Jim Gwynn has always loved words.
He loves the way they fit together, not only to provide information but to convey passion and emotion. When he was about 14 he began to pen poetry to express and channel his emotions. Within a few years, he discovered that music combined with his words created a stronger statement.
“Music is a vehicle to make the words sound good,” Gwynn said last week over a cup of coffee.
Often those words express dissatisfaction with the world or what’s going on in politics. And Gwynn, who lives in Glen Ellyn, is dissatisfied with politics in Illinois. Gwynn, who said his politics are conservative, wrote the song, “Voices,” to express dissatisfaction with the midnight income tax increase in Illinois in January 2011. Not only did the midnight action of the Democratic majority legislature leave a bad taste in his mouth, but he was angered over the loss of income from the tax hike.
“I had some anger. I got a little warm inside and sat down and wrote the song,” he said.
Once he composed the lyrics, Gwynn electronically sent them off to his band-mate Spencer Watson, who then worked on the musical accompaniment. Within a matter of hours the two were happy with the results. But it didn’t stop with just recording a conservative protest song. After recording “Voices”, Gwynn began a marketing campaign for the song that included using social media to post links to his recording as well as mailing recordings of the song to every sitting Republican governor in the United States.
Some of those governors have taken a liking to the song. Several, including Chris Christie of New Jersey, Rick Snyder of Michigan and Bill Haslam of Tennessee, sent Gwynn letters thanking him for the song. Each letter contains a personal comment about the song. Snyder wrote in his letter that he would approach the Michigan Republican Party about using “Voices” at some of their events, which made Gwynn ecstatic.
“I love that there may be a chance they use my song. I have always wanted to hear a commercial or see some news coverage of a rally where my song was playing in the background. That would be so cool,” Gwynn said.
But Gwynn’s songs are not all about politics. His songs deal with a wide range of themes and emotions. To date Gwynn has written approximately 500 songs, but the latest collection on “Year X” are the songs with which he’s most pleased.
“If I don’t record another song, I’ll be happy with this as my last work,” he said.
He said the first five albums that he and his band recorded were more sappy in nature, but “Year X” was an album that he put his all into. He wanted the composition to reflect what he could do musically.
One song on the album, “This Song Will Last Forever” holds special meaning for Gwynn—it features one of his favorite musicians, Tracy Bonham.
“I wrote that song with her in mind and knowing that she actually played on it is just so incredible,” he said.
Gwynn said Bonham laid her performance on top of his work at her studio and sent him the finished product. When the package arrived at his house he looked at it for days before daring to open it. And when he finally opened it, in complete privacy, his reaction was to weep.
“Every time I listen to her play my song I can’t help but cry,” Gwynn said.
“Year X” is Gwynn’s sixth album. He said he financed it by selling off multiple guitars, amplifiers and other musical equipment. He said he doesn't expect commercial success with his albums, but he’s never sought to that kind of success.
“I never wanted to be a rock star and get involved with that kind of lifestyle. I just wanted to write songs with meaning,” he said.
Gwynn and his band get a few opportunities to play their music live. In August they will play at the Elbo Room in Chicago and then at The Red Line Tap in September. Other times Gwynn will seek out open mike nights to play.
“Music is my outlet. It lets me channel my emotions in a productive way. A song like ‘Voices’ is my anger channeled constructively.”