Congratulations on the success of your latest CD, 6 Spoons of Honey. Does releasing a CD become easier knowing a certain number of copies will sell because you have a larger fan base?
Thanks. Yeah, it’s a slow build. Each CD that makes its way out into the world (if it’s somewhat well received) does in some way pave the way for the next one, though it’s not always linear. Big Red Sun did really well on KFOG (San Francisco's big AAA station), for example, but not so much with the latest one. On the other hand, we got some new radio play around the country that we didn't get with Big Red Sun. I think artistically, there was a nice progression between these two CDs so that people who bought and liked Big Red Sun seem to be responding very well to the new one.
With this record and with Big Red Sun you retained the services of the remarkable producers, Jon Evans and JJ Wiesler, yet most of the musicians are different. What criteria do you use when selecting musicians for your projects?
Good question. To a large degree the personnel is driven by what's needed (i.e., what the instrumentation is for each song), but also, just practically speaking, who is available. Getting Scott Amendola on drums is a coup for anyone doing what I do. But I also had the chance to use some great new players as well that I hadn't recorded with, like Ysanne Spevack, who is an amazing violinist. Julie Wolf has played on a lot of my stuff over the years and she makes a cameo as well. I like to work with people who bring in their own ideas because often I just have a vague sense of what I want, and I need to hear a few directions before I know what's working.
So do you and the producer go into the studio with a rough sketch of each of the songs and then bring in the appropriate musicians to add in their specialties? Do you often find that these top shelf musicians take your music to an undiscovered and rewarding level?
The songs are usually fully realized when they get to the studio in terms of chord changes, lyrics, etc. But the arrangements (i.e., how and where the various instruments come in and what they say) is something I leave a lot of latitude for, and it’s where I let the producer and musicians work their art. Then I make the final decisions after hearing various approaches. Certain tracks lend themselves to fairly straightforward arrangements (e.g., “As Long As You Come Home” and “Six Inch Wall”), while others get flipped on their heads (e.g., “Love After All” and “Less Seriously”), because the musicians and/or producer do something amazing and I say, "Lets explore that!"
In the past you allocated a substantial amount of time writing music for film and TV. How has this business progressed for you since last year’s release of Blood Makes the Green Grass Grow?
Yes, I’ve been doing a lot of that lately. It’s how I'm paying my bills now. A little over a year ago, I co-founded a collective called Pollen Music Group. My three partners (one of whom is JJ Wiesler) are incredible musicians and producers who have toured the world with David Bowie, Billy Joel, and Chaka Kahn, scored for Pixar, and even set up recording studios in Cambodia to record Khmer traditional music. We just did the score for the new HBO series "On Freddie Roach" about the famous boxing coach. It’s been extremely gratifying making music with, and learning from these guys.
Last year when you fell down a staircase you commented, “I may have written the whole thing [6 Spoons of Honey] while airborne above my staircase.” Has your outlook on life or what you write about changed based on that experience?
Well, I'd like to say I've learned to be more careful, but my body kind of insists on doing its own thing most of the time. I recently had another bad tumble and herniated a disk pretty badly. Problem is, I have a teenager's brain in an approaching-middle-aged body. I still feel indestructible, so I bound up and down staircases in my socks instead of walking. Has it changed what I've written about? Not really. I've kind of prided myself on not using the word "I" too much in my music. I've tried to be the type of songwriter who holds the camera to the world, rather than always turning it back on myself. That said, there is no way to not filter one’s impressions and experiences of the world, so to some degree, it’s inevitable that it shaped me.
My fall and subsequent broken l3 was bad and I couldn't hold my infant son for three months. But I think my outlook on life and songwriting has changed a lot more by bigger tragedies that may not have touched me directly, but that I can relate to as a father (e.g., the song "Day At The Sea" was written for a young boy who died at age three from AML Leukemia).
As a songwriter selling music on iTunes, what are your thoughts on the passing of Steve Jobs?
I just read that recent biography of Jobs and I came away from it thinking two things: (1) I would have likely despised him had we ever met and (2) I'd never buy a non-Apple. The guy was a genius, no question, and I respect what he created and his dedication to his craft. iTunes has been tremendous for me, as has CD Baby (which is my conduit to iTunes). Pandora has been even better, because people hear my music there and then navigate over to iTunes.
What impact has Facebook or other social media had on the promotion of 6 Spoons of Honey ?
I honestly don't think I'm using Facebook and other social media to their full advantage. In the last few years, I've started really backing off the hard sell approach to my music. I did that [type of promotion] when I first started. I think it backfires. You end up spending lots of time doing everything but making music. I do announce my shows on Facebook and did a post when the CD came out, as well as when something cool happens, like a licensing placement, etc.
With 6 Spoons, I hired an excellent boutique radio promoter…. We got the CD spun on about 25 or 30 AAA stations around the country. While they were working, I was making more music! I've also just hired a team in the UK for radio promotion there, so hopefully the BBC2 will respond. That's how I like to do it now. Facebook is kind of a dead-end for me at this point as a promotional tool. I try to use it just to stay abreast of what my friends are doing.
What other projects are you working on this year?
I'm extremely excited about a new Americana rock band I've formed called The Lemon Hammer. We are just finishing up an EP which we will release at the Freight and Salvage in Berkeley [California] on June 14th. This band is really fun and high-energy. We all write songs and we all sing, and I'm playing electric guitar which is super fun for me. I love being a member of a band, not just a singer-songwriter who has a band. I'll be posting some tracks on my website soon.