Local musician Andy Ard is a vegetarian and ex-boy scout with a BA in Journalism. He is also the Vice President of the board of COMBO and an accomplished songwriter. With over 20 years of writing under his belt, I recently asked him a few questions about the development of his craft…
Q: Andy, when did you first start writing songs and can you describe your progression as a writer?
Andy: I remember wanting to write songs after the first time I heard the Kinks when I was 11. I fumbled around with guitar for a few years, and made my first crude attempts at writing something when I was 15. It sounded like an outtake from side 2 of “Pink Floyd the Wall”.
At 17 I wrote my first proper song for my high school sweetheart, and my progress was slow from there – probably 5 songs in the next 5 years. In 1998 was the first time I really got going on production, as I worked in a studio and was motivated to record an album there.
More recently, I started participating in Immersion Composition Society song games, which supercharged my output, both in quantity and creativity. Now I have a backlog of a few hundred songs that I’ll likely never finish recording, but that’s okay – I focus on the ones that show the most promise.
Q: Was there a specific event (turning point) that gave you validation of your abilities? What do you think has helped you the most in developing as an artist?
Andy: There were a few big ones. In 2001 after moving to Colorado, my former partner Rachel Simring and I got a nomination for Singer/Songwriter of the Year in the Westword, a spot in the showcase and a feature article. That let me know I was on the right path.
My 2009 solo EP got a nice write-up in Westword, too, and that came after a series of events that nearly stopped my performing. That same year, one of my songs was runner up in the Write with a Hit-Maker contest, and I ended up showcasing at the Durango Songwriter’s Expo. I did end up winning that contest in 2012.
Each of those experiences came at a time that I needed some kind of shot in the arm, something to make me keep going in the face of rejection and indifference. Without question, the Durango Songwriter’s Expo has helped me most in developing as an artist. It’s my tribe. I cannot strenuously enough recommend this for songwriters.
Q: What have been some of the biggest challenges you’ve faced along the way? Is there some piece of advice you really wish someone would have given you earlier?
Andy: I was nearly killed in 1989 when two tractor-trailers slammed into my car on I-85 near Atlanta. I had neck pain for years after that, but the experience strengthened my resolve to do with my life something worthwhile. Coincidentally enough, I was going home from band rehearsal.
In 2001, Rachel and I were riding high in the Denver music scene, playing some high profile gigs and getting press, working on a new album. Our divorce effectively split up the band, and we both had to start all over again.
In 2006 I hit my head quite hard and it took a couple years to recover. I couldn’t turn my head quickly, had trouble singing, overheating, things like that. It took me to a real low point, and the beginning of the upswing was the EP in 2009.
As far as advice I wish I’d heard (or at least taken to heart) earlier: Network. I have had much more success being helpful to others than trying to get my own thing done.
Q: What projects are you most of proud of to date? And what are you still trying to accomplish that you know will indicate a major milestone for you?
Andy: I’d say it’s my solo album, “How Easy It Is” – a paradoxical title for a project I wrote, recorded, produced, designed and promoted almost by myself. I’m still trying to accomplish the original vision for that album, which was a completely collaborative work.
Runner-up would be a series of string and piano pieces I composed for the White House Historical Association’s virtual tours of the White House. It’s still online, although uncredited. I missed a huge PR opportunity there.
I’ve had some songs cut by other artists, but nothing has hit so far. That would be nice. I’m with a publisher now, and am focused on getting something placed. That would also be nice.
Q: Please tell me a little about Artists in Sync…
Andy: Alex Rodriguez and I met through the Durango Songwriters Expo and started Artists in Sync to help artists get their songs “placement ready.” That means they’ve got their tracks in the correct format for music supervisors (who place songs in TV shows, movies, games and commercials) including instrumental dubs and all relevant signed agreements.
It’s not that complicated, but it’s a lot of work and most artists can use some help navigating that world. The bigger picture is that we’re helping to bring about the industry model that will eventually be the norm.
Q: What is your favorite venue to play?
Andy: My favorite venue is and was Red Rocks in 2005. My old band’s name (Dime Store Da Vinci’s) is on the plaque in the hall of fame there. The best event my new band (PJ Zahn) has played so far is the Golden First Friday street festival. They close off a couple blocks and zillions of people come out to party. We’d like to get to Red Rocks, too.