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Interview: The Sweeplings and the Art of Songwriter Collaboration

We never get sick of hearing about the interesting ways that artists get together to begin making music independently. While there’s always something to be said about, say, a brother and sister taking their childhood collaborative hobby on the road, or three friends who have been playing in the garage since seventh grade, we’re living in an age in which creators can connect digitally and embark down wonderful paths together.

Whitney Dean was hanging at his Hunstville, Alabama home when his wife Beth directed his attention to a performer that was live on that week’s episode of America’s Got Talent: Cami Bradley. When Whitney’s wife began reaching out to Cami on his behalf online, she insisted that they get together and write music. While Cami was hesitant at first, the communication led to Cami and Whitney’s meeting all the way north west in the former’s hometown of Spokane, Washington.

With their ability to create thoughtful acoustic music that has drawn comparisons to former TuneCore duo the Civil Wars, Cami and Whitney would go on to release their debut self-titled EP as The Sweeplings in 2014, and their full length Rise & Fall the following year. The two songwriters are releasing a 5-song covers EP this summer while they continue to work on their follow-up album. Cami and Whitney shared with us their modern beginnings as a pair, how they have learned from each other as musicians, and more in an interview below:

How quickly did you two connect online after America’s Got Talent, and how would you describe the interaction/reaction overall? 

Cami: Whitney’s wife Bethany actually Facebooked me during the finale week of America’s Got Talent. She gave me a brief overview of the project Whitney was working on and how she thought we’d be a perfect fit to finish it together. I politely declined (due to the uncertainty and busy-ness of that week), but a few months later (after a couple more emails) we got on the phone.

One brief phone call and I knew these people were not only wonderful, but legit and worth listening to. So we planned for Whit to come stay with my husband and I for a few days in Spokane and that was that!

Was there instant songwriting chemistry between you two, or did the process take time?

Cami: There was an instant musical chemistry from the first two songs we wrote together (“Across The Sea” & “Drop by Drop”). Both of which are on our EP. By the end of two days of writing together we had seven songs completely finished. Three to four completely finished songs a day, (with, essentially, a stranger), was the definition of musical chemistry for us.
Whitney: It was like finding a missing part of myself musically. Cami seems to know what my inclinations or sensibilities are and can not only beat me to it, but help me grow my thoughts. It’s seriously like I found a cure for something with Cami and our music; truly something special that needed to be shared with the world.
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In what ways do you both complement each other as songwriters?

Whitney: It’s a great partnership musically. We both will come to each other with half written songs or ideas and most times we are able to finish each others thought and make it a final product pretty quickly. It’s like we just seem to have the answer for each other. Cami is blessed not only with a phenomenal voice but an amazing sense of melody and how lyrics work within that.
Cami: Songwriting can be such a difficult task for some. We are blessed to have a pretty painless process when it comes to writing. It’s very rare that we get really stuck or disagree on where the other wants to go. We are lucky to complement each other when it comes to ideas and ways to move forward.

Where do you feel you’ve been able to learn from one another?

Whitney: I’ve been so blessed to meet Cami and the opportunity to learn from her and work with her. The biggest thing I’ve been able to take away from our time together is attention to detail and that the little things matter. From consistent and beautiful melody lines, and crafting lyrics that suit the way you say them in the melody. It’s not just singing words. It’s creating a melody and lyric that compliment and intensify each other. She also could find a way to sing a newspaper article and make you cry.
Cami: Whitney is a much better lyricist than I and they seem to come to him effortlessly and quickly. I could take two days to put together one of our songs in order to feel great about the content and flow of the lyrics. He can spit out twelve different ways of saying something on the spot. It’s a great partnership because sometimes we have time to mull over lyrics and sometimes we don’t. He spits them out, I rearrange them, or make them “singable” within the melody, and poof – song finished.

Similarly, do you two have a lot in common in terms of what kind of influences you draw from?

Whitney: Our starting points and backgrounds are very similar, but our influences vary quite a bit. I grow up with a mom that taught piano and voice lessons from home, and I would listen and learn from what she would tell her students. I also grew up playing and singing in church which was a huge part of musical growth. Most of my influences actually come from my years in college in the Shoals (Florence, AL) listening to anything from bands like Incubus, Silverchair, Derek Webb, and of course loads of great local and regional artist I met along my way.
Cami: I also grew up in a highly musical family and singing at my church completely shaped who I am today as a singer and pianist. My musical influences when I was in junior high ranged massively from Natalie Cole to Christina Aguilera to Disney soundtracks. Throw a dash of jazz, pop, Christian and Disney music together and I guess you get me! As I reached high school it broadened even more. I was surrounded by so many talented musicians at my church that I soaked up everything I could by watching, playing alongside them and asking as many questions as I could.

What led to the decision to release a covers EP this summer?

Whitney: We had arranged a few covers for our licensing company and developed others to play at shows while we toured this year. We had such a great response to them that we thought putting them down and sharing them with the world would be a great way to keep fans engaged.
Cami: I personally LOVE re-arranging other people’s already amazing music and drawing inspiration from it to create something that molds what we do with their art. This seemed like second nature and the right thing for us to do! It also helps us draw in friends and fans while we record our follow up album this year.

What do you consider to be some of the benefits of releasing cover songs for independent artists – whether it’s an album or a one-off single?

Whitney & Cami: Seems contrary to what you would think, but we feel it really gives people a better sense of what we sound like as a duo and how we write. We’ve taken these covers and tried to transform each into something new, something that sounds like “The Sweeplings”.
Hopefully, people will be able to get a better idea of what we do musically through them and be a gateway to find each other. The main benefit we’ve found, (and the reason for the for an EP), was that it creates a way for people that might not find us on their own to have an introduction to us through a song they already know and love. It’s a bridge, bringing us to fans that are looking for something familiar but new.

Your music has a very cinematic feel to it. How important are licensing opportunities for you as independent songwriters?

Whitney: Very, it’s honestly how and why we started this duo. We wanted to be found and exposed to our potential and future fans through TV/film. We’ve personally found songs we love on our favorite TV shows/films, so to be a part of that experience for someone else is a dream come true.
Cami: Musically, we feel the way we write, compose and produce is tailored for licensing. It’s very intentional. Our goal is to create music that “sounds the way you feel”, tells a story sonically and takes people to another place.
Whitney & Cami: On the business side, we get paid for our music to be involved in a TV/Film and as a result, we also get the perk of it being shared and exposed to tons of potential fans. There are very few platforms that can get you that level of exposure to new fans and at the same time give you the financial boost to keep things rolling. As a current independent artist, it’s really priceless.

How far along are you into the production of your follow-up full length? 

Whitney: It’s in the works! The recording process begins soon. We’re really excited about our progression and the new music. The new songs are of course still very duo driven, but feels like a step forward for us.
Cami: We hope to release our follow up album either late this year or first thing 2017.

What themes and experiences are you hoping to capture on it?

Cami & Whitney: A pretty wide range really. From stories of escape, to the impact of true love – we write about all aspects of life.
The follow-up feels like it’s our most well rounded group of songs to date and a perfect compliment to our debut Rise & Fall.
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