Local songwriters would love to sell song to Justin Timberlake

News-DemocratApril 6, 2014 

Kara Baldus and Dan Mehrmann want your vote.

The local musician-songwriting team, who are members of the band Dropkick the Robot, recently won the grand prize in the electronic category of the John Lennon Songwriting Contest, an international competition that began in 1997. They received $9,000 worth of musical recording equipment for their efforts.

Now, their song "Missed Out" is competing again.

Listen to it at jlsc.com and vote if you like it.

"Our song revolves around taking some chances and making sure you are following your heart and doing all you can to live the life you love," said Kara, 33, who lives in Fairview Heights. "That you don't look back some day and realize you missed out. It sounds cliche, but in the song it's very sincere."

Dan plays bass and guitar. Kara plays keyboard. Both sing the breezy, upbeat contemporary-pop song that has a jazzy feel.

Here are a few lines from the song:

"Do you ever wonder if you missed out, Missed out on it.

If you think it's worth your time to try and find out.

Find out yourself.

You and I we've gotta figure it out just reach out

Reach out for my love."

On a recent Friday morning, the duo planned to work on more music in Dan's studio (Jettison Studios, www.jettisonstudios.com) on the lower level of his rural New Athens home. His rescue dog, Bradford, a Westie-Jack Russell mix, tagged along.

"This is where all of our recordings are mixed and mostly mastered," said Kara. "This is where we record everything."

It was their day off from regular jobs.

Kara, a 1999 Belleville West graduate, teaches applied music at Washington University in St. Louis, a job she has had since 2005.

"I have 25 hours worth of students," she said, "some jazz combos, and one-on-ones."

Dan, 37, and a 1994 Belleville West grad, is coordinator of music technology at Southwestern Illinois College.

"I have four classes that I teach," said Dan. "It's a recording technology program. Classes are relatively small, anywhere between 10 and 15 students."

Both come from musical families.

"My mother played piano and was a church organist," said Kara. "I've known no other way. Since I was 5. I took piano lessons, and flute and piano at West,

She's been playing in bands since high school.

"It's pretty much every Saturday of my life since I was 18," she said. "I play keyboards, sing and lead the band at times."

Dan's dad played guitar in church and sang.

"I think I started writing songs when I was 10 or 11," said Dan. "I wish I could find some of those lyrics. My parents got me a keyboard at that age."

Dan first learned about the John Lennon contest in 2003.

"I had randomly entered right at the end of college," he said. "I was trying to be a singer. I was trying to get some notice from the industry. Unless you're playing with a band, it's hard to get recognized."

He got an honorable mention that year.

He got busy, his priorities changed.

For now, Dropkick the Robot (www.dropkicktherobot.com), the indie pop band Dan started in 2008, has taken a backseat to his other interests.The group hasn't played out since Nov 30.

"At this point, we're focusing on songwriting," he said. "We're not actively searching out gigs."

Dan and Kara teamed up on "Missed Out" late last year.

"I had always wanted to write songs," said Kara, who asked Dan if he would listen to some of her ideas. The two have known each other since 1999 when both were students at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville.

"We've been friends a long time," said Dan. "At the end of the day, it's easy to give feedback. I was more than happy to have someone like Kara in the process with me."

"You go into a writing session, trying to get out everything in your head," said Kara.

They bounced ideas off each other, and were frank enough to say, "This part's not hitting me." Pieces fell into place. The song was going in a direction they liked.

"This was one of those times when everything you try to squeeze into three or four minutes of music worked," he said.

They knew they had done the best job they could.

"You strive to have a melody to drive the words, and this one is very strong."

They let a few friends listen and ran it by a company that gives them feedback.

"They were really positive, too," said Dan. "Friends and family are one thing, but if complete strangers say it's good, that's another thing."

Still, they realize the challenge of making it as songwriters. There's more emphasis on placement of songs in TV and movies, said Dan.

"That's what we were trying to break into. We would love to sell this song to Justin Timberlake."

When they're not writing music, they like listening to it. Dan's favorites are English rock band Radiohead and Beck, known for his musical collages. Kara likes British singer-songwriter Dan Croll; Junior Boys, a Canadian electronic music group; and Grizzly Bear, a rock band from Brooklyn.

Dan and Kara hope to get to the next round of competition.

"The next leg is for the Lennon award," said Dan. "If we win that leg, we will have a chance to win song of the year."

They plan to carve out time to continue writing. They're working on five or six tunes to put out as an EP.

"My parents have always been very supportive," said Kara. "They say, 'Do what you love,' and that's the goal for me."

Kind of like the song.

To listen to and vote for "Missed Out," go to the website:jlsc.com and look for the voting link. You can vote once a day through April 25.

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