You have played in a number of bands, what is it like to craft your own song versus doing it with a group?
So many things happen to us in life that we are forced to deal with, that we have no control over. When I write a song, I feel a sense of control and ownership. I’m building a refuge where I can rest comfortably. Whether it’s in nostalgia or the excitement of the unwritten future, it’s the one part of my life in which I can decide how it ends. A blank page and a vague melody can be the start to something that justifies an experience, gives us hope, or lets us appreciate what we have become and how it came to be. From whatever angle, I find it very empowering.
You called your solo debut, “Now is the Time,” is this for any other reason aside from going solo and doing it on your own?
I spent a lot of time in Ecuador over the course of a couple of years. In retrospect, I realize that it was an intermission that I granted myself in a time of my life that I was still trying to figure out where I should be and what I should be doing. My final trip there ended with me on a boat in the jungle asking myself “what now?” I realized that the novelty of this escape had worn off and I should go home and do the one thing I know how to do. Make music. It wasn’t long until I decided to move to Los Angeles.
What is it like to finally be working on your own album?
The album happened accidentally, in a way. After Ecuador, and a few months in a camper van in Washington State, I went to live with my father in Atlanta. He has a beautiful grand piano in his home and I spent a few months playing it. All day, every day. I had been a hired-gun guitar player for years and it was a new adventure for me. It became my preferred instrument for writing. I decided to demo some very loose song ideas on that piano before leaving to LA. While struggling through my first few months in a new town, I listened to those demos and started working out some lyrics, then writing arrangements for other instruments. Eventually, I thought, “This could be something.” So I flew back to Atlanta once everything was written and enlisted the help of some very talented players I knew from my time there. To this day, I am still baffled that it ever came together, and so thankful for those who helped me do it. There is no feeling, that I have yet to know, that rivals the sheer thrill of hearing a finished recording that had started as an idea in my head months, maybe years before.
Like most singer/songwriters, your songs are autobiographical, if there was one track you would say defines you the most, which would it be and why?
"Came back home” is about a three-month period I spent living around Bellingham, Washington. It was there, in a camper van parked in the town of Glacier, at the base of Mount Baker, that I wrote some of my first lyrics. These songs come from late nights in the woods looking back on where I had been, who I had known and left behind, and where I wanted to go. Most of the record deals with this idea of being old enough to realize some of your mistakes and young enough to want more, to still have the strength to go out on a limb and take a chance. All of the songs on the record are somehow related to those feelings.
How would you describe your sound to someone who has never heard of you before?
I spent eight years playing in bands around the southeast. My music is definitely influenced by traditional southern sounds, especially New Orleans style jazz, blues, and gospel. The songs are all auto-biographical and I really try to represent the feeling of the place where those particular stories happened. The end result is somewhere between rolling New Orleans R&B and cinematic pop. My approach to the instrumentation is very much influenced by singer songwriters of the early 70's. I had grown tired of the rock band format and opted for more full orchestration, utilizing both horn and string sections.
Who are some of your influences?
Harry Nilsson. Early Randy Newman. Early Elton John. I love debut albums. In my opinion, a lot of my favorite artists (mostly 70's singer/songwriters) did some of their best work, in their first few records. They seem more honest, more raw, before the record companies got too involved. They focused on a lot of cinematic arrangements, more orchestral stuff. I have taken a lot from some of those records and on "Now is the Time" I really tried to capture some of what made that era such a special time for songwriters.
Most piano driven singer/songwriters always get lumped into the category of Billy Joel, Elton, Ben Folds, etc, how do you differ from that particular style? How has it influenced you, if it has?
I love being a piano man. We are a rare breed these days. Though there are few of us, we are not all the same. The piano is simply a tool for us as songwriters. For me, it is the most effective tool. I can play a guitar backwards and front, but by design, it does not offer the range or flexibility in attack that I need to fully express a lot of ideas. Yes, its at times awkward to sit onstage with a piano or electric piano, and does not allow one to rock out and dance around like a maniac, but thats not what I'm trying to do. I am inviting you in to hear a story, to tell you about something that happened. Because stuff happens to us everyday and if we can talk about it, it makes us feel better.
Being based in LA, how has the city influenced your work?
While a lot of the first record is retrospective, my recent work is more about the future. Through writing and recording "Now is the Time" I reached a certain sense of closure with the wild, young adventures of my early twenties and am thinking more and more about what the future holds. The songs I am writing now are based around a sense of optimism in a new chapter, in a new place.
You come from Indiana and then moved to LA, did the shift in atmosphere change you as an artist?
This is where I first considered myself an artist, not just a musician. LA is a place that people come to looking for something better. I came looking for a better me, to write better songs, to try myself out in this swamp of dreams, in a place where all the craziest people from every small town in America have come to compete in a kind of Mad Max Thunderdome. Growing up in Indiana, moving to Atlanta, and then finally settling into California have all given me a lot. But Los Angeles is by far the most inspiring environment I have yet to experience. I have a feeling I will be staying here for a while.
What prompted the move to LA?
For some reason, I thought that by moving to a new place I would be able to escape the tings that had held me back. I realized though, where ever you go you are there with yourself. There is nowhere you can run from your own limitations. It was good for me to finally realize this as I had tried to run before. This realization, paired with the insanity of LA (make no mistake, it’s an F-ing circus out here) has really influenced my writing.
Bringing out a certain honesty that I was not emotionally equipped top express before being humbled by this strange oasis by the sea.
Even though you are working on your debut, does an artist like yourself still write songs that could appear on that record or be held for another time down the line?
I am writing everyday. Trying to let songs breathe on their own without shaping them into this idea of how I should sound and how I should present myself. The songs dictate who you are. The truth will come through, but you have to let it. I am always trying to get more honest with myself by not trying so hard.
What is next for you this year?
I have a killer group of players who are doing the live stuff with me. We will be keeping pretty busy in and around LA for a while. In the studio, I am working on an EP that will be somewhat different than the full length. We are recording it on a Fender Rohdes, whereas ‘Now is the Time’ was done all on a grand piano. Instead of full instrumentation (strings, horns, rhythm section) the new songs will be a lot more bare bones. They will each feature one accompanying instrument, instead of a whole section. I have enlisted the help of some close friends who work more in the electronic music world and we are toying with some underlying soundscapes, atmospheric stuff. I love the idea of combining traditional songwriting with more modern electronic elements (or as my collaborators call it, IDM, intelligent dance music.)