Host & Instructor
Ellis Paul doesn’t just write songs; he’s like a reporter, albeit one armed with an acoustic guitar, who covers the human condition and details the hopes, dreams, loves, losses and innermost secrets of those he observes, turning their stories into luminous and thrilling pieces of music that get under your skin and into your bloodstream. And much like the artists who have influenced him, everyone from Joni Mitchell, Bob Dylan and Paul Simon to the singer-songwriter who is undoubtedly his greatest inspiration, Woody Guthrie, Paul weaves deeply personal experiences with social issues and renders them as provocative works that are as timely as they are timeless. “There’s a craft to what I do, and I take it very seriously,” Paul says. “At the same time, I look at it as a calling, too. I tour quite a bit, and that allows me to come into contact with so many people of all walks of life. I hear their stories, and I realize that they could be telling me my story, too. So I try to make sense out of it all. I try to get to the heart of what we’re all feeling. That’s at the root of what I do—capturing the humanity we share with some kind of grace and integrity.” Born and raised in Maine, Paul attended Boston College and became a fixture at the city’s open mic nights. After winning a Boston Acoustic Underground songwriter competition, he caught critics’ ears with the release of his indie album Say Something in 1993, which led to a deal with Rounder Records and the 1994 album, Stories. Through a steady succession of albums—a remarkable 20 releases so far—and almost constant touring, Paul’s audience grew into a loyal legion of fans. Along the way, he picked up an impressive number of awards, having been cited 11 times by the Boston Music Awards for Folk Act of the Year, Outstanding Male Singer-Songwriter and Outstanding Acoustic Folk Album, honored with Gold and Silver awards by the Parents’ Choice Foundation, and chosen by the Maine Music Awards to be among its Hall of Fame inaugural class in 2014. “I feel as though every album is a chance to get inside the human spirit in some way,” he says. “Whether it’s something I’m going through or stories I hear from friends or even people I meet on the road, they’re all part of a common bond we all share. Whether I’m recording something personal or doing a children’s album, or even if I’m writing about something more political, they all tie together as learning experiences and an honest source of songs.”
SONGWRITING COURSE #1
How to Listen to a Song as a Working Songwriter
Or: How to be a Listener, a Sleuth, and a Thief—Deconstructing the Magic of your Favorite Songs
Or: How Ellis Paul Ruined How I Hear and Appreciate Songs, Forever
There’s a difference between hearing music and listening to music. This course will elevate how you listen to music, whether on the radio, in your own playlists, or at a live show. Every song you love is a mentor. I want to show you how to unlock the magic of these masterpieces. We’ll look at the architecture that makes up a song—verse, chorus, bridge, etc. We’ll look at elements of storytelling—narrator, theme, plot, setting. We’ll look at more subtle factors—a lift into the chorus, tension and release, the use of space, the use of dialogue. And more.
Don’t let the mystery be! Let’s unlock the secrets of the song. This course will teach you how to listen actively and determine what makes a great song great. You will then be able to take those lessons and apply them to your own songs. And someday, when you’re driving, you'll hear a song on the radio by Taylor Swift and say to yourself, “The lift she uses in that pre-chorus is so incredible! That’s exactly what's missing in the song I’m working on now. Thank you, NESR! Thank you, Ellis Paul! Thank you, Taylor Swift!”
Surgeon General’s Warning: This course causes active listening to songs. Causes hearing loss, but listening acuity. Student will never experience music the same way again. Student may occasionally need to resort to jazz or polka for relief from song analysis. Causes itching to write your own songs.
For over thirty years, Dan Navarro has written, sung, played and acted his way through a rich and varied career. It was as a songwriter that Dan Navarro started his career, mostly in collaboration with Eric Lowen, for artists as diverse as Pat Benatar (Dan and Eric wrote the Grammy-nominated classic “We Belong”), The Bangles, Jackson Browne, Keb’ Mo’, Dave Edmunds, The Temptations, Dionne Warwick, and many more. Throughout the 1990s, Dan recorded and toured with Lowen in the acclaimed acoustic duo Lowen & Navarro, until Eric’s retirement in 2009.
Dan has since transitioned into a thriving solo career, increasingly in demand on the national concert circuit, touring nearly 100 dates per year. He’s moonlighted as a singer and voice actor for over 25 years, in major motion pictures, TV series, video games, commercials and records, including The Book Of Life, The Lorax, 2007 Best Animated Feature Oscar-winner Happy Feet, Rio (on the Oscar-nominated song “Real In Rio”), Ice Age 2 & 3; smash hit video game Fallout 4; TV series Turbo Fast, Prison Break, Family Guy and American Dad; recordings with Neil Young, Andrea Bocelli, Luis Miguel, Jose Feliciano; and commercials for Subaru, Shakey’s Pizza, McDonald’s, Toyota, Coca-Cola, Honda, El Pollo Loco, Nationwide and hundreds more.
SONGWRITING COURSE #2
Decisions, Decisions—Songwriting and Making Choices
I see songwriting as a creative process where you tap into an emotional vein, and then make decisions after decision about how to tell a story about those emotions. What are the events surrounding the feelings? How can a capture them in a way that is fresh? The choices are many, and there is no right or wrong path. Using awareness, sensitivity and some honed skills, the chosen path for the particular story becomes more evident. Ultimately, you get to make those choices, and by the end of the process, you have a new song. Through lecture, examples, discussion and exercises, I will walk you through the places songs come from, some of the structures that are available to you, and techniques to generate choices and then make decisions. We’ll hit on subjects such as story arc and what makes a story worth telling. This class will help you make better, sharper, deeper musical creations all your own.
Have you ever been to a show where you feel an invisible wall between you and the performer? Catie Curtis pulls the walls down.”
-Mary Chapin Carpenter, Grammy Award-winning singer/songwriter.
For over 25 years, Catie Curtis toured full-time in the US and Europe, releasing 14 recordings and selling over 250,000 CDs. She has recorded for major (EMI Guardian) and independent (Rykodisc, Vanguard and Compass) labels, collaborating with some of the finest musicians and producers in the country. She played shows for a legion of fans who shared stories with her at the merch table night after night. Her songs have been featured in films and tv shows, and she performed several times at the White House during the Obama administration. She’s intensely grateful for those years and honored to know that her music has been an integral part of so many people's lives.
Catie has been making the transition to working as a community mental health counselor over the past three years. Her job as a therapist, while incredibly fulfilling, does not feed the artist in her! “I still need and want to create music. It can be hard to find the time, but writing is still how I make sense of my life and the world around me. Writing a song is like putting together a puzzle using the head, heart, hands and a guitar." Fortunately, it’s important to her fans, too. With support from fans (through Patreon), Catie has written dozens of songs over the past couple of years, eleven of which appear on her new album The Raft.
SONGWRITING COURSE #3
It’s a Little Bit Funny
Sometimes the funny songs are the most powerful. They can be knee-slapping funny, or just bring a chuckle. Wry, amusing, light-hearted—they may (or may not!) drive home a serious point, but either way they are source of pleasure for writer and audience alike. Let’s face it, there’s a lot of trouble in this world and we all need a good laugh. For years, I covered Cosy Sheridan’s “Road Food” and Don White’s “Be 16 With Me,” which inspired me to write a few of my own funny songs. Humorous songs bring a lot of energy to a room especially when thrown in a set with more serious songs. In this workshop, we’ll listen to some songs that run the gamut from outright hilarious to low-key smile-inducing, and figure out what makes them work. What’s going on in the structure, chords, melody and the lyrics to make the good ones so memorable? How do these songs use elements such as surprise, boldness, honesty, vulnerability and astute observation of detail? How do you access your own unique voice in this way? We’ll have plenty of time for writing prompts and feedback on this path to writing your own humorous song!
Affectionately dubbed "Mama Bear" by NESR IV Students, Laurie handles the logistical aspects of NESR Online. Ask her anything—she's happy to help: firstname.lastname@example.org
Laurie is an accomplished singer and touring musician, and is also a MAJOR SONG-LOVER, so she may pop in now and then to sing, teach a short class, or listen to your song :)
Laurie MacAllister held a quiet dream of being a singer since she was a very young girl. Her voice finally came alive years later when, on a dare, she was convinced to sing spontaneously for a crowd in New York City, in Washington Square Park. A career began in that moment. Laurie started with a steady stream of nights on open mic stages around NYC, and then landed a regular Monday night gig at the The Grey Dog’s Coffee in the West Village. She released her first album of ten original songs called "These Old Clothes” soon afterward. In 2000, she discovered a passion for harmony singing while touring the country with folk luminary Cliff Eberhardt. Eberhardt produced Laurie's next solo album, "The Things I Choose To Do”, which was first released independently, and then picked up by Barnes & Noble and re-released on their label.
In 2004, at a campsite at the Falcon Ridge Folk Festival, Laurie began making music with her campmates, weaving their voices together in harmony. In an impromptu and magical moment, the Americana trio Red Molly was born. With a focus on beautiful songs, soaring harmonies, and a deep relationship with their fans (who dubbed themselves RedHeads), the band quickly became the darlings of the folk/Americana scene. Red Molly has shared their voices around the world for seventeen years, singing everywhere from Australia to America, playing 100 shows annually in front of thousands of fans, frequently selling out venues, and releasing seven acclaimed albums.
Along the way, in 2010, Laurie's voice was featured in a national television commercial for Folgers Coffee. In 2018, she produced and released a new solo album called "The Lies the Poets Tell", a collection of some her most beloved songs. The album features duets with six male vocalists, including the late Americana master Jimmy LaFave. Laurie has composed and sung harmony parts on dozens of recordings, including those by Cliff Eberhardt, Susan Werner, and Ellis Paul. She's also taught singing and stage performance around the country, including at Folk Alliance International, Targhee Music Camp, and the New England Songwriters Retreat. Laurie's powerful yet delicate voice stretches octaves, warm and romantic one moment, playful and irreverent the next. One song at a time, one show at a time, over the course of two adventuresome decades, Laurie has turned her quiet dream into a joyous reality.