“Connecting with people is the part I love most about playing music. I want to make the most of singing, writing and making records. The goal is to make songs that people care about and that carries over to the performance when I play them live. I try to shake every hand after a show. There are a million other things people could do or they could stay home and watch Netflix, so I don’t take it for granted when they come to see me. Understanding that was a big step for me.
Being solo artist can be a lonely profession. It is a lot of windshield time with your thoughts, listening to music or doing the business of music. It is a full-time job outside of performing. Booking and driving alone seven hours a day to gigs gets rough and I don’t do a good job of letting it go. A few months ago, I went to the beach with my wife and chilled out and read a book and thought I should do that more often, but I am constantly driven by whatever is next. The first thing I do when I get home from a tour is laundry and knock out chores. Anything to get acclimated to home life, which I really enjoy. I have been married about 8 months.
I made a mixtape for all of the wedding guests and it was perfect with Simon and Garfunkle, Emmylou, the Beach Boys, Billie Holiday, Sam Cook, Percy Sledge, Joe Cocker, Townes van Zandt and John Prine. I love making mix tapes and one of my favorite parts of making an album is sequencing.
I recently started running. I had back problems and had never exercised. I now run three miles a day and then get on the elliptical machine and the Stairmaster. I have lost 23 pounds since January. My diet has also improved because it is hard to burn 700 calories and I don’t want to eat it all back. My motivation is listening to a classic album for the first time when I run. If I like it, I buy the vinyl. I discovered Curtis Mayfield when I was running.
I just recorded a new album and it is being mastered. I took 23 songs into the studio and we did 11 that fit well together. I got a little insane and started going into another space with my music and thought of the album as a whole instead of individual songs. Musically, everything is connected through key changes or percussion. A musical thread ties the album together. I listened to a lot of jazz last year and it was new to me. I also listened to a lot of Brian Wilson and side two of Abbey Road. It all comes out in my album. It hit me that I only have so many shots at making albums, You never know if you get to do a next one. I hope this career exists for the rest of my life. but there is no guarantee. The best part of making an album is getting a song to the way I hear it in my head. I surround myself with musicians who are capable and know what I am going for. Two years from now there won’t be a chance to redo anything. I have to make sure I am proud of it before it is released.
I write lyrics into my phone and they go on and on. I delete the ones that are really bad until it gets to the point where some thoughts work well together because I was probably in the same headspace. Once they start to gel, I try to get to the heart and the real meaning of what I was trying to say. There has to be a specific reason for writing the song and I try to write the rest of the song around that reason.
Some songs have the power to pull me in still, sometimes when I don’t expect it. Last night I played ‘Red Bank Road’ and it made me almost tear up and I wrote that song when I was 19. Sad songs are an easy way to connect with people. It is harder to connect with hopeful songs, but I am trying. However, there are three death songs on the new record. Buy it was a time of losing friends of family and last year we lost music heroes Guy Clarke, Merle Haggard and so many more. It was a rough year.
There are several songs I don’t play because I know what they will do. I pull one out occasionally and realize why I don’t play it because the put me in a headspace that I shouldn’t be in. But that is what happens when you are sincere and mean what you do and are try to connect with people. It’s not bullshit. It is easy to write a bad song. It is harder to write a thoughtful song that works. Listeners see through you. Success for me is having a steady career even if it is just in the Americana world and people like me for the records I want to make. Maybe that is idealistic but I don’t want to get to the next level singing something I don’t want to sing because you have to sing that song forever.”