(November 19, 2007)
Q: Hello AM, how’s it going?
A: Very well.
Q: Could you tell us a little bit about yourself & your music?
A: Well I was born in Tulsa, OK. My family moved to Mandeville, LA when I was 13. I later moved into New Orleans proper and gained a lot from that experience. After college I decided to give Los Angeles a try and up till that point I was mostly playing guitar in bands. In Los Angeles I really started to refine my songwriting. I made some demos with a guy named Jamie Myerson who I met through Gary Jules at the then newly formed Hotel Cafe. The demos turned into my first record Troubled Times which received a lot of local support in Los Angeles, namely with frequent airplay on KCRW (a tastemaker station in LA) and an award for ‘Best/Singer Songwriter’ from the LA Weekly. After that things really started to pick up.
Q: In 2007, you released your sophomore album Soul Variations. How are the reactions so far?
A: From what I’ve seen pretty good. The people that get it seem to really get it. Sonically it’s more of an understated album with a lot of space. I’d like to think it deals with some complicated issues in an interesting way. It doesn’t seem to be an immediately gratifying record, but rather one that grows on you over time. Those have always been my favorite records to listen to so if I’ve accomplished that with Soul Variations then I’m quite happy.
Q: How would you describe Soul Variations and what are the biggest differences with your debut, Troubled Times?
A: Soul Variations has more of a live feel over all. There are very little overdubs and the record has a lot of space. I did the whole thing on 2-inch tape so the analog nature of the recording gives it a much deeper and richer feel. Musically I feel Soul Variations has a lot more groove to it. I’ve been listening to a lot of jazz, R&B and Brazilian music over the last couple of years. I also produced this album myself. Troubled Times was done in almost the opposite way. It was co-produced by me and Jamie Myerson and he and I played almost every instrument on the album with the exception of the bass. Also many people don’t know this but with the exception of two songs all of the drums on Troubled Times were programmed. I told myself a long time ago that every record I make I am going to take a different approach so taking a live band into the studio seemed like the best way to approach Soul Variations.
Q: What is your favorite song to play live?
A: It changes every few weeks…but I’d say What You Hide (from Soul Variations). It’s simplicity and slight reggae groove are fun to play. It’s also very delicate so people have to be very quiet to hear it. It’s nice to take the room down to where you can hear a pin drop… or if people are talking you can hear EXACTLY what they’re saying. ha ha ha.
Q: How exciting is it to bring out your new songs on the road for the first time? Are you really nervous the first time you play a song live?
A: It’s always a challenge to bring what you’ve recorded and translate that into a live experience. It’s all nervous excitement really. I’m really anxious to see how people respond to the new material. Also most of the touring behind Soul Variations so far has been solo. Given it’s a real full band type of album it’s been a challenge to interpret the songs with just me, an acoustic guitar and some loops and effects. It’s been a great experience to dress up the songs in different ways. When I do have the luxury of bringing the band on the road it’s just ecstatic. Soul Variations has a real groove to it and it’s a blast to play the songs with a full band.
Q: How different is it to play a song live and to record it in the studio?
A: It’s always a challenge. Once you leave the studio you have to figure how you will do things live. Luckily Soul Variations is a very ‘under produced’ album with very little overdubs. It’s simplicity and spaciousness make it easy to translate live with a band. The real challenge is having to play the songs solo on acoustic guitar. That’s when I break out some loops and try and do something completely different with the songs.
Q: When you write your songs, where does your inspiration come from? And do you usually start with the lyrics or with the melody, or is it different every time?
A: I’d say I’m a melody first kind of writer followed by lyrics. But sometimes I’ll get a lyrical idea that will inspire a melody. Inspiration comes from experience, films, other peoples stories, books…it’s everywhere.
Q: Who would you consider the biggest influences on your sound & songwriting?
A: Hmm. That changes all the time. The thing is is what I’m listening to now will ultimately influence my third record. When I wrote Soul Variations I was listening to a lot of R&B, reggae and funk as well as songwriters like Johh Martyn, Neil Young and Nick Drake and bands such as the Beatles and the Byrds. Most everything was from the 60’s and 70’s. I was also getting into Brazilian music quite a bit. Now I’m completely entrenched in Brazilian music as well as obscure Italian soundtrack music from the 60’s and 70’s. I’m also delving into some crazy Turkish psychedelic folk groove. Most of what I’m listening to now has no vocals and if it does it’s in a language I can’t understand. My third record will undoubtedly be my most experimental.
Q: If you could pick one band or musician in the world that you could tour with, who would you pick, and why?
A: Legendary Brazilian songwriter Jorge Ben. He’s one of the greatest songwriters and singers I’ve ever heard and he has mad style. He’s ultimately writes pop songs, but keeps them unique and interesting. He’s not only an amazing songwriter but also a superb singer and musician.
Q: And if you could perform anywhere in the world, where would you really want to go?
A: I really want to go to Brazil. I don’t know too many up and coming musicians such as myself that have ever toured there. I know big acts do, but I’d love to see what the Brazilian club circuit is like. Plus I’m such of fan of Brazilian music it would be a real treat.
Q: What is the best thing about being a musician, and what is the worst thing?
A: The best thing is not having to work a regular job and being able to express yourself for a living. The worst thing is that you never know where the next meal is going to come from. It really is a feast or famine business with no real security.
Q: If you could change one thing in the music industry, what would you change?
A: I’d love to see more people interested in developing artists. Not necessarily labels, but people with money that have an interest in the arts. Most of the best albums in rock music history were not the first album that a band made. It took someone believing in them enough to afford them the opportunity to explore their artistry and develop their craft. Now a musician is lucky to get one record out of a record company.
Ultimately now musicians have to develop themselves and practically run their own business. It’s a real shame because I think the best records will always be made when you have a group of people working together with each person doing what they do best. Let the musicians be musicians, the producer be the producer, the engineer be the engineer, the manager be the manager, the record company be the record company, the video maker be the video maker, etc. etc.
Now many musicians are recording their own albums, making their own videos, taking their own photos (or getting their brother or sister to do it), selling their own merch, driving their own tour van, releasing their own albums, etc. Don’t get me wrong. The industry has left an artist no choice at this point, but it’s still a shame. I really think that if an artist is going to be bogged down with all these other ‘chores’ then the music undoubtedly suffers.
Q: Okay a few random questions now.
Q: Are you a reader? And if so, what do you read? What authors?
A: Yes. The last novel I read was The Moviegoer by Walker Percy which I loved. Lately I’ve been into reading biographies and auto biographies of other musicians. I just finished the new Eric Clapton autobiography. It was really fascinating.
Q: Day or night?
Q: Club venue or arena venue?
Q: CDs or digital music?
Q: Okay, final question. What are your thoughts on people downloading music, both legally & illegally?
A: I think about this every day. I really think downloading is absolutely necessary at this point. But only because the technology demands it to be. We’re in an age where everything is accessible because of the internet. You can hear about more new music faster than ever before and it seems there is more music being produced now than ever before. The only way to keep up with that pace of ‘consumerism’ is to make things available as quickly and immediately as possible.
I do think it’s quite cool that someone can hear your song on TV and then go directly to iTunes and get that song. It really does power the independent musician. But ultimately I feel like I don’t belong in this generation and I generally feel quite exhausted by it all. I like cd’s and records and I hate the word ‘file management’. I hate how dependent we are on technology and I believe it’s continuously creating a more dependent and zombie like society that further divorces us from each other.
When you’re sitting around waiting for the elevator rather than say hello to someone you’re likely buried in your blackberry answering an email. Sorry for the rant.
Thanks so much for the interview, AM. It was a pleasure talking to you!