For starters, what bands were you a part of prior? How long has this band been around?
I’ve been in a few bands before, and no one will have ever heard of them. I’ve engineered and produced a number of albums for others in many different genres ranging from classical to rock to jazz to “World” music. For some reason, some well-known jazz guys like me, and I’ve been able to work with David Liebman, Joe Lovano, Billy Hart, Jack DeJohnette, Dave Holland, Mike Stern, John Abercrombie, and so on.
I’ve been playing my original music with various backup bands since I was 15, but starting around 2002 in Nashville everything became much more serious. My current band lineup (Jess Gaze - bass and JR Viers - drums) have been with me for a few years now. They put in a ton of work on the songs, which require a fair amount of music-memory and execution. Brian McRae, who helped me record drums on many of the songs, jumps in occasionally.
What are the main themes or topics for most of your songs and do you think these topics will change over time?
Lyrics rarely come easily for me. As far as lyrical material, I just try not to repeat myself. In my mind, songwriting is about saying something familiar in a unique way, or saying something unique in a familiar way. I guess it’s probably a good idea to use clever rhymes (but not TOO clever). I like to take the perspective of someone else. On the upcoming record, I have an angry song about an ex called “Vampyr” because she just sucks.
I have a song from the perspective of a serial killer/stalker that also uses lines from “Casablanca” called “Here’s Looking at You”. “Burn” started as a wedding song, but I thought it might be an interesting twist to portray someone who is unsure and a bit sad about the whole thing. The lyrics on the single “Stand By” merge a failing relationship with a bad air travel experience. Just about every songwriter has a sensitive ballad called “Butterfly” so I have one of those too.
What bands are currently inspiring the music that you’re making?
I wear my influences on my sleeve. Inspiration certainly comes from the “staples”: Beatles, Zeppelin, Queen - interesting because THOSE bands had such varied influences. I could list many other groups that inspire me - Cheap Trick, Foo Fighters, Stone Temple Pilots, a guy named Butch Walker. I also dig into obscure bands such as Jellyfish, Owsley, Bleu, Earth to Andy, and Crack the Sky. I spent my childhood listening to 70s “light rock” such as the Eagles, Seals and Crofts, America, and James Taylor. My mom played Roberta Flack and Judy Collins LPs all the time. I lost my mind over KISS when I was very young.
Then there was AC/DC followed by 80s rock (Def Leppard, Great-White-Lion-Snake, Van Halen, Iron Maiden, Judas Priest, and all the silly “hair bands”). I should admit I secretly loved 80s pop from Bryan Adams to the Go Gos. I never liked Metallica or Madonna. I loved the Police. I nerded out to Rush. I still hate what I call “english-deep-voice-guy synth pop” and I loved the Cars and Tears for Fears. I never understood Kraftwerk, Violent Femmes, or anything that Rolling Stone magazine writers thought was cool. Please understand I’m not commenting on what is “good” and what is “bad” here, just what I personally liked and what I think may have informed me.
Was there a particular band/artist or concert that inspired you to start a band?
The Beatles and KISS. KISS was my first concert ever and I was actually knocked off of my seat from volume, fire, and explosions. I never stopped listening to The Beatles. At some point, I saw a re-run of their first Ed Sullivan performance and thought “I’d like to make people scream and cry too”. My first band was with my friends - we had badminton rackets with cardboard cutouts in the shape of guitars taped on them.
The drummer set up a bunch of Tide boxes to beat on. Then, from an LP player, we played “Destroyer” followed by “Meet the Beatles” and jumped around while pretending to play and sing. Of course, we couldn’t jump around TOO much because the LP would skip. We “performed” like that in front of our elementary school for our first “concert”. Everything was downhill from there because ACTUALLY playing in a band completely sucks in comparison!
What do you do to prepare for a show? Any flexing, exercises, ect …
I’m in what I call the “bush leagues” of rock, so I have to run around and do a bunch of things before a show. I’m usually stressing about a “run-and-gun”-style setup. I’m typically already physically tired from the drive, load-in, and setup, and the intense weeks of individual and band rehearsal, and then any last-minute music or technical additions. Waahh and boo hoo for the musician who gets to play his own music on his own terms! I actually do try to over-drink long before show day so that I have a chance of still being hydrated by the end of the show. Rock-making is hard work! Fun, though. I really should flex and exercise in general. Perhaps some “deep knee rock squats” as Tenacious D says. Paul McCartney is doing something right in regard to show preparations - he is 75 years old, plays for 3 straight hours night after night and I’ve never seen him drink a sip of water during a show. I should do whatever he is doing. I really hate all vegetables, though.
What has been the biggest highlight of your musical career so far?
I’ve had a few affirmations from some of my heroes: David Liebman played on one of my recordings and just recently said I was a “good cat”. Dick Brewer, my childhood piano teacher, told me that I was one of his best students. Tony Lopacinski, Kevin Murphy, and Andy Waldeck (form Earth to Andy) have performed my music with me. I once did an open-mic night in Nashville and went on right after Mindy Smith and right before surprise guest Keith Urban … quite the humble John sandwich filled with self-loathing and feeling insignificant! I know those things may not sound like memorable highlights to anyone else, but they keep me going.
If you could tour with any bands, past or present, who would they be and why?
I’d like to do a nice tour (with busses and drivers!) with a crappy middle-aged band who would be popular enough to draw an audience, but not TOO popular and not overly talented … so that I have a chance of holding my own! Seriously, if I’m being honest, I would want to go out with a band or artist that would kick my ass (not very difficult) and who might also take a little time out of their own stressful tour schedule and personal lives to help me develop. I want to hear all the great stories too. How about a slot opening for living legend Robert Plant? He seems like he would be perfect.
Is there anything else you would like to add?
Streaming is a really great deal for the consumer. Downloads are a bit better for artists and still a great deal for the consumer. Of course please go and buy your Taylor Swift and Metallica stuff, and don’t forget about all the “dinos” out there (Eagles, Yes, Fleetwood Mac, Queen, Steely Dan, etc.) … but also, if possible, please consider helping us “little guys” and just see if you can get into what we are doing, too! Thanks!