Hi Rich, how are you? First of all, thanks a lot for doing this interview with us. How did you begin your journey towards becoming a musician?
Thanks for interviewing me. I hope your audience will be interested and want to know more about me and my music.
I wanted to play the guitar from watching Johnny Cash and Glen Campbell on the TV when I was a little kid. Real big heroes. I’ve always been interested in songs from a very young age. My parents had Beatles and Merle Haggard records in the house and 8 tracks in the car, and show tunes records like My Fair Lady. What made me very interested in songs especially was the songs of Jacques Brel. The folks had a copy of the original cast recording of Jacques Brel Is Alive And Well And Living In Paris. I played that record constantly. His songs went far deeper than anything I had ever heard.
I started writing songs in 1985. I was looking for a medium to work in. I drew a bit, I wrote bad poetry, but then I started with songs and it seemed to click. My friends had a weekly cabaret show on the campus of The University of Chicago, and they always had an opening act. I wanted to be an opener but the required that the opener do original material, so I had to write to get the gig.
The characters that inhabit my songs are usually somewhat unaware of their own motivations or the way they are really perceived in the world.
How would you describe yourself and your music style to someone who has never heard your music before?
I’m a generous and very lucky guy who loves listening to, learning about, sharing, and creating real songs. The style of my songs is acoustic folk-rock, or urbane folk, or acoustic rock. I’m a singer-songwriter and the style of each song varies greatly based on what the story calls for. On my album “Life Aint That Long”, styles vary from blue-eyed soul and R&B to Americana, to punk to pop to gospel. My songs are a reflection of my life and the way I see the world. I’m not into telling you about my feelings, but sometimes I try to show you real feeling in a song. The characters that inhabit my songs are usually somewhat unaware of their own motivations or the way they are really perceived in the world. My songs are engaging I hope, and certainly don’t do what a lot of songs do, which is to massage the listener’s prejudices. At times the songs are funny, but try to draw the listener to a place they have never been.
Did you find it hard to get your sound and identity in music or did it come quite naturally to you?
I listened to every kind of music growing up, and the sounds I look for come from that. It’s pretty natural I think. I sang in churches. Like many songwriters, I started playing guitar seriously (if I’ve ever been serious) in about 1980, learning songs of records in my college dorm room. I was particularly inspired early on by albums by The Clash, Elvis Costello, Billy Bragg and Graham Parker. Particularly Graham Parker. And American records like Tom Waits, early Dylan, Springsteen’s Wild and Innocent record and Joni Mitchell.
I think the sound I hear in my head once a song is done is usually pretty clear, and the trick then is how to make that happen in the studio. The key is to be surrounded by musicians who are much better than you are.
You also won multiple songwriting contests. How did that help you with finding your voice?
Well, this is a new experience for me. For years I’d entered these contests and could be assured of not getting in. used to count on never EVER winning ANY songwriting competitions that I entered. I enjoyed thirty years of repeated failure to support this.
Now apparently I am winning or at least becoming finalists or some such. Not sure what happened. One problem was that I’ve never learned the differences between perseveration and dogged perseverance.
But I’ve been in Kerrville’s New Folk Competition in 2017 and I have been asked back again this year. The contest in Memorial Day. I am also a finalist in the 2018 Songwriter’s Serenade on May 5th in Texas. I was a semi-finalist in the International Songwriter competition.
Getting into these are validating that someone is getting my music. And being in Kerrville now twice is a dream come true. I started going there in 1991, and I met people and heard songs that really fundamentally changed my life. It is great to be on stage at Kerrville.
Who are your biggest influencers?
The list is very very long. Jacques Brel, Dylan, Paul Simon, Tom Waits, The Harry Smith Anthology of American music, Burt Bacharach, Elvis Costello, Nick Lowe, Graham Parker, Richard Thompson, Tom Lehrer, and many of my close friends who write songs
What was it like working on your first album? Any obstacles?
Always obstacles. Making and promoting “Life Aint That Long” only cost about as much as owning and operating a rather large yacht. But I enjoyed the process, except for when my first producer quit all of a sudden. It helps to work with really good people. I met and exceeded almost every goal I had for this album. I actually made a real record. The sound on it is great, even if you don’t dig the songs. I made it with my friends. And it’s garnering some attention, and rave reviews.
Are you releasing any new project soon? Anything you can tell us?
We are already about a third of the way through of recording the next album, which as yet is untitled. I hope it will be out in early 2019. I think its gonna be a single but very long CD, the equivalent of a short two LP record. It will feature both older songs of mine and new ones. Again the styles vary greatly, even ranging as far as the music of India. Some of the songs will be stripped down, and some dressed up big.
Can you walk us through your creative process a little bit?
We work in a digital studio because editing is faster, more flexible, and cheaper than on tape. I come in with the songs, and we record the guitar and drums, then start overdubbing other instruments on top. Again the song dictates the style and the arrangement. There is no real organized plan, new ideas present themselves as we move through the recording. And I really like working with friends. Sometimes there is a difference of opinions which I think is good. ON the first record, on the song “Then Jessica Smiled” I came in thinking it was a sort of Tom Petty or Bruce Springsteen song, but the producer wanted to go more Phil Spector/ Brian Wilson. I think it kind of a good amalgam of all of these sounds and improves the record.
What do you think of the music industry nowadays? Any advice you can give to other up and coming artists?
I think the music industry is an unholy monstrous mess and has little to do with music. People who were in charge of it before, even if they were mostly in it for the money and fame, they LOVED and were passionate about music. Now it is only about marketing. Unless the artist is extremely well established, can the artist make anything resembling their own vision? That is very different than in the sixties and seventies.
Advice: Listen to your own ideas AND listen to friends you trust, at least the ones who know what they are talking about. Listen to as much music as possible, have strong opinions, find great models, know the literature and remember it is not about the destination it’s about the journey.
What’s in store for 2018? Do you plan on touring?
I’m in these two pretty big deal songwriter competitions in May. The 2018 Songwriter Serenade in Moravia Texas, and the 2018 Grassy HIl Kerrville New Folk Competition in Kerrville Texas. I can’t wait.
I’m also working on my second as yet untitled album. I’m hoping to set up a one or twice a month regular ongoing gig in Chicago starting in the late summer, and hopefully, do 2-3 short tours in the states per year. I’m hoping to play in the UK and EU in 2019, as I’m getting what appears to be a lot of airplay there.
Anything you wanna share with us and the fans?
I want to thank you and your audience for this terrific opportunity and I hope they enjoy the interview and consider checking out my music.