ASCAP Music Cafe has presented a variety of artists this year |

ASCAP Music Cafe has presented a variety of artists this year

Time is closing in on this year’s ASCAP Music Cafe at the Sundance Film Festival. The last performances will be on Friday, Jan. 24.

Like the films during the festival, there is a variety of artists that entertain and touch the audiences.

Some of these artists include the Autumn Defense, Kris Gruen and a handful of songwriters who perform the Country Music Association’s showcase.

Autumn Defense

The Autumn Defense features Patrick Sansone and Wilco bassist John Stirratt.

The two got together back in 1999, while they were were both living in New Orleans.

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"We knew each other from the Mississippi music scene before he joined Uncle Tupelo, and eventually Wilco," Sansone said during an interview. "When we moved to New Orleans at the same time, we realized we had the same taste of music."

Stirratt showed Sansone a batch of songs that he had written.

"He didn’t know where they were going to go." Sansone said. "I was working at a recording studio and offered to arrange and finish the songs. We worked on these tunes and it became a full-blown partnership."

In 2011, Sansone played some solo shows at the ASCAP Music Cafe and had a great time.

He is excited to perform with Stirratt and their full band this year.

"It’s was a great opportunity to come back and return with John because the timing was perfect," he said. "We are going on a West Coast tour and the new album is coming out."

The duo’s new album, aptly titled "Fifth" because it is their fifth album will be released on Jan. 28.

"We were able to record a lot of the tracks with our complete live band in the studio, which is something we could never do before," Sansone said. "We hoped to give the record a cohesive sound.

"Our records tend to be heavily arranged, but we wanted to make sure the basic foundations of the tracks were live," he said. "There is a certain aesthetic language we can employ with this band. We know they can pull off a lot, which gives us a lot of freedom, which is one of the fun things about recording and producing."

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Kris Gruen

Kris Gruen, who played earlier this week, said it was his first time at ASCAP Music Cafe.

"I have been to Sundance before and last year I played in a different venue," Gruen said. "It’s a great place to play."

The musician said his songwriting stemmed from his love of poetry.

"After studying modern poets, I couldn’t ignore the music and poetic line," he said. "I felt like I needed to put the melodies behind my words."

Gruen, the son of rock-music photographer Bob, who is known for his works of John Lennon, the Rolling Stones, Joan Jett, Blondie, Joe Strummer and Woodstock, had been exposed to some of the best music in the world and decided to give it a shot.

"The first time I tried, I realized it wasn’t a given and not everything lined up," Gruen said. "One of the things that keep a lot of talented musicians to become songwriters is an inability to surrender to the nature of the words and the music and how you want to deliver them."

In 2006, Gruen released his first album, "Lullabye School." That was followed by 2010’s "Part of It All."

His latest, which was released last year, is called "New Comics from the Wooded World."

All the albums are snapshots of Gruen’s life and ideals.

"The first album was much more of a study of the aesthetic regarding the music I was listening at the time," he said. "The lyrics were more cryptic and not as exposing of my life experiences."

These days, Gruen’s songs are more about who he is as affected by family and society.

"The lyrics are much less difficult to decipher, but take a risk of being brave about failure and redemption," he said.

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Brett James

Nashville-based singer and songwriter Brett James’ appearance at the ASCAP Music Cafe is a little different than the others. He will appear with three other artists for the Country Music Association showcase.

"It’s a Nashville tradition of writers in the round," James explained. "We will have four of us on stage trading songs. We may play our hits or our new stuff."

The artists typically wing the showcaase.

"It’s fun because there are no rehearsals allowed," he said. "We’ll just sing with each other."

Although James is hosting the performance, he didn’t select the players.

"However, if I were to pick a dream team, this would be it," he said. "I think they are cream of the crop when it comes to singer and songwriters."

The artists include Lee Ann Womack, Chris Stapleton and Brandy Clark.

James, himself, has written songs that have been recorded by country artists Taylor Swift, Carrie Underwood, Martina McBride, Mark Willis, Lonestar and Jolie and the Wanted.

He’s also written songs for pop artists such as Chicago and the Backstreet Boys.

"Songwriting to me is sort of like acting," he explained. "What I love to do as a writer is picture myself as a character in the song. If it’s a country song or a pop song I write from a different angle. For example, I’ve got a song on the Fray’s new record, so I get to write one with them and then I’ll write with a true country singer like Chris Young the next day."

James also likes to write a song with an artist in mind.

"Nashville is still a pretty open town and our artists will still listen to and pick up outside songs," he said. "That’s not true with many pop or rock music artists."

Sometimes the songwriter feels the song he’s writing would fit the style of a handful of country artists.

"I’ll think the song I’m writing may be great for Tim McGraw, Kenny Chesney or Keith Urban and write it their voice on the song," he said. "Sure nine out of 10 times the artists I imagine singing the song won’t record it, but it helps me with the writing process."

Regardless, he’s always happy and surprised when someone picks up a song.

One of the biggest surprises was when Engelbert Humperdinck recorded his song "My Confession" in 2005.

"I never envisioned that," James said. "I also had a song that was translated in Dutch and sung at the Royal Wedding and was No. 1 in Holland. I’m so blessed to do what I do every day. I get to stay in the game and will do it as long as I’m happy."

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