If you were to write an introduction for your new single “Please! Please! Please!” before it aired on the radio, what would you want listeners to know about the song?
Being totally honest… I wrote this song while sitting in a jail cell and I was thinking about “Oh Brother Where Art Thou, I am a man of constant sorrow.” It was kind of a “come to Jesus” moment where I said: “Lord, if you get me out of this, I promise I will never be naughty again.” During the recording process, my producer (Mark “Mooka” Rennick), felt that my bluegrass vibe brought this to life with the three-part vocal harmonies of the chorus. The track spotlights the flawless pedal steel and banjo work of Hillary “Hank” Early (Turnpike Troubadours).
6 Things You Don’t Know About Me:
A groupie who followed jam bands in a 1978 lime green Volkswagen Microbus to becoming a popular radio personality (known as ‘Stoney’ on 95.3 KPND). What was your favorite artist interview from your days as a radio personality and how did your experience as a DJ prepare you for interviews on the other side of the mic?
My favorite interview was with Ingrid Michaelson. She had just released “Be Okay” which became a hit, and I loved it. I listened to the whole album. I loved everything about her. I had a secret crush on her, and it was a bit obvious because I played cuts from her album on air several times over–while “Be Okay” was already in rotation four or five times a day. (I got a call from the boss about that too. lol) When the program director asked me to do the interview, I was beside myself. I was really nervous and worked hard to prepare. The interview went great. It was really fun and corky. At the conclusion of the interview I said, “Ingrid Michaelson, I have one more question before we go. Will you marry me?” Of course, she said “no!” It was worth a try, and we got a giggle out of it. LOL
I think in all my experiences of being an on-air FM radio DJ, prior to becoming a professional recording artist/singer-songwriter, helped me to learn that when being interviewed from this side, that having a fun, light, corky, airy attitude and keeping things positive is important. Working to make a connection with the person who is interviewing with you, prior to the interview, really helps to create a space for an early friendship and a freer conversation; it becomes just two friends having a chat. So, if you have the opportunity before you go on air, research, or ask the person interviewing you some things about themselves. Those were always my favorite interviews when I had a connection before we even started. (Which was easy with Ingrid Michaelson because I already had a crush on her… LOL)
Drawing inspiration from an eclectic range of artists including The Grateful Dead, Bob Dylan, Pearl Jam, Blind Melon, Waylon Jennings, Johnny Cash, Sturgill Simpson, Billy Strings and Phish. What do you draw from each of your musical influences and how do you translate your musical inspirations into your own signature style?
I was raised in a very religious home. When my parents met, my dad had this amazing record collection of classic rock. Before the wedding, my mom made my dad get rid of his Led Zeppelin and Alice Cooper albums, and any music she considered too heavy! So, when it came to rock music, I was sheltered. At 19-years-old, I didn’t know what Bluegrass music was. I heard Phish perform Bluegrass cover songs (like Ginseng Sullivan, Rocky Top and Nellie Kane) — the classic old-time Bluegrass songs, but with drums, electric guitar, and keys. I thought that was Bluegrass music. I started writing what I thought were Bluegrass songs; I later realized Bluegrass has no drums, is all acoustic and usually traditional Bluegrass music is performed around a single mic.
All of the music I listened to over the years has influenced me. When I’m looking for inspiration, I’ll put on the music that I love—like a Johnny Cash or Billy Strings album. I get inspiration driving in the car listening to FM radio and will get great song idea just by listening. The other day, I was working on a concept for a song about a character I created named Mickey Finn (Huck Finn’s long-lost brother). I turned to Sturgill Simpson’s “The Ballad Of Dood and Juanita” for inspiration!
Your lyrics have been influenced by songwriters like Ingrid Michaelson and Jack Johnson. What is it about their writing style that you are drawn to? How has music overall influenced your life?
Music has a way of changing or setting my mood in most situations or circumstances; and I’d say for most people, this is true as a testament that what you’re listening to affects and helps create who, what you are and how you feel.
They say “you are like the five people that you surround yourself with the most.” I think the same is true with the music that we listen to. If you’re constantly listening to upbeat positive lyrics, you’ll emulate that positivity.
I was in a class with my songwriting coach, Andrea Stolpe, recently and she brought this interesting data to the class. It was about the different musical genres and what kind of people listen to music variations. The data went as deep as to say: people that listen to heavy metal, wear dark clothes; and people that listen to bright upbeat music are likely to be funky and colorful. (That’s me!)
I’m personally drawn to lyrics that are a bit more bubbly and positive and have a clear message to relay that things are going to be okay. The realization is, if things aren’t okay, maybe you need to play a different tune.
If you’re going through a break-up, you’re going to turn up the break-up songs. If you just got a promotion, you’re going turn up a tune that helps to celebrate. For me, this works in all areas of my life.
I remember as a young man, we would be headed to the ski resort and as we got closer to the ski slopes, we’d ramp up what we were listening to–music that was upbeat and fast because we were about to get our adrenaline on. Similarly, at a wedding (for example), you want to have a nice string quartet or soft piano; you want the music to feel calm and you want to feel love. (You wouldn’t play Wu-Tang while you walk down the aisle, right?)
Music plays a part, and influences, every corner of my life. It helps to support and even control my emotions. I’ve seen the studies where they put a note of music to a steel plate that’s flat and covered in sand. The sand makes these beautiful patterns based on the notes. They say that going to a big concert where music is being played, the molecules of all those in attendance are moved in those directions all at the same time and so it’s no wonder everyone is feeling the energy.
The feeling that I get from the music is more than I can get from drugs and alcohol.
Transformative power of music – with themes of sobriety and newfound clarity. What songs (your own or recorded by other artists) would make your “transformative power of music” playlist and why?
“I Can See Clearly Now, The Rain Is Gone” by Sam Cooke. It’s an oldie but a goodie and the song comes to mind right away. We can say rain is a metaphor for anything (from drugs and alcohol to a lover or loved one lost), anything that was once influential is now out of the way and your path becomes clear again.
My new album, Gambling Man (due out April 2024), has a lot of recovery and new found clarity. The songs on the project are about my life leading up to now, and the times that I had moments of clarity and thought about living a better life. The lead track, “Please! Please! Please!,” for instance, is a song that I wrote while I was in jail pleading with my higher power that if you just let me out, I promise I’ll be good. The song “Sometimes” is all about recovery. I wrote “Sometimes” during one of the many times I tried to get sober. A fan favorite, “Wade In The Water,” is a baptismal song about renewal, love and feeling good in your own skin.
A lot of the bands that are in my Top 10 all-time favs started their careers in music with drugs and alcohol as the “wingman,” and now they have some semblance of sobriety or newfound clarity. They’re either not using like they were or they’re clean and sober, and their music has changed. The music has become more positive and the messages clearer. Or it’s changed from a sense of always having a good time to if you take care of yourself, you can live to have a good time!
To me, a good song is an audio picture, a moment in time captured by the writer and brought to life by the musicians. On any musical journey, some kind of growth or evolution of the music and message is inevitable.
You have a love for backcountry skiing and extreme sports. What would someone need to get started in backcountry skiing and what kind of character/gumption does it take to participate in extreme sports?
I’ll tell you this; they call it extreme for a reason. It’s very dangerous.
I would say that extreme sports are a level above professional sports in that I don’t think any professional athlete would participate in extreme sports because of the risk reward ratio.
Example: The risk of getting injured when you’re in the backcountry could take away a professional golfer’s career. Extreme sports are for athletes that are in as good a shape as professional athletes but are crazy enough to do what they dare!
I didn’t start backcountry skiing until I was 26 years old and at that point I had already been participating in winter sports for 14 years. I do backcountry skiing with a snowboard. We go where there are no chair lifts, no ski patrols and a risk of an avalanche does exist. We “ride” down the mountain.
A lot of gear is required as well as a strong will to survive. You must have a homing beacon, a shovel, and an avalanche probe at all times as a requirement. You have to take a class in avalanche survival and snow quality. (It’s serious).
Before we go out into the backcountry, we dig a pit at the top of the mountain to look at the layers of snow and determine how stable it is before we decide if we’re going to risk it. We don’t go if it’s not okay; it is a life-or-death situation. If the danger of an avalanche is high, you don’t go. You have to be very strong mentally and physically. You have to be able to endure the harshest elements and stay positive–it’s a mental game out there. Sometimes, we only get one run a day. It’s really intense but it’s worth it. I have skied some of the best powder the world has to offer.
You have business ventures in Guatemala – own and operate a plant medicine, yoga and art retreat, a coffee company, and a clothing line centered around Lake Atitlan. Plans in the works to open “The Coconut,” hotel and rooftop restaurant, as a sanctuary for creativity and relaxation. What makes For those of us who have never been to Guatemala, what would you tell us as a tour guide to anticipate (weather/sites/people/must-see locations). What makes Guatemalan coffee special?
Coffee from Guatemala is some of the best in the world and the coffee grown around Lake Atitlan is some of the best in Guatemala. Lake Atitlan is a volcano Caldera that blew off 80,000 years ago and is the size of the Yellowstone–super volcano BIG! It slowly filled up with water over time creating a massive lake. The elevation that the bean is grown in has some to do with it as well as the sun to shade ratio and the volcanic soil. There are no nutrients added to the rich soil; it’s naturally organic. The flavor is the best I have found.
Starbucks sells this same bean for $20 for a half pound; so, I decided to bring it home myself.
This is the story…
I went to the five largest coffee producing towns around the lake by boat and found the beans that I wanted from a farming family that I resonated with and made a purchase of 300 lbs. of green coffee beans. I carted the beans to the retreat where we separated the beans into 50 lb. suitcases. (Six pieces of luggage.) We transported the bags by boat and then took a taxi to the airport. We flew the beans home. Of course…customs took us in the back room and read us the riot act, thinking we were up to no good. They scanned our beans and let us on our way.
And… that’s how I started the coffee company!
Now as your Guatemalan tour guide, I’m going to encourage you to go to Lake Atitlan and while you’re there, go to Casa Curativa in the town of Tzununa. Casa Curativa is a plant medicine yoga and arts retreat; I am part owner! I believe in plant medicine. We grow 150 different types of plants on the property, and we turn it into medicine. Everything from antibiotics to anti-anxiety and probiotics, you name it. We have another slow but steady project on the lake; a three-story boutique eco lakefront hotel called the Coconut. The hotel will also be centered around healing, art, and music. It will have a rooftop restaurant.
Can you share 12 songs that have influenced your life and career?
Paul Simon “Kodachrome”
I had to pick a Paul Simon song because I listen to him all the time. His rhythms, his lyrics, and the story of his journey through his recordings make his sound unique. His time in Africa, New Orleans and Memphis, TN stands out to me, and his rich history is part of his great songwriting.
Billy Strings “Watch It Fall”
A sweet song about the duress of the planet. There’s something about singing sweetly about something awful. Watching his career, connecting to the message and the music of this modern Bluegrass act has led me to breakthroughs in my own style in both writing and performing.
John Prine “That’s The Way The World Goes Round”
My foster family turned me on to this elegant folk hero when I was in high school. His entire catalog of quirky positive songs has helped shape my style.
Waylon Jennings “Are You Sure Hank Done It This Way”
Waylon is my hero for telling the country music industry (at the time) that you can’t put him in a box. That has always helped me realize that I can do it my way, and I do!
The Band “The Weight”
These guys were already such good songwriters before they became Bob Dylan’s band.
I often turn to the “Last Waltz” for stylistic inspiration when writing songs.
You can hear their influence in my music.
Just when you think this jam band is too much, they have an easy listening Americana song about swatting flies at the farm! Their music goes from one end of the spectrum to the other and all of the in-betweens. I have followed the band’s career; Phish is a BIG influence on what I write and how I perform.
Jimmy Buffett “A Pirate Looks At Forty”
When I look back at Jimmy Buffett’s career, his journey to get there and his whole story, I see a lot of
similarities to me and my story. My personal motto: “I’m gonna ‘Jimmy Buffet’ my way to my music career!” lol
Bob Dylan “Tangled Up In Blue”
Bob’s entire catalog is a timeless and masterful historical part of American folk and roots Americana music. It has been my “go-to” spring for inspiration and for cover songs that I play solo or with a band.
Grateful Dead “Friend Of The Devil”
The classic two acoustic guitars, mandolin, bass and drums really are the pioneer sound of Americana music. I learned this recently and wondered why I hadn’t before.
Sturgill Simpson “Life Ain’t Fair And The World Is Mean”
This is classic country done right with a contemporary flair. It really makes me wanna write clever songs with all the bells and whistles of classic country.
The Highwaymen “Highwaymen”
I listen to this song and it takes me through time; I feel like I’m there. I can see the story in my mind; it’s really full of imagery.
James Taylor “Fire And Rain”
JT’s songwriting here is moving to say the least. For me, this song is about the struggle and perseverance, and the joy of making it through one more day. My second motto!