Interview for the Patriot Ledger
I just found this interview from the Patriot Ledger that I did before touring last year with my good friend and collaborator Nick Loss Eaton of Leland Sundries.
Can you tell me some about your music background-did you grow up in a musical household? Was there a record or show that was so powerful that you had that moment where you said-"Man I want to do that!" or if it was a slower process & who were your early influences and/or musical mentors?
Although I inherited my first guitar (a classical, nylon string guitar) from my mom and took piano lessons early on, it was really my two older brothers who gave me my musical education. They listened to Bob Dylan and Led Zeppelin and Jimi Hendrix and all the music that my parents were supposed to listen to. But instead of ignoring me (or beating me up for that matter), they let me be a part of it - they guided me through it all and really opened my eyes to all kinds of music. Especially once they started buying CDs, I sifted through all their old bins of cassette tapes and started listening to them on my own, making mix tapes of my favorites, and eventually getting in trouble in school for having my headphones too loud in the hallway. It wasn't long before I was playing in bands myself, putting on shows at the local American Legion, and writing songs of my own.
You have a new cd coming-can you talk about your vision for "Year of the Swallowtail? (lyrically/sonically) And any help you got putting it together....
I finished writing most of the album after I quit my job in Boston and moved to a barn in Vermont for a month. I needed to get away, to get a new perspective on life in general, and knew that it was the perfect time to finish it. I had a great deal of songs ready to be recorded, and after a few false starts recording, it seemed like something was missing, like it wasn't saying everything that I wanted it to say. So I packed up a small suitcase full of clothes, a guitar, a keyboard and a cassette tape recorder and lived quietly in the middle of nowhere, slowly making my way through the songs that would eventually become the album. In the end, it turned out to be an album about change, both internally and externally - how we come to terms with it or cope with it and how we often let our circumstances shape who we are, but struggle not to fall victim to it. Most of all, it's about trying to reclaim life - taking a chance to start over again and shape our own circumstances.
For the actual recording, I worked with a longtime friend, producer, and engineer extraordinaire, Gregg Leonard at Big Sky Studio in Ann Arbor, Michigan. I had recorded an EP with him (Stranger Land, 2007 available on itunes) previously after living in Michigan, and found that he really understood my vision for the album. He could see what I saw (and in some cases, a lot of other things) in my scratchy cassette tape recordings and made them come alive the way that I always hoped they would. Plus, we got to work with some great studio musicians and friends along the way, all who contributed tremendous skill and musicianship and creativity to the process.
Since this is a gig preview, can you discuss your approach to playing live, maybe a little about how you hooked up with Nick and what folks can expect when you perform together?
What's great is that Nick represents a much different aesthetic than my own. Whereas I tend to be more of a perfectionist, trying to make sure that everything sounds as good as it can, Nick has a much different, much grittier approach - one that's more defined by the sheer spirit of playing. So, where I envision recording in pristine studios and playing gilded theaters and on hilltops in Iceland, Nick is playing a juke joint in the south with a 2 string cigar box guitar and a slide, drinking jug wine and singing spirituals into a megaphone. I like to think that we both rub off a little bit onto each other, though - the result being that, at least for me, I get to be less of a perfectionist and just get to play for the joy of playing on a stage in front of people. On a song or two, I even get to try my hand at the cigar box guitar.
Lastly, can you talk about approach to songwriting, and then beyond that what you hope to accomplish in your musical career?
Typically, I'm very disciplined in my approach to songwriting. I've written almost 250 now and they all go through a fairly rigorous writing process, from trying to capture that first moment of inspiration to the first and second rewrite to the final version. As soon as I think that an idea in one of my notebooks (which are everyday college ruled notebooks scribbled with black ink) is ready - which is to say, assigned a number and input into my laptop (I just finished up song #248 called "Monument" for my full band project, Magnolia) it then becomes a permanent collection to my catalogue. From there, unless it's one of those songs that just comes all at once as a fully articulated thought (as often the best ones are), it either stays put until I'm ready to record it, or undergoes an intensive set of rewrites - which can range anywhere from replacing a line or two to scrapping the entire set of lyrics and rewriting them from scratch.
Whatever the case may be, for the time being, my goals for this album and my musical career are simple - just do the best I can to get it into as many people's hands as possible and see what they think. I've been doing this for a long time now, quietly handing it out to friends and family, diligently working on new ideas, and thinking about how people might respond, but I'm ready to actually share it - with whomever is willing to listen. I put so much into it, I'd love to be able to take it somewhere - maybe even beyond my small studio space in Somerville, MA. And if I'm lucky, maybe that gilded theater isn't entirely out of the question either.