Did you have a lot of stuff worked out before you went into the studio to record ‘Everybody Loves A Winner’?
I had some ideas in my head and I knew kind of what I wanted it to sound like. Maybe I didn’t know exactly how to make it sound like that, but we just went with the flow. I’m scared to say this because then next time it won’t be, but it was pretty easy, it all came naturally this time. The record almost made itself, all I really had were just the basic songs, ideas of sounds that I liked a lot, and directions I wanted it to go in. I love using weird little things like the keyboard loop on ‘Everything’s Alright’ and feedback stuff, embedding layers of feedback tracks and cello on some of the songs.
How did Matthew Ryan end up producing ‘Everyone Loves A Winner’?
We were just good friends. We fooled around with some ideas and we liked those. He sent me a bunch of stuff that he was working on and it sounded really good. It was just more comfortable working with another artist that knows where you are coming from. Producers are weird because basically you are paying somebody to care about you, and who can care about you more than you care about yourself. These producers are being paid to care about you the most one-day and the next day they are being paid to care the most about somebody else. Matthew knows where that is coming from, so it was more like him making me feel comfortable, feeling that I can do it on my own.
It must be good to be on a record label that gives you the freedom to express yourself. There are rumours that Ryan Adams has finished his new album, but the record company doesn’t like it and won’t release it?
That’s what happens when you get into the crazy corporate labels. Ryan’s on Lost Highway, which is through Universal, which is owned by AOL. Once you do that then it turns into a day job, you are working for a boss. There is a product manager, there is somebody overseeing what you do. Those places put so much disgusting money into things; they put millions of dollars into trying to break a record. They have a large hand over what happens on the record because it’s an investment. I know that is frustrating for Ryan.
On your previous tour supporting Jesse Malin you managed to rock out even though it was a solo acoustic set?
I was trying. You’re pretty naked up there when it’s just you and a guitar. I think it’s healthy though because it forces you to make sure songs are good and can stand up for themselves. When it’s just you and a guitar if the songs suck people are gonna know. So you have got to be pretty honest in your songwriting. That trip definitely helped me a lot in feeling more comfortable if I do have to just do it myself. But also, I think it helps make you stronger for when you are then with a band.
When you write lyrics do they come from personal experiences?
It is always from personal experiences. I’m just a big fan of honest songwriting. I think that if I’m not writing about somewhere I’m coming from, it just doesn’t come off as real as it should. I’m a big fan of just writing about what I know about, my songs come out better if I do that, instead of making things up or coming from a false place. All my songs are based on a diary, the months, or years before, so they are definitely personal experiences.
If you are in a relationship do you think, I had better to screw this up to get some new material?
It totally happens, I shoot myself in the foot all the time, not on purpose, but it happens. Sometimes I’m like, what if I was happy, what happens now? It is weird, but there is always something to be pissed off about. Singing about what I sing about and doing what I do, it’s hard also being in a relationship because the other person is always asking; “Is that song about me?”
Do you often lie?
All the time. Change the names to protect the innocent. Yeah, you do lie about it sometimes, it’s just hard. If someone listens to my music I don’t understand why they would want to get involved with me. I think people sometimes have this mothering thing like, here’s this fucked up person let’s see if I can fix them. Everybody loves a challenge.
Do you sit down with the deliberate intention of writing a new song?
I don’t force myself to write, I can’t be like today I am going to write a song, because then if I do it turns out like shit. You know when it’s going to happen, you feel this anxiety in your stomach and you pick up your guitar and you have something to say. If you don’t you shouldn’t force yourself to say something, it will come when it comes. I’ve had a lot of luck with that process so far, I’m just trying to stick to it as much as I can.
Have you got any creative outlets other than the music?
As gay as it sounds, a lot of poetry and just random writings. Right now it is just sporadic writing. I’m writing about a photographer that goes insane trying to take a close up of the horizon. It would be cool to put out something that had tonnes of short stories, and drawings, and pictures. I always want to take on way too much shit. I want to do eight different things, I have such ADD. My brain is always wandering off in different directions.
Do you miss New York now that you live in Austin?
All the time. I moved four years ago, but I go back there a lot, I’m there every couple of months. I’m actually going to be living in New York for the summer. It’s just to get away and do some writing, be in a different place for a little while. It’s just so expensive, too much access to excess. I can go to Jesse’s bar and drink until four in the morning. Too many bad things can happen too easily. I think New York is the greatest place to be from, I just don’t want to live there.
What is it like as a musician in Austin?
It’s depressing when you think about thirty bands competing, trying to do their thing in one city that is not that big. There is one strip of clubs with all these bands just playing next to each other vying for people to come and see them. It’s almost like the land of broken dreams, it’s like Vegas, all these people who are strung out from losing all their money gambling. There are people moving to Austin just to make it as musicians and now they’re playing in some shit-arse bar on a Tuesday night.
Are you still renting Patty Griffin’s backroom?
No. It was a pretty small place that I had, so eventually I moved out to a bigger place that’s actually just a block away. I couldn’t ask for a better landlady or a better person to live around, she’s just an amazing artist. Living with a Grammy nominee was weird, because you see her on TV all the time in the States and here she is watering her lawn at seven in the morning when I wake up. It was pretty bizarre.
Is it correct that you found the year you spent studying at The Berkeley School of Music a pointless experience?
Living in Boston was a great experience, the school itself was pretty pointless. Actually it was good because it showed me what I don’t want to do, which is become one of those people. People who graduate from there usually become studio musicians. There are classes on improv, where they structure improvisation. There are classes that are song writing classes and if you need to sit in a class and learn how to write a song, you shouldn’t be doing it. It happens from here and here (points at his head & heart) and it just comes out of you.
They just break it down and make it so stale, verse/chorus, verse/chorus and you should write about these things. It becomes so technical that it loses the whole passion of music. I would never want to lose any of the passion I have for my music. I just left, it wasn’t want I wanted and wasn’t what I thought it was going to be.