Interview with Thomas Koenigs – 2015 Swallow Hill Young Songwriter Competition Winner

by Tania Urenda

Tania: What school and grade were you attending when you won the Swallow Hill Young Songwriter competition?

Thomas: I was a sophomore at Regis Jesuit High School when I was awarded with the Grand Prize at the Swallow Hill Youth Songwriter competition.

Tania: What was the name of the song you wrote for the competition? What kind of song is it?

Thomas: I wrote a song called, “Beat the Drum,” a positive title for a much darker song. It tells a story, that’s all I can really say.

Tania: Do you consider songwriting an expression of poetry?

Thomas: Of course. Poetic expression can’t be confined to one device. I’ve read and researched Marina Abramovic more than I’d like to admit. During one performance piece, she gnaws into a raw onion. Whatever that artistic expression means, damn, I’ll never know. But that doesn’t matter. Who am I to judge her? Expression does not and should not require justification or explanation. If eating an onion is art, then songwriting better damn well be poetry.

Tania: Did your love of music start with songwriting, singing, or playing a musical instrument? How do you feel that benefited you?

Thomas: It started with listening. I sat for hours with my parents as they worked. I picked up on melodies from The Beatles to The Beach Boys, The Temptations to The Jackson Five. Slowly but surely, I found myself being able to mimic the progressions on the piano and later on the guitar. Being able to strengthen that skill has given me the ability to hum a tune and try it out on various instruments.

Tania: Where does your inspiration come from? Experiences? People? Feelings?

Thomas: My inspiration comes from events. I’ve written some songs about feelings, but I guess I can explain myself much better through someone or something else.

Tania: What process do you use for songwriting, I.e. do you start with a musical chorus or words? What tools help you create?

Thomas: I always have a vague tune in mind, but most of the words are buried in my head. Literally. When it becomes too much, something is bound to fall out. The trick is waiting.

Tania: How many songs have you written? How do you test or share your pieces?

Thomas: I’ve written about 25 songs in total. But quantity is not quality. I try to slip songs in while playing for parents or siblings. My folks don’t sugarcoat. Both are lawyers and very opinionated. If they don’t like something, I’ll get the message.

Tania: Have you experienced failure? Do you have any advice for someone your age who is struggling with rejection or lacks inspiration?

Thomas: Sure I have, and I’m not embarrassed. I used to be really shy about my music, but then someone told me that music is an expression of the self. We aren’t perfect people, but we grow. Good music reflects that imperfection and personal growth.

Tania: What kind of issues do you care about?

Thomas: I care about any issue really. The song I sang at the competition was about Daniel Johnston, Sid Vicious, and Phil Spector, and how brilliant but crazy they were. My most recent song is about Ferguson. I’d have to say I concern myself with issues that many are concerned about.

Tania: What did winning this contest mean to you? What was your favorite part of the competition? Was there an opportunity to network or collaborate with fellow musicians/writers?

Thomas: I felt honored to even be considered for it and even more to win. Though I had fun performing, I had even more fun meeting new people. Swallow Hill is almost like a second home. I met up with people that I can now collaborate with, but also just be with. Swallow Hill people are my people.

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