Song of songs
A couple of months ago, we here at the RN&R put together this big contest for local songwriters. It was a massive undertaking, and we all spent hours listening to the submitted songs. Over time, personal favorites emerged from the din.
One song I really like that didn’t place among the judge’s eventual winners is called “Old and New.”
It’s a simple one-girl-and-one-guitar track, but with a pretty vocal melody and unaffected singing. The lyrics strike me as an honest narrative about memories and the thrills of young love. And I really like how it’s a song about songs: the art of writing songs, how they soundtrack our lives, what they mean to us, and how they bring people together. These lines from the second verse epitomize this aspect of the song:
“It was a walk through our old memories, listening to all those songs. Peter Frampton gave us our first dance and the Yeah Yeah Yeahs have moved us along. And I know those songs are from times in the past, but they are here in our hearts in the present. And as I held your hand as tight as I could, I knew the grasp of those songs would never lessen.”
I’m not usually a fan of namedropping in songs, but I love the unlikely pairing of Peter Frampton and the Yeah Yeah Yeahs. It strikes me as a line written by someone who feels comfortable liking whatever she likes, regardless of appearances.
I didn’t know who wrote the song when I selected it as one of my picks for the songwriting contest, but shortly thereafter I found out it was written by 19-year-old TMCC student Amber Scala. I was happy the song that seemed like such an accurate and honest depiction of teenage love was actually written by a teenager.
I met Scala for coffee. I told her I really liked “Old and New,” and then I asked her, “What inspired that song? What’s it about?”
“It’s about him,” she replied, and gestured toward her boyfriend, Brenton Spinuzzi. He gave me a sheepish, ain’t-I-a-lucky-guy grin.
“Most of my songs are about people,” said Scala. “Or experiences I’ve had.”
They’re not all love songs. Her song “Pots and Pans Brigade,” for example, focuses on a boisterous guy at a protest rally. It’s one of the eight songs on her new CD And So it Begins … the cover of which features a charming drawing of what seems to be Reno as the Emerald City. The cover was drawn by her older sister, Rachael. Her father, Gino, plays percussion on the album and her younger sister, Holly, plays guitar on it. So it’s a family affair, but it’s very clearly Amber’s vision and voice and songs.
Many of her songs have vivid narratives and move through a beginning, middle and end.
“I don’t like it when the second verse is just like the first,” she says. “It needs to have a progression.”
She says her songs usually come to her in quick flashes of inspiration.
“It has to hit me,” she says. “Usually it’s the lyrics before the music, just a phrase or a string of words that just hit me.”