TheSoundshop x 12 Songs Project: Music and Theater

TheSoundshop was founded on a classic New York dream (or at least, the encouraging of one): Founder Akpanoluo U Etteh II was attempting to convince his brother to move to New York City with the promise of music career success. Akpanoluo gathered his friends in the music scene to hear his brother’s music, and provide feedback and direction. Everyone ended up sharing their own music and forging new connections — a format that theSoundshop still uses today.

The first Soundshop had only ten attendees and lasted three hours, but Akpanoluo, along with his partner Lauren Sattler, have honed the events to six 15-minute showcases. “It’s the best balance between the presentation, discussion, and our attention spans,” Lauren said.

The setup has also changed. In the early days of theSoundshop, friends would sign up for spots on the designated Facebook event page. Now, the showcases are either booked in advance by volunteers from theSoundshop community, or Akpanoluo and Lauren will reach out to an artist.

“This is the spirit of theSoundshop that we’d love to preserve for future events,” they said. “We want artists to feel creatively invigorated and supported by our community when they share a song.”

For this edition of 12 Songs, we recapped each of the showcases of the last Soundshop and invited the six presenters to each share two influential songs.

Who? A writer and performer of theatre. What? An interactive presentation that asks the audience to create background noises that place people in a certain environment, like a horror movie or carnival. Why? To show how audio is just as important as visuals when establishing a setting.

“The narrative is as powerful as the environment you’re creating.”
A recording of the Soundshop audience recreating noises from a carnival.

“Poetry: How Does It Feel?” by Akua Naru

Her use of poetry, rhythm, and sound soothe the soul, stimulates the mind.

“I’d Rather Be with You” by Bootsy Collins

The compact desire creating freedom — funk is the sound where my physical body overcomes all mental blockages.

Who? A pop punk rocker-cum-composer who’s written several shows. What? A performance of “Massachusetts Road,” an original song from his upcoming autobiographical punk musical, “Zeroes and Ones.” Why? To discuss how specificity in songwriting, not generalizations, can actually make songs more relatable.

“You want your audience to say, ‘I felt that way too.’”

“American Idiot” by Green Day

(Off of American Idiot the album, not the river of shit that is the “American Idiot” musical)

This song was released right around the cusp of puberty for me and introduced an album that was everything to me as an angsty suburban punk rocker. The song and the subsequent album are genius, and perfectly capture what it was like growing up in a post-9/11 era.

In a lot of ways, it is much like the opening “This is our world”-type song in a musical, but it was for the real world. This song has huge hooks, blasting punchy guitars, and a guitar solo that was easy enough for 13-year-old Alex to learn. It is the perfect mix of pop and punk. Revisit this and you won’t regret it.

“Carolyn” by ZOX

This is definitely my hipster “you haven’t even heard of this band” pick, but ZOX was a local band from Providence that was a guiding light for me when I was growing up and trying to believe that it was possible for me to make it as a musician. They won a local radio contest on WBRU, the local alternative rock radio station, and the station started pushing their music really hard. This song got to me late in high school during that magical senior summer when you’re getting ready to go to college and trying to soak up all the time with your high school friends as you can. The tune itself is just a perfect storm of tight bass grooves, slim guitar riffs, and desperate, passionate vocal lines. Also, I was in love (of course, unrequited. *le sigh*) with a Caroline of my own in high school, so this hit me right in the feels too.

Who? An actor, singer, and dancer in a variety of areas of performance, including theatre, gogo dancing, performance art, and beat poetry. What? A performance of two contrasting songs: The dramatic “Your Daddy’s Son” from “Ragtime” by Lynn Ahrens and Stephen Flaherty, and the more comedic “Her Sweater” from “Mrs. Sharp” by Ryan Scott Oliver. Why? To show how an actor would prepare for an audition, and what an audition process is actually like.

“Shine” by Anna Nalick

During my senior year at a hyper-intense arts high school, I got to take an incredible experiential psychology class, which has been changing lives at New World School of the Arts since its inception. Over the course of the year, our teacher would play various songs that grounded us in the work we were doing, and she gifted us with a mix CD of these inspirational songs before we graduated. I still listen to it all of the time, 10 years later, and this song in particular is one of my favorites. Both the lyrics and the way the music swells make it a great go-to if you’re in need of a boost.

“Tell Me Why” by Laura Kaufman

“Tell Me Why” is a lullaby my mom sang to me regularly as a child (as an adult, the best recorded version I’ve been able to find is by Laura Kaufman). Now, my nephew, two nieces, and every child I’ve ever had the pleasure of babysitting, request it at bedtime.

Who? A pianist and singer-songwriter, who recently completed two self-produced national tours. What? A discussion of “The Surface,” a song Mike wrote about choosing to live a short life pursuing what he loves rather than living a long life just getting by. Why? To consider how much control we have in our lives and our music.

“Grace” by Jeff Buckley

The first time I truly heard one of the most extraordinary voices my ears have ever been graced with (get it?) was when my buddy and I were riding around Long Island in his car during summer break. We were cruising around, talking about music, and he asked if I was a fan of Jeff Buckley. I heard of the artist because of his well-known version of “Hallelujah,” but preferred Rufus Wainwright’s interpretation, so I never looked any further into him (what was I thinking?). My friend immediately popped in the Grace album and the rest is history.

Jeff Buckley is so much more than “Hallelujah.” This album turned into one of my favorite records of all time, and Buckley — the songwriter, musician, and masterful interpreter of other artists’ songs — became one of my greatest inspirations. This particular song (specifically the opening riff) was what inspired me to write “The Surface.”

“Left Behind” from the Spring Awakening OST

I first heard the music of “Spring Awakening” when a friend of mine had burned the cast album to a CD and handed it to me in our sophomore English class, suggesting I “give this a listen.” I was 16, and had just started writing songs and singing that year. I had also decided to join theatre for the first time that year (this was before realizing I was a terrible actor and it just wasn’t for me).

I was forever changed after listening to the cast album of “Spring Awakening” in its entirety. I had no idea musical theatre could sound like that — dark, moody, melodically catchy, lyrically prolific. I was especially enamored with what Duncan Sheik was doing compositionally. The dissonance he would incorporate into these songs (or what I would’ve called back then: the “crunchiness”) was what resonated with me most. I hadn’t heard anything like it at that point. It was everything I needed to hear at 16 years old and was a major inspiration on all my writing from then on out.

Who? Known by her Virgin Islands community as an “island performer.” She’s written and directed a webseries called “MisAdventures of the Quarter Life Crisis.” What? An acapella performance of “Time,” a song Sage has written for a musical she’s in the process of developing. Why? Inspiration for a musical can be found anywhere.

“Romeo and Juliet” by Indigo Girls

This is a complicated love song. There is passion and pain and love and nostalgia and I could sing this song every day of my life. This song tells a story, and it inspired me to want to do the same. My mom introduced me to the Indigo Girls, so they have a family connection for me as well.

I love that this song starts and ends the same way, but something amazing and heartbreaking happens through the middle, so the lyrics have a different meaning in the end. Some of the lyrics are just so captivating:

“You can fall for chains of silver. You can fall for chains of gold. You know you fall for pretty strangers and the promises they hold.”

“Don’t Let Me Get Me” by P!nk

The entire Missundaztood album was my anthem as a tween. I wasn’t anything like the character in the song, but I totally understood where she was coming from and thought the song itself was extremely brave. “I don’t want to be my friend no more, I want to be somebody else.” Pink was totally herself and the industry loved her anyway. She was honest with her fans and was willing to let us into her life. She made me want to love myself for being weird and an individual. I found acceptance in her music, and I wanted to grow up and do the same for other kids.

Who? A New York-based composer, lyricist, and music director. What? A detailing of the songwriting process for and a performance of “Going Rogue,” a song from “South of Market: The Musical.” Why? To demonstrate how songs for musicals are written through intense collaboration between composers, writers, and the creative team.

“In a song, if the language gets flowery, people won’t understand it.”
A recording of Tareq and Sarah performing “Going Rogue” (before the keyboard went out).

“Something’s Coming” from West Side Story

This song inspires me musically with its modal sense of harmony, and it maintains a breathless, authentic energy and sense of wonder for life.

“Finishing the Hat” from Sunday in the Park with George

This song articulates the artist’s yearning while watching “the rest of the world from a window” and the legwork required to create out of nothing.

Listen to all 12 songs from the Soundshop presenters on Spotify.

Written and edited by Tiffany Wong. Artwork by Olivia Reaney. Photos courtesy of Michael Clemente.