Wednesday
Jun222011

Mary Gauthier Interview

 

Though Mary Gauthier is reported not to have written her first song till she was 35 she spent the time before that on work experience. In other words her work and life, leading to that point, was full of adventure, misadventure and a little melancholy. Her songs are informed by that life and have the ring of truth that the best songwriting has and are universal in many of their themes, not least, her own story of her adoption and her search for her own birth mother. A story which she has told so well on her current album The Foundling. In person, as onstage, Gauthier is open, honest and charming. We sat and talked before her recent performance in Dublin.
When we last met you played me an song you had just written with Carrie Rodriguez (Absence which was released on her album She Ain't Me).
Yeah, that's right and I just wrote another one with Carrie recently.
Do you still like and seek the co-writing process?
A little bit, I like it. With certain people it works.
 
When you start that process do you have an early sense that it will work?
I have no idea. I never know. 
How does the process usually work?
It's different every time. It's very mysterious really. There's no way I can predict what's going to happen or if anything's going to happen. There's people I've written with who I would have said "that's not going to work in a million years" like Liz Rose. She's only a lyricist and I fancy myself as a lyricist as well. She doesn't play any instruments so why would I do that but it was fantastic working with Liz. I would never have predicted that. Then there are other people whose songs I don't think are the greatest songs in the world but they click with me, then something good happens. It's mysterious ... I never know. I stay open minded about it. You have to go with it.
The Foundling was a very personal album but it must have triggered a response with many listeners.
I had a lot of response. People need to tell their story. All over the world I'm finding that people in an adoption situation, people who have given up a child or those who have lost their parents, at birth or along the way, they need to tell their story. It's a very fundamental human need. 
Have made that album and other albums based on your own story do you have the freedom then to expand away from the personal?
Yeah, I think so. I don't know what's next. I got the song I wrote with Carrie and I'm working on a couple of things. I've been on the road so much that right now that all I seem to be doing is clubs and cars, trains and planes and hotels. I haven't had a real chance to sit down and write but I'm not thinking about that. The way it's always been is one song at a time. Then I see what happens. I don't have an overview I let it happen one song at a time. 
With The Foundling is that the way you wrote it?
I always new there was going to be a time to write a concept record called the Foundling. I didn't know I had started it though in retrospect it looks like Goodbye Could Have Been My Family Name which came out on Filth And Fire CD was the beginning of it. I pulled that in and then I had a couple of songs that I had written that fitted in and then I intentionally tried to write for that concept which was the first time I had ever done that. It was quite a challenge really. 
Did you enjoy the recording with Michael Timmins in Canada?
I loved it. I loved the whole process of working with the (Cowboy) Junkies. Recording with him in his garage studio was great fun and easy. Low stress and he's very calm. I need that as I need to be reassured.
That album was on a new label Razor and Tie. Are you working with them now?
You know I let my manager handle that. I'm lucky to have a good manager so I let him handle that stuff. That stuff makes me crazy. The business part is maddening. 
How is your touring situation these days?
The same. It's always been no easier or harder. It just is. The economy doesn't seem to effect me. I don't have a tour manager. I don't have an entourage. I keep expenses low and make a decent living. I don't notice the big changes out there. I read about it and see them on the news but it's always been about the same for me. There's been the same recession in the States too. The same financial industry collapse. We seemed to have bounced back fairly well now but people are saying it's not stable and people are screaming that it's not sustainable but the life of the troubadour doesn't change much as the same 100 people come to see you in every town and it's never going to be 10,000. Probably never going to be 1000. Where ever I go it's usually between 100 and 500 people. I play, usually, in small theatres and arts centres, basically wherever people sit down and listen. It's for people who listen to words, they save their money to come see you. I'm not going to quit the way I do it because I think it's working. I'm not going to try and make commercial radio songs. I wouldn't know where to begin with that. It's not what I do. But that's how you grow it, by getting a commercial radio hit.
When you come back to Ireland there always seems to be a few more fans here.
There is but it doesn't grow by thousands. It gets bigger rather by dozens (laughs).
Well at least it's growing.
Well it's going the right direction so I'm not going to complain (laughs).
When to you next intend to go into the studio?
The songs have to come first then I'll be able to think about that part. The process is to get ten good ones that I play and if I get a good response then I go make a record. The songs also determine who should produce it. I don't go into a project thinking who the producer should be before I have the songs, it's always after.
Ok, so at what point did you decide that Michael Timmins should produce the album?
I knew it should be minimal. It seemed like it made sense to have a Canadian artist on it. I felt a kinship with Canada at the time and Michael is also an adoptive father. He has two daughters from China and Margo has a son from Eastern Europe. So they understand the story. Also my manager manages the Cowboy Junkies so it was put together and it was easy. 
Did the minimalism of the backing allow you additional scope as a singer?
It allowed me to sing softly and these songs needed to be sung softly. It's a fragile story. 
Although there hasn't been that major breakthrough for Americana there seems to be an audience for the overall genre even if the audience tends to be if a certain age. Do you find that?
I don't know. I just want to connect with the human heart. I don't want to look at people's age or all of the things on the outside. If the audience is listening and appreciating the words and bear with me through the songs that good. I wouldn't want a bunch of younger people coming in and getting drunk and not listening. I 'm just trying to connect with people who will listen. I don't care about age. There's some sort of a spirit that comes through us (songwriters) that connects us. I don't understand it but it's bigger and smarter than us. I just know it's a most important thing. Maybe it is what we are. You feel that pull to that spirit in art. We confuse it with the artist but really it comes through us. Talk to any artist you love and they will mostly tell you the same thing. In that movie Country Strong, which is ridiculous, it's fun to see some friends on the screen but the film is bad. 
We talked about Marshall Chapman who appears in the movie.
Ain't she something. she's a good friend. 
You were doing dates in the past with people like John Prine, do you enjoy that?
Yeah, but I had to slow that down. I'm doing my own thing now. I have toured with Carrie Rodriguez and I'm doing some shows with Lori McKenna - she's amazing - these are singer/songwriters who play the same kind of places that I do. I'm going to play a lot of dates in Canada this summer, from east to west were playing.  As long as the work keeps coming in I'll stay on the road. I've been on the road for a long time (laughs).
While we are speaking Mary's touring partner Tania Elizabeth begins doing the soundcheck in the background.

Do you like touring together?
I like having an accompanist. It's easier and I like having someone doing that shit [the souncheck](laughs). It makes the songs more powerful. The songs that I'm playing now really need that violin sound. She has a cello string, a low C, on her violin and it just adds to it. It increases my ability to connect with people. I love the company. The three of us (including opening act Ben Glover) get along well. We share meals and things and it's really nice. 
In your shows do you ever do cover versions at all?
I don't ever know what I'm going to do. I don't ever write a set list. The big challenge with this job is to stay open. Stay as open as you can without being sloppy. You have to know the words of these things your going to pull out of thin air. The openness is where the beauty can happen. That's where the magic is. I think artists are open in general, open to everything not just to what song to do. I'm in tune with my intuition, my life is run by my knowing and that is something more than my brain. Intellect can confuse me but my gut generally gets it. 
How do you hold a song idea?
I write it down. If you don't write it down you never remember it. I was in Austin two, three weeks ago and my guitar was acting up so I went to the guitar shop and guess who's guitar was getting worked on there. (Mary shows us a picture on her phone of Willie Nelson's guitar Trigger). I got to hold it when I toured with him. The electronics in his guitar were broken, he was on the David Letterman show and it wouldn't work. The only guy who works on it is in that guitar shop in Austin. 
Mary then shows us a file she shot on her phone of a rattle snake with sound.

I was walking on a trail in Nashville a little while ago and I saw this rattlesnake. Isn't that crazy? That sound if you hear it walking you know it, it's a warning sign. Just like when you look at the sky you know a storm is coming. If a tornado is coming everything changes. It happens so fast that by the time you know you better be active.
You're living there now?
Yes, I live in Nashville and when I'm home I try to relax. I have dinners at the house as I don't go out much. 
Anything else planned?
I'll probably go and teach songwriting in Costa Rica, something I've done in previous three or four years. So I'll probably do it again. People come from all over the world. There's usually from ten to twenty people coming for a week. We work on songs with them, help them to improve what they've written. Mostly I try to help people get to their own personal truths. A lot of people don't have the courage to do that but I pull it out of them. I get them to embarrass themselves and that's when it starts to get good. It's painful but they thank me. People want to be told why their songs are not connecting and I can pretty much get to it. They need to reveal a little more and the walls have to come down. You're not a journeyman in any craft unless you've done it for ten years. Everybody thinks they can be Bob Dylan right off but it takes time. There's people who showed me the way like John Prine certainly, Steve Earle, Hank Williams, Harlan Howard, for sure. I like country and folk, I like them both a lot. 

 

 

Wednesday
Jun222011

Saturday
Apr302011

Tom Mason on Pirates and steering The Blue Buccaneer

 

Tom, you had a track on your last album Pirate Song so I assume that  the theme was something that you wanted to explore further and that you have an interest in.

I wrote Pirate Song after a few tours of the Virgin Islands with Last Train Home and a band called the Big Happy. I thought  I needed a pirate song, and so I found some glossaries on the internet, including talklikeapirate.com, and wrote a drinking song using all the terminology I could find. 

Not long after I wrote it I was cast in the national tour of the Broadway musical Ring of Fire: The Music of Johnny Cash. The sixteen member cast, a mixture of musicians and actors, would gather in hotel rooms for late night, post-show jam sessions, and Pirate Song was always a big hit. My cast-mates convinced me to start writing a musical, and I began devouring all the books and source material I could find. As I wrote more and more songs for the project I realized how much fun they’d be to play with a band.

These are all original songs that you have written for the album. Was  it difficult to write a set of songs around the one topic and what did  you use as a reference source for the music?

It’s such a rich era that I even wrote some songs that were left off the album. It may seem like a stretch, but looking at the ever-widening gap between rich and poor in modern America, the project has given me somewhere to focus my sense of frustration. The pirates may have been a cruel and ruthless lot, but they rose out of dire economic circumstances with almost no hope of advancement.

As far as the sources go, I have to confess my retention skills are not great when I’m reading, (the only thing I remember from a year of taking Chinese is my translation of James Brown’s I Feel Good!) but certain passages in the books I read spark ideas for songs. Sheriff’s Dance was inspired by The Pirate Hunter, a book about Captain Kidd, and The Empire of Blue Water, about Henry Morgan with great descriptions of the cruelty of the press gangs, inspired In The Service of the King. Blackbeard has provided me with a lot, especially in Decked Out Like the Devil; his modus operandi was all showbiz, scaring his victims by weaving lit fuses into his hair, to the point that they would surrender with little or no fight. I now have a shelf filled with books about pirates.

Musically there were a number of major influences on the CD. On a trip to Australia in 2005 I saw and befriended The Bushwackers, the legendary 40 year old Aussie band that often draws comparisons to Fairport Convention and the Pogues. I was blown away by how much fun they were, and loved their songs about the bushranger Ned Kelly and about Australian history. Then while on the road with Ring of Fire I started learning Irish fiddle tunes on the mandolin, songs I’d first played in an old-time band in Chicago years ago. Those songs and the Bushwackers material colored some of The Blue Buccaneer. I also didn’t shy away from afro-cuban rhythms (a good part of the history of pirates took place in the Caribbean, after all.) I’m naturally more of a blues player, so when the material veered into that territory I played up what the “talk like a pirate” creators call my “Pirattitude”.

The album comes across as a lot of fun to have made, was that the case?

Without a doubt! There was Paul Griffith on drums, Lorne Rall on bass and myself and we went into Thomm Jutz’s studio, he’s been guitarist for Mary Gauthier, Nancy Griffith and others. I’d given them rough demos and charts and I gave them free reign. I was thrilled at how much variety they gave to the grooves. (At some point I’ve learned not to try to control sessions, and that anything the musicians I work with come up with is  far better than I could have dreamed of.) After laying the basics I took the tracks home and started inviting my friends over to play. It all took place during the Christmas/New Year’s vacation, typically a very quiet time around Nashville,but there was a Jolly Roger flying just off the Cumberland River where a rowdy bunch of rovers were singing and playing. 

I love it when musicians step out of their usual realm and play a style outside of what they’re known for. I had Peter Hyrka, Nashville’s Stephane Grappelli, playing Irish fiddle lines before his one-take nailing of My Little Pearl, and much of the back-up vocals were done by Phil Lee, Eric Brace, and Peter Cooper, Americana artists I play guitar for frequently. If it hadn’t been recorded over the holidays I would have had even more denizens of East Nashville coming by. My whole approach to the band is, much like the pirate ships themselves, to recruit on the spot.

You work both as a solo artist performing your own work and a sideman for others and have played with Phil Lee for a long time. Do you get a different degree of satisfaction from each role?

I do. When I’m performing my own material the greatest challenge is to get the mind to stop, much like an actor, because self-consciousness is the enemy of good performances. I don’t want to stop doing either because they feed each other. It’s easy to be a sideman when I believe in the work and the showmanship, which is the case with Phil. I also generally do my own set with Phil, and Eric Brace of Last Train Home has me do some songs every show, so I’m reaching people I may not reach on my own. I’m  also able to see the perspective of both sidemen and band leaders, which eliminates a lot of frustration.

Having done some acting you seem well able to bring some sense of theatre to your performance. Would you like to explore the link  between music and theatre further?

Very much so. I try to bring theatricality to all my shows, and I think that’s a very important aspect these days. With the proliferation of youtube and instant downloads, I think live performance is our major currency, and feel more akin to traveling vaudevillians than the rock bands I grew up with. I’m also going to finish the pirate musical, and the touring I do with The Blue Buccaneers gives me a chance to do more research. 

You live in Nashville and often play in Austin but how is it for a  professional musician outside those particular pockets of musical interest?

It’s especially great to tour to some of the smaller cities, where we often get a good response because they’re hungrier for music. I actually haven’t been booking many shows in Nashville the past few years, and am more apt to grab my friends, jump in the van, and go play in another town. I love Nashville because the level of musicianship and songwriting is so high, but other scenes have us beat as far as daring and originality go.

Have you any ambition to do another themed album or will you just let new songs dictate the direction of the music? 

I do want to release an album of my Nashville songs, songs that I’ve written and co-written over my years here that are more firmly entrenched in the Americana and country genres. I’ve also always intended to put out an all electric record in the style of Tom Verlaine and Television, but I think that one will be put off forever!  At the moment I’m still writing more songs for the musical. 

Although you have been associated with and play roots music the scope of what you do and play is much wider do you put any restrictions on the music you make?

I don’t put any restrictions on my music, and my favorite music is when different styles come together. I can understand the fervor of purists and revivalists, but I’d rather hear something I’d never heard before, something with a little mystery. I used to hang art in museums, and a painter friend told me he never painted representational work because there was no need with photography, and I like that attitude. I place myself in the Americana field out of some ideal that I think Americana should represent, a melting pot of influences.

Have been a full-time musician/actor for some time how difficult is it for you to make a living these days?

Damn near impossible! As they say, it’s either snack or famine. Something usually trickles in just in the nick of time, though. The carrot on my stick is the dreadful jobs I’ve done in the past, ever reminding me to keep working! 

As musician who have been your lasting influences?

There are so many but I can point out some characteristics that have influenced me. The Band created a nostalgia for a time that never quite was, which drew me in. Dylan and Waits transported me, and I liked that. As a musician I started out playing the blues. I had a piano teacher who figured out that I would practice more if she taught me boogie woogie. A lot of the artists whose writing I liked were into the Harry Smith Anthology, and when I was a child my family would sing folk songs. 

You have played in Europe, how do you find the different audiences  tend to respond to your music as there is a sense that the songs on The Blue Buccaneer would be probably be appreciated over here? 

I’d love to tour with the Blue Buccaneers in Europe, and would especially like to recruit players over there to do shows with us. I’m working on coming over in the summer of 2012 if not sooner.  It’s such a joy to play with new people, and I never shy away from it. Paul Griffith, Lorne Rall, and I did a tour of the Virgin Islands last month and were joined by a pair of seventy year old percussionists who took the groove to a whole new level.  I hope to get some Irish and Scottish musicians to play these tunes when I’m over there, sort of my version of the Rolling Stones jamming with Muddy Waters.

Interview by Stephen Rapid, photograph by Ronnie Norton

Saturday
Feb192011

Dave Gleason Interview 

 

Dave Gleason is based in California and with his band Wasted Days has released the fine albums Turn and Fade (2010), Just Fall To Pieces (2007), Midnight, California (2004) and Wasted Days (2002).
He is a singer/songwriter, a producer and an admired guitarist. Dave Alvin siad of him “Dave Gleason is one of my favorite guitarists. His playing is wise and lyrical but he’s also a serious gunslinger. If Dave Gleason walks into the room, I set my guitar down.” He is a player who is continuing the great tradition of California country. Lonesome Highway has taken the opportunity to ask him a few questions:
At what point growing up did you connect with classic country and decide that this was the music for you and who were you’re primary influences then?
When I was a young boy (6-7 years old), my Father played lead guitar in honky-tonk country bands in Northen California. At that time (the mid 1970’s), there was still a thriving country & western live music scene in California-though by the late 1980’s this was pretty much entirely gone. Anyway, the record collection around the house consisted of Buck Owens/ Merle Haggard/ Rodney Crowell/ Emmylou Harris ... basically albums with James Burton, Albert Lee, Don Rich and Roy Nichols playing their Telecaster guitars - which is the true California Country sound in my opinion. The sound of that music immediately resonated with me, and it always has. I also heard alot of Roy Orbison/ Elvis Presley/ Creedence Clearwater ... things like that. Though I did not start pursueing a career in this style of music until I was in my 20’s.

 

You have been writing the bulk of the songs, mostly about relationships that have failed, are you unlucky in love or does the inspiration come from observation?
Inspiration for my songs do not (entirely) come from personal experience-luckily! I have always enjoyed writing from the perspective of heartache and bar-room situations- and I certainly have had enough experience with both to feel qualified to write about it.
Do you think traditional country/honky tonk is going to survive when the genre is being pushed between outlaw country/punk, southern style rockism and outright pop country for radio?
 I think there will always be people playing traditional country music, and I think there will always be an audience for it, but it really has gone underground. You have to really look for it - or really want to look for it. Texas seems to be the only place - at least in the U.S., that traditional country music was and still is very much alive and well and mainly supported.
How difficult is it to survive as a working musician in today’s environment?
Today’s environment for a musician is very difficult. There are so many people out playing/singing and putting out records, and fewer and fewer venues to play. I have had to be very aggresive and very creative to be able to consistantly find venues and towns to stay active in - as I have no help in booking or management. It is very difficult to keep up with this, as well as the creative process. What I have done for years is play lead guitar for other artists as well as keep my solo career going.
You have played guitar with Johnny Dilks, how does your role there differ from playing under your own name?
Johnny Dilks is a great friend of mine. We have played alot of music together. I really enjoy being the frontman/singer-songwriter alot and I love to do solo/acoustic shows - the whole thing. But I also love to play lead guitar, so I really enjoy letting someone else run the show and just get to stand off to the side and PLAY and maybe sing some harmonies. Also, I can reach an entirely different audience-who may not ever come to see me play or have maybe never heard of me. I played lead guitar with Mike Stinson for quite a while as well-after Tony Gilkyson left the fold.
You play, produce, sing and write. Do you have a preference for any of these roles?
I enjoy all aspects very much - I would love to get into producing a little more. It would be alot of fun to work with other artists, see what I can add or bring out of other artists. I really enjoy the songwriting  too, though I am sitting on at least 200 plus songs that are ready to go, which I really want to get out there - so I have slowed down on the writing lately! I’ve got bags of lyrics, tapes and tapes laying around.
On your covers, especially on Just Fall To Pieces you are all wearing Manuel jackets. How important is the look to you?
Dressing the part, or just dressing up to go entertain and play is something I take very seriously and just plain enjoy. I think an audience likes to see it, they like to see an artist put some effort into it (look at The Fabulous Superlatives!). That is a good point and something I really see a lack of these days - cool western wear is not that hard to find.
Who of your contemporaries to you admire?
Well let’s see, off the top of My head - Marty Stuart & Kenny Vaughn, I always like to hear what The Derailers are up to. I can’t leave out Jim Lauderdale, who I think is the best we’ve got these days and he is one heck of a cool guy. Mike Stinson is a great friend, and I love his albums. I have always dug Lucinda Williams too - since the mid 1980’s I have been paying close attention to her. I think Dave Alvin just gets better and better - I love his work.
Has technology affect you in any way and are your audience download savvy or do they want the physical product?
 I don’t really know ... I have always done well selling the CD’s at live shows and through distribution - though I have done well with downloads too. Seems like people still like to buy something they hold in their hand. I can understand that and I have never downloaded any music in my life. I also have thousands of LP’s/ 45’s/ 78’s and some, but not many CD’s. I am very glad to see the re-emergence in the LP format over the last few years - as you can probably imagine!
Where do you see yourself 10 years from now? 
In 10 years? Well I sure hope that I am around doing what I do. Putting out records, have some cool people to play with, have some cool people to play to. 
Interview by Steve Rapid.
Wednesday
Dec292010

Tift Merritt Interview

 Tift has been a regular visitor to these shores as either a solo artist or with her band. Her most recent performance was a number of her own gigs as well as opening for Mary Chapin Carpenter. Tift hopes to return early in 2011.

Given the fact that your career path means spending long periods away from home and family and having to deal with a lot of non-musical factors have you ever regretted your career choice?
I've never regretted my career choice because I never really felt like I had much of a choice. I've tried to stop and walk away and the first thing I do is write songs. Music and being a writer have always been what made order of my life. What I've learned, more than anything, is that everyone's choices and everyone's job has ups and downs, rewards and consequences.

You often have to travel on your own or with another player for some gigs. Do you find that gives you time for reflection that can be used as inspiration for song writing or do you find it a lonely pursuit?
Like anything, it really depends. While I love to be alone, being alone in a strange city or motel room around strangers can be hard. I usually don't have time to really write on the road, as the best in you is given away during the shows. I love to go to museums on tour, and I did have a chance to write quite a bit on a recent tour opening for Mary Chapin Carpenter as we were on a bus and I had a dressing room to myself all day. Generally, though, touring comes down to being alive in the music for the hour or so that you are onstage.  

You've released both live and studio album, how do you compare the experience. Is one more nerve wracking that the other?
Sitting in a studio and biting your nails over every detail is much more difficult that performing purely in one single moment. Though taking the time to labor over a record is rewarding, the immediacy of music is always what one is after. I've been thinking about making a record in an old theater for the very reason of keeping the intensity of performance as present as possible. 
 
You've spoken about the time you moved to Paris on your own to begin writing the material for what became Another Country, what special impetus did that situation bring to the writing process?
Freedom. That was a very innocent and rare and pure period of time where I lived very simply. I was free from the constraints of what I knew, the culture I was accustomed to, anyone I knew, and most importantly, the language I was accustomed to. I enjpyed how intimate and human basic communication can - from ordering a coffee or asking directions and depending on someone's eyes to understand. The writing on that record is so plain for that reason, and I am proud of that.

You have brought your music to many fans in the U.S. and Europe do you think there is much of a difference between the two audiences?
I find that European audiences are so attentive and loyal. I am lucky to have experienced that in the US as well, but you are much more likely to find people fraternizing at the bar in the US.

Having worked with  a number of major labels and seeing how they work and the demands they make on an artist do you see your future there or possibly with an independent?
I'm not sure what shape the music business will hold for me, but I would say that people who believe in what you do are the most crucial ingredient, and beyond that, hard and fast rules are hard to find these days. I think it is very exciting that people can put records out on their own these days. I was on a major before the music industry really took a sharp left turn, so what I saw may not apply anymore. I don't like to compromise, and I don't consider myself an entertainer for entertainment's sake. I make what I make, and I imagine my decisions will fall where I find support for that.

What's the most important thing to look for in a label?
That is a pretty good question these days. What is really important is to find someone who is passionate about what you do, willing to protect it, and has some muscle to follow through. If you are asked to change your name, show your cleavage, fire your band and write a hit, you should probably run.

You are, obviously, passionate about your music do you see that changing for any reason in the future?
I would surely hope not. The music business is hard, for sure, but I don't think music is really about the music business. I am usually passionate about whatever I do, from making soup to watching old french films. I always want to be learning, and I figure that if that hasn't changed yet, I'm probably out of luck.  

What motivates you to write the songs you do and how much of yourself do you put into them?
Something I care about or something that touches me is always where a song begins. I put an enormous amount of myself into writing a song - both in heart and in energy. But a song that is worth its salt usually takes on a life of its own and stands on its own legs by the time it is finished.  Whether it is some sort of magic you can't explain, or something the lyric demands, a good song usually crosses a distance from being purely a personal statement to something that makes its own way without me in the end.
 
Do you write in forms other than songs and when did you start songwriting? 
I started writing songs and stories when I was a teenager. I always wanted to be a writer. I love writing prose and there is always a stack of vignettes that accompany a good batch of songs but I usually don't have the time to go back and take them from ramblings to something polished and finished. For awhile, I really thought that writing short stories was where I belonged, but over the years, I have really come to love the potency of story telling in just a few sentences which is a song.

What have been your highs and lows so far?
That is a really hard question to answer in a few sentences. I have had some opportunities as a musician that I only dreamed about - being nominated for a Grammy, singing with Emmylou Harris, writing in Paris - and sharing those victories with my family and friends who have believed in me is something that I will keep forever. But the highs and lows that come along in anyone's life are terribly personal and usually somehow tied to each other. The lows earn their way to the highs and the highs give way to the lows, and the details aren't that interesting to anyone but me, but the lessons they elicit make their way into my songs. 
After the mid-term elections and what seems to be a loss of ground for Democrats, do you feel worried about what's happening in the U.S.? I know you met and played for President Obama and would have been a supporter.
I was very honored to do some small part for Obama's campaign, but I certainly worry about what is happening in the US. Politics don't make sense to me.  I wrote a song called
Do Something Good about it.  I just don't understand how decisions are continually made that just seem immoral and hurtful are continually justified on the basis of money and the interests of a few. To me, if one has power, one should use it to do good, not consolidate more power. I guess that is why I am a folk singer.

Are their places you haven't yet played that you would love to visit?
I would really, really love to spend more time in Italy, Spain and Portugal. I really love the Mediterranean countries.
 
Finally, do you ever see your self make another out and out country record like the Two Dollar Pistols one you did at the start of your career?
You never know what might come about. I love pure, spare storytelling and the rawness of early country music. My work usually is centers itself in songwriting, and at this point, I try to write in a way that honors the tradition of roots music while at the same time tries to push forward with a voice that is my own.