A Sneak Peak at Zeke’s Songwriting Streak

by tonedefsound

Zeke Berkley. A beatnik poet from the early 60’s? Not quite! A veteran singer/songwriter with a passion for all things indie and augmented chords is more like it! As the name might suggest, you’re in for some pretty funky chord progressions intertwined with melodies as catchy as his name would be whispered into your auricle. Zeke. It exhumes cool. Any single syllable name is pretty awesome though, right? Except for John….oh and Bob…and Joe. Yeah ok, I guess only Zeke is fun to say. Try it with me now: Zeke.

So Ezekiel, tell us your story of how you got into writing such killer songs on yer getfiddle thar.

When my sister and I were young, my father would write silly songs to make us laugh. One in particular was called “I was Born with a Rattlesnake in My Crib”. It was an awfully bad song, and riddled with issues (a baby is typically not born in their own crib; he also failed to seize the opportunity to use a picardy third) but as a kid I was amazed my father had written it. It had come out of his brain! I was so impressed, and it really made me interested in writing as many songs as I could. We began writing weird, silly songs together and kept it up for years (“I Want the Hall Light On” could’ve been a hit!) until I grew out of it.

At around 12 I started listening to Elvis Costello and was blown away, I decided I wanted to write REAL songs. I started studying song structure and meter and wordplay and technique. Eventually, I wrote a few. They were very bad. Then I wrote more. They were bad, too…but they were better than the last batch. So, I just kept doing that. Writing more and more songs. I’d study Costello, The Beatles, The Carpenters, Max Martin, a lot of AM Gold stuff, TV theme songs, everything. Eventually my songs had pre-choruses. Then they had bridges. Then they had modulation. Then all of a sudden they were kinda decent. I saved up money from mowing lawns in my neighborhood for a Tascam 4-track recorder. I’d record the songs I’d written onto the tape, catalog it, and move on to writing another batch. Then I’d dump those on a tape, write another batch. I just continued this process. 20 years later, I operate largely the same way, with a few modifications.

In my mid-twenties I realized how crucial the Great American Songbook is and studied it heavily. Studying Cole Porter and Richards/Rogers, etc. made me realize how basic my songs were. This lead me to a book called Joe Pass: Chords that changed the way I thought about forming progressions, and that really upped my game. Around the same time, I completed a book called The Artists Way, by Julia Cameron. It is essentially a program that helps one become more in touch with their creativity. With the exception of some vaguely religious material it contained (I am an atheist) I found the book very enlightening and it changed my writing approach significantly.

For the last few years I have been studying and performing sketch at the Upright Citizen’s Brigade in Hollywood and believe it or not, that has evolved my songwriting process some. There are several similarities between the processes of writing a song and writing a sketch.

We met virtually on a Facebook group called Songwriting Challenge. Can you explain the concept and challenges of writing a song per week based on any given prompt voted on by the members and led by none other than Jose Galvez of OZMA, unless of course he’s busy recording his newest project in which case another senior member fills this authoritarian role of killing off non-active members?

I’ve been participating in the The Songwriting Game since 2011 I think. I’ve been in and out for nearly a decade now. Jose Galvez invited me initially. When I joined it was all email based and there were SO many members. The biggest challenge was sorting through all the emails! The group is really a helpful tool, particularly when someone writes a serious banger. You get inspired and it forces you to try and write one even better than that!

Writing based on a prompt can be challenging if you have trouble relating to it. Recently the prompt was “Chicago”. With the exception of having toured there in a band a couple times, and extensive viewings of Married With Children, I knew very little about Chicago. I am a big believer in the importance of what is called “playing to the top of your intelligence” in my songs. That is to say, if you don’t know anything about Chicago, don’t write about Chicago in any kind of direct way or you will sound foolish or disingenuous. It can be tough, but often asking yourself questions will reveal what you do and do not know, what you like and don’t like, and what is important or unimportant about your topic, until eventually you have something you can write about comfortably and with confidence.

Tell us the highlights of your musical career including the many collaborations you’ve been a part of.

My musical career highlight reel isn’t as entertaining or long as some. It’s always nice to have music placed, and one highlight was learning a Mexican wrestling promotional organization wanted to use my music for their commercials. I was in a band called End Transmission and for some reason Lucha Libre AAA decided one of our songs called “Wow, Really?” was perfect for their advertising bumps. The song’s title was just about my reaction when I learned they wanted to use it. I’ve also written telephone hold music that was purchased and is still in use to this day amongst many civil and debt collection law offices. Long story, but definitely a fun little highlight.

What other single syllable names can compare in coolness level to yours?

I think Jack is a cool name.

Can you tell us what plans you have in store music-wise and how to improve our sorry lives?

My only plan is to write more songs, record them, write more. Maybe make another proper LP, but that is much more work than recording them to your 4 track (or, nowadays, my Zoom R8, which is an 8 TRACK!) for nobody to ever hear. I’ll probably write a billion sketches, too. And read a bunch of comics.

Improve your sorry lives by reading more, going camping, and getting high. And writing more songs, of course.

Zeke Berkley

End Transmission
Manic power pop, 2007-2012 when our drummer died. 
(^Jose Galvez produced that record and Daniel Brummel and Ryen Slegr play on it as well)
Pretty Wife
Harmony driven pop, 2012-2016 when we broke up over a choral arrangement 
8-16bit chiptune fantasy adventure music I make in my garage, 2012-present I guess 

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