Singer-songwriter Nick Africano said songwriting is a craft he loves.
"As much as songwriting has been therapeutic for me in a way ... it has ultimately become something that I have taken great pleasure doing," said Africano.
Stories and poems is where he started as a young child growing up in Normal, and took one of his first crack at songwriting at 17. But he said he started backwards.
"I didn't learn anyone else's songs before I started writing my own. Now I'm learning how to go backwards and learn everyone else's songs and writing my own," he chuckled and then recalled that first stab at songwriting. "I think it was a song called 'Long Road.' There are a few people in this town who will remember that song."
He also remembers a special song he wrote a five years later he performed at his mother's funeral.
"I had been writing it beforehand, it then took a turn when my mother passed away and it became a bigger piece,"said Africano. "It was about my mother, and I kind of consider it to be my first real song. That set a new standard for me. Something happened with that song where it was my new standard to match."
His "backwards" quest continues today as he digs into other artists songs in an effort he said is meant to stretch his imagination. Africano picked out "Visions of Johanna" from Bob Dylan's classic "Blonde on Blonde" album as one that has his attention, as does Brazilian legend Catano Velosa's version of the Mexican song "Cucurrucucu Paloma."
"We as songwriters and artists get into certain patterns and comfort zones and I really want to push my abilities right now," said Africano. "I think I have some really good songs in the works, and it's one of the reasons I'm home right now from New York City. I want to take some time to focus and listen to what's going on inside myself. I really want to stretch my abilities and comfort zone."
Africano has lived in New York City since 2008 and says themes from the city inevitably find their way into his songwriting, for better or worse. He also marveled about the city's high volume of high caliber talent that he said has challenged him to raise his game both as a songwriter and performer.
"You're around a lot of people who bring their best every day," said Africano. "You go to a club and listen to a randon singer-songwriter you've never met, and they blow your mind. And it can happen anywhere with the sheer volume of that city year round. It makes you want to bring your 'A' game."
He says he has risen to the challenge, and vocalists are leading that inspiration.
"Not even necessarily that they have a big name right? But you show up and you hear someone sing, men or women, and you think 'they're really singing.' They're not just using their voice as a means to tell people their lyrics. They're really singing a melody and a song, and there's a quality to their voice they have worked on, or they just have it," said Africano.
Nick Africano performs March 4 at 7:00 p.m. as part of the songwriter series at Duncan Manor in rural Towanda.