Songwriting

“A biting wit worthy of Warren Zevon and Ray Davies.”
—Ashley Khan of the Wall Street Journal

In the tradition of literate, tuneful singer-songwriters like Jon Brion, Gram Parsons, Lou Barlow and John Mayer, the songs penned by James Rotondi present rich themes and colorful characters, with engaging wordplay that careens from deeply ironic to deeply vulnerable. With roots in the iconic melodic structures of the Beatles and the poetic electric-folk of mid-period Dylan, Rotondi’s songs follow a similar mantra to jazzer Jim Hall’s legendary dictum “Make musical sense.” To which Rotondi would add, “Make lyrical sense.”

“In a rock band, you can get away with all kinds of ‘cool-sounding’ wordplay, even if there is really no theme or message that ties the song together,” offers Rotondi, who’s performed solo at Nashville’s Blue Bird Cafe, SF’s Fillmore, New York’s The Living Room, and LA’s Maggie Mae’s. “But if you’re putting yourself out there as a songwriter, the criteria changes: there are just so many great story-teller songwriters out there—from Jonathan Wilson to Regina Spektor—that you really have to have a cracking opening line, a nice development in the verses and choruses, and a bridge that adds something new, compelling—maybe even surprising—to the song’s story arc.” It’s an approach that—since his early days in Boston playing coffehouses alongside future stars like Mary Lou Lord, Ellis Paul, and Dar Williams—he’s applied to modern punk-pop tracks, epic folky love ballads, and hard-rock barnburners alike.

Rotondi has had ample space to explore these kinds of practices, which first manifested on his acclaimed 2009 solo album, Summer Home. A member for the last four years of Austin legend Bob Schneider’s notorious “Song Machine” (profiled in 2011 in the New York Times, the group has included Jason Mraz and Matt Nathanson), the already prolific songsmith has been turning out a song a week for over 200 weeks, which gave him a mighty bounty of material when it came time to record his upcoming release, Into the Unknown. He’s also applied his songwriting sense to original works for corporate clients such as Disney and Snapple, and has presented large-scale songwriting workshops for companies including American Express and Microsoft, under the auspices of the innovative team-building provider, Song Division.

Listen to Rotondi’s songs, and his wide aesthetic net becomes plain: shades of Elvis Costello in “Congratulations”; hints of classic soft rock like the Eagles and Bread in “Sansepolcro”; Pete Townshend’s windmill acoustic-rock sensibilities in “Unraveling”; and the world-weary Brazilian energy of a Joao Gilberto in his bossa-infused “Baby, You’re the Man.” Elsewhere, he tips his hat to Modest Mouse-approved disco-punk in his band The Bad Eliots, and moody ‘80s synth-rock a la Depeche Mode and Erasure in his latest project, Spy Empire.

A seasoned solo acoustic performer as well as band dude, Rotondi is available for co-writing opportunities with like-minded songwriters, and for creating theme-specific songs for recording artists and other clients. See the Music tab for examples of his original music and music for media.