BRAD PETERSON

BradPeterson (2)
photo by KIM SOMMERS

How did you come to fix on the Fleur-de-lis as moniker / title for your new release? It seemed to same itself at the last-minute of the last recording, which is atypical from my previous works. Last autumn, I had a couple of songs that I had recently recorded before I came to California for a respite from the Chicago winters: Vale of Tears, and 45.  I played them for an old friend, Peter Bowers, who has been in the music and film world for decades and, in my opinion,  is someone with a unique perspective and proven good taste. After listening to them while we were winding through the serpentine roads near Topanga, he was clearly excited and asked if I had more new songs; I said yes, but they’re in a crude state. He tacitly gave me the go ahead and I proceeded to play for him: Rock Fight, and minor. Being a musician himself, and no stranger to hearing potential in a demo recording, he promptly suggested I finish the work for, at the very least, posterity (and for whatever opportunities that may bring). It was just the encouragement I needed to set up a barebones recording outpost in his garage/office in the beautiful canyons nestled betwixt the Santa Monica mountains, Los Angeles, and the Pacific Ocean. I’m not sure at which point the idea developed to add an additional track, but I half-heartedly presented my least favorite and hardly developed of the bunch: Fluer-de-lis, for which the title lyric had yet to be written. I acquiesced in its procession but as the spirit moved me, and I reconnected to the moments of its inception, those words just came through: “Fluer-de-lis” – like they were always supposed to be. Ureka! The song finished itself. The counterpoint in the last verse was the very last thing recorded and almost has a feel of a reprise-medley trope at the end of an epic film from the late sixties. When I listened back to it, I felt that it was divinely gifted; I had just participated in its revelation as the title of this work.

What was the most difficult thing about making Fleur? The most difficult thing in anything, is the discipline or faith to work in the face of doubt and negativity that plague me every day. The ultimate goal is for me to share what I do and connect with other souls. The periods between such moments are long and dark in which I often wonder if what I do is folly and meaningless.
 
Do you see it as a continuation of your other releases, an update, or something unto itself? Depending on context, it could be any of those; it could even be a prequel, chapter, or a supplemental. In literary terms, I think of singles as anecdotes, albums as books, and EPs as short stories. But I think in most cases, to say: “the Fluer-de-lis EP” would refer to something unto itself.
Why did you decide to do a EP this time versus a full album? Albums take a while and I didn’t want to wait. Full disclosure, there’s a part of me that would be happy to just release singles from here out. If I had the resources, I think that’s the direction I’m heading.
fdl-tour (3)How does the song writing process work for you? The evolution of every song is different but the most rewarding songs come in the form of everything-at-once. Melody, lyrics, chords, feel, and arrangement pour over me in a torrent of inspiration. Those are also the songs that tend to get finished.
Describe your head space when playing live in front of an audience?
How the hell am I supposed to pull this off? Because I thrive off of the symbiosis of all who participate in a live performance, it’s quite vitalizing and I experience the joy of communion. However, there is always a delta between what I want it to sound like and what I’m able to produce. I’m figuring out that “not to try” is the trick for all involved.
Did you like to sing as a kid or did you begin playing guitar and start singing later on? I always sang for as long as I can remember; maybe before I could talk.  But, it was when my aspirations for being a drummer were squelched by mom (who didn’t want that sort of racket going on in the house) bought me my first acoustic guitar, that I became the defacto singer/rhythm guitarist at about age fifteen.
Many artists talk about ‘the album’ that changed their life, is there one for you? Yes. From all accounts, in the spring of 1971, my older brother and father were listening to music in the living room of our old farmhouse in Baltimore, Maryland. Mark was around thirteen and my father was a bit of an audiophile with an impressive sound system composed of mammoth Bozak speakers, Scott amplification, and Ampex reel-to-reels. They put on a store-bought reel of the Beatles’ Revolver and it boomed throughout the house. That was the moment I became sentient and aware. To describe the experience using my abilities in the English language that I have since learned, I’d say I was in awe and asked: “what is this wonderful thing?” as I crawled on the carpet. I don’t know what it was or who it was but I’m certain that it was a pivotal moment in my relationship with music and my development as a human being. A few years ago I wrote about this earliest memory of my life called “Crack and Boom”:
What was the first concert you ever attended and what strikes you about it today?  For my first large rock concert, it was either Billy Joel or Roger Waters with Eric Clapton. Both of them were at the Rosemont Horizon when I was around thirteen years old. My opinion then, is as it is now: that is sounded horrible and I would have maybe preferred to stay home and listen to the recordings. The highlights of each were the improvisational element where I gleaned variations of expression in the arrangements of the musicians. I do enjoy live music but I gravitate to smaller venues or living rooms.
If you could take a time machine to any one moment in history (rock or otherwise) what would it be and what would you do once you got there?  It would probably be to a moment that I’ve already experienced, perhaps one from my childhood when I was near my family who I love very much. And, it would be simply to live it again with greater appreciation and notice every little detail. – BradPeterson.com

Continue reading “BRAD PETERSON”

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NATALIE MISHELL

NatalieMishellWhen 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…

Mishell_GibsonNYCHow did you track the vocals?

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

.NatalieMISHELLAre you happy with how your debut Natalie Mishell EP, In My Shoes, has been received so far?

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 Paganowho 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 :)

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!  :)

GWENDOLYN

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.

6.0 – Do you write the same way today or is it more collaborative with the band?

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.


DAVID SERBY

1.0 – How do you think your new record Poor Mans Poem will be received by your fans? 

I think Americana fans appreciate and respect all kinds of roots music – blues, folk, honky tonk, bluegrass, outlaw country – So, although Poor Man’s Poem is much different than the last couple of records I expect folks to give it an honest listen.  That’s really all I can ask.  I’m very proud of it and I hope folks like it as much as we do.

2.0 – What is your favorite song on it?

It’s always hard to choose a favorite song.  This morning, I can narrow it down to three:  Virginia Rail, Poor Man’s Poem, and Evil Men.  Virginia Rail is about the financial and emotional struggles of someone very close to me and it was the first song I wrote for the record; it’ll always mean a lot to me.  Poor Man’s Poem is about the Pullman rail strike.  I’m a union steward and I’m deeply concerned about the state of unions in this country – that song’s about as close as an example of my fears as I could get.  And finally, Evil Men because that’s the last song I wrote for the record and it’s the one in which the little man finally gets to exact a little revenge on those who wield the power.

3.0 – Are they all new songs?

Yes, these are all new songs. Poor Man’s Poem is a song-cycle set in the 1800s.  The record filters modern day economic and social issues that I’m concerned about through a landscape populated by striking rail workers, sinking gold ships, murdering outlaws, lost and broken gold miners, and drug addled civil war soldiers.

4.0 – How does it differ from your last release, Honky Tonk & Vine?

With Honky Tonk & Vine I really was taking my best shot at a California honky tonk record.  It was an rocking, electric record, and it included songs that hinted at other genres like soul and pop.  Also, most of the songs were written starting with a title from which I generated an idea and then the song.  Poor Man’s Poem is an acoustic folk record.  There’s just a little electric bass guitar on it.  And every song was written starting with a specific idea or emotion.  I figured out generally the type of story I wanted to tell and wrote a line.  By the time I got to the chorus I still had no idea what I was actually going to say there or how it would sound.  That’s about a hundred and eighty degrees different than Honky Tonk & Vine.

5.0 – You have a history of changing gears within roots music, is this part of a larger philosophy?

Being a self-funded artist has it’s downside but it definitely has an upside, too.  Downside: Nobody gives you money to help you do anything; writing, recording, producing, rehearsing bands, touring – you’re all on your own.  Upside: Nobody tells you what to do.  I’m completely free to do whatever I feel like doing.  My prior two records were electric honky tonk.  I had some issues I wanted to write about on Poor Man’s Poem that I didn’t think I could address with straight honky tonk.  I’m inspired by a challenge and I’m inspired by change.  Also, I think stagnation really is death for any writer.

6.0 – Your sense of humor is a big part of your music, is it a challenge to remain uplifting in such a poor economy? 

I appreciate that you hear the humor in my prior records.  Poor Man’s Poem is a pretty dark and serious record and honestly, I had a hard time finding any humor in the people I was singing about or the stories I was telling.  Maybe it’s just easier to find the humor hidden behind a broken heart than it is to find the humor behind a broken man or a broken family.  If there’s anything uplifting about the record it’s that nobody quits.  Every character battles his ass off until the very end, and I do believe there is something noble and uplifting in that fight.

7.0 – Do you feel that is part of your role as an entertainer?

I think finding the humor in a situation is certainly one of my roles as an entertainer, but I think exploring areas that are completely void of humor is just as important and satisfying – and possibly more challenging.  Most folks are happy to smile or laugh but asking them to walk down a dark and desolate road with you…not everyone is going to want to go.

8.0 – What are your favorite songs to ‘cover’ live with your band, The Dirt Poor Folklore?

The Dirt Poor Folklore was put together to play Poor Man’s Poem.  Because it’s a song-cycle, the ten tunes on the record are the only songs we’re playing.  It might eventually evolve into a band that plays some covers, but right now I’m limiting it to the record.  It almost feels like a book to me and playing cover tunes (or songs off my prior records) in this set would be like sticking chapters from different books into the middle of Poor Man’s Poem.  Right now, that just doesn’t make sense to me.

9.0 – How would you describe the California roots music scene today?

I think the California roots scene is on the verge of a real upswing.  In the last several years a lot of great singers, songwriters and performers have left town.  But the folks who’ve hung around have continued to improve and grow, and new bands are cropping up every day.  The influences range from straight up honky tonk and hard country, to power pop, psychedelic, R&B, Southern rock, Tex Mex and singer/songwriter folk.  It’s cliché but it’s true:  Los Angeles is a melting pot and you can do anything out here.  Bands like Old Californio, Grant Langston and The Supermodels, The Far West, a couple of bands I play bass in (West of Texas and Haymaker), Shooter Jennings’ bass player Ted Russell Kamp, the legendary Rick Shea, Patty Booker, The Groovy Rednecks, Tremalocos, Dale Peterson, Dan Janisch, Skip Heller, a great songwriter named Bob Woodruff, The Psychedelic Cowboy – I could list dozens more – they’re playing shows like The Grand Ole Echo, Ronnie Mack’s Barn Dance, The Messaround, and Melody in The Round.  And the fans (by fans I really mean friends) out here are the best.  It’s a tight knit community that really supports great people and great music.

10.0 ~ Is ‘honky tonk’ a permanent condition?

I have a feeling a lot of folks hear the term honky tonk and they think of electric hillbilly or hard country music being played in bars and roadhouses.  Chicken wire, cigarette smoke, broken beer bottles, clumsy lovers scooting around crowded dance floors.  And they’d be right.  And they’d probably listen to Poor Man’s Poem and say, “That ain’t honky tonk.”  But honky tonk is also music that is both for and about the working man.  And that’s Poor Man’s Poem in a peanut shell (that’s been smashed on Johnny Horton’s Honky Tonk Hardwood Floor).  Honky tonk music addresses the working man’s struggle to find, provide for, and hold onto his family and loved ones; that’s the fight that inspired this record.  I haven’t been able to escape it, so, yes I do think honk tonk is a permanent condition.