Within the lush rainforest of Bali, Indonesia, a town called Ubud is a respite for those who seek a place to open their third eye, a spiritual portal. The air is infused with smoke from incense burning in nearby temples. The streets are littered with flower petals from daily offerings left on every corner.
But what has been immortalized as a place to Eat, Pray, Love, has become something more. At sunrise, the low hum of collective prayer chants find their way through a chaotic jungle symphony, gently coaxing you awake like the beginning of a new thought. There is music here, natural and dynamic, and it has inspired a pilgrimage in search of the divination to make it.
This is the Bali Songwriting Invitational, a camp for musical creatives whose disciples include household names like Kesha, Nick Jonas and Blake Sennett of Rilo Kiley.
Once a year, hidden away in a secluded recording studio, 17 music makers from the U.S., Australia, UK and Sweden are invited to experience the songwriting process in an entirely intimate way. They arrive complete strangers, known to each other only by their musical accolades, shed their industry skin and plunge into intense collaborations. Egos are broken, lost voices scream even louder to be found, and what results is a transformation: the rediscovery of songwriting as an art form.
“Bali is a magical place at the best of times,” says camp alum Steve Lillywhite, legendary producer of the Rolling Stones and U2. “But, add the extra ingredients of amazing artists, writers and producers and you have a magic that is hard to imagine.”
At this year’s camp, that magic helped Kesha play with a new sound, a bluesy grit reminiscent of Joplin after a heartbreak and a shot of whiskey.
Blake Sennett arrived in Bali as the guitar and lyric mastermind behind Rilo Kiley- an indie rock god among shag-haired men, whose street cred in the music industry is more than solidified, it is a cornerstone. And yet there he sat on the morning of his last session, at a breakfast table half a world away from anything counter-culturally familiar, feeling perhaps for the first time he had found a sense of community.
“My experience in Bali really gave me a feeling of belonging,” he said. “Looking around and realizing there are all these other nuts, that have these melodies and lyrics stuck in their heads!”
The gathering of these likeminded individuals is certain to breed music worthy of Billboard hits, but the true success lies in the creation of a creative moment far from the industry incubators artists have been confined to. This is not LA. This is not Nashville, but this is the only place to be. There is no definitive answer for where inspiration comes from. But chances are, once a year, it comes from Bali.