Guest Work

Key Change

Seattle’s Andy Werth expands his piano pop. Seattle Met’s Nick Feldman listens.

By Nick Feldman August 20, 2009

Werth takes his piano to the next stage at the Triple Door. (photo courtesy andywerth.com)

The current pop music landscape doesn’t rely too heavily on piano-playing singer/songwriters. But Seattle musician Andy Werth creates such energetic interplay between his 88 keys and the horns of his band that it nearly makes you wonder if a guitar needs to be the primary melody-maker.

Werth’s deft, intuitive musical arrangements—he’s also able to play horn, trumpet, and guitar—fueled last June’s acclaimed full-length CD debut Burn the Maps and Bury the Compass. Its romantic lyrics and six-piece band, however, are all but gone as Werth crafts his upcoming September EP. This Sunday’s benefit with Debra Arlyn at the Triple Door features a 13-piece outfit that combines strings, brass and percussion. The show spotlights Werth dramatically expanding not only his band but the boundaries of the music itself. I recently talked to him about his sound and where it’s headed.

What stands out to you as the most distinguishing feature of Burn the Maps and Bury The Compass? As much as I like the songs I wrote that might be more pop, I pushed myself to do things that were a little out of my comfort zone—songs with no real shape or form, choruses that start and develop and disappear. I’ll always have the pop part of me that grew up listening to the Beatles, the part that wants verses and choruses. But there’s another part of me emerging wanting to temper that with things that violate the pop format.

So if the Beatles influenced your sound, who would you say influences you lyrically? You hope lyrics always find some kind of inspiration in real-life experience or come across as authentic so listeners can identify—I think it’s easy to see through fake sentiment. I’m moving away from topics like love and loss. Those aren’t what I write about in my journals or what I read about but I think its an easy topic to go to when you’re writing songs. If you’re lucky, you can render them in a way that’s nuanced and interesting. But I’ve mined as much of that part of my life as I want to.

There aren’t a lot of people pursuing the piano-pop route. Does that make finding an audience easier or more difficult? That’s an interesting question, because piano-pop is unusual and then you mix horns in, and then electronica—you can really mix genres and start to freak people out. I was looking to see how far in the direction toward pop music I could go, and I think I went as far as I want to. I’m not concerned about losing a mainstream audience if I lose it in the pursuit of art. I think you have to make a choice at some point: whether you’re going to pursue what satisfies you artistically or what a pop audience will accept. I suppose at some point those two coincide, if you’re really lucky, but I think they might be mutually exclusive. I’m finding that I’d rather take the course that’s more satisfying.

Stream the entirety of Burn the Maps at andywerth.com.

Tracks to watch: “Nothing to Fix” and “15th Street”

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