations and not even in any kind of studio quality room and you’re recording songs that can be put out into the world. Is that normal now?

Michele Brourman:

Probably is, but-

Steve Cuden:

That’s amazing.

Michele Brourman:

But some people are really, really … I mean, listen. Stephan’s, I mean that studio, he’s worked with amazing artists over the years. Melissa Manchester and Brenda Russell and Jason Gold. And Burt Bacharach and Tom Snow. I mean, he’s just a genius. And so he has a gorgeous studio.

Steve Cuden:

Once you had Maude’s vocal, did that then require a different … Did any changes happen after the vocal came in?

Hillary Rollins:

No, just mixing. Mixing-

Steve Cuden:

Michele looks confused.

Michele Brourman:

No, I’m just trying to figuring out what you would mean .

Steve Cuden:

So in other words, you lay down the tracks, you’ve got a piece of music. You didn’t then change any of that later to accommodate anything that Maude sang?

Michele Brourman:

No. We didn’t have to. It was perfect.

Steve Cuden:

It remained what it was. Well that’s what I was asking is if anything adjusted once you received the vocal because the vocal came in last right before you mixed? Or did you add instrumentation after Maude brought her vocal in?

Michele Brourman:

[Garbled]  …whether we added the … still after you did your vocal. You did your vocal just to my original synth tracks, right?

Maude Maggart:

Yes. So I think you added a little after. Yes after the vocal I think.

Steve Cuden:

That’s what I was curious about because I’m interested in this process. How does production work? How does a song wind up sounding the way it sounds? You have a certain sound to this song. You have a certain voice that’s on this song. Clearly it could have gone in different directions if you’d want it to, but this is how it worked out. As you say Michele, this is what the song wants. The song got what the song wanted.

Michele Brourman:

I think the trick in production always it is to put exactly enough and no more. It’s like to know when something is complete.

Steve Cuden:

Okay. So that’s a really great artistic thing to say. How do you know that? What is it? Is it just years of doing it, it just comes? Or how do you know?

Hillary Rollins:

Gut.

Steve Cuden:

Gut. Pure gut.

Michele Brourman:

And sometimes you go beyond it and you go, “No, dial it back.”

Hillary Rollins:

Yeah. Sometimes feedback. You try something and you think you like it and then not too often because you’re the ultimate creator of the piece. But you also want it to be heard and you want people who hear it to get the most bang out of the buck of hearing it. So there are very few people I would trust for feedback in the creative process, but there are always a few other artists. She doesn’t. We’re different that way. I don’t always…

Michele Brourman:

I’m very private. When I’m in process in something, I don’t want anybody to hear it. I will trust my co-writer and I’ll trust Stephan and if Maude had said, “Listen, could you please change?” I would absolutely trust that too. But I’m very … it’s a closed circle for me.

Steve Cuden:

For the record, Michele and I have known each other our whole lives literally and as I’ve known you all these years, you’re a very confident person in what you do. Even if inside, maybe you aren’t, that’s hard to tell sometimes, but you’re pretty confident on the outside. I don’t ever get a sense from you that you don’t know what you’re doing. So I think that’s indicative of what you’re saying right now is that when you hear the song being worked on, you know what it is and what it wants and so on.

Michele Brourman:

I get a thing in my body and it’s not just with my music, it’s like anything that I truly am listening to. I have a very powerful like visceral reaction to it. I know when something is really grabbing me and I know when something goes by and I go, “Ouch.” And so that comes into play even when I’m writing something really that’s like this, that came really fast, I have a critic and she’s nasty and pitiless.

Steve Cuden:

Merciless.

Michele Brourman:

She is Mim the merciless and she’ll let me know right away. No, not that. No. Not that part.

Steve Cuden:

So I’m curious for all three of you is, have you ever experienced something where you went, “Wait a minute, I did that. It sounded great at the time. I’m going to change it now because it’s not what I thought it was based on some kind of artistic distance.”

Hillary Rollins:

All the time for me.

Maude Maggart:

Yeah.

Steve Cuden:

But Michele, no.

Michele Brourman:

I think once I got into a point with a song where it’s kind of jelled in some way, I rarely won’t change it. I’ve been pressured sometimes to change things and generally speaking, and this sounds so arrogant and I promise I don’t mean it to be, but generally speaking, the person will turn out round afterwards and say, “No, nevermind, go back to where you were.”

Hillary Rollins:

Which I did on this song.

Michele Brourman:

Which we did on this song. And I mean, I guess not always true. And certainly I do a lot of work for hire. I mean all of the work I do for Universal all these years, since 1994 is work for hire and they’ll ask for changes and I’ll make them, whether I think they’re right or not.

Steve Cuden:

Maude, where your vocal was then melted to the song, was there anything you wanted to go back and redo?

Maude Maggart:

Well, I was going to say, I feel that way often that I want to go back. And that’s why performing is really difficult for me because I’ll do shows and then I won’t be able to sleep for a long time because I’ll think, God, I made such a fool out of myself. Why did I do that? And-

Steve Cuden:

I’m having a very hard time imagining that.

Maude Maggart:

Well, that’s the way it is. It’s just, it’s torture.

Steve Cuden:

I’m saying I’m having a hard time imagining you making a fool out of yourself.

Maude Maggart:

I appreciate you saying that. Well, and maybe I haven’t, but I tell myself that I have. But anyway, but in recording it’s different. And I am really, really proud of this song in its entirety. This was a really good job by everybody. I wouldn’t change a thing, not about this. Except I do want to say something else about that, which is that I was so proud to be the one to sing the song first. But I hate it when singers say, “That’s my song.” Because songs are meant to be sung and sung in a variety of different ways and by different people. So I hope that this song has a really beautiful extended long life with different colors of different voices.

Steve Cuden:

Indeed. Indeed. Well, it is timeless in that way and can be sung by different people for different purposes.

Hillary Rollins:

Interestingly, I went out on the web on Facebook and so forth, I got, it was shared quite a bit and I got a note from somebody in Spain who asked me if they could have the lyric just to do a translation, not to sing a translation, but just to translate the words so that his friends who didn’t speak English could understand the words. And I said, “Of course.” And I sent it to him and he sent me back a beautiful Spanish translation. And we started thinking about it and we’re now talking about, we are in the process of having a wonderful Spanish language singer songwriter, see if they can find a Spanish translation of the lyric that is also musical and works with the song. I would love to have people in … because this is, especially right now in this worldwide crisis, wouldn’t it be something to have this song in lots of different languages?

Steve Cuden:

Oh, for sure.

Hillary Rollins:

And by different artists in different countries and it just would go along with so much of the sense of what this is about and how we’re together even while we’re apart.

Steve Cuden:

I totally agree. I think that this song has a universal appeal. That’s the other part of it is that it’s not just specific to one thing or time. It has a universal sound to it. Again, going back to the classics, it’s already a classic in my head. So there you go. Now that’s from my mouth to the listener’s ears I guess.

Hillary Rollins:

Thank you Steve.

Steve Cuden:

All right. So we’ve been talking for close to an hour, believe it or not. And is there any last thoughts you have on the future of the song or what you would like to see with it?

Hillary Rollins:

Well-

Michele Brourman:

Oh, go ahead.

Hillary Rollins:

No, I was just going to say, like I said, I’d love … it’s getting out there of course. And this is yes, as a song writer, of course I want it to “go viral.” I’m sorry for the pun, and get it out there and have other artists record it and have … And everybody wants their babies to lodge and thrive in the world. But this especially just feels, I don’t worry about this one doing that. I feel like it’s doing that. I feel like everything that comes along, like this interview today and we’re meeting with the … We’re having a zoom meeting with the Direct Relief this afternoon. It feels like just the song that has as Christine Lavin who did the video said, “It has a life of its own.” And I just want to give it as a mother, a chance to express that life of its own and grow. And it feels like it’s doing that. So it’s just exciting and kind of scary a little bit. Just like a mother watching their child grow and go out into the world. But-

Steve Cuden:

But you hope it grows up and doesn’t embarrass you in any way.

Hillary Rollins:

Exactly. And takes care of you in your old age.

Steve Cuden:

Were you going to say something Michele?

Michele Brourman:

I was going to say two things, one of which is I really hope that it does a lot of good in terms of raising money for direct relief and purchasing protective equipment for people who need it. So often we watch things unfold and we feel utterly helpless and like there’s just nothing we can do. And in this case we were able to do something proactive and I hope that this song reaches more and more people so that that something can grow more. And the other thing is just this immense shout out to Christine Lavin because she jumped into this. I mean, it took Hillary an hour and a half to write the words and took me an hour and a half to write the music.

Michele Brourman:

Christine spent hours on the video. She kept sending us drafts of it. She kept making it better. She sent it out to people and she posted it on Facebook and she sent it to Jean. I always forget his last name from The Washington Post so he could debut it on his blog posts. She has been immensely generous and it’s a lot because of her effort that the song’s doing what it’s doing. And it’s so rare in the world for somebody to be that kind and that giving of themselves.

Steve Cuden:

Well, we’re in a time and age right now where a lot of people are doing that sort of thing, which is a wonderful thing to see happen because we’ve lived in a period where sometimes it isn’t quite that way and now it’s really a big time where people are giving of themselves. I think it’s great. Maude, any last thoughts?

Maude Maggart:

No, I just echo what the ladies just said. Yeah. I hope the song has a beautiful life and that it continues to help. That’s really what makes me feel so good about this song is that it’s helping.

Steve Cuden:

Well, so, all right-

Hillary Rollins:

I also feel hope that Maude gets to sing it in person live somewhere.

Steve Cuden:

Oh, for sure that’ll happen.

Maude Maggart:

Oh yeah.

Hillary Rollins:

I do miss the live performance and I also sing and so does Michele. So I totally relate to Maude’s thing. If I could sing one 10th as well as Maude does, I don’t think I’d ever feel I was making a fool of myself or embarrassed, but I know that all performers feel that. It’s just, it’s very exposing-

Maude Maggart:

Not all of them.

Hillary Rollins:

When you’re on stage and you’re just a big open wound and potentially, and it’s scary and yet we do it anyway. And why? Because there’s something about that live experience that is so incredible. And so I love this recording and I also just want to say, let’s look to a future where we have both live music.

Steve Cuden:

Well, for sure. I mean, we’re recording this podcast at the end of April of 2020. Who knows when we’re going to get back to live performances again because people coming together in a group like that is still a little scary until we probably have a vaccine or some instant cure. That’s for sure. Well, my great thanks today to Michele Brourman, Hillary Rollins and Maude Maggart for spending time with me on StoryBeat. As I mentioned at the top of the show, we’re being graced with a great treat today. Michele, Hillary and Maude have been kind enough to allow us to end today’s show with While There Is Still Time. Please make a point to visit directrelief.org and donate what you can to helping those on the front lines of the COVID-19 pandemic. You can also find the link to directrelief.org on this episode StoryBeat page. So now please sit back and enjoy this most beautiful song, While There Is Still Time. (singing).  THE SONG PLAYS

AFTER THE SONG:

Steve Cuden:

And so we’ve come to the end of today’s StoryBeat. If you like this podcast, please take a moment to give us a rating or review on whatever app or platform you’re listening to. Your support helps us bring more great StoryBeat episodes to you. Until next time, I’m Steve Cuden and may all your stories be unforgettable.