Burt Bacharach Reveals the Young Songwriter Who 'Took My Breath Away'

Melody Federer
Matthew Berinato 

Melody Federer

Over the course of six decades of songwriting, Burt Bacharach has teamed with an impressive cadre of collaborators, most notably Hal David but also ex-wife Carole Bayer Sager and Elvis Costello, among others. Joining the illustrious list now is Melody Federer, a Seattle-based singer-songwriter who co-wrote the just-released "Bridges" with Bacharach.

The two were introduced by mutual friend and collaborator Billy Mann. "He said, 'There's somebody you should really make contact with, this woman, who's very talented. Give her a call,'" Bacharach relates to Billboard. "And there was an understanding when he said 'She has some talent' that she's very, very talented...And then I heard her sing in the studio and it took my breath away. I thought that she really had what it took to become a great songwriter and performer." After they began working together Bacharach invited Federer to sing a couple of songs with him as a special guest during a 2019 concert at London's Royal Festival Hall.

For Federer, meanwhile, working with Bacharach -- who she says is her mother's favorite musician -- was nothing short of a dream come true.

"Omigosh, I was freaking out," recalls Federer, who brought Bacharach a gift -- an abstract painting she made that still sits in the writing room of his house -- when she first visited to write with him. "I grew up in a turbulent home environment, but we would always listen to Burt Bacharach and Herb Alpert and the Carpenters. My mom would sing me those songs when I was little, 'Close to You' and all of them. So it was huge to meet him, much less write with him."

Bacharach and Federer made a quick connection; To date they've composed five songs together, and Bacharach notes that "Melody's quick, very fast. If she was living in L.A. we'd be getting a lot more done." Federer -- who's also written for Kelly Rowland, Michael Buble and Jacob Whitesides -- adds that Bacharach compared her, favorably, to Sager; "He talked about one of his ex-wives who was a really prolific songwriter and really good as a writer. But we clicked; He'd show me a melody and right there I could come up with a lyric."

"Bridges," however, came from a poem Federer wrote about a former boyfriend who was a U.S. Marine. "(Mann) mentioned to (Bacharach) that I write a lot of poetry, and (Bacharach) asked me to send him some," Federer recalls. "So, OK, what poem am I going to send Burt Bacharach? I'd been dating this Marine off and on since I was 17, and we would send each other poetry and letters. There was one I thought Burt would like, which I called 'The 4 A.M. Poem.'" Inadvertently, however, Federer "forwarded him 10 years of love letters and emails...So he knew the whole love story."

"He had two printed out -- one was mine and one of them was the Marine's, which we couldn't really use, so we went with mine and made ('Bridges') out of that."

Bacharach had Federer recite the poem for him, and he "took it word for word and put it to music...with little changes from the original poem. It really magically came together." The two recorded the song in Nashville with producer Daniel Tashian, who Bacharach has also been working with on other material. "Burt is very classic in his production," Federer says. "He wants real instruments and everything, and I knew we needed to get him with some people who are really in the scene right now because he deserves that (sound). Younger audiences need to hear his work."

Bacharach and Federer plan to release their other songs in the future, though no plans have been announced yet. Federer, meanwhile, has finished a new album of her own that she wrote mostly during time living in Nashville; She plans to release it this year, and she'll be showcasing the music at this year's South By Southwest festival. "I really wanted to be thoughtful with it because for years I'd been writing pop songs for other people and trying to tailor songs to whatever artist I was in the room with," Federer says. "I kinda broke free of that and wanted to dig deep with this stuff. It's kind of Kacey Musgraves meets Radiohead, very different than anything I've done before.

"There's a lot of cool things happening with that right now, but clearly doing ('Bridges') with Burt is the highlight of my career so far. It's hard to top that."