You spent a large part of your life moving around from Michigan to California and now Portland, has shifting around the country inspired your work?
I really didn't move very much. Though I was born in Michigan, I spent most of my childhood and young adulthood in one place--Northern California--moving to LA and San Diego after college to work in radio. Now that I am a touring musician, I think I have become more peripatetic, nomadic, and more apt to pick up and move or try living in a new city for long stretches. The road sort of does that to you--makes you more adept at change, more flexible, less high-maintenance, more of a boy scout.
You have dabbled into everything from musical theater to comedy and you have been making a career out of playing indie rock. Is it something about the genre that allows you to have your greatest platform?
Performing onstage allows me to synthesize all of those creative pursuits, yes. I don't know how I ended up being a songwriter and a singer--it certainly wasn't in my plan. I always wanted to be an actress or a cast member on SNL when I was a kid, but as I grew and accumulated bits of this and that and formulated my identity, the songs and the poems and the melodies just began to form, and that became the chief pursuit. Without an audience or feedback from outside, however, I wouldn't have decided to do it full time. It just happened to be the thing that really took on a life and force of its own. My hobby of playing coffee shops with a handful of songs turned into garnering a real following which turned into recording an album which turned into a career. Years later, here I am with 3 albums, an EP, some singles, and my livelihood in music. It's wild, but it's where I'm supposed to be.
You were also a DJ at one point, what were some of your favorite records and artists to spin?
I always got excited playing Nirvana's Aneurysm at top volume alone in the studio on my first few months in radio doing overnights. That was exciting. It was always fun getting to play bands I thought deserved more of a spotlight on commercial radio--bands I was personally a fan of like Spoon, Liz Phair, LCD Soundsystem or local bands when I hosted the local show on FM94/9 in San Diego (Swim Party, Hot Snackes, Beehive & The Barracudas, Louis XIV, Jason Mraz, Tristan Prettyman, Greg Laswell, Steve Poltz).
From the multiple areas and backgrounds that you come from, are there any that you would like to revisit?
I'd like to spend more time in Russia. I'd like to get more in touch with my Russian Jewish roots and go to Israel. I'd love to visit my cousins in England and Buenos Aires, and I'd love to go to Ireland. My grandmother to whom I relate very much--a full-time musician her entire life--was Irish, funny, quick, hard-working, and gracious. I'd love to go to Ireland and explore that side of my family's history.
Your new album, Felony Flats, hears you taking a different tone in your music. What was the main inspiration for the new album?
I was heavily inspired by Portland, Oregon where I went to write for a few weeks. I fell so in love with the city, the weather, the pace, and the people, that I stayed and made a home there. All of the songs from the album were written during that time of moving away from Los Angeles and moving to Portland, so there are a lot of themes of transition, breakups, darkness, mystery, romance, and growing up. Portland is a unique city--its slogan is keep Portland weird--and I liked how it made its way into the album.
What does the title of the record, Felony Flats signify?
Felony Flats is a casual term for a certain area of Portland. I heard someone use the term, referring to a part of town which I had at the time assumed was a less affluent part of town. It struck me as a funny--almost cute--name for a "bad" part of town. I liked the alliteration of the title and thought it would make a good album title. The title track "Felony Flats" talks about having to face the dark parts in all of us in order to move forward.
"you can't begin / until you can face / what's at your back
what's at your back? Felony Flats"
Three albums in, do you find yourself at a loss for words in terms of things to talk about?
Surprisingly, no. I am lucky to be a fairly curious person, so I'm always keeping my ear to the ground about what others are doing or feeling, so even if I'm unable to mine my own life for stories, I can rely on those of others.
Your songs are very autobiographical and very introspective. When you are performing these songs in front of a room full of strangers, do you find yourself revisiting these situations in your mind? Is it hard to revisit some of them?
Sure, I do. It helps to be able to transmit the feelings to the audience if you can revisit the frame of mind you were in when you wrote the thing. But no, it's not hard. It feels cathartic in some way, and I'm always hoping to get even deeper into that old feeling when I'm singing the song.
Your songs have been heard on nearly every major TV show from Grey’s Anatomy to United States of Tara to Real World to Gossip Girl, The Vampire Diaries, and Supernatural. Do you still get excited hearing your music used in such a fashion?
The best--and maybe the rarest--thing to come out of your song being used in a movie or a TV show is when both things (the song and the visual image / show / movie) become better because of the influence of the other thing. For instance, when Grey's Anatomy used so much of Miss Halfway in the season finale it made the song more poignant, and the song, similarly, made the show more so. When that happens, it's really a bonus.
Your touring schedule for the last few years seems to have had you all over the place. Between that and recording, do you find time for yourself?
You steal moments to yourself on tour but they are so few and far between. It's like that Louis CK joke where he talks about how little time parents get to themselves and how the trip from putting your kid in the seat on one side of the car to the driver's door is like a vacation! On tour there is very little time for yourself, so you just take it when you can, on a rare afternoon off or for a few minutes meditating in the morning.
Otherwise, Portland has become a little Shangri-la for me. I get recharged there and it's a 180 from touring life, which is what I need right now. I have a compost bin and a garden. I have access to anything my healthy, California-hippie raised heart could possibly desire at my fingertips: acupunturists, massage, naturopaths, gluten-free bakeries, farmers markets and co-ops. It's heaven for someone like me.
What do you do in your downtime?
My ideal day would probably involve being on foot all day. I'd go have a gyrotonic session with my teacher Jessica Talisman (www.levityboard.com), meet Eux Autres singer Heather Larimer for coffee at Extracto in NE, have band practice in SE, walk to the co-op, get groceries, see a movie with my director friend Scott Coffey, and cook dinner at my house for friends.
What is the one thing you have to have on the road with you when you are traveling?
Since I'm often helping tour manage and I'm writing a lot these days (for Artist Direct and Huffington Post), I'd say I couldn't go anywhere without my MacBook, my iPhone, and my Square attachment (for credit card purchases at the merch booth).
Since I have a gluten-allergy and meals on the road are unpredictable, I try to keep always have gluten-free snacks or nuts on hand, too.