Ha ha, “Catch” is funny word. I believe that my fever was congenital, and my condition is probably genetic. Connie’s definitely is. There were no “rockers” in my family, but my great-great-grand father used to play a single string gourd instrument at local dances in the turpentine towns of north Florida. According to some accounts he was the only musician at these events, which would make for a pretty strange dance party. My father had the hi-fi on all the time, mostly big band stuff. It made an impression. The first time I saw a rock band it was at a school assembly to promote a talent show. They brought my elementary school class in to fill some seats. It was the first time I saw an electric guitar in person. I think the older kids in the band were playing Skynyrd, but I can’t be sure. I was hooked though. That was it for me. Connie definitely has music deep in her, and she was absolutely born with it. For her music is like an extra limb. It’s just a part of her. Her dad played sax in bands her whole life. He’s an amazing guy. Connie grew up in music. I had to go exploring.
2.0 – What was the first guitar you ever owned?
When I was 12 I borrowed a guitar from a friend who’s father had an old harmony acoustic, the jazz kind with f-holes and painted on “wood grain.” The action was terrible, but I bloodied up my fingers and tried to learn some chords. The older kids on the school bus used to ask me why I played such a big violin. Then a kid up the street sold me a terrible no-name electric. It was plywood painted candy apple red and shaped like an SG. The action was even worse than the harmony – a real archery set – and to sweeten the deal the bridge had sharp screws sticking out of it. I had resolved myself to guitar playing being a painful sport. But that was my first guitar, bought the old fashioned way – with money from my paper route. I was glad to have it.
3.0 – What was the first song you learned to play well?
Play well? I’m still working on that. But the first song that I got up enough confidence to play in front of anybody was “Tangled Up In Blue,” the Bob Dylan song. We were cruising in a friend’s car in high school. My friend and his girlfriend were up in the front seat and the radio was busted. I was too young to drive so I was in the back seat alone with his guitar. “Tangled Up In Blue” was the only song I knew all the way through so I played it while we drove around. They didn’t seem annoyed. They were very kind.
4.0 – When did you start writing songs?
When I was 15 I started a punk band with two other kids from my high school, and we needed some original songs. As far as song writing goes, I didn’t think anything of it, we needed songs and somebody had to write them. So I wrote 12 songs in one week – all power chords and shouting – just so we’d have something to play. Nothing seemed unusual about this. Back then I figured anybody bored enough could write a dozen songs. Only one of them was any good though, and it was only good because it was funny. I think it was called “Vomit Omelet.” Yup, funny stuff. I don’t think that I ever really wrote a song that I was satisfied with until I started writing for Connie and The Tall Pines. Hearing her sing the songs that I write makes them feel real to me.
5.0 – as your style changed much over time or did you find your thing early on?
It always changes. It has to. Tall Pines Music is just a mash up of everything that Connie and I have ever loved. You can make collages forever if you have enough material,and they should all look different. We’re always looking for material. Your style is just how you combine and present the things that you’ve always loved anyway.
6.0 – How long have you been playing with Connie Lynn Petruk and how did you meet?
Connie and I have been playing together for a few years. We dated for a while before we started making music together. She is such a great singer – really incredible – and I had all of these songs that I’d started writing, so we just began to put things together one night and found that we really enjoyed collaborating on music. We met because I was a huge fan of a band she sings with in New York called The Losers Lounge. I used to go see them all the time, and because I had a huge crush on her I would try to “accidentally” meet her at the shows and around town. Unfortunately my efforts to casually cross paths with her all resulted in failure. She is a truly elusive person. At one point I expressed my frustration to a mutual friend – Sean Altman, who founded the group Rockapella – and he said he’d set me up on a date with Connie if I promised to be a gentleman. I did not want to be “set up” and I told him to forget it. But, he set us up anyway and we’ve been together ever since. Thanks Sean.
Sometimes. Some songs I just write from a male point of view and then change all the gender based words when I give them to Connie. “Always True” and “Because I Love You” are like this. Other songs I write for her, but more for her as a “female character” than for her as the real person that I know. That makes it easier. I have been accused of writing songs for her that are sexist or that praise the man in her life a little too much. Bill Bragin from Lincoln Center called me out on this after he heard “Good Woman” and “Love You Better” from the Campfire Songs record. He’s a friend and we had a laugh about it, but I felt like a bit of a jerk because I’d never thought of the characters in those songs as being Connie and me. As strange as that sounds, I had written both songs about other people, and I almost always think of the couples in my songs as being like two characters in a film or short story that I made up, but not us. Now that I’ve had this pointed out to me, I realize that I may be on to something. How many guys can get their lady to sing their praises – literally – into a microphone every night? Thanks Bill.
8.0 – You just re-recorded Howlin’ Wolf’s “Wang Dang Doodle”, is that branding by association or did it come about more innocently?
Connie and I host an incredibly fun monthly juke–joint party in New York City called “The Tall Pines Review.” “Wang Dang Doodle” is hands down one of the all time greatest songs ever about throwing a party. We’ve always loved it and wanted to cover it, even played with it some at rehearsals a long long time ago, but we never had a reason to do it before. Once we started putting on our monthly “Tall Pines Review” parties we wanted a theme song that represented what we were doing, and all of the great characters that come out of the wood-work when people have a good time. No song does that better than “Wang Dang Doodle.” We usually hang up a picture of Howlin’ Wolf on the side of the stage, but we also have a picture of Koko Taylor which we swap out from time to time. Heroes. If you’re ever in New York on the third Thursday of the month you should come by. We always have a great time, “…all night long!”
9.0 – What song would you say captures the quintessential essence of what The Tall Pines are all about?
There are a few, “If The Devil Knows You By Name,” is our choice at the moment. It’s about redemption, eternity, and the dark and light sides of human nature, which are some of the recurring themes in our songs. Also because it rocks live, we love playing it, and because we both get to sing together. We have some new songs that we’re working on now which I hope will change this answer, but for this interview, “If The Devil Knows You By Name” is the one.
10.0 – Are you ever torn by the struggle to experiment and yet be a relative purist?
Experimental and Pure don’t need to be mutually exclusive. I don’t think about things in those terms. I just write songs that come from an honest place and that feel like something that I would like to hear and share with my friends. Connie let’s me know if what I’ve come up with is worth working on, and then we take it from there. I may write the songs that we do perform, but she’s the arranger, and the editor in charge of what we don’t perform. I can be hard headed, so she’s got a big job too.