Eric Bettencourt admits that his motivation for starting the “Mystery Mondays” sessions at Blue was to help further along his songwriting skills. “In Austin I took part in a lot of songwriting seminars,” he says. “It’s one of my favorite things to do. I love to pick the brains of people that I love to listen to and find out what their songwriting process involves.” Folks in Portland now have an opportunity to do the same as Bettencourt is hosting Mystery Mondays on the second and fourth Monday of each week from 5:30 to 7:00. An open forum format, Mystery Mondays showcases different songwriters each week who perform, talk about their personal songwriting experiences and answer questions.
The ‘mystery’ aspect of the forum is the fact that Bettencourt does not announce the artist until the day of the show. “I want it to be more about presenting an objective opportunity for people to hear from different songwriters, rather than just the fans of that particular artist,” shares Bettencourt. “I’m also not necessarily concerned with filling the room. We want a nice intimate setting where conversations take place between the artist and audience.“
Mystery Mondays kicked off on June 13 with none other than the Armies duo Dave Gutter and Anna Lombard. Gutter has been the frontman for Rustic Overtones for more than 20 years now, and Lombard has honed her songwriting skills in multiple original projects including Gypsy Tailwind and Anna and the Diggs. The duo released the first Armies record in 2015, which features the two vocalists blending melodic harmonies on a collection of original material touching on multiple styles and genres.
The self-titled album played a strong platform for Gutter and Lombard to discuss their songwriting capabilities and individual processes. Not only did the discussion include methods utilized for composing the album, but also featured anecdotes from Lombard about her own techniques for writing harmonies for each track. “I sometimes have to have Dave leave the room when I’m figuring out harmonies,” she shares with a laugh. “I’m so critical about what I do that I need to be alone in the studio sometimes to get it right.”
The overall feel of Mystery Mondays is one of informality. The evening began with Gutter and Lombard sharing stories from the making of the record that included early morning rides to the studio as well as late night antics. “There was one song that was written in the car on the way to the recording session,” recalls Lombard. “Dave wrote the lyrics down on a napkin and then nailed the vocals when we got to the studio.” Gutter even shared some of his experiences working with Aaron Neville on his latest record. “I’ve been writing songs my entire life and it’s still completely nerve wracking when you’re writing and suggesting parts for one of your musical idols,” he shares.
Gutter compared the songwriting process to that of playing a video game, with numerous levels that increase in difficulty as you move forward with a song. “When you write lyrics down on paper, it’s often that the most important stuff is what you cross out. It’s important to be completely accepting of ideas and then be willing to throw them away. Because of that, I’ll sometimes spend an entire day on just one line. “
With Bettencourt moderating, he was sure to encourage Gutter and Lombard to perform a few numbers from the Armies Record as a way of displaying an end result from the strategies discussed. Performances included, ‘At Home,’ ‘Death,’ ‘Let it Burn,’ and ‘All the way Love.’ Upon request, Gutter even played a portion of the Rustic Overtones staple, ‘Check,’ which he noted was not one of his favorites, but gained a new appreciation for the tune after having the opportunity to play it with The Count from Sesame Street.
With a strong passion for gaining new songwriting skills, Bettencourt is also happy to present the opportunity for others to pick the brains of the guest artists. Taking questions from the audience sparked lengthy discussions that otherwise would not have taken place without the open-forum format.
Mystery Mondays will run throughout the summer featuring local and national artists. There is no cover charge, although donations are accepted in a pass-the-hat effort.