“Adam Mitchell’s ability to write in a diversity of styles is only possible because of his solid grasp of the fundamentals of great songwriting.”
Paul Stanley – KISS
Meet multi-platinum selling songwriter, producer and musician, Adam Mitchell, whose songs have been recorded over 150 times in different languages and genres by legendary artists including KISS, Johnny Cash, Linda Ronstadt, Merle Haggard, Bonnie Tyler and Waylon Jennings. During this interview, we follow Adam’s unexpected journey to becoming a successful songwriter, explore his writing methods and discuss the projects he’s been working on throughout the coronavirus pandemic.
KM: Do you remember when you first became interested in songwriting and was there a particular moment that you realised you wanted a career in music?
AM: The answer to the last part of your question is “No”. It never really crossed my mind. My friend, Iain Rankin, and I first started writing folk songs whilst I was a French major at university in the mid-60s and we would perform at local clubs. The dishwasher at one of those clubs, Bernie Finkelstein (who ended up having a successful career as a talent manager), was managing a band called The Paupers at the time and told them “Listen up, Adam has great original songs and you need an original writer because you’ll get nowhere doing covers”. The next thing I knew I became the lead singer of the band and there was an immediate chemistry. Things started to take off for us and I thought, well, I guess I’m in the music industry!
KM: Do you remember how you became established within the songwriting scene?
AM: When I left The Paupers in 1968, I took a short break from writing and produced music for other bands in Canada for around 7 years instead. I then moved to LA in 1976 because I realised that I wanted to be an artist and this led me to sign a record deal with Warner Bros, releasing the solo LP, ‘Redhead in Trouble’. During this time, I was good friends with Susan George, a popular British actor, and she invited me to her house one night with other guests including John Farrar, who was producing for Olivia Newton-John. We started playing songs together and I began to perform “Dancin’ Round and Round” from my album. John told me that he really liked it and called my publishers at Warner Bros the next day to ask for a copy. That’s how it ended up on Olivia’s record!
KM: Did you make a conscious shift from writing for country and pop artists in the 70s to rock bands such as KISS in the 80s? Was it something that you wanted to do or was it more of a natural progression?
AM: It was a total accident! Back when I was producing in Canada, I had a couple of hits with a band called Fludd who were signed to A&M Records. One day, I happened to be in Fludd’s manager’s office where I met Michael James Jackson from A&M and the two of us hit it off. Following my move to California and having secured my record deal, I was recording in the studio and Michael was in the room next to me. We reconnected and picked up our friendship. In 1980, when he was producing KISS, he thought that they needed some help with their songs and called me to ask if I wanted to write with them. I wasn’t really a big KISS fan and therefore not sure about the collaboration, but they did sell millions of records, so I thought I better do it!
KM: What was it like to work with Paul Stanley and Gene Simmons from KISS for the first time?
AM: Gene came over to my house and we wrote two songs together, neither of which were close to becoming KISS records. Afterwards, Paul asked Gene what it was like to write with me and he said that he really enjoyed it, so Paul came over for a writing session and we instantly clicked. I guess it was easier for me than other writers to transition from country to rock because as a lyricist, I can adapt. The collaboration also made other rock bands want to work with me but writing in that genre wasn’t something that came naturally.
“Adam Mitchell is that rare writer who first considers whom he is writing with or for, and then writes or cowrites the kind of melodies and lyrics that really shine. He is the real deal.”
KM: Can you explain how you first came up with the initial idea for “Crazy Crazy Nights”?
AM: “Crazy Crazy Nights” was Paul’s idea and title, just like all the songs we wrote together. He wanted to write a track that would get everyone in the arena rockin’ and so we developed the song concept from there. We actually liked the original demo better than the finished record, although, of course, the finished record was a big hit. Lyrically, “Crazy Crazy Nights” is written in the present tense, except for one line at the end, “Yeah, and nobody’s gonna change me”, which moves into the future. If you’re going to write a song in the present tense then the images you create need to be really powerful, like the lines “This is my music”, and “This is my crowd” or “We’re millions strong”. The lines needed to be coherent to the story but also big and rebellious.
KM: How do you get your ideas and what is your creative process? Do you tend to visualise the song structure that you want your songs to have?
AM: I do it automatically now. This song I’m working on at the moment, “Shaken Awake,” is all in the present tense. It’s about what’s going on in the streets and has those big images and lyric lines like in the song “Crazy Crazy Nights”. Here’s an example: “Oh, it’s no time for sleeping, oh no time to waste. Oh, I can’t shake the feeling, it’s time to be shaken awake”. When I write now, I know what I’m looking for in my songs and I know when something isn’t working. Sometimes you can come up with a line and you think it’s the best line ever, until you realise it just doesn’t fit with the song at all! So, what you do is develop a sense of what really works, and you grind and grind away until you get it right.
KM: In your opinion, is there a formula or strategy to writing a hit song?
AM: A song being a hit depends on timing and how well written it is. There are lots of examples of songs that everyone thought were going to be hits but didn’t do particularly well upon release. It used to be the case that you wrote a song, sent it in to radio stations and then disc jockeys would say that they wanted to play it. The audience’s reaction would determine if it became a hit. That’s not the way things work anymore. It’s all marketing and multi-million dollar music videos. However, I would say that the fundamentals of writing a hit song will always be the same, you must have a great idea and you must tell the story in an effective way.
KM: I saw that you are a board member of the Songwriters Guild of America and a frequent contributor to songwriting podcasts and magazines. Can you tell me more about what you’ve been up to during lockdown?
AM: I always seem to be busy! I’m working on a new screenplay at the moment which I really enjoy. I’m also putting songs together for a new album of my own which I will be recording sometime this summer. Currently, I am the Chairman of the Songwriters Guild of America and we put on charitable events and donate to music institutions like Belmont University. The Songwriters Guild has been instrumental in fighting for the rights of songwriters everywhere, thanks to our President, Rick Carnes and lawyer, Charles Sanders. Even though I’m always working on something new, a lot of my projects have been put on hold due to coronavirus and lockdown measures, along with the rest of the world.
Listen to a selection of songs represented by Kassner Music and written by Adam, via the Spotify link above. You can also check out his website here.