Peninsula songwriters gather to share skills and grow community

Circling around songwriters

You can see the singer and songwriter on each of them — its evidence of where their songs come from.


Sitting side-by-side, each man has a guitar on his lap as the only visual consistency among the songwriters gathered at a local deli for an evening of talk about songwriting as a process and as a passion.

At one end with a gravely and slightly worn voice is Robb Justice spinning happy sarcasm into lyrics about life and death and beer and love.

In the middle is Jessie Tauriainen, earnest enough and ready to share songs written from his life and adventures in it. “I play a lot,” Tauriainen said as a self-introduction. “But I don’t play out a lot.”

Up front is Curt Hahn, the organizer behind the once-monthly Soldotna Songwriters’ Circle. Hahn writes for a southern rock-modern country audience — the stuff heard on local commercial country radio station. Though several of his songs are in play locally, his hopes reach out to the larger national audience he is writing for.

At Odie’s, each songwriter plays their own songs. Unlike a standard performance, the singers each start by sharing the story behind the “story,” then go round robin — there are no jam sessions. Fact or fiction matters little when it comes to storyline, even if mixed.

The songwriters play one at a time, each listening to the others’ work.

Justice said his method of writing can be surmised with a memory or thought from the factual world getting tangled in the minutia of expression and the song then becomes what it wants. It’s akin to remembering songs from thin air, he said.

Justice performed songs about the cold, a friend’s death and the night passing without a missing a lover.

“They often take on their own shape,” Justice said of his songs. “If you let it.”

Hahn hopes that during any point of the two-hour session the conversation breaks out into one about writing; he is searching for a little bit of talk on the process of songwriting.

The circle is relatively new. In its fourth month, they meet at Odie’s Deli in Soldotna for a few hours. During the September circle, the songwriters entertained a fully packed house.

Past circles featured local songwriters such as Jack Wills, Sue Biggs, and Kelsey Shields. Each month different songwriters take the seats to talk and sing and play; all with the impetus on songwriting.

Besides leading the circles and his working life on the Slope, Hahn has written more than 100 songs. As he goes, Hahn is looking to write a hit. Right now, those hopes include Chad Williams singing Hahn’s songs on records and eventually to audiences across the country. Hahn’s real dream is to be the writer behind the hit, not the performer in front of the people.

“He can do the 53-city tour,” Hahn said. “I’ll stay home and write more songs.”

The up and coming Nashville-based country singer took a few times to get through Hahn’s recent co-writing contribution “Drive the Bus.” The song detailing a father’s wish for his son’s success was written after the two spent time on the phone talking about Williams’ loss of his father, how he wanted to drive his son’s tour bus.

For the moment, “Drive the Bus” is Williams’ favorite song and is likely to make the December album.

Hahn has a saying about songwriters and their favorite songs. For most, their favorite one is the last one they finished, he said.

“I knew he was a writer,” Shawna Hahn said of her husband. She still has the first poem Hahn scribbled down for her.

At the last songwriter’s circle, Hahn played “My Favorite Song,” written about his wife.

With three songs due out on the Chad Williams Band’s new album “Against the Grain,” including the title track, Hahn is hoping for success with the two co-writers and solo writing effort.

Justice’s motive for songwriting is different. With a couple of hundred songs written and a few recordings around, including a solo effort planned for next year, he writes his music to please himself.

“I write the stuff to perform it,” Justice said.

Tauriainen sang about his grandparents’ generation and all that they could do with an axe, things he could not manage with machinery. He sang about his wife and their home. It seems as if Tauriainen writes songs for himself and then the universe.

A storyteller, his songs are a lingering response on a person or a thought and are local enough for Kenai residents. He gave the story behind his songs, but two stand out for their ability to illustrate how a real local situation turns into a song, a friend on a boat at work is upset, stewing internally until asked to talk about it and his decision to return home to the Kenai from California.

Williams and his producers want relatable lyrics, the kind of song a performer can sing night after night and relate to it always. The best songwriting is done with stories that have played out in real life — his own or someone else’s, he said.

There is one other explanation, said only a little in jest: if a song goes Top 40, the singer gets stuck singing it for the rest of a long career, he said.

“You’re going to want to love it,” Williams said of that dreamed of breakthrough song.

The commercial market is a moving target and a mentor in Nashville warned Hahn of the idea that writing for only today’s market would lead to a miss. Hahn said he chose to go truer to heart and write what he wants to write and then rewrite into a finished song.

“Southern Rock” took seven rewrites before Hahn liked it enough.

“Think about ‘Freebird’,” Williams said of the 1973 southern rock anthem. “I’m sure Lynyrd Skynyrd loved that song.”

One of Hahn’s hundred or so songs stemmed from a question wondering why people like songs written about painful experiences in life. He posed to himself about his own human condition and the scribbling began on a piece of paper kept in the pocket of Hahn’s work shirt. That’s part of his method.

“I don’t know why I like songs about pain,” Hahn said. “I’ve got a great family and a great life.”

Much of the writing process is scribbled down at first before more detailed work on the song and its structure. At least once, his lyrics have been written on a piece of pipe to keep them from escaping him while working on the Slope.

“It (can) start with a phrase or a word,” Hahn said. “Sometimes they just fall right into your lap.”

“Curt and I have the same taste in songwriting,” Williams said. “Matching taste is hard to find in a co-writer.”

Williams said he tell Hahn a story and a week later gets a workable song that his producer can tweak a little and turn the previous acoustic version into something for the airwaves.

“I’m pleased to help him as much as he’s helping me,” Williams said.

Reach Greg Skinner at


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