>>>>>> 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! :)