By Kimberly Shires
Jammin Java put a little jingle into our step with Clauster Eve, Songwriters’ Circle Holiday Edition on December 21. The show featured local singer-songwriters and friends of the DMV music scene. Todd Wright started Clauster Eve in 2014 as a precursor his two-night, sold out show, the Annual Santa Clauster F@%! Holiday Extravaganza. Todd was joined by friends Luke Brindley, co-owner of Jammin Java, and Anthony Fiacco, a talented singer-songwriter who now resides in Nashville. Todd also invited his good friend and songwriting partner, Scott Simons, to join the lineup. Amid the Christmas “carols”, Scott kept the night kosher with his witty take on Chanukah songs. Todd Wright’s sixteen-year-old daughter, Ryan Wright, also sang “Christmas in LA” and their original tune “Snow” from the father and daughter’s recent album.
The guys effortlessly transitioned between originals and covers of holiday songs, such as Chanukah in West Virginia by Scott Simons. The Clauster Eve crowd doubled over in laughter as the songwriters comically riffed off each other. The guys spontaneously launched into the intro to Barry Manilow’s Copacabana. “Her name was Lola…” became “His name was Santa from the North Pola.” The comradery on stage put everybody into the holiday spirit.
Alchemical Records got a chance to catch up with Todd Wright to discuss his Sixteenth Annual Santa Clauster F@%! and other projects. Todd is an accomplished musician with over 25 years in the industry. Todd spent his early days on stage, on tour with bands such as Better Than Ezra, Fighting Gravity and Pat McGee Band in addition to writing his own album Imperfect Heart. Ten years ago, Todd transitioned to writing songs for acclaimed artists such as Celine Dion.
The Annual Clauster F@%! hosts a cacophony of musicians with ties to the DMV area. Each year, musician friends come together for an unrehearsed jam on holiday tunes accompanied by a stream of off-the-cuff and witty banter. The seemingly thrown-together nature of the show is what makes it fun and keeps everybody coming back for more. This year, Todd booked 60 musicians, with many more who knocked on the door.
The Clauster F@%! started in 2002. Todd was at the end of an era with his band Getaway Car. Todd invited a few musician buddies to put on a holiday show. After the first year, he invited more friends to join the event. In 2009, Todd threw out all caution and invited every musician he knew. This was when the Santa Clauster F@%! Holiday Extravaganza as we know it took shape. Twenty artists came together at Jammin Java to realize Todd’s vision of a night of complete chaos and holiday debauchery. Wright later described it as a “total train wreck,” but he would not have had it any other way.
Fans of the Clauster F@%! need to plan early if they want to watch the shenanigans unfold. The event sells out more quickly each year. This year’s show sold out two months in advance. Despite its success, Todd has no aspiration to move to a bigger venue. The Clauster F@%! is a Jammin Java tradition. All proceeds of the Santa Clauster F@%! go to the charity Team Mathias.
Todd decided to start Clauster Eve Songwriters’ Circle in 2014 as a practical move to make decorating for the Clauster F@%! the following night easier. In previous years, Todd had to wait for the band that was playing that evening to finish before his team could get down to business. It was inconvenient. Todd had a clever idea What if I were the entertainment the night before the Clauster F@%!? Thus, Clauster Eve was born.
Today, Todd is an accomplished songwriter, but songwriting was not his initial career aspiration. Todd had a dream to tour the country, make albums and entertain crowds with his talent and wit. He became a dad in his late 30s and had what he called a “come to Jesus moment.” He had a vision of his “old dad” self “riding around the east coast in a van.” Around that time, Todd met Scott Simons, who turned out to be not only a great friend but a collaboration partner. Todd was playing with his band Getaway Car and Scott was heading his band The Argument. Getaway Car opened a few shows for The Argument. Todd and Scott started collaborating and Todd was introduced to the professional songwriting side of the music business.
This friendship and collaboration led Todd to stability in the industry. The duo co-wrote a catalog of songs. At thirty-eight years old, Todd was an overnight sensation when he signed a publishing deal with Warner Chapel Music Publishing. Unfortunately, the label dropped him one year later after he sold them all his songs. Todd found himself knocking on door of forty years old, with no catalog and no label. With a good yank of his boot straps, Todd was introduced to a new publisher, PEN out of Los Angeles, who took a chance and signed him, sans catalog. Todd wrote “L’Amour Peut Prendre Froid,” recorded by Celine Dion, and K-pop songs under this label.
Todd started writing songs at fourteen years old. He reminisced, laughing at himself, when he thought about his first song for his band. Todd laughed as he admitted the name. “The song was called ‘Sex in Numbers.’ We thought we were cool because we abbreviated it to S.I.N.” Todd’s second song, “Pull the Trigger,” was another badass fourteen-year-old nod to hair bands like Mötley Crüe and Poison. The fourteen-year-old Todd was writing songs, but he did not consider himself a songwriter until he started collaborating with other professionals later in life. Collaboration was a game changer for Todd, and it led to his most recent successes.
Alchemical asked Todd about that moment when he realizes he hit that sweet spot, when the lyric, melody and chords all come together. Todd explained it as a “surreal otherworldly feeling.” He knows that he has written something special when the shivers overtake him. He got that feeling when he wrote “L’Amour Peut Prendre Froid,” a song he originally wrote in English. A lyricist rewrote Todd’s lyrics in French, changing the meaning of the song in the process.
Songs sometimes have a mind of their own. Todd quoted the late Tom Petty in saying that “sometimes you are just the vessel for it”— “it” being the message that the song wants to be about. Todd gets great satisfaction out of knowing that he “created something out of thin air that didn’t exist that morning.”
Currently, Todd has been busy collaborating with DMV artists such as Tommy Gann, the former bassist of The Click Five, and singer-songwriter Emma Rowley. Todd and Emma are now co-writing an album to be released next year.
Todd’s most prized collaboration and current project is coaching his sixteen-year-old daughter Ryan Wright. Ryan is off to a big start. She has already sung vocals on a Sister Hazel track, and she even released her first single, “Snow”, which she recorded with her dad Todd Wright.
Todd Wright walks through life in collaboration. From throwing a crazy holiday show, to performing with friends to creating with friends. After one conversation with Todd, it was clear that friendship is the single most important driver to his success.