Exclusive Preview: The SongWriter Podcast Featuring Andrew Sean Greer, Torquil Campbell & Daniel Handler

Music Features SongWriter
Exclusive Preview: The SongWriter Podcast Featuring Andrew Sean Greer, Torquil Campbell & Daniel Handler

SongWriter is a podcast that turns stories into songs, featuring Questlove, David Gilmour, Joyce Carol Oates, Steve Earle, Amanda Shires, Susan Orlean, and Neil Gaiman. You can hear an exclusive preview of next week’s episode featuring Andrew Sean Greer + Torquil Campbell & Daniel Handler only at Paste.

Pulitzer Prize-winning author Andrew Sean Greer is old friends with novelist Daniel Handler, aka Lemony Snicket. When they are both in their hometown of San Francisco, they frequently spend the day writing together in a local cafe, and afterwards take a swim at a nearby beach. They are often each other’s first reader, a practice that demands both honesty and a certain amount of gentle tact.

“We had a drinks date, and he was going to read over a draft of a novel,” Andrew says. “He had the gimlet already waiting for me at the table, and he said ‘Andy, it is an honor to watch you struggle with a work of art.’”

For this episode of SongWriter, Andrew reads an excerpt from his recent novel, Less is Lost, and he requested Torquil Campbell of the Canadian band Stars as the songwriter. Torq accepted the invitation, and knowing the close friendship between the two authors, he secretly invited Daniel to collaborate on the song. 

“As a person who hates being alone, and loves hanging out,” Torquill says, “It’s inevitable that every close friend I have who’s an artist, I try and get them to make some art with me.”

Though few of his fans may know it, Daniel Handler has serious chops as a songwriter and session musician – he has worked with Death Cab for Cutie, The Decembrists, and Magnetic Fields. 

Torq and Daniel met up in Vancouver over the early summer, and had soon written and recorded a song called “Not the Best.” One of the keys to their collaborations, Torq explains, is that they have a similar sense about the transience of art.

“It’s just art,” Torq says. “You can make more. I know a lot of great artists who agonize over the experience of making art. And Daniel and I don’t.

A few weeks after their sessions in Vancouver, Daniel heard from Andrew that he was having a tough time.

“A dear friend of mine had died, and I was really at my wit’s end” Andrew remembers. “[Daniel] said, ‘Maybe this will help you feel better,’ and he sent me the song. And I finally broke down in tears. That those two would make something so beautiful, out of something of mine, and for me…it was really amazing.”

Daniel told me that this was not the first time they had helped each other through intense grief. Many years prior, when Daniel’s father had died, Andrew and a friend had showed up with a cookbook and a million ingredients and spent all day at his house cooking up a storm.

“I was lying on the sofa, and sometimes I’d kind of perk up and join them and have a glass of wine,” Daniel recalls. “They made me a mountain of food, and the cookbook went on the shelf, and it was really magical. It was just a reminder that there’s still deliciousness and laughter in the world.”

Ben Arthur (@MyHeart on Twitter) is the creator and host of SongWriter.  His latest song is “Show a Little Skin.”

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