This year, in a concept that fits perfectly with the band name, Reno-based group The Novelists started what the band members call a book club. It’s a music subscription service that started in January. For $20, subscribers get two songs a month for the entire year. When a listener purchases a subscription, they receive the back catalog of songs as well as the new songs as they come out.
These aren’t 24 songs that the band wrote and recorded a year ago and are slowly trickling out. They’re writing and recording as they go. It helps that all four band members, Megan Slankard, Joel Ackerson, Zack Teran and Eric Andersen are singers, songwriters, arrangers and multi-instrumentalists.
“We were trying to find new ways to connect with fans a little more consistently, and we were also trying to find a way to make art more of the time, instead of spending two weeks making an album and 18 months pushing it,” says Ackerson. “That was the wrong ratio. We wanted to flip that ratio around somehow.”
Spreading the songwriting among four songwriters over the course of a year has meant that the songs are fairly diverse stylistically—while staying within the context of the band’s narrative-driven pop. The dozen songs that the band has already released touch on folk, country, rock, Broadway, jazz, chamber music and disco.
“Life is not one genre,” says Slankard. “If you put yourself in one box and say, ’I’m going to write a pop song every time,’ you end up boring yourself.”
The four members have been collaborating on different songs in different configurations. Andersen and Ackerson might team up for a song, and then Slankard and Teran for one, and then the next might be Slankard and Anderson.
“We’re all songwriters, and we’re all arrangers too, so there are compromises that are made on every single piece of music,” says Andersen.
“That’s why it’s a band and not our solo projects anymore,” says Ackerson. “That’s what made it a band. The input is pretty universal.”
Ackerson says that this method of cowriting is much different than what the band did for their last album, last year’s Backstory.
“That was, we’ll make an album of three songwriters that tour together with the same bass player,” he says. “This was us going, We won’t be a band until we write together.”
“There are any number of examples of songs where one person has had a skeleton of a song, whether it’s a riff or a chord progression … and someone else takes that idea and runs with it,” says Anderson. “It’s a really interesting thing, because what happens is something that it’s impossible to have come from any one of those people.”
In other words, the mixing and matching of songwriters creates a more diverse songbook. Anderson cites as an example “I’m in no Pain,” a song in which he wrote the chord progression, and Slankard wrote the lyrics and vocal melody.
“She would have never sat down at the piano and composed that exact melody to write to, but I never would have written the melody and the lyrics they way she did.”
The different songwriting configurations create the stylistic diversity, as well as the changing evolution that occurs with writing over time. Moods, interests and outside influences change every month. It creates a journey of discovery for the songwriters, who, through the book club, invite friends to listen along.