Erin Rae Interview

We are not normally in the habit of reviewing an album on two separate occasions at Lonesome Highway. There are exceptions however, as was the case with Soon Enough by Erin Rae. A promotional copy of her album was reviewed by myself in June followed by a further review of the album in October by my colleague Paul Mc Gee. Whether this was an editorial master stroke or an oversight is neither here nor there! More to the point is the impact the album had on both of us with references to ‘one of the finest songs of the year (Clean Slate)’ and ‘one of the highlights of the year and a must buy’ being included in the reviews. Lonesome Highway caught up with Erin Rae after she returned to Nashville following a whistle stop tour of the UK supporting Cale Tyson.  

Your recent tour of the UK with the Meanwhiles received hugely positive feedback. How important is it for you to create a market in the UK/Europe?

We had a really great time. I felt and feel very fortunate to have such a warm welcome our first time to the UK ... I'd say it's just as important to me to develop the market and relationships over there as it is to do so in the States. It has been at the forefront of my dream of being a musician. Ever since loving the Spice Girls as a little girl. (I was Posh). 

You’ve moved to centre stage with your album Soon Enough having performed as a backing vocalist for many artists in Nashville. What prompted the move? 

I've been working on my own music from the beginning. It's a fun part of being in the community and being a singer and getting to sing harmonies to share and support in friends music! We all help each other. Molly Parden has been singing with me for a few years, and she's got some exciting things coming her way! It's neat to see us all grow at different times. We each have our own paths, and it’s such an amazing thing to witness and help each other with. 

Soon Enough was recorded in two days, basically a live recording, over what period were the songs on the album written?

2012-2015. So a lot of the songs had been played for a couple years as a band, making the live recording fun and easy. And special!

On repeated listens the album reveals itself as possibly a commentary on a life’s experiences to date. Should we consider it autobiographical?

Yes, every song (excluding Pretty Thing) is autobiographical. However the sentiment of that song still is true to me. 

The album, for me, benefits from not being over produced and its quality is not in any way compromised by being recorded in such a short time frame. Had you and your band been performing the material live over a period of time?

Most of it we had! At least half of the songs, maybe more. There were some that were saved to release on the record, but we did already have the band template in place, so we used a similar format for those songs, taking away or adding elements where that was needed.  

The quality of female singer songwriters in Nashville operating under the Americana banner seems endless at present. I’m thinking of yourself, Lilly Hiatt, Molly Parden, Kelsey Waldon and Margo Price to name a few. Has Margo Price’s breakthrough acted as a confidence booster in terms of possible career progression for an artist like yourself?

Love all of those women, and the list goes on! Tristen, Caitlin Rose, Kristina Murray, Liz Cooper, Emily Nenni, Becca Mancari, and more and more! I think it acted as an affirmation of the path we are all on. That big things can still happen, that the reach can still be far for real music! That turn around has been happening. But, it has been such a cool time for music. So many incredible records were released in 2016, with more to come in 2017, and I think it's just a really good time for music. Also, the community here is such a supportive one, so it's changed a lot of the motivation in my mind from mainstream success being the focus, to creating a true path for myself. It's cool that those things might realign again for more of us, as we see with Chris Stapleton, Sturgill, and Margo, Aaron Lee Tasjan, to name a few. Margo has been so generous with me, inviting me to be part of really neat things as they come up, like her panel at AMA fest in Nashville last fall. I think a lot of people heard about me through that, and came out to my show, and its things like that which serve as the real confidence boosters. Feeling like the friends that you look up to and admire are also fans of your work is so invaluable. Thank you, Margo!

Your writing and delivery, for me, is as much West Coast influenced as Nashville. I detect certain parallels with artists such as Judee Sill and early Joni Mitchell for instance. Was this a sound that was influential to you when you were developing a musical direction? 

 I love Judee Sill. I think I discovered her on the Elizabethtown soundtrack, and the song Jesus Was A Crossmaker has become one of my recent favourites to try and cover. Those two voices weren't primary influences, but I do love them! I'd say my parents music and voices were the most directly inspiring/ taste-making for me, followed by Kate Campbell's voice, Gillian Welch & Dave Rawlings, Slaid Cleaves, Greg Brown, John Prine, Feist, etc. I love great voices with strong songwriting. I definitely love the Flying Burrito Brothers, and Neil Young, etc., so I'm sure that has helped to create the laurel-y sound!

What’s next in terms of a career move for Erin Rae. Do you intend returning to Europe to further promote the album and is there a follow up album under consideration?

We are actually going into the studio on Sunday at Cory Chisel + Adriel Denae's place in Appleton, Wisconsin, which is called Refuge Foundation for the Arts. It’s a monastery, turned creative space, right on the Fox River. Dom Billett, Jerry Bernhardt and I will be the main players, with Dan Knobler engineering/producing. That will come out later this year. We will be returning to the UK in June!

Can we expect some dates in Ireland on your return to Europe? 

Yes! I believe those are in the works now, official announcement should be out soon via Clubhouse Records UK. Thank you so much for having me!

Interview by Declan Culliton – Friday 10th February 2017


Jeff Finlin Interview 

Jeff Finlin Interview 22nd November 2016 – The Sound House Dublin

It’s a bitterly cold winters night in Dublin with the outside temperature marginally higher than in the venue where Jeff Finlin is about to take the stage for his slot on his latest Irish tour, this time accompanied by UK’s  Peter Bruntnell and our own Clive Barnes. Not the most obvious trio that comes to mind but having witnessed them in action the previous week in Kilkenny, both on and off stage, their compatibility as performers and personalities is obvious. The format for the tour are sets by Finlin and Bruntnell accompanied on guitar by Barnes, who also does a short solo set himself between the two acts. Clive Barnes comes across as the organiser, the tour manager, the sat nav of the team, always busy, setting up, sound checking, and stacking guitars. Peter Bruntnell is the most laid back, the joker, the happy go lucky one. He’s likely to slip out to the bar, have a pint ("I’m very disciplined, only having a few beers every other night on this tour" he tells us) and discuss the merits of Tottenham playing with Harry Kane as a lone striker or how Wales are likely to hammer both England and Ireland in the Six Nations. Off stage Finlin is the most reserved of the three, a listener, an observer, an artist that has been at the cold face of the music industry in Nashville and has witnessed first-hand the highs, lows, expectations, hopes and regrets of a ruthless industry. Yet he also exudes contentment, self-control and is an engaging and charming conversationalist. Hitting rock bottom almost 20 years ago was, by his own admission, a godsend. Getting sober was a life changer, leading him down a more spiritual and magical path which inspired much of his splendid catalogue of work as a songwriter, musician, prose writer and poet. Lonesome Highway took the opportunity to get an insight into the industry from a true survivor, career musician and writer.


You’re one of the few artists that have moved out of rather than into East Nashville in recent years. How did that come about?

My wife and I moved back there but she didn’t really like it, missed Colorado so we decided to get back to Colorado where she was happier, that was about two years ago. I had been in Nashville for twenty years, I cut my teeth there and then we moved to Colorado to raise my son, we wanted to get out of the city which turned out to be really good at the time. There may be an opportunity for me to go back so I’m keeping my fingers crossed. Property prices have rocketed but we bought at the last minute so you could say it didn’t work out yet did work out as we still own a house there that we are renting. Even by getting in at the last minute was a coup and I still have a lot of ties there and I’m pretty bored in Colorado right now so I’m thinking of going back to Nashville more often as there are opportunities for me there at the moment. The music scene there is just crazy at the moment, the level of talent there, artists coming through and established acts, it’s amazing but it’s also a Nashville that comes with its own can of worms and the scene of all my crimes!  When I cross the county line I think "what’s that funny feeling in my stomach (laughs)." It’s a double edged sword that town. 

On reflection and twenty years into your career is it more difficult to make ends meet these days?

Completely, the music industry is gone, it’s over. It’s all about having enough of a name to go out and play and attract people, then it can work out. Who knows how it happens now, there used to be these paths to success which are all gone now, the publishing industry’s gone, the record labelling industry is gone. At least when I was young there was this $100 billion Industry that was out there spending money and making money so if you were in the right place at the right time with the right song something could happen for you. I knew guys that were in bands that signed record deals for a million dollars, records that never even came out! That certainly doesn’t exist anymore! There’s an entertainment industry and a touring band industry. It’s crazy but as artists we’re not in charge of the results, we just take action and turn it over and see what happens.

The contradiction is that the artists are still there, 2016 has possibly been the best year for recorded music in the past ten years

That’s it and you wonder how they make ends meet. You go to Nashville and you see a lot of the artists tending bar. There’s a great story about a well-known artist. It’s a story and I’m not sure if you can publish the artists name but it’s about these college kids having a wild party listening to him and his band and they decided to order a few pizzas and the delivery man comes to the door and guys who’s delivering the pizzas arrives and of course its him. The guys are like "what the fuck he’s my hero!" That’s the reality you know.

So tell me how you ended up touring over here with Clive (Barnes) and Peter (Bruntnell)?

Well, I wanted to come back to Europe as I hadn’t been over in six or seven years and I wanted to come back and dip my feet in the water again. So, I spoke with Clive last year and he said he’d call Peter up and see if we could all do a couple of weeks together in the UK. It worked and we were able to fill the two weeks and we had so much fun that we said we’d try and do the same in Ireland

Tell me about your writing. I’m aware that you’ve written a few books of prose. Did that direction come in advance of the song writing out the other way around?

The music always came before the prose. I’m kind of a word guy, I’ve always written songs because I’ve something to say. People will often say that the music comes first but for me it’s about the story. I’ve had so much stuff going through my head for over twenty years so I thought I need to put this all together in a book. My last book prose book just came along as a stream of consciousness thing. 

And is that a form of relaxation for you?

It can be (laughs), it just comes over me and I do it. The last prose book, I was going through certain stuff at the time and I just needed to sit down every morning and write stuff down. I’ve just finished a yoga book too, I’m pretty disciplined when it comes to writing and can get up at six every morning and write, I’m a morning guy so this touring and late nights turns my world upside down, going to bed at 2am and getting up at 8am (laughs). I’m not used to feeling shit all day and coming alive at six o clock in the evening, I’m used to feeling great at 5am and shit at 4pm (laughs). I’m good with the sun up.

So in terms of a young guy growing up in Ohio what sort of music were you introduced to?

I grew up in the 70’s which was probably the greatest time in history for music, the majority of people were listening to the best stuff. Those times in music history are rare, I grew up with all that great music radio in the 70’s, AOR radio and   I was a Stones, Beatles, Dylan guy ... Led Zeppelin too.  Black and white music was an integral part of what I listened to, they were separate and yet they were not. Getting to see Ike and Tina Turner live in 1974, Pink Floyd in '77, The Stones in '78 so many great bands in that era. I grew up with the blues, that’s why I loved the Stones, they went back into the blues and the Chuck Berry thing but I also always loved pop music. My song forms tend to lean as formalised as pop songs, there is blues influences but there’s pop form in there. Maybe that’s from hanging out in Nashville, it’s a very structured form based craft thing there and it rubbed off on me a little bit.

Your early career found you behind the drums I believe in the rock band The Thieves?

Yes, I was a drummer until I was 28 years old and started writing songs, a bit of a late developer as a songwriter and a guitar player. Some guy at the gig last night commented that I was a perfectly paced guitar player. I had to tell him that I’m actually a drummer and he said ‘Ah well that explains!’  Every good guitarist needs a good drummer behind him so I pretend to be both!

Are you optimistic career wise going forward?

I’m kind of in the middle, I’ve got my ass kicked enough not to get my hopes up. I just trust that inner voice to tell me when I need to write and what I need to do. I’ve just finished another album in Holland that will be coming out next year, have some more touring lined up but realistically it has to be sustainable so we’ll just have to see. I don’t do what I used to do, killing myself. I can’t do twenty-two dates in twenty-three days in three countries anymore, nor do I want to, life’s too short.

Your current compilation album Life after Death. How difficult was it to select the songs from your extensive back catalogue and did the record label give you a free hand to select the material?

Not too hard, there are songs that are missing, as I’ve been reminded. They allowed me to select all the songs myself which was nice of them, though I reckon if I don’t know myself by now I have a problem!  I tried to pick songs that were unique to my own little twisted lyrical thing but also wanted it to flow as a piece of work you know and not be disjointed and have a beginning and an end and feel that it flowed the whole way through. It can be difficult when you’re putting twenty songs together but I’m happy with it.

Interview by Declan Culliton


Country Lips Interview


Country Lips are an eight piece country band who have just released their latest album Till The Daylight Comes. It is a testament to their talent, attitude and collective take on traditional country music - somethhing that is a whole lot of fun. Lonesome Highway recently took the opportunity to throw some quick questions to the band.

What brought you guys together as a country band in Seattle?

We were all part of the music scene out of the U-District in north Seattle, some of us playing in other bands together. There had been talk of our shared interest in country music. Austin (bass) invited us to his house to jam on some old country tunes one night. We all brought a song or two, and that became our first set list. He booked us a show maybe a month later. We were super raw but excited to share the side of country music we loved - the party, honky-tonk, hard-edged side of country music. We started writing songs not long after that. A few lineup changes later and here we are.

Playing country music of the old school type is not usually something associated with the area. Is there a good local scene there?

There really is. Seems like there have always been at least a couple of very solid true country bands in Seattle since it was put on the map as a music town. And that seems to be more true today than ever. In Seattle proper the scene exists mainly around three venues (Tractor, Conor Byrne, and the Little Red Hen, which serves as the hub) and more than a couple handfuls of solid country bands (check out Ole Tinder, Swearengens, Deception Past, Lucky Lawrence, Country Dave, Gus Clark). Regionally Washington can be about as back-country as anywhere! Remember, Loretta Lynn got her start in northern Washington State.

With a line up of 8 members is there a difficulty with people moving on or are there a pool of platters there you can draw from?

We have had a number of lineup changes since our inception. And we have relied on fill-ins here and there, but our lineup has been solid for three plus years now.

How do you collectively feel about the state of country music these days in the mainstream and independent sectors?

Despite the obvious, that mainstream modern country has kind of become its own genre, I feel there may be some kind of reunification coming, as “alt-country” artists like Sturgill Simpson, Whitey Morgan, or Nikki Lane grow in popularity. My favorite mainstream country artists have had more traditional country leanings anyway - Miranda Lambert, Dierks Bentley, Brad Paisley - and less of the arena-pop stuff that’s on the radio. But in spite of that weaker radio stuff, really good young musicians, singers, and songwriters are continuing to find expression through the more traditional country sounds and that is definitely a good thing for country music.

Your shows are a mix of original songs and some classic covers. Is that the best way to mix the old and new?

We think so. It’s a good feeling when we hear our song on the radio in a block of music with some of the greats and you think “hey that holds its own!”. Same idea in a set list.

How difficult is it for Country Lips to tour in the current climate?

Our touring difficulties are as much our own as they are the climate’s. We like touring as a full band and it’s tough bringing 8 on the road. And the market for live music 7-nights a week has dwindled all over the country.

Do you guys have day jobs to keep body and should together or how does that work?

We all do have day jobs and that also makes touring tough.

There is an element of humour in the songs and I’d imagine with such a large band that that needs to be part of the make up?

It is inevitable. Get that many fun-loving guys in a room together and try being serious.

With the album Till The Daylight Comes being available in Europe, do you intend to tour there?

We do, just a matter of when. Touring Europe is a major goal of ours. It will be a logistical challenge and we don’t have a plan yet in place but we’re hoping there will be enough of a demand to make it work sooner than later.

What is the best and worst thing about being a member of Country Lips?

Best: It’s a collective of the most supportive friends I could hope to have. We drive each other to be better musicians and band mates and we help each other out. Worst: it can be bad for ones health at times, what with all the partying. When it comes to drinking, we practice what we preach.

What do you see as the future of country music today. Will it survive on the fringes?

I think modern country music will continue to dominate in middle America, while alt-country and traditional country gain in popularity along the east and west coast. And like I said, I see more modern country artists breaking from the modern pop-country mold.

What do you draw inspiration from for your original material?

Musically it’s a blend of honky-tonk and Bakersfield - like Merle and Jones - with some Mexican norteño, and other outlaw country. Personally on guitar it’s all about “Chicken Pickin’” ala Brent Mason or Johnny Hiland.

Lyrically we seem to come back to our own personal struggles with love, money, work, and minor social deviance.

With a number of albums under your belt to date what is the band’s intention as a recording act and how important is that?

Hopefully we can up our rate of output, and keep recording albums at a more rapid clip. Recording is certainly something we’ll always be doing as it helps make sure we keep writing new material.

Outlaws or outsiders?


Cowboy hats or backwards baseball Hats?

Almost always cowboy hats. Sometimes baseball hats, but usually forwards.

What are the bands ambitions for the future?

To keep getting better. To continue making music we love and to keep getting more and more opportunities to share it. Beyond that: Tour the world by boat. Move to Mexico and make a true norteño album. Waterski with Alan Jackson. The usual.

Interview by Stephen Rapid


Michael McDermott Interview


If you were to judge from the photography and the songwriting on his latest album (and previous recordings) it would be easy to perceive Michael McDermott as an overtly serious and moody person. In person nothing could be further from the truth. 

McDermott is an open, honest, gracious and likable man. His background of artistic failure and the following decline into drink and drugs before a subsequent recovery and renaissance is documented on his website ( ). 

It says a lot about the character of the man that he has seen the light through the darkness and his journey has made him a very notable singer and songwriter whom author Stephen King wrote “ Not since I first heard Bruce Springsteen singing Rosalita had I heard someone who excited me so much as a listener …” King is not the only one to recognise McDermott’s talent. He recently made  his Dublin debut playing upstairs in Whelan’s. Lonesome Highway caught up with him prior to that performance.

You were raised in Chicago in an Irish-American home, what an affect did that have on your future musical direction if at all?

Well it was pretty big. It was so much growing up even though there was Irish music playing in the house but when I first moved into the city I played with a guy, Paul Fitzpatrick, who’d seen me at open mics and I was, you know, with sunglasses on doing the whole beat poet thing, reading Ginsberg, pretty silly. I was broke too. So, he said “if you want you could play with me.” I ended up getting a schooling of sorts in Irish music with songs like The Fields Of Athenry, which isn’t that old really, or songs from Christy Moore and others like Waltzing Matilda, all that kind of stuff. It was great to learn them and highly influential and also learning about, not particularly Irish, but just good songwriting. Songs that went on too long (laughs) but were written because they had to be written not just a current song of the day.

After the failure of your major label band deal you went through a very negative period. How did that experience resonate with you?

I’d become a very entitled spoilt brat. I was a young kid and had been given money, that kind of thing. Then it didn’t happen and for a young man that was hard. I wonder about kids today and how they remain well adjusted to all of that. It’s a disappointment really when people you thought were your friends and family don’t return your calls anymore. That was the hardest thing. You know it’s not going to happen and that is painful. Friends used to say “don’t forget about me when you make it big.” And you think “well don’t forget about me if I don’t.” 

You have just released a solo album. Where does that fit in the overall scheme of things?

It was a new start. I was sober and clean so I felt different and I wanted to re-establish who I was. When you bury yourself with all that stuff for twenty years you don’t know who you are. You become infantile in a lot of ways; emotionally and in a lot of other ways such as relationships and all that stuff. It’s a learning process all over again. I felt that I was making up for lost time. I was writing all the way through that terrible mayhem. I would never write under the influence of anything as it wasn’t that ‘drunk poet’  thing. I wanted it clean, but I may take something when I was finished. There’s a purity that I take seriously. So The Westies was kind of a new birth. But there was a lot of baggage and my manager at that time said “Mike, I don’t know to tell you this but there’s a lot of baggage associated with your name. But your songs are so great so if we could just get them heard.” So we set about trying to do that. 

Do you think and have you now put The Westies on hold?

No, it was really just the nature of the material. Right now it’s just very solo record kind of writing, but as I move forward I’ll know where the songs are going. Like “that’ll be a good Westies song.” There be the solo records that would be a spiritual journey or some weird crime song. So I thought why not put those songs into one kind of thematic place. 

Some of your songs have a historical context, for instance your song about William Bonney.

Right, when I was watching a show on Billy the Kid and it mentioned he was Irish I just like “you’re kidding me!” So, I ordered all these books on him. That was amazing. No one really wants to hear another song about Billy the Kid but when I heard about the Irish connection I thought maybe he was the first Westie (the Irish Mafia gang in New York). That gave me a different angle.  

I’ve since become friends with the writer of the book on the Westies and he still talks to those guys as they’re still around. I’ve always been fascinated by those characters so in my days being insane you run into a lot of those people. Gunrunners and so forth, so I’ve always been compelled by that, by the psychology of that lifestyle. But I don’t romanticise them as many of them are sociopaths. 

Do you tend to write for a specific project or are you always stockpiling songs?

I wrote as I go. I try to do it every day. I get up before the family as I have a 6 -year-old. I get up when it’s still dark and try to get an hour of writing in before the footsteps start. There’s chaos the rest of the day so it’s the only time.

After the initial writing do you redraft a lot?

I do, I overwrite. For a normal song I could have up to 30 verses. Them my wife comes in and what she writes becomes the song. I’Il write what I think I need and I then edit it, then it will be half of what I wrote. 

After two Westies and a solo album what’s the next Step?

I don’t know. I’ll see what comes up I think I have more solo songs right now. My wife and I were talking about this as the first (Westies) record was this guy looking at the early part of his life - urban, New York, getting into trouble. The second album was where he was re-habilitated and were he goes away and discovers how hard it is to get back into life. I know how hard it is as I was facing time. If you try to get a job after that it’s really hard but I’m a musician so it doesn’t affect me in the same way. So I don’t know where that guy goes now. I’m not giving up on the Westies at all. I’m just not sure what to do with it next.

As a solo artist are you consciously making a move away from the Westies group sound?

I don’t know, maybe. But if there is anything to be learned from the last few records and the way they seem to have gotten more connection is that my work was buried under the fact of maybe being obtuse for obtuse sake. I’m now getting rid of the fat so-to-speak. I hope, if anything, that they’re getting leaner. The songs, while I don’t want to get away from the detail necessarily, which is kind of what I do, are more honest. Some people have said that I’m a painfully honest songwriter but I don’t know that I’ve been as honest as I could be.

Sometimes it may be better not to reveal too much.

Right, that’s the thing. A lot of times I’m asked what’s the song about but I don’t really have anything to add. I think it’s there for the listener.

A song should allow for personal interpretation.


Do you write outside of the song lyric structure at all?

I don’t think that I’d have the stamina for it, or maybe the attention span. Songs are like little books. I’ve entertained the idea, but not seriously.

How different is the process of getting your music out now compared to when you started?

Actually, I never had a bad relationship with any of the labels I was on. You hear nightmare stories, but it didn’t really happen to me. They say the best thing now is that anybody can make a record and the worst thing is that anybody can make a record. There’s just a lot more clutter now. Before you would know who was coming out with a record, someone like Warner Brothers would release 16 albums a year. 

Labels were somewhat different then to some degree as they were often headed by people with a genuine love for music rather than simply profit. As an independent artist you can have some say in how the record sounds and how the artwork looks .

I don’t really think about that because records are so ephemeral now. You put a record out now and a month later it’s pretty much over. It’s hard to get traction. There’s so much music and I don’t blame anyone as it’s hard to find. We are so inundated. Even making videos is something I don’t think about that much. We are making one for my song Getaway Car as it’s going to be in the Showtime series Billions. We got permission from the John Dillinger Museum where he broke out from jail so we’re going to film there. 

Which of your contemporaries are you inspired by?

Well, I think Jason Isbell is amazing. David Grey always seems to speak to me too. Those two guys would be the main ones. In the Irish context I like Mundy and Liam from the Hothouse Flower. U2 too, I used to cover some of their songs. They’re one of my favourite bands of all time. 

Where does Europe fit into the long-term equation?

I’m not sure of the numbers but there seem to be interest here. It’s a more discerning audience over here. I really believe that. 

Interview and colour photograph by Stephen Rapid   Black and white cover portrait by Sandro



Jude Johnstone Interview


Jude Johnstone is a very special songwriter and someone who has been producing wonderful music under the media radar for many years now. Her experience in the music industry is second to none and it was a real treat to speak with her when she agreed to spend some time giving her insights and thoughts on the creative process and her career. If you have not heard her music, then the following interview should certainly have you looking to add her to your collection of important artists.

When did you begin to play music and was the piano always your instrument of choice?

I started writing songs when I was 8 years old and started playing piano. And yes, piano was always my instrument of choice.

Who were your early influences when you were growing up?

My influences varied widely because of my dad, my brothers, my mom ... they were anywhere from Glen Miller, Sarah Vaughn, The Beatles, Tom Waits, Randy Newman, James Taylor, Lowell George, Jeez Louize, so many more.

In 2002 your debut, Coming of Age, was released with notable guest appearances from Jackson Browne, Bonnie Raitt, Trisha Yearwood & Jennifer Warnes. How did you come to have them involved with the project?

I was back stage at a concert in Santa Barbara that featured Jackson Browne, Bonnie Raitt, Shawn Colvin, Bruce Hornsby and I forget who else … after the show I was talking to Jackson and said, “I am gonna finally make an album at 40 years old!” and he said, “Well, that’s a great idea! It takes about 40 years before you actually have anything to say.” So, I said, “Would you sing on it with me?” And he said, “Sure.” And the same with the others that sang on it. Was as simple as that.

Were you happy with the reception that it received on release?

Well, I was on a label that my manager and I made up so there was no machinery behind it. There was no money to promote a product like what is necessary. We were with a distributer that was calling Barnes and Noble and Borders and asking them to put it in their stores but I had no prior records, audience, or reason for that, so they said no. Then I got an interview on NPR’s Morning Edition with Renee Montagne. Well, it went well and the impulse buyers on their way to work that morning stopped at the Borders and Barnes and Nobles stores to get the cd but it wasn’t there, you see, so they had to search it out on our website etc. That takes too much time. We still sold 7000 cds that morning and would’ve sold 20,000 if it had been easily available in the stores. But that’s the catch 22. So, after that, the bookstores called our distributer and said, “Where is this cd everyone is asking us about?” And they said, “That is the one we tried to get you to put in your store.” Well, of course, then they did put it in the stores but it was too late. It’s an impulse buy. So, in answer to your question, was I pleased with the reception from that the first CD, I’d say yes. But I was handcuffed.

Clarence Clemons was an early mentor and invited you to E-Street band sessions for the River. How did that experience shape you?

Clarence Clemons was my guardian angel in every sense of the term. He was my second dad, uncle, whatever you wanna call it. He brought me to Los Angeles where I lived for 14 years and worked in those early days with Springsteen’s producer, Charles Plotkin, who helped me hone my craft. I wouldn’t be talking to you now had it not been for Clarence. It’s too long a story but he was one of the greatest friends and supporters I have ever had.

You also sung on records by T Bone Burnett and Leonard Cohen and were invited to compose some music with one Mr Bob Dylan. What were these experiences like for you as a young artist and what are your memories of that time?

Oh, I was fresh in Los Angeles in those days. And not a pretty picture in some ways. Yeah, I remember singing some with T-Bone and more with one of his cohorts, Stephen Soles, who I worked with quite a bit. As for Leonard, I was invited by Jennifer Warnes to sing on his I’m Your Man album, a great privilege. Entirely because of Jennifer at the time. It was a blast and Leonard was a blast. I will never forget the experience. The Dylan thing was a fluke. His publishers at the time just sent me a “song start” of his that they wanted me to take a look I finished it and recorded it and sent it back to them. They were trying to make him some money, I think, maybe get some cuts, to pay for some of his overhead, I suppose. It has only been recorded by one artist whose record wasn’t widely released. Hardly anyone’s ever heard it. I almost did a weird version of it for my current cd but didn’t have the time.

Your songs have been covered by the likes of Emmylou Harris, Bonnie Raitt, Bette Midler, Johnny Cash, Stevie Nicks, Jennifer Warnes, Trisha Yearwood and many others. Do you write with such artists in mind or do the songs come from a personal perspective initially?  

No, I do not think of other singers when writing, generally. I just write my songs cause I have to. Then afterward, I might think, “Oh, I’ll bet Trisha would really like this one.” So, I’ll send it to her. I did write this one Xmas song that’s very sad that I actually heard Willie Nelson singing in my head as I was writing it. But that’s rare. Never got it to him.

Has song-writing for others become your main focus or do you see the release of your own work as the key driver?

The release of my own work is for me, mostly, and my fans, cause I don’t have a situation that can get my records out there too far. It is like a calling card for my friends who are more famous than me to listen to and take songs from it, hopefully, and record them on their own albums so that the songs find their way out into the world.

Your second release in 2005, On a Good Day, received much praise. Did you feel a media momentum building at this stage of your career?

I just put my music out there as best I can. I have the acknowledgment of my peers and try not to have a lot of expectations beyond that.

In 2007 the Blue Light release took a new direction into a more jazz-based space. Was this a conscious decision and did you feel the need to redefine your sound?

Blue Light was made because, first of all, jazz inspired writing and chord changes are my favourite kind of writing to do, particularly torch. At that time, Henry Lewy, Joni Mitchell’s long time engineer/producer, who had also worked with me on many unreleased tracks, and been a lifelong friend, died. And because that style of music was his favourite that I did, I needed to do that record to grieve his loss. For starters

Mr Sun quickly followed in 2008 and remained in the area of reflective jazz-based arrangements. The lyrics referenced songs that dealt with the challenges of relationships, hope, loss and gained perspectives on life. Did you allow character writing to infuse your songs or did they continue to evolve from personal experience?

Mr. Sun was derived entirely from personal experience. The whole record was about a relationship with the same person, from start to finish.

Quiet Girl arrived in 2011. The songs included were a return to something of a roots/country base in terms of song structures. Was this a conscious decision?

Yes, it was a conscious decision to go back to the Americana cause I felt I had, over two albums, done the work I had wanted to do in jazz/blues. For the time, anyway.

Was the title in any way a reflection of your absence from the media glare over the previous years?

No, it was about a guitar player.

Shatter was released in 2013 and saw you speak of new beginnings and seeking a sense of rebirth. Was there a new perspective shaping you at this time?

Yes. But it’s too long a story. I was in a separation/divorce at the time after 28 years of marriage. So many of the songs were about what I was thinking at that time.

Your new record is now ready for release and can you tell us a little more about the central themes and the creative process behind it?

The new CD contains songs that pertain to love, some of my traveling abroad in the last few years and what it’s meant to me.

You have been touring in Europe, on and off, for a few years now. Touring can be hard work but do you find the journey and the miles worthwhile?

Touring Europe and seeing more of the world and its inhabitants has saved my life.

You have now moved to Nashville. Was this to be closer to the hit machine factory or was it for other reasons?

I moved here because I could no longer afford to care for my 1800s Victorian house on the California coast and rather than go all the way back to Maine, where I’m from, I thought I would try Nashville, since I have so many contacts here. Still working on that. We’ll see.  

Do you like playing live or would you prefer to remain as a home-based writer essentially?

I love playing Live and telling stories. And I like staying home. But staying home doesn’t get you very far. Around here, you gotta get out and be seen. So I try to do that every now and then.

When you look back over the arc of your career what reflections do you draw?

That’s a tough question. I have some regrets about missing some opportunities that I shouldn’t have missed cause I was asleep at the wheel at certain times. but at other times, I suited up and showed up and it was good. I’m grateful that other artists recorded my songs. It was a great living for a long time. It put my kids through various schools, it fed our faces. You know, I am grateful for the most part.

Has the changing distribution of music been a good or bad thing for your career? 

The internet and the way music is pretty much stolen these days has been very bad for me. The artists that have recorded my songs don’t sell records anymore so unless you are writing hit singles that are getting radio airplay, you don’t make any money anymore. I mean, I made a living on album cuts from album sales and those days are kind of over unless you’re on a very big record like a Beyoncé or Adele or someone like that. There’s still money in tv and film placements but those are hard to come by. I’m working on that. 

Is the present state of the music business something that you now embrace? 

No, I don’t embrace where the music biz has gone for the reasons I just stated. Also, I’m old fashioned. I loved getting a whole album by an artist. The album is its own full statement. The songs are meant to be listened to together. My albums certainly are. Not to be taken a song at a time out of context. I take the sequence of each record and the meaning behind the whole record very seriously. I do think it’s sad that people just download a song and put it on some playlist on their iPod. I mean, that’s just not what I ever envisioned. It’s art. You don’t order pieces of a painting. You buy the painting. 

What does the immediate future hold for you and is the glass half full or half empty?

I have no idea what the future holds for me or writers like me. I just bang away at it cause it’s what I do. I didn’t choose music. It chose me. I stopped trying to figure out if the glass is half empty or half full a long time ago and just do my work and hope I can do it again tomorrow

Interview by Paul McGee