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Jay Clementi on Writing Songs With Soldiers for Mental Health

SongwritingWith:Soldiers guides veterans through music, helping tell a slice of their truth
Veteran S/sgt John Wall, song writer Jay Clementi and Sgt Tyler Daly working on their music. (Photo Credit: Joe Amon/The Denver Post via Getty Images)

During a weekend retreat to Colorado in 2011, singer-songwriter Jay Clementi gathered veterans and other songwriters, with only a few instruments, some food, and their singing voices, hoping that something incredible would come of it. Eleven years later, SongwritingWith:Soldiers is an organization that continues to better the mental health of veterans through the power of music.

“We’re not therapists,” Clementi tells SPIN. “We are artists and writers who sit down and just try to tell a piece of [the veterans’] truth.”

The SW:S program hosts getaways every year at gorgeous locations and retreat centers across the country. Throughout, songwriters talk with veterans and their families in therapy-like sessions about their traumas and pasts, and in turn they help create songs about such stories. Alongside meditations, workshops, and “warrior paths” (intense courses aimed to reduce PTSD), SW:S hosts songwriting sessions with numerous veterans and their families.

“Instantly, you can see the power of a song and its effect on someone’s life in real time, and it’s amazing,” Clementi says.

The organization, according to Clementi, intentionally finds curious, deeply empathetic, and dependable songwriters, who are also chosen based off their own music work and careers. The songwriters must be able to bond and connect with struggling veterans through writing sessions, which last around two and a half hours, and subsequent recording. While Clementi says everyone has “1,000 songs” in them, the songwriters are solely there to guide the veterans through music.

“We want these folks to come in and get inspired,” Clementi says.

More information about SW:S can be found at their website.