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Music in Paris: One Stanford student’s musical epiphany in the city of light

Andrea Slobodien ’13 has been writing songs since she was 6 years old.

“I wrote this really silly little tune about dolphins,” she laughed. “They were my favorite animal.” Her piano teacher, who she studied with from five to 18, framed the sheet music for her song and put it up on his wall.

It was the start of a love affair with music that has only intensified with age. Today, Slobodien’s cell phone has hundreds of recordings – song fragments that will come to her when she’s walking to class or hanging out with her residents (she’s a resident assistant in Durand this year). She calls these fragments “ideas,” and they are combined in ways even she doesn’t expect.

Courtesy of Jasmin Garcia

Courtesy of Jasmin Garcia

“Sometimes I think of a chorus and a year later I think of the perfect verse,” Slobodien said.

Her musical inspirations have evolved with her own development from emotional preteen to poised Stanford student, even though she still describes herself as a “melodramatic, hopeless romantic.” Growing up, she emulated John Lennon’s chord progressions.

“I loved Britney Spears until one day I realized that all her songs use the same chord progressions and I could never listen to her again,” she admitted with a laugh.

Her musical hero, however, is singer Andrew McMahon of Something Corporate, who had lunch with her on her thirteenth birthday and wished her luck on her music career. As a teenager, Death Cab for Cutie’s lyrical complexities inspired Slobodien to tell complicated emotional stories with her lyrics rather than directing her songs towards an abstract figure; her songs became a means of “talking about the things I’ve experienced in my life, whether or not it was romantic.”

When she discovered composer Philip Glass, however, Slobodien began to focus more on the piano parts of her songs.

“There’s this really beautiful relationship between the lyrics and the piano,” Slobodien said. “I think that when I can no longer express something, the piano covers it for me. The way that I interact with the keys can show you a lot more of my emotions than I can say in words.”

These days, Slobodien’s tastes reflect a more international palate. Icelandic band Sigur Rós, singer L.P. (who Slobodien calls her “new vocal inspiration”) and German group Wir sind Helden are among her current favorites.

Her decision to pursue music full-time was made during her childhood – even her seventh-grade journal details her dreams of Julliard.

“It shows how much I naively wanted to do music, in the most extreme sense of the word,” Slobodien said. She finally committed to the decision while abroad in Paris last spring, when she didn’t have access to an instrument and realized music was a necessity, not just a hobby.

Her search for a piano in Paris led her to the famous Shakespeare and Company bookstore, featured in Hemingway’s novel “A Moveable Feast.”  It has a piano available to the public.

“People actually started listening. These tourists would videotape me, as if this were a thing that happens in the Shakespeare and Company bookstore,” Slobodien said.

Her practice sessions at the bookstore became impromptu concerts. “One guy told me that he had his writing epiphany about what he wants his book to be about after hearing one of my songs,” Slobodien remarked.

Through the friends she met at Shakespeare and Company, Slobodien discovered what she described as an “open-mic-speakeasy-spoken-word-collective” that met Monday nights in the basement of a bar. The room was filled with ex-pats who were somehow involved with the English language.

When a friend pushed her to perform, Slobodien introduced herself in French. “It was that rush I got,” she reminisced, “that an entire room of people was listening, and they actually liked it. After I was done performing, people came up and wanted to hear more. I realized that that’s what I want to do, or at least try.”

After spending last summer performing in bars and participating in open-mics in D.C., where she was interning at Congress, Slobodien knew that music was an emotional imperative.

“So many artistic doors opened in me,” she said. “I came back to Stanford thinking that no matter what happens to me after I graduate, I have to give music a chance while I’m young and I can still make a mistake and recover from it.”

Slobodien will graduate in the spring as a Science, Technology and Society major with a Modern Languages minor. She hopes to work at a music start-up, which will pay the bills as she continues to work toward her dream job.

Friends often tell Slobodien she sounds like Regina Spektor, Ingrid Michaelson and Adele. However, such comparisons make her uncomfortable.

“I don’t think I should be likened to them. They are fantastic, and they’ve already made it. I’m trying to carve out my own unique space.”

Her Stanford debut was during open-mic at the CoHo last quarter. Since then, she has performed at Acoustic Jukebox, and she performed ninety-minutes’ worth of original songs at the CoHo Sunday night.

To all the aspiring songwriters and musicians out there, Slobodien has some advice: “Let your emotions lead you,” she says.  “Let yourself come out.”

 

To hear Andrea Slobodien’s original work, check out www.andreaslobodien.com.