>>>>>> How do you get in the right head-space to perform? do you have a ritual at this point? Alcohol… kidding. I try not to over think it, because it’s when I do that it causes me to second guess things. I have so much to think about while I perform – between playing guitar, singing, pedals, live looping etc. It’s hard to not get in my head.
>>>>> Most musician’s early influences are in some way tied to family in some way, is that true for you too? Absolutely. Both of my parents are very musical; they both sing and play piano and organ. I grew up in the church so there was a strong emphasis on hymns and psalms and singing in general. I was also in a handbell choir in middle school! The choirs taught me about music theory and performing with others in time and in dynamic.
>>>>> As kids, many creative types often flounder a bit until they find their muse as it were; was this true for you at all? I’m still floundering in many ways. There was, however, a definite switch for me during adolescence where music naturally became central to me over any of the other activities I was involved in. It wasn’t until my twenties when I decided to pursue music fully, and that helped me feel a lot of fulfillment. I had spent my college years trying to figure out how I could play music instead of what I was doing.
>>>>> What singers did you try to emulate when you first started singing / writing / playing and what was the first tune you learned to play and sing on guitar comfortably enough to play for others? I never consciously tried to emulate anyone while singing or writing or playing. When I first got a guitar- around ten years old or so- it was a vehicle for me to write songs. I taught myself how to play by looking up guitar tabs to songs I knew online. I’m really not sure what the first tune was that I played and sang in front of others, but I think one of the first times I played in front of others was at an open mic that I asked my mom to take me to because I wasn’t old enough to drive yet. I remember being pretty terrified but excited because I always knew while writing that I wanted to share too.
>>>>> What was your first album purchase and concert viewing respectively and how do you think they may inform your music or general approach today? My first album purchase was “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Heart’s Club Band” by the Beatles. So epic! I bought it on cassette, and I would listen to “A Day in the Life” over and over again. It’s interesting how that’s two different songs melded together. I’ve done the same thing in my writing many times.
>>>>> Some who hear Dead Horses may find the songwriting, beyond folk, as decidedly southern: where does being from the Midwest & Milwaukee figure in to that mix you think? I think it might be related to how I grew up listening to old gospel hymns.
>>>>> How does the songwriting process work for you and Dead Horses; has it evolved or do you have a tried and true formula at this point? No real formula per se. I usually have the skeletons (or more) to songs and I bring them to Dan and we work on them together. It’s always evolving and I welcome that.
>>>>> How do you get in the right mindset pre-show or is that not a concern for you day to day? Funny you should ask, as I’ve been thinking about that a lot recently. It’s so important to be flexible because you never know what you’re going to have to work with from show to show or festival. Maybe you’ll have a quiet place to warm up in, maybe you won’t. A couple of weeks ago we drove five hours to a festival, got out of the van and immediately took a golf cart to do a session on a porch, and then we rode back to our stage where we played a full set
I am curious about how it might help to spend time getting in touch with body before a set- meditating, stretching, breathing. Some of the best advice given to me were “Use your nerves.” I really appreciate the nerves I get before most shows, because they serve as a source of energy and a tangible recognition by my body of what’s about to take place.
>>>>> The ‘Critically Acclaimed Album’ seems to remain the spark point in the Americana scene for artists looking to make it to bigger stages: How do you manage / ignore the pressure to ‘one-up’ your prior release? I feel that I’m at the beginning of my career and that there are many records to come. I think there will be ups and downs in how people perceive our work and also how I will feel about it. I think it’s great that anyone is paying attention to the writing because it’s one of the most fun parts for me.
>>>>> Could you ever see yourself doing a big Nashwood-type presentation were you to headline the Sheds soon? Is that a fear as you’re name grows; preserving what you have without compromise to keep climbing? I do definitely have a strong attachment to this desire to stay “authentic.” I have been asking myself what that really means, as it has caused me some inner conflict. I think you have to do your best; decisions are often not black and white. Things that we hang onto with our whole being are often ego-based, but a level of integrity is so important- especially in this field.
>>>>> You encounter a lot of great young, new artists on the road: when you meet those you really believe in, do you engage them? and what sort of advice do they tend to seek form you? Definitely! If I can. Today someone was asking me about how to get rolling with music. He’s a great player but doesn’t play out ever. I told him it’s a community and you’ve got to get involved! Find some people you want to play with who are playing music you’re interested in.
——- Duo musical couples seem to be rarer and rarer these days, was the potential to work together on music part of what brought you two together?
Eddy: The first night we met was at a singer/songwriter open mic in Wrigleyville. Jen was expecting to meet a friend. That friend never showed and I eventually offered her my guitar so that she could perform after she noticed me performing and turning her way from two feet away over and over. After some good conversation, I offered her a ride to the train station downtown since I lived close to there. I mentioned that we should make some music together sometime and she gave me her MySpace card. The rest is history.
Jen: Strictly…at 1st J Eddy also possessed the alluring quality of a man of culture. I wanted 2 things in a man that were not easy to find: 1.) Finding a rock star to do music with 2.) Marrying the musical rock star
—————- Your personal musical influences seem as incongruent from one another as possible yet they find a comfortable balance with The New Zeitgeist, did it take time to develop its cohesion or was it immediate?
Jen: Ha, really? There was immediate chemistry, yet as we explored places we had never been between his twangy-blusterous grit and my tailored velvet, our songwriting individually wandered untested roads, and our sound became more intimately entwined. I suppose what helped our unlikely and risky launch is the somewhat later exploration in my 20’s of my personal music taste and, therefore, probably the largest genre evolution out of the two of us. For me, mostly Church Gospel songs to uh, rap and punk in middle school, then indie folk, and finally, what we identify loosely as roots/Americana now. I was definitely at a point in my music where I wasn’t being challenged creatively and feeling a musically plateau as a solo artist just before we met.
Eddy: Jen had such a remarkable natural ability to sing amazing harmonies. When we met, I was asking her to accompany me on my old material and she made it ten times better! She was working on her sound at the time and wasn’t sure she wanted to abandon that and start a new band. We started the first album in the summer of 2103 and released it in December of 2014. That was The New Zeitgeist. We met as acoustic artists but she had encouraged me to return to playing electric guitar and, I couldn’t have been happier getting back to my rock roots on our second album which was released in summer of 2017.
————— How does the writing process work for you? does it vary song to song?
Jen: I’m really great at listening for arrangement and structure (Evaluating Eddy’s songs), but Eddy’s also greatly improved the musical riffs of my songs. I’m currently trying to expand my writing process beyond waiting for the inspiration of that flaky muse, but traditionally it’s very lyrically dominant for me and the melody drives the song. The voice creates the music and the instrument, many times comes later. Since my main instrument is my voice, I feel if you have a strong melody you have a strong song. We’re also opening up our songwriting experience to collaboration in smaller ways, but not necessarily co-writing. We’re both very dominant songwriters and I think it’s an intimate and personal experience for each of us.
Eddy: I am not at all disciplined as a songwriter. I listen for the music in my head. Either I will find a hook or a riff that I like, or stumble across one while practicing guitar. It may be a thought or an idea. I think choruses are meant to connect with. If I find one, then I try to write a song around it. I do enjoy using a word processor, using word documents to create a poetic structure, and then filling it in around the hook. I still will write down a phrase on a piece of paper if it comes to me. When I was at NIU in the late 80’s, I had the privilege of attending a poetry workshop with the legendary Gwendolyn Brooks. I read a song of mine to her and she responded with something I have taken to heart until this day. ‘Revise, revise, revise.’ I try to practice that.
————— Is there a tune of yours that you feel is the quintessential representation of who and what you are?
Jen: Definitely “Desert Rose,” since it’s the most original on lyrics and music, and a classic sappy love tune. I never wrote a personally real or convincing love song before that, and also pushed myself to write outside my genre zone of comfort—an ode to classic country.
Eddy: Of my songs on our recent album, “Myths and Mortals”, I have a difficult time choosing one. I think it has to be “Lack of Linear Thought”. It is my 60’s dream pop song. The cast of characters playing on this track includes Alton Smith on the Farfisa, whom I think takes it over the top! I was playing though a sweet little vintage Supro amp on most of the album and made the most of it on this track, too!
—————- The New Zeitgeist has a lot in common with the late 60’s folk movement in terms of lyrics and messaging: were your parents hippies? What did you grow up listening to in the house?
Jen: My Dad was definitely a “Jesus Hippie”! Definitely no for my mom! They were opposites musically as he would have the oldies playing in the car and he was especially a lover of classic folk like Dylan while my Mom preferred Italian opera.
Eddy: My dad was definitely not a hippie, but he did appreciate the pop music of the 60’s era. His favorite groups were The Everly Brothers, The Righteous Brothers, The Ventures, and The Animals. He would say that once The Beatles went to see the Maharishi they became too “out there” for him. I remember my parents having Elton John’s Greatest Hits, Jim Croce, and the red and blue vinyl Beatles Greatest Hits. The blue album, which included “While My Guitar Gently Weeps”, was my favorite, of course! My mom and dad listened to the radio with us a lot throughout the 70’s and the 80’s. My mom wasn’t a hippie, either. She liked to dance to good music and we would watch American Bandstand. Her favorites included Bob Seger and the Silver Bullet Band. On a further note, my grandfather was an accomplished accordionist and he performed with my father on drums at VFW halls around the SW suburbs. We would hear them practice often and that would include hearing a lot of polkas and waltzes. I loved it! Hearing that made me want to make music, too!
—————- Would you guys ever consider expanding the presentation to include a full band and, if so, what would be your instrumentation wish list?
Jen: Oh, yes! The recent album Myths and Mortals (2017) was the real creative impetus for our dream instrumentation at every turn. The opportunity to work with some really great Chicago musicians, including Gerald Dowd (drums), John Abbey (bass), Alton Smith (organ), Nora Barton (cello), and Austin pedal steel extraordinaire Lloyd Maines, strengthened us to be tighter musicians and more intimately entwined as a duo. A lot of those songs inspired Pedal Steel, Bass, and Percussion to be added to our duo’s mandolin, acoustic, and electric, but I can see also stripping it down to an even more simple roots package with an upright, chains/rattles, and dobro.
Eddy: For me, there is nothing like playing in a great band situation. Jen was very conscious of the different sounds she wanted when planning ‘Myths and Mortals,’ and those included a rhythm section. She insisted on the pedal steel and after hearing the initial takes in the studio, I was convinced of almost every idea she had. Playing with the truly great musicians that performed on “Myths and Mortals” was a dream come true and I would wish to bring them together again in the future if possible.
——————— What were the first 3 albums (for each of you) you purchased as a kid? Which is the best?
Jen: I probably didn’t purchase my own music until I was 12. My very 1st, ahem, (cassette!) was The Beach Boys’ “Surfin’ USA” with the cartoon cover…I mean, hey, I grew up in Florida. J Then to CD’s, Grammatical Revolution (1999) by Christian hip hop group named Grits, and definitely my most memorable album, The Anatomy of the Tongue in Cheek (2001) from punk-rock band Reliant K, which is very worn and whose several albums really motivated my learning of guitar chords.
Eddy: This has been challenging to remember. My parents were in the habit of occasionally purchasing a new album. I remember receiving as a gift the album ‘Double Vision’ by Foreigner in what must have been the Christmas of ’78. In the following year with my own money for the first time, I must have wanted to buy a Kiss record, but my parents “encouraged” me to buy something else first, so I bought the first Foreigner album and then the Ace Frehley solo album! I think the third album I bought was ‘Double Platinum’.
——————– What do you guys like to listen to together these days if you are going to pop on an ‘album’?
Jen: Hmmm…it’s not that easy! It depends on mood, flexibility, and activity—like driving, or…other things! I think Zep has done us no harm, some Johnny Cash, some Neil Young, or even U2, but usually it’s nothing newer than the 80s or 90s. J I’m embarrassed to admit how much we just listen to our album!
Eddy: In the car, Zep is our go to, or 93.1 WXRT. At home, it’s U2.
—————- What’s the best thing about Chicago and ‘our scene’?
Jen: I’ve found that it’s sometimes the less appearance-driven and smaller profile neighborhood dives that have the strongest music influence because they operate more at a community grassroots level and are not caught up with ticket sales or official advertisement. While we greatly respect some of the finest names in Chicago’s music scene, some of the best recent times for us have been the meaningful connections we make up-close like Lizard Lounge’s 2017 Ugly Sweater Party singing ‘Silent Night’ to be followed by an outstanding woman just from Ireland jumping on stage to belt a cappella a traditional tearjerker.
Eddy: I really enjoy all the different little bars and the different music scenes at each one, especially those places that haven’t changed much since the 90’s or at which no more that ten people regularly attend! Also, the Old Town School of Folk Music and the singer/songwriter scene there has been really important for us, and we really appreciate all the great people and musicians that we’ve had the pleasure to get to know there. We attend a lot of shows that the people we’ve met at the Old Town perform.
A new show bubbles up in which musical duo couples compete for the affection of millions of young Americans. In the finals, you are forced to dress up like and perform a couple classic couple duo number by Donnie & Marie, Captain & Tennille, Sonny & Cher, Paul & Linda McCartney, John & Yoko, Stevie & Lindsey, Ike & Tina or any other of your choice, what songs do you chose and which do you think you could pull off best?
Jen: That sounds like loads of fun…well, my 1st instinct is to be our real-life heroic couple, Piggy and Kermit. However, there’s a history behind the song “I’ve Got You Babe” by Sonny and Cher being played at a party in our pre-dating hangouts which really sparked the idea of getting romantically involved with Eddy. We also walked up the aisle to that song. J
Eddy: It was at my long-time buddy Jeff’s birthday party singing karaoke in the summer of 2011 at which Jen and I sang “I’ve Got You Babe”. I think that would be the one!
Do you have a philosophy when it comes to the recording? Philosophy is a strong word for it, but we definitely strive to maintain our personality in the recording process. It can be very easy to make decisions in the recording process that trim away character in the pursuit of perfection.
Do you still believe in the concept of an album or is it all about the single mp3? I believe in the album. I love albums. If songs are telling a story or expiring a feeling then it has to be true that the artist has more than one take on the same idea they want to present. On the other hand…if you’ve got a great single there’s nothing wrong with letting it stand alone.
How does the songwriting process work for you? I like routine. Days in a row of uninterrupted time so when the ideas start coming then you can use them right in the moment. I read an interview with Neil Young where he says that’s the only way to do it. If you store ideas for later you can forget why you had them in the first place.
Are there any triggers in your life that cause you to sit down and write something, or does it just happen? It feels like they just happen, but I’m sure that’s because something has been stewing for a while.
What was the first real concert you ever attended and what impression did it have on you? I can’t say for sure what the first one was…might have been George Winston. I saw Jackson Browne a couple of time solo and that was amazing. He played for hours taking on request after another.
What is your approach to playing live and what is your mind-set pre-show? Playing live is the pay-off so we try to enjoy it as much as we can. As and independent band it takes a lot of work to book and prep all aspects of a show. So it’s important to press the reset button and lose the stress before playing.
If you could tour with any artist as support who would it be and why? Paul Simon. I saw him perform with his band and I can only imagine how fun the dressing room jams must be.
Earth is to be destroyed by an asteroid — you been instructed to put one song (any song ever recorded in a time capsule to represent mother earth, what would it be? Well with that prompt wouldn’t it have to be Neil Young’s “After the Gold Rush”?
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When you think about the new disc Goodnight Stranger in general terms, what’s it about?
Hmmmmm, well that’s a pretty loaded question… or more so a loaded answer, lol. This was a really hard and personal record for me to write and even harder for me to listen to now. In a nutshell I would say that when I was writing these songs I was in a very dark and confusing place in my life. I felt I had lost a lot of my spirit, peace and the happiness. I sort of became this person that I didn’t know. When you listen to the record you hear a recurring theme in the lyrics of unfamiliarity and loss of one’s self… and so the title “Goodnight Stranger” is referring to me as the Stranger. I felt the title suited this chapter in my life…
How was it working with producer JP Bowersock?
From the moment I met JP I knew I wanted him to producer my record. Not only was he a pleasure to work with, but he’s energy really helped bring such an emotional record to life. He kept the vibes positive and made sure I was always happy and comfortable. I learned so much from him and Mark Dann (engineer) on the production side of things and in turn I feel like my ear is better because of them. They really kept me apart of the whole process, and let me, the artist, make all the final decisions in the studio. JP had a way of giving my songs the roots and character I wanted but at the same time keeping the sound “up to date” per say. When we talked about how we wanted the record to sound we decided that we wanted it to have an old school 70s vibe, with a modern Americana sound. I think we nailed it! JP and I were both thrilled with how it turned out.
How was your approach to the studio this time different than when you recorded your debut EP In My Shoes a couple years ago?
So this is the first record that I have funded myself. That being said, we were on a TIGHT budget lol! Everything was carefully planned out as to not waste any studio time because every minute costs. Believe it or not we got all the basic tracks recorded for this record in one twelve-hour day! It was crazy and stressful but we did it! JP had set up some rehearsals with the band prior to the recording session so we were prepared and super sharp for the recording. You could technically say this is a live album because all the basic tracks were played together as a band and mixed in a live room instead of each musician recording separately. That being said, we did have overdub sessions and of course I went in to do most of my vocals separately. One of the greatest things about this record is that I have a stellar band now that I have been playing with for the past two years and so we naturally vibe together which I think you can tell from the recordings. On my first EP, I didn’t even really know the musicians that played on the record and every track was recorded on a separate stem. It’s not to say one way is better than the other for the listener but from an artist point of view I definitely dig recording with my band that knows me and my songs.
What do you feel are the high points (or best moments) on new album?
Well lets talk about some songs first…I think everyone’s opinion is and will be different but for me I love the song “My Peace” That songs has some really raw and honest moments…I’m sure that’s not going to be my “hit” per say but I think that song best plays out my life during the writing of “Goodnight Stranger”. On a lighter note, “Blue Moon” is a solid track, and it’s kinda of a break from more of the moodier stuff on the record. Everyone seems to think that that song is going to be well received and as a band we all vibe really well together on that track! And finally, one of my favorite moments on this album is the slide guitar in “Muela West”. It’s the first thing you hear when you start the record and I think it’s interesting, strong and beautiful. It really captures your attention and makes you want to keep listening…
There were a couple of songs that I actually used the scratch vocals on. “My Peace” being one of them. But for the majority I came in separately from the band and tracked my vocals with just JP and Mark.
Who plays on the record and what do they bring to the personality of your band / music?
Neil Cavanagh, Billy Grant, Tony Oppenheimer and Neil Nunziato. I had been playing with these guys for a while prior to the recording and I have to say that their time and devotion to this project gave me the confidence to put thing this down. These guys were all so positive and talented and if it were not for them, these arrangements would not exist. They all pretty much had creative control over their own parts and I never really needed to worry about it “sounding good” because they are killer musicians. All of us were super honest, supportive and professional and that’s what makes a successful band.
Which tunes of the record are you playing live and which of them seems to go over best?
We have played most of them live at one time or another but the ones that seem to always be on the set lists are, Blue Moon, Never Really Tried, Between the Lines, Bag of Bones, Muela West and Riding the Wind. Blue Moon is always a favorite of the crowd.
Does your background in acting inform your live performance as a singer / musician?
Absolutely! I think my experience with acting gives me the confidence and personality to get on stage night after night and at least look like I know what I’m doing hahah:) Also, something that I learn in acting is how to be vulnerable which is really hard for humans to do in general. As a musician though you have to be because you are always trying to communicate and relate to your audience and if you can’t “let them in”…what’s the point?
Socially, how is New York city different from where you came from in California?
No where is like New York. New York is its own animal and I think about this all the time. My life socially here is an adventure everyday, filled with twist, turns and surprises, giving me more inspiration to write, experience, and love. I like to think that I have a “New YorK” family as well as my real one. The people that I know here have brought such joy and positive energy into my life and I think that’s because this city just has that effect on people. I’m not a world traveler so I can’t say that this is the only place in the world that has this effect on people but I find myself falling in love with my life here in new york more every day. Don’t get me wrong, I love my home and where I come from in Southern California but for me my environment is so important and this cities people, culture and life brings me experience every day…and that’s what people strive for…”the experience”.
In a strange twist of fate, you are hooked up to a lie detector by angry ASCAP agents …you are surprised when the question they ask you is simply “What are your three favorite albums of all-time?”.
Don’t make me do this!!! Well these are certainly not the best records of all time but it’s 3 of which I can’t live without…I had about 15 and then did eeny meeny miny moe and this is what I got….
Radiohead- The Bends, Joni Mitchell- Blue, Ryan Adams- Heartbreaker
When I was in the studio recording “In My Shoes” I was overwhelmed, being that it was the first time anyone had taken my songs and gave life to my music. I feel like the end result was more than I could have asked for at the time. I have a product I am proud of and I feel, for my first record, it did pretty well with fans on both the east coast and west. The feedback I get from people has been very positive. I do wish, however, we got to put more songs on it:)
Did you have specific goals going in to the studio?
Really my only goal was to learn as much as I could. I was new to it…this was my first time in a major studio in NYC and I had no idea what to expect. Rich Pagano, who produced it, was a pleasure to work with and kind of guided me through the whole process. As I got more comfortable with him and the process I started coming in to my own. One thing that I was really picky about was my vocals sounding too “clean”; I really wanted there to be a lot of feeling behind the lyrics and I think that comes across when the vocals are “true”, without auto tuning, or effects, things like that.
You did a solo east coast tour this summer in support of the disc, how did it go and is it scary playing solo?
I was a bit nervous you could say lol. I didn’t have a band backing me up. I thought that maybe I wouldn’t be enough to portray the songs like the record cuz’ there is definitely a lot going on instrumentally. I thought the people that had heard the record but never seen me live might be disappointed but thankfully I was wrong. I had a great response and some fans even preferred me live, alone on an acoustic – that was a great feeling! I had a lot of support from fans on this tour and it made me a better, more confident musician. But, at the end of the day, I love having the energy of a band behind a song.
Do you have a philosophy when it comes to performing live or anything you hope to get across to the audience?
Hmmmm, I don’t know if I would call it a philosophy…for me, I guess it’s about sharing myself with the audience. If I am connected to the song, if I am “in the moment” and really feeling what I’m saying, then I feel that comes across to the audience and they connect with me. So to do that I actually have to forget they are there while in a song and focus on what I’m singing. And then when a song is over I immediately try to re-engage the audience, so they know I am present there with them, and not in my own la la land. lol.
What songs (or artists) had the biggest impact on you as a kid?
As I kid I grew up on all the greatest… Bob Dylan, Janis Joplin, The Beatles, Grateful Dead, Simon and Garfunkel, Joni Mitchell, etc. My parents were pretty hip you could say haha. Well, at least I thought so. Classic rock and folk music was huge in the family. The songs that told a vivid story, with a voice I could actually feel were my favorites. Bob Dylan and Janis Joplin were probably my top favorites growing up.
What came first for you, singing or the guitar?
You probably won’t believe this but I started singing at 8, taking voice lesson regularly. My dad bought me a guitar when I was 13 and didn’t pick it up until I was 20! It’s terrible, I’m actually really pissed at myself for waiting so long to start playing. I could have actually been “good” at it? But all kidding aside, I’m so glad I at least picked it up finally. Changed my world as a songwriter and performer.
What was the first song you ever wrote and what was the inspiration behind it?
The first song that I ever wrote using the guitar was, “Without You” when I was 20. My inspiration came from what every young girls goes through at one point; a broken heart. I had been playing about a month and knew like 4 chords. The song just sort of wrote itself. I actually love this song and I don’t have any professional recordings of it, but lately I have been thinking it might be kinda of cool to put it on my next record as a bonus acoustic track… Maybe
How does the song writing process start for you, with a subject, a guitar line, a melody?
I could write for hours on this but as to not bore you I’ll try and sum it up. The process for me is pretty much always the same…First of all, I can only write when I am in the mood. It has to be totally organic. I used to try and set aside time for writing and that was a huge mistake, I only wrote bad songs and got frustrated with myself. I find music comes to me when I don’t force it. When I’m mentally ready to write something I just feel it. I’ll stop whatever it is I’m doing, lock myself in my room and write. It starts with the mood I’m in and one chord and everything else just falls into to place.
What’s your favorite thing about the scene in New York City?
Oh god, what is there not to love about this city. This city has everything to offer someone and more. I can’t just pick one thing. The culture, the creative artists, the food, the seasons… I really could go on about this. So, the best thing I would say, is the opportunity.
What ‘guilty pleasures’ might one be surprised to find on your deserted island playlist?
HAHAHAH…Well this is funny. Snoop Dogg :)
How did Esquela come together?
John ‘Chico’ Finn and Keith Christopher have a long history together. And so, when John wanted to start his own band, it only made sense for Keith to be his partner in crime. While recording Esquela’s first album, “The Owl Has Landed”, I was invited to do some backing vocals. Soon thereafter, Chico asked me to take over lead vocals. Todd Russell, a friend of Chico’s from high school, was a perfect fit on drums for the evolving band. Chico asked me if I would be interested in playing mandolin, which would have tricky since I have never played this instrument. But, my friend Matt had. So, enter Matt Woodin. At some point it was evident that we would need a fill in guitar player, since Keith was busy with other projects. Enter Ira McIntosh and Brian Shafer. Early on we had some other players from the city, who were great guys, but it just worked out better for it to be upstaters.
How does the song writing process work for you guys?
Chico gets inspired by either a funny story from a friend, an article he’s read, or a documentary he has seen, and of course life experience and puts a pen to paper. Sometimes, with the help of Keith, he records a rough draft and sends it my way. I usually stick to the melody he had in mind, but I get to play around with it a little. Later the band gets together and fleshes it out.
Esquela has a late 60’s vibe, what’s Esquela about to you?
Does it have a 60’s vibe? That’s cool. Esquela is about getting together and being free to create in whatever way we see fit for each song, and have a good time doing it. Maybe that’s how they did it in the 60’s too.
Do you have a philosophy when it comes to singing and what do you hope to put across personally?
I guess I just want to do justice to the songs. And try to convey the feel as best I can. I wouldn’t say I have a philosophy, I just love to sing.
I can’t really say anything about the Owl. I just showed up at the studio in Oneonta and laid down the vocals and the rest was up to the fellas. But with are we rolling it was awesome to work with Eric in a more intimate way. He took more of a directive role. He’s smart and kind of sneaky. hahaha. example: Eric knows that I like to belt out songs, which can be a good thing, but sometimes it’s a little much. so for take one he would tell me to give it all I got (just like I like to). then for take two he would ask me to take it easier and softer, which was a little challenging for me because that’s not how I usually “attack” a song. I think we ended up using more of the second takes. They sounded better. He was right. But, he was cool about being right. It was a good learning experience for me. Also, we have a lot of guitar players in the band. Brian, Ira, sometimes Matt…..so I think Eric helped sort out the chaos of who would do what when. Honestly, while they were doing their thing I was bullshitting with Chico and Todd, so who knows what REALLY went down.
What was the first record you ever bought and what’s your favorite thing about it today?
The first album I bought was the Body Guard Soundtrack. I mean, Whitney? come on! she is (was) incredible. her voice can move you in a way that no one else’s can. simply beautiful and strong.
Who are your musical heroes?
Chico. he just goes for it. I wish I has his courage when it comes to sharing his work. you want a famous hero? too bad. I stick with my decision.
When did you realize you could actually sing?
Hmmm…when I was in grade school, my friend had a recorder and we sat on my living room floor and sang “This Used To Be My Playground” by Madonna, which is funny because we were soooo young but we were sooo dramatic about it. then we started our make believe band and would use picnic tables as our stage. I guess the dream was there early. but I guess high school was when I found that I actually had some talent for real.
Was there someone early in your life that encouraged you?
I don’t know if encouraged is the right word. influenced works better for me. My father played the piano every night while I was falling asleep, all the women in my family sing, my sister showed me the awesomeness that is classic rock, and also looked the other way when I stole her SWV and En Vogue tapes. My mom would tolerate me playing her Beatles albums over and over…and over again. I had a wonderful teacher in high school who called me ‘songbird’. that’s encouraging….
It’s said singers get better with time; how do you separate the best from the rest?
I’m not sure if i agree with that totally. i mean, refining your skills, takes work and time, and yes, you get better at it the more comfortable you are with what you are doing. but, when you are starting your musical journey there is so much enthusiasm, and hope, and drive, and passion. and those things can kind of fade. i think what separates the”best” from the rest, are those who can hold onto the passion that they had at the beginning.
What is your favorite moment on your last record Wrecking Ball at the Concert Hall?
That’s a tough one. The theme of that record is big sounding Americana tracks countered with heartfelt ballads. I think working on “God Fearin’ Man” was a blast, but there were some really tender moments too, especially on songs like “Sometime” and “Sorry Ain’t Enough”.
You’re taking a new approach to your latest release March of Tracks, it must be liberating in some ways and yet daunting in others?
Man, it’s a departure as far as the process of making a record goes. On the last album much of it was tracked live, with the same 5 people. Now I’m using a multitude of players, studios, engineers and gear, and it’s been incredible. I’ve been hand picking my favorite West Coast players for each song that plays to their individual strengths. Being able to focus 100% on one song at a time is so refreshing. There is the ever present and motivating factor of my own self-imposed deadlines (new song released 1st Tues. of every month) which can be a little stressful. But it’s also a response to the demand for single songs- don’t get me wrong, I’m a huge fan of albums and will make more in the traditional way in the future, but this time I want to get my music out there in the most effective way, and have gotten a great response so far. What was daunting was the idea of starting work on a 12 song album that people wouldn’t be able to hear any of for 6 to 9 months. Ah the world of instant gratification!
How’s it going so far; do you already have the future tracks mapped in order?
Right now I do have a rough order, and am trying to be conscious of the tempo and style of each release. I want to be sure to mix it up and not, for example, release all the big up-tempo stuff up front so that all I’m left with is ballads. The other struggle is that any time I’m recording (and I think many artists would agree with this) I hit a creative stride with new material. So who knows, some of the stuff I’m writing right now could still make the record.
When you start writing a song, what comes first for you?
As a guitarist and sideman for years before I starting performing and touring as a lead singer/songwriter, that’s where things usually begin. I’ll find a progression that inspires me in some way, and 90% of the time the feel leads me to the subject matter. That being said, on occasion I do start with a theme and work from that side.
How do you know when a song is done and ready for recording?
That’s a great question, and something I think a lot of songwriters struggle with. As I’ve self-produced most my songs, I usually have a pretty good idea of when they’re ready to track. For songs that I send out to my players I try to give them a decent demo without getting to specific, because I like to allow people to approach their own parts creatively. But working with a producer is also a great way to finish that last 15% of a song, and something I hope to do more of.
I think there’s a ton of amazing music out there, and it never ceases to amaze me how often I discover new incredible bands who are miles from where I live. So from that standpoint it’s as prominent as ever. From the industry side that’s a different story, I think with the internet era, people are less drawn to genres now than they are to good (sometimes not so good), catchy songs. That’s why every 15 year-old has 1000 songs on their iPhone from 1000 different artists. The way we as artists make out living has also changed, with an emphasis on licensing and placements becoming a more the norm.
Is there anything left of San Francisco of the 60’s?
Yes, and they’re all still performing! Every band who had a hit in the 60’s is still doing it, and they’re drawing all the same folks that came to their shows way back when. The boomers are the demo that can consistently afford to go out and see shows. Overall here though there’s a great collective support system in place of local artists, not as dog-eat-dog as other markets I’ve seen. I think it’s a great place to live and to foster your creativity, but I don’t see much opportunity here. I can’t think of many bands who have gotten really huge coming out of SF since Counting Crows or Train.
What were the first 3 records you ever bought and how do they rank today?
I’m not sure if they were the first 3, but I remember getting vinyl of Bob Marley Live, Willie Nelson and The Eagles. All of which still measure up pretty strong compared to the music of the last 30 years
When did you start playing guitar and what was the first song you really got into to the point where you owned it?
I had a couple of false starts. At 7 or so I learned a couple chords, then again at 9 I picked it up again and went through a Bob Dylan songbook and learned “Don’t Think Twice”. I had a pretty good foundation when I kicked into higher gear at 12
By an amazing breakthrough in technology, you are to be awarded a role as a rock & roll deity with an expanded life span of 250 years (congrats) but, as a condition, you are forced to choose between electric or acoustic guitar from here on: would you be able to face the anguish?
That would be tough. I think I’d have to go with the acoustic, because that’s where 80% of the songs I write begin. Even the hardest hitting, slamming electric guitar driven tunes were usually started in my dining room on an acoustic. Also then if I’m still alive and kicking after the next major war or calamity, I won’t have to worry about finding a place to plug into in the post-apocalyptic hellscape! :)
It’s definitely a trick keeping it together. The biggest part is that the members all have to share a dream. That way no matter what you are up against, it’s still worth it. It’s still worth fighting for. It’s us against all comers. Getting along is easy because even if you are arguing or pissed or disappointed and blaming each other etc, that moment comes when you hit the note and have a great live show or write a new song and you’re all back in. That’s the payoff, the battery re-charger. As long as we are creating, we hit a re-do or reset many times a month.
2.0 – A big part of your success has been your shrewd booking acumen and relationships with promoters, how has the festival scene changed over the years?
Chicago is a easy hang. People here are very unpretentious including promoters (for the most part). So you don’t have to cow tow to them or “work” them, you can just be yourself and let it happen. We as a band are fairly organized so I think we had an advantage in that promoters knew early on that if we were headlining the gig, it would go off on time and with no glitches. The way the fest scene has changed is that it used to be a neighborhood contracted a promoter, gave them a budget and left it up to them. as a result you got great regional bands that weren’t the same at every fest. Now you have neighborhood committees all sitting in a room and all 7 people are starting their sentences with…”well i think we ought to……” So they all know off the same couple bands and that’s it. Better to have a promoter who knows hundreds of bands and chooses them according to the vibe the neighborhood wants. Also there was more nudity back in the day.
3.0 – What’s on tap for Blottopia 2013?
Blottopia has become a phenomenon and we ride it like a crazy bull that our hand is cinched to with a rope. It’s the most fun weekend of the year and it’s always a surprise in one way or another. We always encore Saturday night with a surprise album so that’s really fun to do. Look for it the last weekend of July.
4.0 – When do discussions of the choice for encore begin and have you ever had to filibuster to get your way?
A filibuster won’t work in a band. If you win, it’s like convincing an unwilling lover. Not as fun as you had hoped. Music is very dependent on the vibe so you can’t destroy the vibe to get your way, and then hope it’s going to be magic. It’s like winning the battle but losing the war. We don’t always have a setlist and rarely call the encore until we’re in it.
5.0 – Any plans to record new material for a studio release, or is Mr. Blotto now a strictly live proposition?
We are mixing down our 6th album right now. It’ll be out by summer. And we should have done it long ago. It’s just such a pain in the ass to do. But we have sworn to each other to do an album a year from here on out.
6.0 – Of your personal gear, what is your favorite acoustic guitar and do you play it live?
I’m fairly monogamous when it comes to my instruments. I have several acoustic and electrics. For 15 years I played a Martin Shenandoah with maple back and sides. It finally gave up the ghost and lost it’s tone. I now play my Martin D35 which I love love love. It was my spare before and now it’s my main axe. I use a Highlander pickup under the saddle.
It’s virtually the same. We’ve only had to replace about a half dozen speakers in 20 years! It’s because Bob Georges designed it to have more headroom and power than it would ever need to use so the system is never stressed. It’s become a part of the band. We play it like it’s an instrument.
8.0 – What advice do you give to young musicians looking to make a living at playing music?
James Taylor said “play everyday and keep your overhead low”. That’s great advice. We haven’t kept our overhead particularly low but we all play all the time. I tell young cats to get their promotional ideas together and treat them with the same importance as the music. They aren’t as important as the music but they think they are. You need a place to gig. You need an audience. You need exposure. If that all works, then you can play music for a living. It’s a different promo game now. We had a 6000 name mailing list that we labelled and mailed once a month. That’s like the dark ages now but we did it because we wanted this life. Now there is a wide open field for promo that is just being discovered and actualized. It’s ideal for the creative minds that are in bands.
9.0 – What was the first record you bought as a kid and are you still listening to vinyl? The first album I ever bought was Brick “Good High” because of the song “Dazz”. The rest of the album sucked! So I began buying 45’s from that moment on, with some exceptions. The first 45 I bought was “You Sexy Thing” by Hot Chocolate. Ha! That’s a little embarrassing. I still listen to vinyl and have about 4 crates and a Luxman. It sounds great through my Infinity RS6000 speakers (geeking out now sorry).
10.0 – If Jimi Hendrix miraculously appeared next to you on stage, what Blotto stand by would you launch into to bring Jimi back to life for one more extended jam?
I would love to hear Jimi go to town on something like “1977” or “Rattle My Cage”. He would just take off into the blues stratosphere. I just hope at the end he doesn’t trash all our gear. Maybe he could just hump a feedback drenched screaming amp which 9 months later would give birth to a full blown whopper of an hallucination that would explode into a rainbow of flowers and guitar picks… but then again we don’t need another mouth to feed. Got to keep that overhead low.
For me its the feeling I got when I heard Lou Reed “Walk On The Wild Side” on the radio when i was a boy has never really gone away. It made me love rock so much. I was probably 8 or 9. The song was so exotic. Such a trip far from my world. I was so hooked on this thing that came out of the radio. “Jumpin Jack Flash” on an AM transistor radio in Philly in the early 70’s was pretty magical.
So its escape and energy and fantasy and freedom for 3-6 minutes when tuned in. That feeling is hard to beat.
Also–In the early to mid 70’s all I listened to in my fathers old Jeep were 8 track tapes of, Willie Nelson live, Ernest Tubb, Charley Pride, And Hank Williams.
3.0 – Is there an artist that sets the barometer for you today?
Merle Haggard, Waylon Jennings and the mid period Rolling Stones
They wrote songs so honestly. “Swinging Doors” what a brutal song. “Black Rose” is hard to top. “Let It bleed” is an amazing release as is “Beggars Banquet”.
The Stones from that 69-73 period is hard to get around. I think all of my songs have a taste of “Torn and Frayed” in them.
I think just did not care how honest and sincere I was. It was my goal to get it right like Merle Haggard done on his classics. Every song is a true story on Untethered. With that it was easy to to be free to let the songs come to life.
I was also very tuned into the detail of the pedal steel and acoustic guitars. The levels and accents of both made it sound the way it does. All of this comes with getting older and being more patient and relaxed.
Many things on this recording were done on the spot in the studio. It was very organic you might say. And with that I let go and let people do what they do best. Very rewarding.
5.0 – What did it take to get the sound you were looking for on the record?
I knew it in my head.
I had a clear vision of what it was I wanted and but at the same time it was not letting that idea take control. The Stones song “Let It Bleed” and that LP was the basis for the entire release production wise. The instrument selection along the way was fun too. Some of my old guitars & mandolins & banjo’s would just step right up and say this song is my song. I then focused on the acoustic track and the snare.
I had a family. My Son was born right after 22 Dollars came out. We had a daughter two years later. So life was busy for me just that simple. In 2011 we moved from an old stone house built in 1926 to a new townhouse. No house maintenance and the kids being older was a real treat. The songs just poured out that summer.
Simplicity and tone.
My live gear is very basic. 59′ Grestch 6120, 58′ Fender tweed deluxe amp and a early 70’s Echoplex. That’s it.
The studio is a real treat. I have been collecting vintage instruments since the mid 80’s when I was in college. Nothing is more fun than bringing these old guitars, mandolins, banjos, steels and amps to life. I want them all to be used and to sing. Let the instruments do their job. I’m just strumming.
Typically its a title or a key line in a song and I build on that. The song “Every Empty Bottle” was originally called “Reinvent The Feel”. I came up with that line one night in my garage and wrote it on the side of a box with a sharpie pen. I looked up at that box for over a year. Then I used the phrase in the song. The idea of reinventing a feel stuck with me. The song wrote itself after that.
“High water” was written during the hurricane we had in august of 2011. The amount of rain was used as a parallel to a past romance I had. The song just spun naturally out with using the vision of a big flood and a tough breakup. The riff was much more rock as I was using barre chords. I changed the feel using the first position voicing.
I have always been somewhat of an outsider with the rockabilly scene. Gas Money was described once as “The Replacements of Rockabilly“. We have never really been embraced as a rockabilly band per se. Nor did I want to be. We play lots of rockabilly but there was something a little wrong about the way we played it in the 90’s.
I have a deep love for rockabilly and I always will. The shit that comes along with the music however is somewhat silly. I have had an odd relationship with the genre for a long time. The music is magic but the scene surrounding it makes me a bit uneasy. Those big rockabilly shows are like Halloween parties.
Playing live now however we do three sets of classic honky tonk and rockabilly. The bars and clubs we play are interested in dancing and drinking not original music. We don’t get paid playing our tunes. The classics are really fun and ya know who else in Philly is playing George Jones “You’re Still On My Mind” with a pedal steel player on a sat night. No one. I think in a way it helped my song writing with playing classic honky tonk songs.
It is true. I have a few pre-war Gibson flat tops, 50’s Gretsch hollow-bodies as well as some pre-war Gibson mandolins and banjos. Each one really is unique and has its own voice and character. As a player I can pick up a guitar at a friends house or at a vintage guitar show and just “feel” it. Especially the pre-war mandolins and banjos. They want to talk and just don’t get out like they used to. yeah old wood is magic without a doubt. It’s intoxicating if you get hooked on it.
1.0 – What’s the best thing about your latest release, the new The Pear Traps EP, Elsewhere?
It’s different than our previous EPs. The first 2 were home recordings that we did by ourselves which is mainly why they took on the lo-fi sound. Elsewhere is our first “studio” recording and although we kept it uncomplicated, it’s easy to hear the difference.
2.0 – Did you have a sound in mind when you starting recording it or did it evolve?
We completed the songs before actually recording them and knew how we wanted them to sound through our amps/drums/etc, but did not have any idea how it was going to turn out after recording.
we did the recording and mixing ourselves on the early recordings, so we had total control of the sound. This time we had someone else (Jamie from Carterco here in Chicago) do the recording, mixing and mastering on legitimate equipment (as opposed to our karaoke microphones) and it was definitely a change.
We finished recording in 2 days and then Jamie spent another day or so mixing. During the mixing process Jamie was definitely leaning towards a cleaner, more professional sound and then when we heard the early mixes, we were always like “put more effects on that, make it more lo-fi!” I think in the end it actually did evolve into a very happy medium and we could’nt be happier with Jamie’s help and input to give Elsewhere its full sound.
3.0 – Do you consider branding & image as part of the artistic process?
In my opinion branding and image are part of the business process, not artistic. If you know us or have seen us play a show it’s pretty easy to see that we put zero effort or thought into branding and/or image. We are 5 friends playing music together because it’s fun and we like playing. Not to try and make money or get big or anything like that. Probably because we’re old enough to realize that we do this to have fun at practice every week and play out. If we ever decided to start focusing on our image or try to be anything other than what we are, I think the enjoyment of us being in this band would go down dramatically.
4.0 – When did you start writing songs and what was your first?
I started writing about 3 or 4 years ago, right before we became a band. I’ve always been a guitar player and never really thought about singing or writing songs – I actually prefer just hanging out and playing guitar in the background. But over the years I’d come up with ideas for songs that I thought were OK, run them by the singer and nothing would ever come of them. After not playing in a band for a little while and not finding anything that I was very interested in I started trying to complete ideas for songs by myself and eventually started singing. I figured out how to program drums, record/mix audio, and just started messing around with songs in my apartment. My first finished song was called “Ways to Doubt.” It’s actually not that terrible and the thought of giving it a shot with The Pear Traps comes up every once in a while.
5.0 – Do you have a philosophy when it comes to writing?
No, not really. If I’m ever at home not doing anything I’m usually messing around on my guitar. If something happens to sound all right I record it. Or tell myself I’ll remember how it goes but then usually forget about it. If I come across the recorded guitar parts again (sometimes days or weeks later after I’ve forgotten I recorded anything) and it sounds decent I’ll try to put lyrics to them. Very little effort or thought goes into the lyrics. To me vocals are primarily just another melodic part to the music. Ideally the lyrics end up clever or interesting but as long as they don’t seem extremely contrived or cheesy I’m usually OK with what comes out.
6.0 – And what about the stage and playing live?
Stage presence is another thing we don’t really put too much effort into. It’s kind of the same thing as image, if we ever had to try to act or be a certain way on stage that wasn’t natural to us, I don’t think we would want to play out. We have fun playing shows together so I imagine that comes across to the audience, which is all I would really hope for.
7.0 – How did you catch the rock & roll bug originally?
Possibly a little cliché but it was when I heard “Smells Like Teen Spirit”. I think I was in 4th grade and had always really been into music but when I heard that guitar intro it just blew me away. I think my actual logic was that if I learned how to play guitar I could learn those songs and then I could hear them whenever I wanted to instead of waiting for them to come on the radio. My dad was very musical and supported my interest in learning an instrument but we didn’t have much money so he made a deal with me that for every chore I did I got a dollar saved towards my guitar and after 100 dollars were saved up he’d buy me one. Couple months later I had myself a very cheap, used white electric guitar and I was ecstatic.
8.0 – Did you have to work at it or does it come naturally?
I was not natural at all, it took a lot of effort for me to be a passable guitar player. I’m just very stubborn.
9.0 – What’s your favorite record of all-time?
Possibly another cliché but I’ve honestly got to say The Beatles’ White Album. It was kind of funny because when I was younger I literally went through my Beatles phase in chronological order. At first I really liked the poppy mop top love songs even though it was completely dorky and my friends would give me shit for it. Then heard Revolver and thought it was just amazing. Then got my hands on an Abbey Road tape and would listen to it on repeat. Then one year for Christmas my mom bought me the White Album. I remember listening to it lying in bed and feeling disgusted at how perfect everything they did was- no matter what genre they played in. I actually remember hearing Dear Prudence for the first time and wanting to quit guitar because I knew there was never any way I could play something that great.
10.0 – What was the first concert you attended and what do you remember most about it today?
This one is not so cliché. My dad liked country and about the time I was listening to Nevermind over and over he took me to a Randy Travis concert. I actually had tears in my eyes because I hated it so much.
1.0 – Are you happy with how the new EP, Streetlamp Musician, has turned out?
I am! The songs are great to start with and the production and players performing on it are top notch. It has a diverse range of songs and I think I’ll be performing all of them for a long, long time.
2.0 – What are your plans if any for the release?
I’m taking it slow to make sure I’m doing everything right. It will be a soft release and I’m going to start touring it towards the end of this year and more next year. I am hoping my friends and fans love it enough to share with their circles of friends so it finds a home in a lot of peoples music collection.
3.0 – Which song on it do you have the strongest emotional relationship with, or are they all dear?
It changes over time. They all have been close to me at one point or another. The most emotional song for me is “One More Thing” but the one I have strong love and respect for is “Most The While”.
4.0 – Do you have a formula when it comes to writing or is it more free-form?
A melody and some lyrics will come to me at first and then its my job to uncover what the song is about and focus it moving forward. I also try not to give up on the song or judge it prematurely. I don’t have a formula exactly but I do try to capture everything I think is interesting and inspiring in notebooks and in files on my iPhone. I’ll refer back to those often when I’m looking to write and when I’m looking for a spin on a song I’m already writing. I work really hard on my lyrics to try to be as clear as I can in saying exactly what I mean to and honoring the message of the song. That process is tedious and involves a lot of revision most of the time.
5.0 – What were the songs that you recall impacting you as a kid?
I don’t have too many songs that impacted me as a kid because I grew up studying classical violin and piano and my mom played classical music at home. I did eventually get a Lisa Minnelli CD and Madonnas Like a Virgin album and listen to those repeatedly. I also started listening to the hit radio station in NYC and liked musical theater like Gilbert and Sullivan and Disney songs that I was studying musically when I started singing.
I was already writing songs when I decided to learn Jewel’s “You Were Meant For Me”. I had only been playing for a few months at that time and I learned the plucking, the harmonics and everything. I still cover that song at shows.
7.0 – Is there an influencing artist that you consider your ultimate muse?
For a long time early Jewel was my primary muse. I’m now really inspired by Patty Griffin. I think she writes stunningly beautiful songs and stories and sings them amazingly. She’s an underappreciated gift.
8.0 – Why led to your leaving NYC for California?
I left for a variety of reasons, a lot of them too personal to mention in this interview but definitely available in the songs on my record. NYC, and the people surrounding me there kind-of broke my heart. I also had an opportunity to record out here with a great team and it just made sense to get out to Los Angeles and dive into it. I came out thinking I might be back by the Fall but the record took longer then expected and then one thing lead to another and now I live here and love it. I still get back to NYC a lot and miss it so much sometimes. It will always be my home and I love the energy of the city. I’m so proud to have grown up there.
9.0 – You recently performed in the subway in New York; has that experience changed at all from when you started out busking in the West Village or is that what Streetlamp Musician is all about anyway?
I didn’t start busking in the West Village. I actually started in Times Square and tried to avoid ever playing too close to home. I didn’t really want to run into people I knew though I always do when I play – usually quite a few folks actually.
Anyways, it has changed because it’s become more crowded. And, as I get older and as the economy has changed people are less likely to tip artists down there now. I still think it’s the best way to hone your chops and start to build your fan base as a young artist. I’m lucky to have made it into the MUNY program that’s run by a part of the MTA who manages the subways. They give you permits for bet spots and times as well as the right to amplify your music. It’s a great community to be a part of and it feels more like a legitimate thing that we’re doing together to make the subways more interesting and special. The buskers and street artists are so vital to the city and it’s spirit.
Streetlamp Musician is about the West Village changing in the past few years as much as it’s about me wishing more people would listen to me when I’m laying my heart out on the line. The city has to change but I wish the West Village was more of the neighborhood I grew up in with artists and bohemians. It’s way too expensive for interesting characters to live there anymore and all the mom and pop shops that had been there for generations were pushed out because rent got too high. My godmother blames the Village getting too popular on Sex and the City and I think she’s right.
10.0 – What’s the worst gig situation you have ever found yourself in?
The worse ever was at a place called The Guitar Bar in Savannah, GA. I set up a show there for their opening night while on my first tour. Everything sounded good from the owner in follow up and checking in a week before the show right up until I got to the venue the night of the show and the owner told me that they weren’t going to be opening that night. My drummer was from Savannah and we were expecting a lot of people so we rescheduled for the next night and now were co-billing the show. We called 30 people to tell them about the switch and ended up playing a house concert that night instead.
The next day we went to the venue and they were complaining that they still didn’t have their liquor license and hustling to finish painting, put things away etc. I saw painters tape all over the floor moldings that needed to be removed so I started helping with that and got to the moldings in the bathroom when I realized they had no toilet paper. I asked the owner if they did and he was overwhelmed and said no so I offered to get some thinking he would pay me back. I went across the street (aka highway) in the dark to get some at a deli and loaded it into the bathroom.
The place opened that night and a ton of our friends came out. The show was amazing right up until I went to go take care of being paid before leaving. We had worked out a 50/50 split of the door deal and I had brought out 30 people at $10 a person. So the band should have made $150.
He handed me maybe $20 or $40 and said he was sorry, they didn’t have their liquor license blah, blah, blah. I quickly found out that he needed all the money from the people I brought in to pay the other act who was a friend of his who has flown in from CA when he paid the other guy $250 right in front of me. The other act hadn’t brought out anyone. I told him that wasn’t okay, we had still driven for hours to be there, had helped them out so much and brought in a lot of people and had a fair contract, yes, the payment details were in writing and it was signed. After a ton of arguing I ended up just leaving and just was so mad that he was making this my issue and just left.
I just looked them up and that place is finally closed. I can’t believe they actually stayed open for 4 years or so. What a nightmare.
2.0 – How did you track the record and who was involved? I tracked the record at my studio Catherine The Great in Brooklyn. I pretty much record / mixed and did basic mastering myself. David Barratt was the executive producer on The Breakdown of a Breakup and I can say without a doubt that had he not come on board and lent his brilliant fresh ears I’d be working on the record for the next ten years.
3.0 – Do you allow yourself to compare your own records and if so, where does this one rank for you now, the week after its Valentine’s Day release? I don’t really compare them as they’re a snapshot in time but this record was a real departure musically and lyrically.
4.0 – How did the concept for the album come about? When my marriage of twenty years ended I wrote a bunch of songs to help me process it all. I didn’t think of putting it all together as a collection until David Barratt stepped in and helped to make sense out of all the tunes. Once we listened to them, it was pretty clear that they were all of a piece.
5.0 – What’s your best advice for getting through the pain and doubt of a failed relationship? I know for me writing the tunes was a way of communicating to myself how I was really feeling & I’d imagine anyone going through it songwriter or not would get some clarity but writing it all down. It helps to keep it from just playing in the background of your mind.
6.0 – On your website, folks are encouraged to share their love stories; how’s that going? It proved to be a great forum for people to share their stories, and to let others know that they aren’t alone in their heartbreak.
7.0 – Which is your first love: playing guitar, singing or writing music? I’d have to say playing that guitar, as that’s where it all started, but the three together are the holy trinity for me.
8.0 – How do you know when you have a good idea for song, or are you never quite sure? Some songs just feel like gifts that you’re being given & your only job as a songwriter is not to get in the way! Then there are the tunes that you go 12 rounds before they show themselves.
9.0 – Was there an artist or a record that propelled you as a kid? “Ode to Billy Jo” by Bobbie Gentry. That song & Ms. Gentry’s singing blew me away. The cover for the sheet music was a picture of her holding a cool parlor guitar. I’d have to say that was it for me. I’m always trying to write that song !
10.0 – What’s the finest compliment you have ever been paid walking off a stage? Hmm … I honestly don’t know that I can pick one. It’s always so moving and incredibly generous to have people come up & thank you for giving voice to something they were feeling. I am in a constant state of gratitude for that.
This whole record feels like a solid offering to me. Hard to pick faves, just like your own children. The ending of “Devil We Do,” “Broke it, Buy It,” The string arrangements on “Everything in its Place” and “Turned Around.”
What other Honeydogs release would you say is closest kin to the newbie?
Hmmmmmm. The record feels like a synthesis of our older roots records with some of the more elaborately arranged records of the last decade. It has elements of our first two, and a few moments of 10,000 Years or Amygdala.
Now ten albums on, has the process of choosing the album title changed at all and how does “What Comes After” sum up what this record is bout to you?
Album titles are in some ways like song titles. They have some significance. “What Comes After” has a bit of a spiritual ring to it–i was thinking about life and death matters quite a bit in the last year. it’s also self-referential as an artist–I always like to keep moving forward artistically. I have a number of projects percolating, and feel in a more creatively productive period than at any point in my career. I hope to continue to always ask the question, “what comes after?”
How do you work as a band when it comes to new material; has it changed over the years?
As the band has gotten more adept at learning songs the unit has become accomplished in the art of learning tunes on the spot; this record I brought a lot of songs the band had never heard. They learned the songs and we tracked them immediately, sometimes in one or two takes. That said, the band and my songwriting, while having a signature style, has always tried to not be predictable. We don’t want to retread previous charted territory. The band as players have developed some great antennae and abilities to learn quickly and fashion parts that feel new. This record was the easiest one we’ve ever made. We worked with young engineers. The band didn’t labor over details and we tried to retain as many of basic tracks and vocals as possible.
its time to go in the studio when I feel like I’ve got enough songs to work with. The band loves being in the studio. We grow a great deal every time we do this. As I mentioned, little or no pre-production happened on songs for this record. It is a very collective process of giving shape to a new body of work. I always have ideas and make suggestions about parts. But the more we work together, the more I trust everyone’s amazing instincts in this band.
Did you have any personal goals for this record?
Sometimes not having expectations has some interesting results. We didn’t have big plans tracking this record. I felt like the songs were very personal and felt very comfortable in the studio with results happening quickly. Not having any expectations always leaves you pleasantly surprised.
How did you gravitate toward ‘folk’ as the framework for your expression as a young artist?
I grew up with the 1970’s pop folk landscape of radio. All of those bands listened to blues and folk and country. My early favorites were all bands that merged older American musical styles with various other musical traditions. I studied cultural anthropology in college and managed to soak up a lot of early American music in my studies. I played in country VFW bands, old school honkytonk, and woodshedded to old blues and jazz records. My early songwriting leaned heavily on Merle Haggard, Gram Parsons, Richard Thompson, Dylan…I never wanted to be a museum piece simply curating old musics and always had it in my mind to refer to these musics while offering something different. My favorite artists have used the past as a touchstone to produce inspired hybrids and fresh interpretations.
What was the first song you ever learned to play and sing at the same time?
Ha ha ha ha ha. Badly or well? KISS’s “Detroit Rock City” badly. “Sweet Black Angel” from the Stones’ Exile on MainStreet.
Who was your favorite guitarist growing up?
I loved Mick Jones from The Clash. Jimi Hendrix taught me the most. I studied him hard. Keith Richards and Pete Townsend taught me the importance of riffs and funky minimalism. George Harrison taught me the importance of composing parts sometimes to create memorable music.
What advice do you give young artists looking to hit the road?
Do it while you have time and freedom. Create a great band. Make everyone feel invested, loved, appreciated, and hope they areb equally driven. It takes time to build a good team. Be patient but be relentless and learn from failures…over and over and over. Don’t listen to your parents. I say that as a parent!
1.0 – Your solo release, HolyGhost/GoldCoast feels incredibly organic, did making it without other’s input per se help accentuate the flow? There’s something about working alone, late at night, when the rest of the world is quiet that really works for me. When I can get into a zone working on a track and just take it from start to finish over the course of several hours and really develop an idea and experiment with any sound or color I want — I love that. When you work with others, there’s a process you have to go through. Often, it’s very healthy and productive. But sometimes it feels like you’re auditioning your ideas for other people. “What if we did this?” And then you have to sell your partners on the idea, or maybe it gets rejected outright. Again, these are not necessarily bad things. Lots of good work comes from collaboration. But it’s also very freeing to not have to audition. You just do whatever is on your mind and you are the only one you’re working for. I like that. In the end, you’re the only one responsible for what you’ve done, so there’s that risk involved, but I’m okay with that. If other people like what I’ve created and can relate to it, that’s the best thing ever. But at least I know, before anyone else gets to hear it, that I have created something that I can live with.
2.0 – Is this something you had wanted to do for some time? It really wasn’t something that was premeditated. I write a lot of songs. Sometimes more than I know what to do with. The solo album idea really came up as a way to collect some new and different material that I wanted to share. The Stereo Addicts were busy working on a separate bunch of new songs, and I had these other songs that I knew wouldn’t fit in to the bigger rock sound that we were working on at the time. So I just held on to them till I felt the timing was right.
3.0 – How did you record it? Each song on the album was written, recorded and mixed in one day. Meaning: one day, one song. Actually, there may have been one or two exceptions to that, but, by and large, that’s how it came together. And they were all pretty much made in the same place. I was staying in this tiny one-bedroom apartment in Chicago’s Gold Coast neighborhood. Late at night, I’d stay up writing and recording songs while the neighbors were sleeping next door. I think that’s probably the reason the album has such a quite, mellow feel to it. I couldn’t make too much noise, and that lead to some interesting experiments. Instead of using real shakers for a percussion track, I’d rub together two pieces of paper and use the magic wand of studio wizardry to make them sound like they were shakers. Or I’d record the sound of my sandal lightly tapping on the floor and use it to create a kick drum effect. And obviously I couldn’t be blasting my amp, so I’d either play really quiet electric guitars or else just stick to acoustic. That’s why I love recording at home: the limitations of your space define what you’re able to create. I think those kinds of limits are absolutely essential to making any good or interesting piece of art.
4.0 – Did you have a sound in mind or did it evolve as it came together? I didn’t. Like I said, I think the environment was fairly key to developing the sound of these songs and recordings. But I never had any specific idea about what kind of sound I was going for. All of these songs were composed as part of a project I’ve been involved with called the Song League. It’s like a virtual song circle that I started a couple years ago with a handful of songwriter friends. Each week everyone in the League has to write a song, record it and share it online before Monday morning of the following week. Basically, it’s a deadline: produce something now or else appear impotent before all of your friends and respected peers. And when you’re faced with a deadline like that, and you don’t exactly have something ready to go, it sometimes forces you to create things that you might not normally create, or more importantly, things that you might not normally share with others. At least that has been my experience, and it’s been the most healthy thing that’s happened for me creatively in years. So when I have to write a song for the Song League, I just let it come and whatever it is that takes shape, that’s what it is. I worry about where it fits in later. So for this record, I had produced a bunch of songs that I liked, I picked the ones that fit together best and that was the record.
5.0 – Are all the songs new or were there some left overs from The Stereo Addicts that just fit this project better? All the songs were new. I was going through this very productive phase in which I was writing songs all the time (mostly because I had to for the Song League). And it was always fairly obvious to me which ones were right for the Stereo Addicts and which weren’t. So those other songs, the ones that weren’t exactly Stereo Addicts material, were kind of floating around in some sort of limbo. I had them recorded and I wanted to share them with people, but wasn’t sure how to best do that. Ultimately, I just decided to pick the ten songs that fit best together as one album and put it out as a solo release. There’s still a bunch of songs from that period (and the time since) that haven’t seen the light of day. But maybe someday soon…
6.0 – Are you going to perform the songs alone on tour or do you plan to have accompaniment? I’ve been performing the songs with a trio and hope to continue doing it that way. I think there will probably be some solo shows here and there, but that’s not exactly my favorite way to play these songs. It’s a “solo record”, but many of the tunes are fairly layered with various instruments and sounds. For me, those extra colors and textures are as important to the song as the lyrics or guitar part. So playing them by myself doesn’t really convey the full picture I’d like to paint for the listener. I really enjoy having the ability to create a similar, or at least equally interesting, sound on stage as was created in the studio. It’s a very different challenge, but it’s a fun one. And as we’ve tried to play these songs live we’ve found some really cool new ways to approach the arrangements. In a lot of cases, I like now like the live versions even better than the recordings!
7.0 – What led you to pick up the guitar originally? I grew up surrounded by music. My father is a musician, and he had (and still has) a huge collection of LPs, cassettes, and CDs. And he also had a nice collection of instruments too — mostly guitars — many of which I’m fortunate enough to use when I perform these days. So it was basically inevitable that I’d pick one up someday.Oddly enough though, I first gravitated towards drums and started learning how to play the kit when I was around the age of 12. A year later I started learning guitar at music class in school. We had a really incredible music teacher named Larry Theiss. He’s still around teaching and composing and recording. Just an incredible guy. He taught us how to play drums and guitar and bass and everything. My entire seventh grade class — almost every one of us learned how to play drums! It was amazing. So that’s where it started, and then my father helped me a lot along the way. There were guitars at home, so I was playing all the time. I fell in love as soon as I learned my first song: the bass line to “Smells Like Teen Spirit.” Kurt Cobain was still alive and everybody wanted to learn how to play those songs. Just learning that bass line was the coolest thing ever. The day I learned it, I came home from school and played it for hours until my parents asked me to stop. They’ve been extremely supportive and tolerant of my music and all the noise that accompanies it over the years, and I don’t blame them for needing a break from it every now and then!
8.0 – Who or what did you want be when you were a kid? I distinctly remember being asked that question when I was in second grade. It was for some kind of presentation I was supposed to give about myself. I had no idea what to say. I said, “A fireman.” I don’t know where that came from. It wasn’t true. I just said it because I had no other answer. And when I went to college I still didn’t know. Even by the time I graduated I didn’t know what I wanted to do or what I was going to do. But I do remember the first time I really saw a rock concert video when I was about 10 years old. It was called “Eric Clapton and Friends.” It was the Eighties. Phil Collins was the drummer. I thought he was amazing. They all were. From that point on, I always wanted to play music, but I never really believed it would be my job. Now that it is, it’s pretty surreal. But I’m very, very grateful to be able to play and write and produce and just share music with other people. I can’t think of anything nicer to be able to with my life.The funny thing is I’m about to turn thirty and I still ask myself that question: “What am I going to do when I grow up?” And I think I finally know the answer. I really want to grow as a producer and keep making records with other people. This past year, I’ve been very fortunate to work in that role with a handful of really fantastic artists. Musikanto, who I think you interviewed here a few months back; Julie Meckler, a rising star in the Chicago music scene; my friend Chris Anderson on his project, Old Fashioned War — which is basically a who’s who of Chicago’s best musicians — and the songs are beautiful. It’s been a dream come true to have these opportunities, and that’s what I’d really like to keep doing.
9.0 – Why did you leave Milwaukee for Chicago and how are you enjoying the windy city? The Milwaukee area will always be my home, but I came down to Chicago to be with my girlfriend at the time. Now she’s my wife, so I think it was a good move! Anyways, I gradually started spending more and more time in Chicago (which coincided with the making of this album) and eventually I was just down here more than I was in Milwaukee. But I still make it up to Wisconsin all the time, so it kind of feels like a dual-citizenship, if you will. I like it that way. I’d miss my family and friends in Milwaukee too much if I wasn’t making the trips back and forth.And you asked if I’m enjoying it here. Yes, definitely. It’s a great city, and the people I’ve met down here, both in the music community and otherwise, have been extremely welcoming and kind and generous. I’ve made some really strong friendships and found a very solid group of musicians to work with and hang out with. It’s a very supportive and loving scene. People are playing together in a variety of different projects and sharing their talents. That’s something I’ve always wanted to be a part of.
10.0 – When did you become a ‘Stereo Addict’ and what would rehab be like? Ha! Good question. That’s one I have not been asked before! I just like the ambiguity of that name. If you’re a Stereo Addict, you could be really into audiophile stereo gear, like speakers, receivers, equalizers and all that. Or maybe you just really love the aural illusion created by two channels of audio: as in stereo recordings versus mono. You know, the way sounds move from one ear to another when you’ve got headphones on, and it’s two in the morning and you’re listening to a Jimi Hendrix record. It’s magical. To me, it’s just all about the love of sound and what it does to you. We’ve got two ears, so we live in a stereo world, and I’m so glad the gods saw fit to give us the gift of music. If I couldn’t have it, I wouldn’t want to live.
(photo portrait of Will Phalen by Kait Rathkamp)
How is the European tour going so far, having fun? Well, i’m back at the shack right now, but i’ll be over there again in 3 weeks. confusing, but yeah, we’re having fun.
Any chance of running into Dixie Beauderant over there? Nope.
Do you have a philosophy when it comes to the stage? Yes I do. Bring it absolutely as hard as you can and your night’s “happiness level” will allow.
3 levels of happiness:
High level – band is feeling good, audience is receptive, monitors are happening and you find a flow. we don’t use a set list as i think song selection is a part of the flow of the night. this should make it possible to do a great set. it does not guarantee success, but places the onus on the band.
Medium level – one or two of the above mentioned factors is lacking somehow. Doesn’t matter which ones, but you’ve got work through something to do a good set. this is most shows for all bands. they can be the best nights of all. If you do pull through whatever problems it can really be a galvanizing force, and then you feel like roots-rock superheroes!
Low level – pretty much nothing is going right. the club has you in a hostel, fed you alpo on noodles, inept sound man hates you, monitors are best turned off, it’s a sauna on stage and there are 15 rabid fans there that you really don’t want to disappoint, but you’d really, really like to tank the show. we’ve all been there. Hopefully a certain professionalism will kick in, or your guitarist will go “dan, don’t do it” (geez i wonder if this exact scenario has ever happened). just a suck it up and go night.
So in the end, maximize happiness level, and go like hell.
Any tips to surviving a world tour in one piece? Oh boy, as a band; take care of each other – you’re all you really got out there. To the permanent pain in the ass in the band – stop it now you stupid butthole, we’re all you got.
Individually – rest as much as you can, eat 4 hours before the show if possible so the drummer and singer don’t puke onstage, unless that’s your thang. Make the other guys in the band laugh as often as possible. don’t be the permanent pain in the ass.
It also depends on how old and beat up you are. You’ll need to stop “having fun” as much as you used to. Sorry.
What English players, if any, were you most influenced by? Good grief – too many to list. the obvious Stones, Faces. Steve Marriot, Clapton; it’s endless.
Any plans for a follow up to the rockin’ Dan Baird & Homemade Sin debut? Yup.
Any new tunes or titles you can tell us a bit about? Nope.
How do songs start for you most often; with a riff? a subject? A groove or chord change that talks to me.
What was the first rock concert you ever attended and what do you remember about it today? The original Fleetwood Mac with Green, Spencer and Kirwin. See, there’s some more english guys.. the “Then Play On” tour. they did “oh well” without the hobbit dance theme thingy that was on the end of the record and the audience didn’t like that, so they cranked it up and did “rattlesnake shake”. Whining over.
If you had to blame someone, who really got you hooked on rock & roll? This will be a funny answer – Johnny Rivers. See, when I was 13 and was learning how to do it, I knew I couldn’t be in the Beatles or Stones. I was smart enough to know i wasn’t that cool, but maybe, just maybe i could be as cool as johnny rivers singing “Memphis” or “Seventh Son” and have James Burton play in my band. and then the chicks would dig me. Yes, I identified with a cartoon character when he said “come to butthead”.
Jim (Drake) and I rocked out to David Bowie “Diamond Dogs”, Dire Straits “Tunnel of Love”, Queen “Bicycle Race”, Bruce Springsteen “I’m on Fire”, The Waterboys’ “Room to Roam” (the whole album) and our beloved The Might Be Giants’ “Flood” in its entirety. That Waterboys record really struck a chord in me and is actually the inspiration behind that ad I put on craigslist when I set out to build this big scrappy band. The Springsteen records were also an important piece of the puzzle. The E Street Band, Blood Sweat and Tears, Dire Straits, and even Sly and the Family Stone were gigantic parts of my early musical education on account of my dad. In the car on the way to the cabin, along with routine family squabbles and threats to stop the whole f***ing thing and turn around, we listened to The Beatles, Pink Floyd, and all the Motown hits you can think of. “Put on your seat belt!” …I love my mom.
Isn’t every music video a concept video?
Wow, I had to think really hard on this one.
I’m not so sure that I can narrow it down to 3 albums, as much as 3 songs. When I was a kid, around 9 or 10, listening to the radio wherever I was, I wasn’t so much interested in what album these songs were on, but rather what the SONG was, and maybe who sang it. I had an uncle who was in country music cover bands for a long time in my life, and he could do a killer Johnny Cash voice. But, at the time of being so young, and not caring about who Johnny Cash was, the lyrics of “Folsom Prison Blues” can stand out if you’re paying attention to them, and I remember thinking “dang, that’s messed up”. And only thinking back on that do I realize that that was when I started to actually care about music and see how cool and different it can be, because… well… they weren’t going to be playing that song on “The Muppet Show” anytime soon.
The second would be the first time I heard Nirvana, which was their MTV Unplugged session. They did this song called “The Man Who Sold The World” by this guy I didn’t know about named David Bowie. That was a two-for-one. Just like every kid in the mid 90’s wanting to be a musician, Kurt was that motivation, and it made me want to find out who the hell this David Bowie was. So, I started looking into more of the historical aspect of music/musicians.
And the third one, the one band that made me hunt for meaning BEHIND the lyrics is Pink Floyd. Besides the Johnny Cash tune and the fact that I heard a lot of country tunes from my Uncle’s cover band, The Silverwings Band, Americana wasn’t really apart of my early musical development, it was classic rock.
Are they still essential to me today? Absolutely, you can’t deny the classics.
2.0 – How does being a musician yourself impact your opinion on a disc received for consideration if at all?
I think the fact that I’m a musicians affects a lot of how I listen to an album. I listen for musicianship, lyrical quality, and mixing. If an artist/band is willing to record and send out this album, they better make sure that it’s the best that it can be, not just because they want to have something out there for someone to listen to. I don’t want to hear your basement tapes with the neighbors dog barking in the background.
3.0 – You recently celebrated a milestone with your 100th AmericanaRockMix.com podcast, what inspired you to start doing them in the first place and have you been surprised by its acceptance and growth online?
Being from St. Louis, I grew listening to mainstream radio and not knowing anything besides what the radio tells me to listen to. Then as I got older, I started finding other bands that I really liked, but weren’t getting any radio play. I come from the land of Wilco and Son Volt. They sell out shows in St. Louis, but do they get played on the radio on a regular basis? No, because they don’t fit the popular radio format. And so, I started to question “if these bands are so good, why have I never heard them anywhere besides my friends’ CD players”. So I started doing this tiny little, extremely unprofessional, make-shift, blah blah blah, show to put on the internet in hopes that someone, somewhere would find it, and love these bands as much as I do. Without trying to sound like a martyr for the music, I really did start it for the love of the music.
The acceptance and growth aspect blow me away. I think I’m a little detached from the extent of how far around the world this show goes. I get e-mails from all around the world and it never ceases to amaze me. Is the show popular? I don’t know. I know that bands like the show, but do the individual music listeners? Once again, I don’t know. And I’m ok with that. I know how many downloads and listens each show gets per month, and it’s exciting to see the numbers go up each month. But then again, they’re just numbers. And I’m not completely sure how relevant that should be to me. Not to say that I don’t appreciate those who listen to the show, because I absolutely do. If it wasn’t for e-mails and facebook messages that I get from people telling me about how they have a new favorite band or just bought a new album online because of two songs that I played on the show, I probably would have gotten bored a long time ago. It just feels good to get some verification that I’m not doing this for no reason.
4.0 – Genre tags like ‘Americana’ can help an artist reach their audience but can also have a negative effect in the sense that they may limit an artists appeal, is the term Americana Rock intended to expand that scope?
The tag “Americana” can really detract the casual listener from checking out a new band. There are stereotypes and stigmas that go along with the term which have gained attention due to the “redneck” movement in country music. But because of those limitations that can be applied to “Americana”, I needed to bypass that with something that people can relate to more, such as the hugely ambiguous term of “rock”. Plus it brings a format to the show. I don’t want to do a show of ballads, that’s going to put people to sleep. A lot of people listen to the show at work, or in the car, or while exercising. They need something that will catch their attention. But, yes it’s meant to expand the scope of the show without sounding overbearing. If I really wanted to expand the scope of the show, I could have named it The Americana Bluegrass Folk Alt. Country Cowpunk Rockabilly Extravaganza Rock Mix.
5.0 – One of the attractions to the home-spun podcast format must be being able to promote the artists you dig with no constraints, would you ever relinquish that to an extent for a larger audience on radio or Sirius?
The fact that it’s a home-spun podcast with no limitations for the artists or myself is a strong fixture in the format of the show. If I gave up any of that for any reason, it would no longer be “The Americana Rock Mix”. It would just be another generic radio show. Not to say that I wouldn’t gladly do a SiriusXM or terrestrial radio show. But it wouldn’t be The Americana Rock Mix as it stands now. Maybe a variation of that.
6.0 – As with any media outlet, quality control is your calling card; what is your criteria for featuring an artist on ARM?
I really try to emphasize to people the “ROCK” aspect of the show. If it’s not up tempo or there’s no driving force in the song, it doesn’t stand a strong chance to making it onto the show. But not every song can be a rocker. It’s also got to be a song that will get caught in people’s heads. People like songs that have a catchy hooks. And, like I mentioned earlier, good audio quality is a must.
7.0 – You recently relocated to the Gulf Coast of Florida, were you burned out on the St. Louis scene and what have you learned about the Fla. scene so far?
I grew up on the St. Louis music scene. And it was tough. There’s not a whole lot of support from people up there. And then when I moved down here to Florida, I realized how crappy the scene up in St. Louis really was. I just thought it was tough up there, I didn’t know it just flat-out sucked. The scene down here in the Tampa/St. Petersburg area is so supportive of their bands. And the support works both ways. The bands love to help out those who are will to help them out as well. There are organizations down here to help out the bands with shows and tours. I just wish there was someone, with enough heart, back in St. Louis to help them with that. They don’t know what their missing.
8.0 – Is there such a thing as ‘Midwesticana’?
I know that Uncle Tupelo kind of started the whole Alt. Country music scene back int the 90’s. And there have been a few bands to spawn from that, like The Bottle Rockets, Son Volt, etc. But if there is such a thing as “Midwesticana” then it starts and stops there with those bands.
9.0 – Any independent 2011 releases that you feel should be ‘must listens’ for major labels?
I don’t think that the major label is the way to go anymore. There are a few artists that have released some amazing records this year. And I wish them huge success, but I don’t know if I wish the for them to get affiliated with a major label. The major labels aren’t making the money anymore. It’s the DIY artists/bands. The ones that are really trying to get out there to get noticed and doing their own merchandizing are the ones who are going to be more successful, and won’t be trapped by the contracts of limitations of major labels. It used to be that the people within the major label organizations had the connections to people with more connections. But in the age of the internet, everyone knows everyone. The major label is an overrated middle man now.
10.0 – Are you at all surprised by the extent to which Americana music/artists are are featured in advertising today as a sort of ‘seal of brand sincerity’ and yet remains ignored by mainstream radio?
Yeah, I am surprised. And it makes me happy. It just shows that some advertisers out there have their finger on the pulse of what is good in music nowadays. Hopefully it’s not just some trend that will fade. We’ll just have to wait and see…
1.0 – How would you compare your new disc Bright Light (September 20th release) to your debut Ultrasounds back in 2000?
Ultrasounds is collection of recordings I made here, there and everywhere I could over five years. I was experimenting – trying all kinds of sounds and recording techniques with friends of mine. At the time I didn’t imagine they would come together as an album one day – happily, they did! I love that album – It’s like looking at old photographs of myself.
Bright Light on the other hand was born out of a clear intention. With a pocket full of country-folk songs and very little time, we recorded the album live in 3 days and then invited our favorite musicians to come and play on it. The whole thing was mixed and in the can within three weeks. We knew the album we wanted to make. And producer Ethan Allen navigated those waters masterfully.
2.0 – “Discover Me” is a great introduction to both the record and new fans, is it your favorite track?
Sometimes when you hold on to songs too long they can become heavy in your heart. You may outgrow them or just plain ol’ forget how they go. Many of the songs on Bright Light had been kicking around my guitar case for a while. What I like about “Discover Me” is that it came to me a week or two before we went into the studio. It was fresh and made me smile to play it and share it while it was still so relevant in my life. I especially love how Tony Gilkyson played guitar… with Danny McGough on the B4 organ just barkin’ back at him… and Josh Grange on the pedal steel sort of floating over it all. Beautiful talent!
3.0 – You have a flair for the whimsical, does that come naturally?
I actually looked up “whimsical” (1. spontaneously fanciful or playful 2. given to whims; capricious 3. quaint, unusual, or fantastic) and I thought, hey – that’s not too bad… at least it’s not boring!
4.0 – When did you first start singing and who did you enjoy emulating most?
My parents used to sing together. My dad would play guitar and my mom would sing harmony and we’d have little hootenannies in our living room. So I suppose I emulated a lot of my dad’s record collection growing up… Cat Stevens, Jethro Tull, Incredible String Band, The Beatles… I also attended a school with an active choir and arts program – so singing was a big part of my childhood. Although I never considered myself a “singer”… I knew I had a love for performing but it wasn’t until late in my teens when I picked up the guitar that I actually started singing more seriously. I suppose it was more about the writing for me.
5.0 – How did you write your first song ever?
I came home one afternoon and found my sister (four years my junior) playing my dad’s guitar. So of course I wanted to do it, too! My first song was a two string bluesy folk fusion about a woman destitute in love – talking about how some man came and ate her heart but it go stuck in his gossiping throat. The lyrics were like something out of a Salvador Dali painting. The chorus was complete Celtic gibberish but super catchy. It was unlike anything I had ever heard before and I loved that about it. I forget what it was called.
Leave me alone with my guitar and inevitably a song will come. These days with work for TV, family and other projects, I have less time to write for myself – but back in the day I was quite prolific. My band understands the natural ebb and flow of the creative process. And they generally like my songs. I just start singing and they play along and somehow it all comes together… like stone soup.
7.0 – How did the current band come together and what is your favorite thing about them as a team?
I played solo for quite a few years. The first person I played with was Roger Park (on upright bass). He got busy with life and shortly thereafter I started to play with high school pal Douglas Lee who had just moved home from living in New Orleans. He was going on about some kind of glass instrument he was planning to build and I encouraged him to build it cause I wanted to start a band with him. Then Robert Petersen (another high school friend) moved home from the Bay Area where he was playing in Thumb Of The Maid (now known as The Moore Brothers). So together we started playing as quite a weird little folk trio (well, weird for 1996). Eventually we met Brandon who wanted to join us on the pots and pans and found objects he could bang on. That suited us nicely. By now, we’ve been having so much fun we’ve been playing for about ten years together. More recently, Scott Doherty rounds out the band with his keys and various guitars. And guess who’s on pedal steel? Roger Park! So it comes full circle. My favorite thing about them is who they are as people. At this point we’re friends first and band mates second. It’s really quite a nice group of friends.
8.0 – How did the WEEDS show placement come about for you? do you like the show?
LOVE the show! I can’t think of another show that has reinvented itself so fantastically over and over again. The writers and actors are so good at what they do. The folks we work with allow us to constantly try new things – it all makes for a creative Camelot. It’s been a hugely positive experience in my life. And it was all luck of the draw, really. Well, sort of. My dad always told me there are two rules in life: 1 – be ready. 2 – keep showing up. So there I was playing in a band I have for preschoolers called Gwendolyn and the Good Time Gang. Turns out the creator of Weeds and her three kids are big fans (true Hollywood story). Being “whimsical” as Jenji can sometimes be, she asked if Brandon and I would audition to become the second season replacement composers for her show. Now granted, there were hundreds of composers and we were just throwing our hat into the ring. Faithful to my Father’s advice, I never turn down an opportunity… Turns out, they really loved what we did and gave us the job… That was like six years ago and we’re still working on the show – very lucky! And very grateful – it’s taught me so much about music and storytelling and what it means to make my living as an artist.
9.0 – When you explain your music to new friends who inquire, what words come up most?
Uhh… folk. Country folk. True stories. Stuff I’ve written. Mostly, I’m stumped for a description.
10.0 – Your standing on a corner in Winslow, Arizona and you see a Dead Head sticker on a Cadillac that’s slowing down to take a look at you….can you trust them?
Oh, sure. But number one rule still applies. You know the old saying… nobody rides for free.
1.0 – Are you happy with how your debut Larabee EP Expose A Little Wire has been received?
I am happy. I didn’t know what to expect when I made the decision to release the songs. It’s been a pleasant surprise to have total strangers listen to the songs and react to them in a positive way. I’m hoping more people will get to hear the songs as well.
2.0 – Did you have specific goals in mind for the release? There was no master plan for the release of Expose a Little Wire other than to follow in the footsteps of other DIY musicians. It’s a tricky time in the music business because somewhere along the way people began to assume that music should be free. So financial goals are difficult to assess. The main goal is to put the music out and make a connection with people.
3.0 – Are there any plans for a full-length follow up to the EP? There are definitely plans for more recorded music. I’d love to record a full-length album. I will probably put out a single or another EP before a full-length because I have songs in the can that I would rather release than hold onto for too long.
4.0 – Do you have a philosophy when it comes to recording? My philosophy on recording is to get a song to a point where you feel as though you could listen to it forever. The most frustrating thing about recording is to put in the time, effort and money and come out with something that you can’t stand to listen to. From a sound perspective, I like classic 1960’s and 1970s recording sounds and styles because on the whole those sounds have staying power. There’s nothing sadder than to put on a 1980s recording that you loved at the time and realize that the 80s big drum sound ruins the track. I wish I was more technically oriented so that I could have a better working knowledge of the recording process. That’s something I need to work on going forward.
5.0 – Your video for “Little Liar” has a great old school vibe & look, how did it come about? Thanks. I saw other videos that used old footage from various places and came across a neat website that compiled stuff that was no longer covered by copyright, so it was fair game to use. In searching through the archives I found pieces of a film called “Coffeehouse Rendezvous.” It was really cheesy but I liked the overall look and feel of it. Parts of the film were originally shot in the Chestnut Hill neighborhood of Philadelphia, not far from my house, so I used those bits and pieces as a nod to my hometown. Throw in an iMovie editing feature, and you have yourself a video. There, I’ve given away all of my video creation secrets.
6.0 – When did you get hooked on rock & roll? what songs early in life left a mark on you most? Probably by age 5. I am the youngest of five children and I used to sit in my room for hours playing my older sisters’ records – hairbrush microphone in hand. That stack of 45s was full of Motown, Gary Puckett and the Union Gap, The Foundations, The Monkees and The Beatles. From the stack of 45s I think The Foundations “Baby Now That I Found You” got a lot of play. Seriously, how can anybody resist the “ba da da da” background vocals? A little later I would say that Elvis Costello’s “The Angels Want To Wear My Red Shoes” left a big mark. That song was really my introduction to The Byrds because of the jangly guitar sound. Nick Lowe’s Labor of Lust album in it’s entirety is fantastic as is Please Panic by The Vulgar Boatmen.
7.0 – Have your tunes always had a twang to them or did that develop over time? I think the twang developed over time, but I was always drawn to the twangy stuff by The Monkees did (Papa Gene’s Blues, What I Am I Doing Hangin’ Round), Dave Edmunds, Nick Lowe. I also had some old Faron Young records as a kid. I suppose that sound keeps kicking around in my head.
8.0 – Do songs come easy to you or are they labors of love that have to steep before being ready for prime time? The songs couldn’t come any slower if I tried. I wish that I could be one of those writers who can bang out song after song. I am always amazed when I hear someone say that they went into the studio with 30 new songs and whittled it down to 10. Once written, however, the song structure doesn’t tend to change drastically.
9.0 – Is there anyone in your life, outside the band, that you trust as sounding board for new material? I have a friend from high school, Gerry, who used to help manage my old band. He’s listened to everything I’ve written since I started playing. His opinion matters because he knows good music and he understands what makes a good song good.
10.0 – Dreaming late last night you got a call from ‘Mr. Bigg’ about a summer tour, what act are you going out in support of? It would have to be Elvis Costello, but only because he was touring with the spinning wheel of songs from the entirety of his career. So many great songs. And because this happened in a dream, all of the fans at the show would become Larabee fans.
Since “Live In Europe” is your 2nd live album, what led you to the decision to record again live? The project was originally supposed to be a DVD project. A web stream company had rigged up a multi camera shoot at the Paradiso in Amsterdam. They asked if we wanted to video our show. We said “you bet” and we paid an extra three grand to multi trac the audio so we could mix it properly. They forgot to mention that they were not going to save the raw video footage, meaning we would not be able to edit the video. Consequently, most of the video looked like hell, cross stage shots at McLagan through a forest of mic stands, quick cuts from my face to the kick drum pedal in the middle of a vocal line, etc. . . There was no way I could charge money for the video. But the audio sounded pretty good and we had to get that three grand back somehow, so we mixed the audio for a record and included the few decent looking videos for a bonus DVD.
As far as “the band” goes, how did you prepare for theses live sessions?
We gigged every night for a month or so.
How does your European audience differ from playing stateside?
The West Germans and the Dutch and the Belgians pay extremely close attention. They speak english, but they’re about three words behind usually, so they’re silent. It can be a bit unnerving. The East Germans generally don’t speak any english, but some of them go crazy for any kind of rock’n roll. They’ll get on their feet. The British and the Irish can get pretty rowdy too. Stateside audiences also vary in temperment, depending on the venue and the region. Seems like it’s easier to get them moving in mountainous country, don’t know why.
Did you have multiple live recorded versions of each track to choose from?
We recorded two shows, the one in Amsterdam and another in Geislingen Germany
Which tune on “Live In Europe” is the trickiest to pull off live?
Just Us Kids used to seem tricky for me. The right hand clutch took a while to feel natural.
7.0 You have a uniquely warm electric guitar tone throughout this and your other records, any hints? Got lucky this time, rental gear. Always play through two amps if you have room. One of them might not suck.
8.0 Do you have a philosophy when it comes to being comfortable on stage?
Remember to have fun.
What do you feel is the high point of “Live In Europe”?
I like that version of “Hurricane Party”.
Now, imagine a movie called “James McMurtry” – which of your tunes would be playing in the background as the finishing credits roll out? I’d rather it were a Kristofferson song off “Silver Tongued Devil”. I believe the title is “Pilgrim Chapter 21”, something like that.
1.0 How does your new release Goodnight Lane differ from your previous releases? It feels and sounds much more like I intended it to. For one thing, I had musicians playing on it that had played the songs with me live before we recorded. Also, I’d never worked with Lloyd Maines and he added a very strong touch.
2.0 What do you feel co-producers Lloyd Maines & Eric McKinney bring to your music? Eric I’ve worked with on previous recordings and by the time we recorded Goodnight Lane, it was pretty clear we’d found a good groove. He has great taste and a sharp ear. Lloyd’s parts on the album, although having a country feel, were powerful enough to help the album transcend genre and time. Also, with Lloyd being from Lubbock and Eric being from Big Spring, the spirit of west Texas was in the air.
3.0 How many songs did you come in with? All ten songs were songs I’d written and played live before recording. “Essene Eyes” and “Teeth, Hair and Eyeballs” were ones I’d written a long time ago and had all but forgotten. The players on the album had a big part in resurrecting and redefining them.
4.0 Did you go in with an overall direction in mind or does that just happen as a record takes shape for you? I went in with a direction in mind, but the direction got twisted and reshaped, for the better. I think Lloyd had a lot to do with that.
5.0 You collaborated again with producer Scott Mathews on “Circles In The Yard” – was that tune a hold-over from the Black Wine EP you did with him? “Circles In The Yard” was a song Scott and I recorded after Black Wine. Out of the blue. Didn’t know what to do with it. I was going to re-record it but I just love that version and I love working with Scott. Even if it makes the credits confusing, it was worth it.
6.0 Do you have a philosophy when it comes to touring? Eat at least one good meal every day, and once in a while, if possible, try to sleep, change clothes and take a shower.
7.0 Which numbers do you think you will be playing live on tour? I’ll be playing all the songs live. “Essene Eyes” only for occasions where we have the right configuration. It’s hard to pull off solo.
8.0 Has the advent of SXSW changed the scene in Austin over the years? It has immensely. Some may disagree, but I think it’s put a huge spotlight on the Austin music scene, without causing it to become an industry town. With the spotlight comes many of the troubles that musicians in big cities face, but in the end we have to deal with that the best we can.
9.0 What was your very first guitar? Do you still have it? It was a 1980s Fender Telecaster 52 reissue. Still got it and still love it.
10.0 What day did the world stop and spin the other way for you? Or is that coming in 2012? Hard to say. I think I was standing on one of the poles when it happened.
Photo by Kim Maguire. Visit www.ColinGilmore.com
1.0 Being an ‘upstate’ band, is it easy for Esquela to identify with, or be even more influenced by, “The Band”? Well, a little of both. I can certainly identify with them as for how they got started – as Ronnie Hawkin’s band The Hawks – where they played all over Canada getting their chops down. That is what Esquela has done over the last year by playing out, doing as many gigs as we could and really getting to know one another and trust our musicianship. As far as The Band locating to Woodstock, I can understand why they did so. It is a beautiful area and fairly close to NYC .
2.0 Is there an ‘upstate’ scene today? I think there is. The farther north you go from NYC, the more affordable it is to reside. I believe you would be hard pressed to find a nice property for less than $1 million in the Woodstock area. As with the East Village now gentrifying and the new East Village becoming Williamsburg & Bushwick, the same is true here in the Catskills. There are more artists of all sorts working their way further north. The Andes Hotel (Andes, NY) is one of my favorite venues up here because they support the local scene, are always busy and they take care of the bands.
3.0 How did Esquela come together? Mainly, because of Keith Christopher, our lead guitar player. I’ve known Keith for close to fifteen years, since he was the bass player in my brother’s band, Disciples of Agriculture, and I was their manager. Soon thereafter, I started taking bass lessons from Keith and we continued this relationship and he and I would regularly team up in various other bands like TCR/Tony Clifton Revival where we only played CCR tunes with a Tony Clifton impersonator! We also played together in The El Mighty Chicos; Fate Denied Us Victory, Future Farmers of America, Pispoure and ultimately in Disciples of Agriculture. In most cases, Keith was playing guitar or drums and I would play bass. In 2008, Keith and I were riding back to the City after a gig and he asked if I wanted to hear a CD of Fela Kuti. I remember him saying “you probably won’t like it”. But he was wrong – it was so good that I think we listened to the record two times through during the trip. Fela’s music was very inspiring. I had just gotten an old version of Protools and I was messing around with it – started dropping down chords and beats and naturally brought Keith up to fill out most of the parts. I had some lyrics that I had been fooling around with…started putting them together with the songs and the next thing you knew we had a bunch of songs. My vocals were the scratch tracks and they just weren’t that good and I knew of this one really great singer in our area, Rebecca Frame. I brought her in to record as many as I could convince her to sing on. She liked some of the ones I sang on, so we left that and of course Keith did a great job on “Tin Horns”, so we left that one alone too. Once the record was coming together and Eric “Roscoe” Ambel was involved, Keith and I put a band together to play out. We knew it would be us two and Rebecca and from there it made sense to add Matt Woodin on mandolin and rhythm guitar, because he plays with Rebecca in their band, The Honest Mistakes. Richie Tousell is an old friend of Keith’s and they’ve played together a bunch over the years and the drummer who plays most of our gigs is Todd Russell who I grew up with.
4.0 How much guitar did Eric Ambel play on “The Owl Has Landed? Roscoe really did a great job at adding subtleties to the recording. I believe he added guitar tracks to most of the songs – but ones that jump out the most are in “Richie” and “Here and Now”. He also added a honky-tonk type piano on “Richie”. He added keys here or there; vocals; accordion; percussion, etc. – whatever he felt the track needed. Keith can play any instrument. He would play the drums and make the drums sound like an instrument. He added keys when needed and played the rhythm tracks as well as the leads. Backing vocals, lead vocals, tambourine; whatever we needed, he did it.
5.0 Are you happy with the way it turned out? Yes, especially after Roscoe finished with it. He took the rough parts and made it all smooth. Having never had done this before, I was very apprehensive and had self-doubt. But by having Roscoe step in and be a part of what Keith and I started, really gave me confidence that this was a nice piece of work. I am proud of it. Granted, it may not be for all or not be the most complicated musical compositions – but it came from the heart and I think that passion can translate.
6.0 What are your favorite tracks on the record? I would say “Here and Now” and “Tin Horns” . “Here and Now” was written as a tribute to my Mother, who died in a one car car accident and it was a tragic and early end to a wonderful life. She was an artist and was very influential to me. In fact, the cover art, I did in 6th grade when she was my art teacher…on the back it says “A+ well drawn and well-placed on paper – the fact that the owl is small does not detract from the drawing because of good arrangement of other objects in picture – drawing small is your style”. We had a gig last month in Milford, NY at the Hoedown in the Blowdown, and I introduced this song to the audience and for the first time I said what this song was about and how she had died in Milford, NY. None of the band new this or what the song was about. Half way during the song, I was in tears on stage. That was a tough one to play through, but it was cathartic. The band really nailed it that day.
I also like the way “Tin Horns” came together. I had a rough draft of a beat and mandolin and some lyrics. The next day Keith came upstate to my house and I told him about the song but I didn’t like the melody. He thought about it and a few hours later he asked if I liked this melody. He played it for me on guitar and I immediately started recording his acoustic over what I had. He then played drums and even bass on the track. My brother stopped by and whipped up two verses to add to the song and within four hours we had a rough mix of the song. It was the definition of collaboration.
7.0 Any plans for a follow-up? Yes, after our next gig at Rodeo Bar on 10/3 – my girlfriend Wendy and I are expecting a little girl. So the band is on hiatus. However, I have another batch of songs in the hopper that Keith and I are planning on getting together for and laying down some rough drafts. My goal is to release another record in 2011.
8.0 You host a private ‘Livestock’ event annually, how was this years festivities? ‘Livestock’ went great. Someone asked me: “you’ve had this festival for 8 years and never have had a fight?”. When you think about it, alcohol and hundreds of people and no fights – it is a cool thing. That is the type of festival it is. Usually whatever artists play ask to come back; Steve Wynn, Graham Parker, Jim Lauderdale, Marah, College Farm, Grainbelt, etc.. Maybe it is just the type of artists they are or the festival is cool. This year Jason Ringenberg played as “Farmer Jason” which was a hit in the amphitheatre. He also graced the stage with Grainbelt and College Farm and did a few Scorchers’ numbers.
9.0 How did you get the Nickname “Chico”? Unfortunately, I am a NY Mets fan and have been since 1977. In that era, the Mets were terrible as well. So bad that SNL would mock the Mets and they did a skit with Chico Esquela (Garret Morris) who was a Hispanic ballplayer making a comeback at baseball at the age of 42. Naturally, being an older brother who would pick on his younger weaker brother, Dan nicknamed me “Chico” and it stuck. Yes, I still follow the Mets.
10.0 Tell the truth, did you guys have to buy new pajamas for your “Hands On My Jammies” video? I’ll never tell!
1.0 How was it recording with Eric “Roscoe” Ambel? Recording with Roscoe was a great learning experience. As a producer Roscoe demands a lot, but his results speak for themselves. It was a real challenge to step up to his expectations, and that caused a lot of growing pains. But it was for the best. I’d wanted to work with Roscoe for years, and since I moved to New York in 2001 I slowly got to know him; hanging out at his bar, the Lakeside Lounge, and going to hear him play. He’s one of those guys with the Midas Touch. Whether it’s his work playing guitar with Joan Jett or Steve Earle, his playing in bands like Del Lords, the Yayhoos and his own group The Roscoe Trio, or bands he produced like the Blood Oranges, the Backsliders and the Bottle Rockets; everything Roscoe touches turns to gold. Roscoe sees projects on a macro and micro level. On the micro level, he’s got a great sense of what sounds need to be where; what parts of songs need guitar licks, what tracks need an overdubbed acoustic guitar with Nashville tuning, where a harmonica break fits, etc.. On a macro level, he’s always got his eye on the big picture like how to make the best use of studio time, the order that songs should go in, how to tell players to prepare and a whole lot more. My background is in writing for newspapers. I liken Roscoe to an excellent editor.
2.0 How does the new CD “Hello Disaster” differ from your debut “Heathens Like Me”? First and foremost, Hello Disaster was produced, unlike Heathens Like Me. It took four fun days to make the first record. It took three hard years to make the second. The first record is the sound of a band coming together, going into the studio and just bashing out the songs. The second record, to me, is the sound of a band busting apart. But the sound of the shattering is pretty glorious.
3.0 What’s up with the New Heathens? I don’t want to air dirty laundry, but some of those growing pains I mentioned led to us stopping performing out as a band midway through making Hello Disaster. We had been going pretty strong there for a couple years, hauling up and down the eastern seaboard in a big, purple van, but we hit the rocks in the studio. It was painful. It wasn’t how I envisioned it – and believe me, I had meticulously planned this project for years and worked my ass off – but I came to a fork in the road during the recording process where I could salvage one of two things: the band or the record. I chose the record. Note that the record starts out with five people wailing together in a room, and ends quietly with me by myself. That’s a good metaphor for how the recording process went. I find myself in the curious position now of trying to promote a good record by a band that isn’t really around anymore. I’ve been playing plenty of solo acoustic shows, difficulties of promoting a full-band record as a solo acoustic artist be damned. Don’t be surprised to see some “Nate Schweber and the New Heathens” shows soon.
4.0 What sort of music did your family listen to growing up? My mom is the partially-reformed pseudo-hippie of the family and she’s a huge music lover. Growing up she I remember her playing the Beatles and Emmylou Harris, who looks like her sister. She was the one who turned me on to the Rolling Stones and Steve Earle. My dad, a self-proclaimed “bean-counter,” actually has great taste in music, though I didn’t realize it when I was younger. I learned about Warren Zevon from my dad.
5.0 What was the first album you ever purchased? Aerosmith’s Pump. Power ballads be damned, if anybody’s recorded a cooler song than F.I.N.E. in the past 20 years, I ain’t heard it.
6.0 Does being from Montana originally have any impact on your style? I’m sure it does. Montana has wide open vistas and not a lot of people, so growing up I had wild, fanciful notions of what I wanted to do with my life and not a lot of people to tell me I couldn’t. I noticed a definite change in my mindset when I got to New York and found myself hemmed down at the bottom of concrete canyons all day (lo and behold some of those “fanciful notions” didn’t quite work out). Montana also affected my taste in music. The Pacific Northwest has a psychic connection with the south, I imagine because they are both big, rural areas where agriculture dominates. So things like country music and southern rock resonate up there. Growing up a weirdo, I figured out fast that a lot of the chaw-dipping, wrangler-wearing guys who cranked modern country in their pickups wanted to kick the shit out of me, so in high school I hated country music. It wasn’t until I got to college that I luckily fell in with a hip, bar-band scene who turned me on to country that was Stonesy, relevant, smart and cool, like Steve Earle, the Bottle Rockets, Todd Snider, Doug Sahm and the Supersuckers.
7.0 Did you have a band in high school/college? what did you call yourselves? what did you play? I sang in rock bands all through high school and college. Some names I remember include, “Blue Monday and the Cockroaches,” “The Spice Boys,” “Aces & Eights,” and “Moxie.”I played tuba in school band from fifth grade through when I graduated college. To this day the longest lasting and most popular band I was ever in was a German polka band that spanned elementary school through college called “The Hungry Five.”
8.0 Why did you move to NYC? I tell people that having grown up in Montana, I wanted to find out what life in a big city was like, and boy have I found out. The catalyst was I got an internship at Rolling Stone magazine in 2001. I came to New York to see what I could do in journalism and rock ‘n’ roll.
9.0 How do you approach song writing? That’s a tough one. A lot of my favorite songs are what I like to think of as “smart.” Like “Lawyers, Guns & Money” by my man Warren Zevon, it’s a wild concept for a song, totally original hook, fantastic riff and it’s funny. Zevon is a master at that. Same with Brian Hennemann of the Bottle Rockets, particularly when he co-writes with Scott Taylor. Their songs “$1,000 Car;” “Welfare Music,” “Zoysia” and a slew of others are new, smart, descriptive ways of looking at common things. So that’s always my goal when I try to write a song. I usually fall far, far short.
10.0 What do you prefer – writing, recording, or playing live? It used to be playing live, because that’s all I did. As I get more experienced at writing and recording, I’m enjoying them more and more.