‘Song Confessional’ Podcast Transforms Strangers’ Stories into Music
Local artists Walker Lukens and Zac Catanzaro invite you to the confessional booth at Hotel Magdalena
By Lainey Gonzales
Everyone has a great story.
Whether it happened to yourself, your friends or some distant relative, we learn from an early age to carry at least one absurd anecdote in our back pocket. It’s a crucial social tactic, one that we deploy at parties, holidays or even awkward family dinners.
Walker Lukens and Zac Catanzaro, Austin-based musicians and longtime pals, have become the patron saints of these party trick tales with the creation of their popular podcast, “Song Confessional.”
“Song Confessional” invites people to share their own urban legends with renowned songwriters. These artists are then tasked to turn the accounts into songs of any style.
“We were touring a lot, and we wanted to do something different,” recalls Lukens. “We had a camper trailer and we turned it into a confessional booth.”
In its earliest iteration circa 2018, strangers would enter the trailer with their confession and a band would write a song about it on the spot. Realizing that they had struck storytelling gold, the pair decided to share the wealth by streaming the best collaborations via podcast.
“It wasn’t intended to be a podcast, it was supposed to be an interactive experience,” says Catanzaro. “But after we collected some great stories and songs, we saw that it was too cool not to figure out some way to put the experience out there.”
Fast forward to March 2020, Walker and Zac were preparing for the booth’s appearance at SXSW when the world began to shut down. Though the pandemic put their festival plans on hold, a new life for their project emerged.
“It was complete and total kismet,” says Lukens. “This was never on our radar.”
Tucked away beneath the hotel’s lobby, tourists and locals alike can drop in and share their confessions anonymously at The Song Confessional Recording Booth. Though the booth has only been installed for a year, it’s received over 800 submissions, some of which have already been written into songs. Each episode of the podcast includes the story that inspired the original song, the premiere of the song and an interview with the songwriter.
From a surprise party that outed the birthday girl for dating multiple people at once to unexpectedly falling in love with a one night stand in Barcelona, the stories featured from Hotel Magdalena have inspired irresistible music and conversation for the podcast’s latest season. The show’s previous seasons include songs from artists including Odessa, Houndmouth and Wild Child.
“When we do live events, people try to use it a little more as therapy. They want to talk through things with someone they don’t know,” explains Catanzaro. “But with the hotel, the stories are always a little more sauced, a little sexier.”
Whether the tales are light-hearted, vulnerable or downright mind-blowing, the project has provided an opportunity for compelling stories to not only be shared, but take new form.
“You get artists telling stories that aren’t their own, but they still make it their own,” says Lukens. “I think seeing that process humanizes songwriting in a way that gets lost in the PR and marketing that people have to do now.”
Beyond exploring the intricate relationship between storytelling and songwriting, the podcast accomplishes something even greater by reminding us of the universality of our emotions and encounters.
“The fact that people are willing to come in and truly bear their souls and tell us some personal things makes you realize how similar everybody really is at the end of the day,” says Catanzaro. “We’re all thinking and learning about the same things all the time — it doesn’t matter what our background is or where we’re coming from.”
The newest season of “Song Confessional,” based on confessions from Hotel Magdalena, is available wherever you listen to podcasts, along with the recorded songs. To learn more about their podcast and musical releases, visit their website. And if you feel so inclined, you can stop by the booth and leave your own confession any day from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m.