What I'd found, I suppose, was "the only sound that matters."
Texas native Greg Vanderpool coined that phrase during the two years he spent as a struggling musician in Nashville.
"Texas is home, but I had a really good experience while I was in Nashville," he says in an interview for Lemon Squeezings. "I was spending a lot of time just really going out and hearing music almost every night and just soaking up everything I could. In a lot of ways, it was secondary education just because there are so many good players and writers in Nashville. ... I would go hear bands play all the time, and a lot of times by myself, and maybe drinking a little bit more than I should, in the constant, never-ending quest for some sort of musical fulfillment or gratification."
It's a familiar scenario in Nashville. You can just duck your head into one of the many buzzing establishments, where people are free to come and go as they please, with nobody at the door to collect a cover charge. But you can step inside and hang, just to check out what the music's like in there. If it's not your speed, you can go on to the next place. At each entrance, you hope for the best and mutter to yourself something akin to the words of this refrain:
"I'm looking for the only sound that matters. Is there one in here?"
Listen to the interview
Vanderpool returned to Texas with that finished song and a lot of other original tunes he'd written during his days in Nashville. "The Only Sound that Matters" made it onto the second album from his Austin band Milton Mapes. The album is Westernaire, released in 2003. And now that track has been picked up by Robert Plant for his new album.
It was only last week that Vanderpool was informed of Plant's selection. He says a music publisher in London who called him to verify some details about his song also informed him of how it is that Plant came to hear of the song. "From what I understand," says Vanderpool, "[Robert] has a friend, sort of a music collector, and they were seeking out songs that weren't just sort of standard material but maybe things that were a little bit beneath the radar."
Most likely, this music collector is Los Angeles-based music consultant Nigel Grainge, who says he showed Plant an array of songs that were "obscure but fabulous," including many that had been written only in the past five years or thereabouts.
Vanderpool, who grew up in the 1970s, says that for as much as people of his generation always fall back on the music of the '70s, good new music has always continued to be developed ever since. It's just a matter of finding it, he says.
"I think it just takes a little more energy, a little more work maybe to find the music now. Even though the technology makes it easier to hear more, I think you just have to dig through a little bit more to find the good stuff.That's precisely what Robert Plant has done, not only with "The Only Sound that Matters" but also with the two tracks he's covering that were written by the band Low from Duluth, Minnesota.
"But there is a lot of good stuff out there, and I try to keep up with it to an extent just because, I think, as an artist, you always want to keep evolving and learning, and there's still always going to be something to learn -- even if it's learning from people who are younger than you are."
As for learning and expanding as a songwriter, and simply as someone who appreciates music, Vanderpool says, "Musically, I think it's just a never-ending process."
His band Milton Mapes evolved into a group with a new name, Monahans. Their next gig is July 30 at Club Deville in Austin -- which is one block from Stubb's BBQ, the venue where Plant and the Band of Joy will have played on July 26.