Autism Interview #184: Ronan Boren on Songwriting

Ronan Boren is a fifteen-year-old autistic songwriter from Texas. Boren works with his music tutor Bill Paige (also an author/musician/songwriter) to compose original music he shares with the world.

Ronan writes all the lyrics for Josephmooon, whose debut album, “So Far So Good” features 12 songs about shifting moods (“Out of Tune,” “Up All Night,” “Check For”), menacing strangers (“Captolea,” “Busybodies”) and teenage fantasies (“Reusable Money,” “High In The Sky”).

His album can be purchased on JosephMooon.com as well as Spotify, YouTube Music, Pandora, Apple Music, and iTunes. A link to the full press release is available below. This week Boren gave us a glimpse into his music collaboration with Paige and teenage life.

Tell me a little about yourself–what do you like to do in your free time and what are you most passionate about?

Well, I live in Austin, Texas, with my mom, dad, younger brother, our dog, and sometimes my grandmother lives with us. I’m homeschooled, so I have tutors. I’m 14 years old and going to be 15 years old in October on my birthday. For five years, I’ve asked my mom for a chainsaw for my birthday. She said, “Hell, no,” to the chainsaw.

I don’t like getting searched by airport security. Tomato ketchup grosses me out and I find it disgusting. I also like to pick my nose and spin around in my chair. That’s where I get ideas for songs sometimes. Like I just had an idea for a song called, “You’re In Charge.”


What has pandemic life been like for you and your family?

Not too bad. Not too bad. Our gardener tested positive for covid. My brother was exposed to someone at school so he just got tested but the test was negative. If I have symptoms, I will get tested again. I’ve been tested before. If I was the Governor I would just say, ‘Sorry, everybody! You have to wear a mask or go to jail. I’m just trying to keep you all safe.’

I like to move around and don’t want to sit still. I walk around and clap, thinking out loud. My tutor wants my camera on so she can see me all the time. She wants to make sure I’m paying attention. If I were a teacher, I would just teach. I go to sailing lessons, too, on Lake Travis, in a small FJ sailboat. We learn how to capsize the boat on purpose, so you know what to do if something like that happens.

How old were you when you wrote your first song? What was the inspiration for that?

I was nine years old. It was “Snakes Versus The Earth.” There were three sections, parts one,
two, and three. These are some lyrics from the third song, called “Snakes Versus The End
(December 13, 1999)”:


In a Russian zoo
The snakes were sad and old
A lady screamed so loud
It broke the glass I’m told
The snakes escaped the reptile house
And slithered around the zoo
Met up with the Viper
But didn’t know what to do
The military police arrived and blew up the zoo

All the snakes were dead, but a few lucky ones survived
As the zoo collapsed, they swam to Alaska
And started the order of the time


Paige: I don’t know how Ronan chose this date, but when I looked it up I found it was a day Russian military forces invaded Grozny in an attempt to take over the Chechen capital. Ironically, it also was a day the Russian government granted amnesty to war criminals: “On December 13, 1999, the State Duma of the Federal Assembly of the Russian Federation adopted a Resolution on Amnesty for persons who committed socially dangerous acts in the course of antiterrorist operations in the North Caucasus. Moreover, the State Duma adopted a resolution on an amnesty application. The Resolution on Amnesty applied to persons who committed illegal acts in Chechnya, Daghestan, Ingushetia, North Ossetia-Alania, and Stavropol territory since August 1,1999.”
https://ir.lawnet.fordham.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?referer=https://www.google.com/&httpsre
dir=1&article=1692&context=ilj

What kinds of things do you learn from your music tutor, Bill? What are your sessions focused
on?

Writing songs! And Josephmooon stuff. Don’t forget to spell MOOON with three Os. One thing I learned is how to remember the strings on a guitar. “Eddie Ate Dynamite. Good Bye Eddie.” The first letter of each word is the string name, so E A D G B E. And now I’m learning to put my best foot forward doing this interview. That could be a good song, “Best Foot Forward.”

Paige: We also cover current events in music, e.g., the death of any well-regarded musician will result in a review of that musician’s career as well as the style of music they performed –most recently Charlie Watts of the Rolling Stones, and Don Everly of the Everly Brothers, but also Lee “Scratch” Perry and “Zorba The Greek” composer, Mikis Theodorakis. We’ll also discuss things like Ed Sheeran being sued by the estate of Marvin Gaye – or any music plagiarism case, really – and songwriters who are now “cashing in” by selling the rights to their song catalogs to
investment firms to be used like listings on a stock portfolio.

Describe the content creation partnership process you two have. How does an idea make its way into a song or album?

First I write the words and send them to Bill. Then he writes the melodies and the chords.

Paige: Ah, the innocence. He makes it sound so simple. But actually there is a long discussion to
be had about how NOT being attached to the words actually helps me create the “frame” for
them. And of course once I “frame out” the words, Ronnie Nice, who is just 17 years old himself, “fleshes out” my basic chord-and-melody treatment with much fuller arrangements.

So, there is an interesting “circle of creativity.” Ro inspires me and our songs inspire Ronnie,
who is working under the tutelage of his father, Ian Nice, a respected piano player at London
recording sessions for many years, who also played in the band Cockney Rebel.)

What inspired you to create your new album “So Far So Good?” How long did that take?

The album just came together song by song. One song at a time over about one year. “So Far So
Good” just means everything so far is pretty good. It was one of the last songs we wrote. For the cover I just thought of a broken pencil and that it should have a black eraser. And then it was Bill’s idea to have the lyrics and a whole pencil on the inside.

Paige: Since rock ‘n’ roll is all about influences, I asked our graphic designer, Amy Bennick, to model the pencil after another iconic album cover, “Andy Warhol,” by the Velvet Underground, referencing the banana image designed by Warhol himself.

What do you hope listeners gain from hearing some of the songs in this album?

We just want people to be entertained. “High In The Sky” is one of my favorites because of the melody. And “Out Of Tune,” because it says you can get back in tune, just like a musical instrument. “Reusable Money” is a funny song because who wouldn’t want to have that?

What do you love most about music/songwriting?

You get to choose the topic. That is my favorite part. It’s hard to describe.

What is the most difficult part of the songwriting process?

Sometimes there is not enough to think about so I just write the same words over and over.

What’s something you think non-autistic people misunderstand about autism?

Stimming.

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