GILLIAN ROSE

GillianRose4When did you realize you enjoyed singing?  For as long as I can remember, singing has been something I’m passionate about. If I were to try and pinpoint a starting point, it would probably be one of the many times that I sang through every song in Avril Lavigne’s Let Go album for my parents and their friends (with the TV clicker as my microphone of course).

Who did you grow up listening to?  Growing up I was heavily influenced by the music that my parents were listening to, so I’ve always found comfort in artists from the 90’s and early 2000’s like Norah Jones and Sheryl Crow. Billy Joel has also stood out because his song “Vienna” resonated so strongly with me from such an early age.

What was the first song you ever learned to play on guitar and sing at the same time?  The first time I picked up a guitar it was with the goal of singing along, so I started teaching myself song by song. I’ve mentioned Sheryl Crow, and her song “The First Cut is the Deepest” was the first one I learned as a surprise for my Mom’s birthday. It was rough to say the least, but she shed a few proud tears so I’d call it a success!

What was the first concert you ever attended and what impression did it leave on you?  I’ve been going to concerts since a very young age with my family, but the first one I can really remember was seeing Avril Lavigne when I was probably around 10 years old (the height of my obsession with her). The second she came on stage I started crying, and have cried at almost every concert I’ve attended since. I think it’s a combination of overwhelming admiration for the artists, and a longing to experience what they’re feeling on stage.

Can you describe how the writing process works for you?  My writing process is pretty inconsistent. Some of my songs, like “Already Miss You”, I finished in under an hour because I was so emotional at the time and it was really the only way I could find to deal with those feelings. But other times I find myself coming up with a chord progression and the first verse of a song, then hitting a wall and leaving it for a while in hopes that I’m more inspired the next time I work on it. That is definitely the most frustrating thing as a writer; to feel like you’ve had a great start and a song has potential, but you just can’t seem to find where it’s supposed to go. I’ve probably started and abandoned a hundred songs by now. 

Do you think living abroad has informed your music, or love of it, in any way?  Absolutely! Music has always been a constant in my life. Whenever we moved, it felt like I was starting over, reestablishing who I was each time. My guitar was one of the things that I could always bring with me and be reminded that that piece of me was still there. Having lived in three different countries, I am a strong believer that your surroundings influence your views of the world quite heavily. My experiences have shaped who I am as a person and a songwriter, and intensified the love that I have for music.

As a 19 year-old, what is the most daunting thing to you about embarking on a career in music?  The uncertainty is very unnerving to me. I will forever be happy performing for crowds of any size, and sharing my music with whoever will listen. But to earn a living in music, that all has to be on a much grander scale. With so many talented musicians out there it’s unrealistic to just assume that I will become a popular name, so it helps that I focus more on using music for personal expression. It has also been incredibly reassuring to me when fans reach out and tell me how my music has effected them, or how they enjoy it. I am also attending DePaul as a full-time student so that I will have additional opportunities available to me outside of music.

Gillian Rose (PaulNatkin)
Photo by PAUL NATKIN

 What’s your perspective on shows like The Voice and American Idol?  Like many, I grew up watching American Idol, pretending to be a contestant on the show during commercial breaks while my sisters judged. I think those programs have given many singers a lot of hope, and do a great job of inspiring individuals to pursue their dreams. They have also produced a number of great role models and talented professionals. Though at one time in my life I would have loved to be on those shows, currently I am pursuing my music career in a different way. I am hoping that my small population of loyal fans continues to gradually grow so, rather than a quick rise and possible fall, I can be heard for many years to come.

If you could open up for anyone on a Midwest run of dates this Spring who would it be?  John Mayer! I absolutely love his music and I respect that his live performances are even better than the recordings (which I didn’t think was even possible). He is incredibly talented and I would love the opportunity to learn from him.

The genie nods: your wish has been granted …in a puff of smoke Bob Dylan appears in your dorm room and you may ask him one question …what say ye?  I swear I’ve dreamt about this scenario… Once I regained consciousness from fainting, and the tears had subsided, I would ask him what his favorite decade was for music. And since there is already a genie present… I would then wish to go back in time to that decade with him! – GILLIAN ROSE

JESSE BREWSTER

jessetieguitarblazin_nobkWhat 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.

JesseBWhat’s the state of rock & roll in California?

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!  :)

GREG KIHN

ImageIs there an album or song that got you hooked on rock & roll as a kid? 

Yes, I remember hearing “Don’t Be Cruel” by Elvis on the Juke Box at YMCA summer camp and I noticed all the girls loved it.  Later, when I got a guitar and started to learn folk songs I saw the effect guitars had on girls.  By the time the Beatles came along I already knew the basic chords.  I was too shy to meet girls any other way.  But music turned out to be the best way.  As far as an album that shaped my life I would have to say “Freewheelin’” by Bob Dylan because it got my whole generation writing songs.  As far as life-shaping events go, I’d guess I’d have to say seeing the Beatles for the first time on Ed Sullivan.  It blew my mind, it blew all our minds.  You had to be there.

What was the first complete tune you learned to play and sing at the same time?

That would be “Tom Dooley” by the Kingston Trio.  I can still remember how proud I was to get up on stage at a coffee house and play it.  I learned the 3 basic chords of life and I found out later it fit 90% of all the songs on the radio.

With the revival of Americana and roots music is it difficult to resist the temptation to return to your folk roots and put out KIHN FOLK?

Oh, you wicked, wicked man.  The “Kihn” puns just won’t die!  The only times I didn’t use the “KIHN” puns for GKB album titles- “Glass House Rock” and “With the Naked Eye” both albums stiffed, so we went right back to the KIHN formula for success.  I try to hide ‘em, but my folk roots stand out like Nicki Minaj’s hair color.

How did you get your first break in the music biz, or was it a confluence of events?

Matt Kaufman and Allan Mason were two law students in Baltimore when I was still in high school playing gigs at local coffee houses with names like “The Foghorn” and the “Crack of Doom.”  Allan later invited me out to California and let me crash on his floor.  Allan wound up working for A&M Records and Matthew started Beserkley Records.  When I first came to California I used to play on Telegraph Ave for spare change.  I did pretty good, too!  About 40$ a day!

What is, hands down, your favorite Greg Kihn record and why?

My all time favorite Greg Kihn song is The Breakup Song because it’s always fun to play, has a great guitar riff, and the lyrics “Uh-uh-uh-uh-uh-uh translate into every known language.  That’s why today I can walk down the street in, say, Lithuania or Tasmania and people will point at me and shout, “There goes that uh-uh guy!” 

You have found a new home today on radio in San Francisco; is it strange being on the other end of the mic or was radio always something you could see yourself doing?

You know, my ego is so freakin’ huge I don’t care which side of the mic I’m on, as long as the mic is ON!  Radio is a wonderful way to communicate with hundreds of thousands of people every hour.  I love it!  Plus I can do the show in my underpants and nobody would ever know!  They can’t see me!

If you had a classic fake radio DJ name what would it be? any suggestions?

When I was a kid growing up in Baltimore, DJ’s had names like Fat Daddy and Commander Hot Rod.  Maybe I should change my on-air name to Beef Jerky or Greasy Cheeks or Dash Riprock.

As a horror writer now with several acclaimed books out, have you ever considered writing tunes to accompany your novels on the expanding digital landscape or in your audio books?

Actually I started out trying to do just that.  The result was the “Horror Show” CD in 1997.  It was supposed to serve as the soundtrack for the novel “Horror Show” and possibly a movie score but I only got 2 songs finished before I drifted off in another direction.  The 2 songs were “Horror Show” which you can see on You Tube, and “Vampira” which has no video.  Eventually I’ll make the movie of “Horror Show” and write the rest of the soundtrack.  By the way, let me be the first to announce the release of my new novel RUBBER SOUL published by Premier Digital Publishing in the spring of 2013.  It takes place in Liverpool in the early 60’s and has the Beatles as the main characters in a murder mystery.  It follows their meteoric rise to fame and culminates with assassination attempts in Manila in 1966 after snubbing the Marcos Family.  As far as I know it’s the first historically accurate truly fictional BEATLES NOVEL.  I hope you check it out when it’s released in early 2013.  I guarantee it’s like nothing you’ve read before.

ImageWhat are your fondest memories from touring with the Rolling Stones?

Hanging out backstage with the Stones.  Mick was very nice and gave me packs of cigarettes (Marlboro Box) whenever I asked, but the guy I most enjoyed talking with was Charlie.  He is a very interesting man- knows about history and is an expert of the Civil War believe it or not.  He’s got jazz roots.  Keith and Ron just played guitars and never said much.  Bill Graham introduced me and that did the trick.  I was one of the inner sanctum after that.  I’m sure Jerry Hall, Mick’s wife at the time, was checking me out.  Or maybe it was the drugs…  I’ve forgotten.  I’ll never forget the rush of walking out on stage in front of 90,000 people!

What are Greg Kihn’s “Ten Commandments of Touring”? 

1.    Never get separated from the band in a foreign country.

2.    Never leave the hotel with a chick who says she’ll take you to the airport in the morning.

3.    Never drink in the hotel bar alone, nothing good can happen.

4.    You’re better off smoking a joint alone in your room and watching reruns of Gilligan’s Island than going to a local club with some chicks you just met.

5.    When singing the National Anthem, start low and sing fast.

6.    Never drink from the mini-bar in your room.

7.    Never poop in the lavatory on the tour bus, peeing is OK, but defecation is not welcome.

8.    Never drink the other band’s beer, steal their women, or smoke their stash, it’s bad karma.

9.    Always treat the roadies with respect; they can really make you look bad if they want.  Remember, they have their own secret credo from which they never vary- (I’ll tell you but don’t say you heard it from me.)  The Roadie’s Credo- “If it’s wet, drink it, if it’s dry, smoke it, if it moves fuck it, if it doesn’t move, put it in the truck.”

10.  Pace yourself, it’s a long tour.

Visit Greg online at GregKihn.com

CHRISTMAS DAVIS

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

DIDA PELLED

1.0 – When did your love of jazz begin and with what artists / records?

I began listening to jazz when I was fifteen years old, at The Thelma Yellin High School (Israel). I didn’t listen to jazz at all before that. As a guitar player (I didn’t sing at all at the time) I loved listening to Wes Montgomery, Grant Green, and to other instrumentalists like Clifford Brown, Lee Morgan, Hank Mobley, Miles David, Coltrane, Ahmad Jamal and many others.

2.0 – Were you singing before you picked up an instrument?

No. I began playing music only as a guitar player, and did only that for a few years. I played many gigs as a guitar player only before starting to sing, and at the time I wasn’t even thinking about singing. After High school, I went to the army (like everyone in Israel), and I was chosen to serve as an ‘outstanding musician’, so I played in the army band. In that band I started singing a little bit, and I fell in love with it. A year after, when I moved to New York, I began singing on my gigs too.

3.0 – What was the first song you ever learned to sing and play at the same time?

In the beginning I didn’t sing jazz so much, and I was mostly fooling around with singing some Israeli songs, Nirvana songs, or something in that vibe, I don’t remember :) So I guess those were the first songs I sang and played at the same time. I think that the first standard that I’ve learned to sing an play at the same time was “Like Someone In love”.

4.0 – It seems so few female guitarists gravitate towards improvisation but rather use it as a vehicle for songs: did that come naturally to you or was it something you had to work at a bit?

It came very naturally, because I started as a guitar player, so improvisation was what I was mostly working on. When I played a gig, many times with another singer, I was only playing guitar, and improvising was my way to express myself. In that sense, I think that I’m happy that I started singing late, because starting with the guitar gave me a point of view of an instrumentalist first, and of someone in the band. Starting to sing after playing guitar and improvising, and really knowing the songs and the language helps a lot.

5.0 – How was your experience like at Berkeley School of Music?

I was there only for 5 weeks, so I don’t really know how it is like to be a student there.:)

6.0 – What led to your decision to ultimately go for it as a musician in the states versus your home of Isreal?

I had a dream about moving to New York even before I started playing music. My older sister and brother were students in NY and I wanted to do the same since I was very young. Later after I got serious into jazz, I had no doubt that NY is where I want to be!

7.0 – Do the early 50’s rock’n’roll pioneers have any influence on your sensibility as a player?

Sure :)

8.0 – What do you enjoy most: playing live, writing or recording?

Playing live!

9.0 – What’s your favorite thing about the music scene in New York?

I don’t know another city in the world where you can go out every night and find a few very good options of different music to listen to, and to be inspired by the best musicians in the world.  I am back in NY at The Living Room on August 27th.

10.0 – If you could sit in with anyone, anywhere, anytime, past or present, for just one night….who and where?

Frank Sinatra, Bob Dylan, Ray Charles?  It’s a hard question! ( Visit Dida online at DidaMusic.com or on Facebook )

ALYNDA LEE SEGARRA w/ HURRAY FOR THE RIFF RAFF

Does the name ‘Hurray for The Riff Raff’ reflect a personal or band philosophy of sorts?  I would say the name comes from my love and feeling of camaraderie for the underdog of all walks of life. Growing up in New York City exposed me to people who live on the fringes of society and sometimes go unseen yet they have so much unique energy they give the city. The homeless subway singers, the runaway teenagers from middle america, the gender benders, and the Puerto Rican Poets of the lower east side. I felt at home with this lot of folk right away.

Do you have a favorite track on the new release, Look Out Mama?  I’d say my favorite track is “Ode to John and Yoko”, it was really fun to record and mess around with. Andrija Tokic really helped me bring that song to life. I had the song and some ideas but him and Sam Doores had a lot of great ideas about how we could use Beatles-esque recording tricks etc to make it what it is. Dan Cutler is the man when it comes to vocal arrangements, so with the help of the whole team this recording came about and I couldn’t be prouder.

How did the relationship with the HBO show ‘Treme’ come about?  Treme has been awesome about wanting real New Orleans musicians on the show, the crew really respects New Orleans artists and they want us to benefit from the success. I was just lucky enough they decided to use us.

Could you have become the artist you are today had you not run away from home and the Bronx at 17?   I’m sure I’d be an artists of some sort since i’ve been making art since childhood, but I think everyone has a path and a purpose in life and great things come to you when you follow your path. It’s not always easy but it’s rewarding. It was very hard for me to leave and the life was not easy by any means, honestly I wish I could have some of that time back to connect with my family. But it was what I think I needed to do to come to the place I am now mentally and artistically. It brought me to New Orleans and to the musicians who taught me how to play, in that respect I am so grateful I took the plunge and now have this outlet.

Is that when you became ‘riff raff’?  I have always felt like riff raff since I was born. I have always felt a little different than your average bear. My aunt who raised me can attest to that! But being on the road opened my eyes in many ways. There are a lot of people in this country who have no where to call home, they don’t have food to eat. There’s also people who have an extreme amount of wealth. I learned about the privileges I have and don’t have, it taught me that balance more than anything. What I want to fight for and what I want to remember how lucky I am to have. Now I’m trying to make music that I hope will have some kind of positive effect on this country and our world.

How does your Bronx upbringing inform your music today if at all?  The Bronx is a beautiful place to grow up, there’s a lot  of the hard working people there. It’s unpretentious as it gets. These folks are also Riff Raff in my mind, the person who’s just working really hard to raise their family and seems to not be able to get a break. Where I grew up it was a lot of Irish, Puerto Rican and Dominican and Jewish families. A great mix of people. I had some a great best friend who would walk the neighborhood with me. We both grew up with a respect for our elders and a longing for the New York of the 1960’s we heard about in song and stories. We both wanted West Side Story and Doo Wop music. A lot of Puerto Rican artists sang in those groups, gals and guys from the neighborhoods singing on the street corners.  In that way it effected my music very much and that Doo Wop influence is growing. I was just singing on the corners in New Orleans with a banjo.

Do songs just ‘happen’ for you or do you have to work hard on them and build them up over time?  I do both. Sometimes they fall on you from the sky, and sometimes you have to craft them. I just try to follow my inspiration.

What comes first for you; the content? melody? chords?  Most of the time it’s melody, I normally sing something and then pick up the instrument.

What’s your feeling about categories and genre’s when it comes to your music?  I feel like it’s hard for me to pick them, but if someone else wants to go ahead. Just listen to it is what I say! If you want to call it anything, call it folk music.

What are some of your influences growing up and are they still today?   Growing up I loved Judy Garland, Madonna and Marilyn Manson! I was a strange child, I had all sorts of role models. I was also very influenced by the songs on the oldies radio station that I’d listen to with my family. But as I got into middle school I began getting really into the Punk scene. That influenced me too, I loved the energy of the live shows, the political views and the community feeling. Punk led me to American Folk music, old time, Woody Guthrie, traveling songs. Punk music led me to travel and learn songs from people I met on the road.  But it’s more recent that I’ve found John Lennon, Townes Van Zandt, Gillian Welch and Bob Dylan. When I met Sam Doores in New Orleans he introduced me to a lot of music I missed somehow. He taught me about the beauty of a well written song. I loved his appreciation and dedication to songwriting. He became a big influence of me as well, as we all down here in New Orleans inspire and influence each other.

TRISTAN FORGUS

1. When did you start writing and what were your initial subjects? 

I started writing in notebooks when I was probably six or eight – it’s hard sometimes for me to discern reality from family myths. Anyway, by the time I was 10, reading and writing had become central to my daily life and very survival. My initial efforts, like now, involved trying to make sense of things and to savor the beauty of the world, the indifference, the chaos and drama. You know, pompous artsy whiny stuff (grin).

2. Who are your main literary influences? Do you emulate any of them? 

This is going to sound clichéd, but if I were to be stranded on a desert island and had only one author’s work, it would hands-down be Tolstoy. War and Peace and Anna Karenina are the best novels ever. By themselves they would be enough.

Another all-time favorite is JD Salinger; I have spent years reading and studying him. I also love Virginia Woolf; I treasure her prose, her lyrical and psychological depth. And Dostoevsky, Raymond Chandler, Adrienne Rich. The list goes on. In general, I love books, a lot of different kinds of books, and when I find ones I love, I carry them around for years and re-read them time and again.

Do I emulate my favorite authors? You bet I do – or at least I try to – just like guitarists and drummers and singers, I guess: borrow here, borrow there, add your own two cents.

3. OK, now you’ve done it – you are stranded on a desert island, one turntable, no booze, 5 albums….what are they? 

Ha, no booze, interesting! OK, I wish I could just have 5 mix tapes (REALLY, my musical tastes are MUCH broader than the question allows  (I’d like a Brandenburg Concerto, a piano piece by Keith Jarrett, blasts by Coltrane and Mingus and Monk, Satchmo’s It’s a Wonderful World, and the Exploited’s Sex and Violence)), but sticking to the spirit of your question, five albums as follows, followed by five back-ups in case of warping due to sun or saltwater:

First Five: The Clash’s The Clash (U.S. release w.  “(White Man) In Hammersmith Palais”), David Bowie’s Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars, Leonard Cohen’s The Songs of Leonard Cohen, The Velvet Underground’s The Velvet Underground and Nico, and Husker Du’s Zen Arcade

Back Up Five: The Replacement’s Let It Be, Tom Waites Nighthawks at the Diner, Bob Marley Legend, Nirvana’s Nevermind and Bob Dylan’s Greatest Hits Vol. 1

4. What is the status of your long toiled-over life’s work, the semi-fictional “Vicious Circles”

It is virtually done, except for my final confession in the last chapter and the epilogue. Or maybe that’s a gross misstatement; maybe I should just say it’s what it is and I am virtually getting ready to slay the beast one final time. I am working on it part-time now but I think about it all the time and hope to deliver it in-full next year. So, yeah….it’s been sixteen or seventeen or eighteen years, depending on the math.

5. What is it about? 

It’s about a sixteen-year-old Sarah, a girl who ran away in 1977 from the suburbs to the city of Chicago. It’s a true story based on nearly 100 hours of tapes Sarah and I made together. She was of course, like virtually all runaways, exploited. It recounts her adventures and misadventures as a girlfriend, a professional escort, a wife, a mother. It’s drugs, sex, power, survival, Chicago, the 70’s, the 80’s, the 90’s, and it’s about running away and, then again, not running away.

6. You are also a chef celebrating the opening of your first restaurant, Fusion Cafe;  is the name autobiographical? 

Well, celebrating is not exactly the word for it, if you know the restaurant business. It’s more like trading in your life and working and worrying all the time, but luckily I love it.

I hadn’t realized it exactly until I thought about your question: yeah, I guess the name is autobiographical. Fusion, the melting pot, my African father, my English mother, my art, my science, my cooking, and on and on and on…. It’s almost like a guiding principle for me, now that I think about it. (see Tristan’s ‘Cafe 101’ cooking blog)

7. You’ve always been an avid indie music purveyor and dabbling songwriter, does music have a nexus with cooking? 

Yes, I think so, very much.  Think in terms of a production, the mix, the balance, the quality of performance, the quality of equipment, and of course the composition itself, the melodies and harmonies, the tempo and rhythms, and of course the lyric…. These all have almost direct analogies to a successful (or unsuccessful) dinner service.

8. What are you listening to these days? 

I’m listening to Pandora a lot these days. I had been listening a lot to internet radio on iTunes a lot for a couple of years really, especially Coyote Radio out of UCal.-SanBernadino and Boot-Liquor, a SomaFM alternative countryish station with a alcohol sub-theme. But ever since I started Pandora when I got my iPhone, I’ve been listening to a lot of Superchunk Radio and stuff like that.

 9. As a writer, do you have to stay busy at your craft to keep your chops up like a musician, or do you have to walk away from time to time to keep things fresh? 

Well, I’m probably the last person to give advice about writing habits, but I’d say both have their place. Like with everything of course: practice, practice, practice is the way to get better and to get things done. Writing though especially takes place not only in the act of writing but in the act of living too.

10. What takes more courage for you, actually writing or reading what you have written?  

Wow, that’s a good question. I don’t know, probably the writing; as much as I love it, I am very afraid quite often and really, you know, it can be hard and it can hurt. I love the quote from Hemingway: “There’s nothing to writing, just sit at the keyboard and bleed.”

In terms of reading, the hard part is getting past the understandable but unreasonable loyalty to what one has written – that is, to approach and see it objectively. to be able to critically assess its virtues and weaknesses and to have the courage to re-write.