If I remember correctly, it was right around the time of the so-called “acoustic revolution” in the early 2000s: Dave Matthews, Ben Harper, Jack Johnson, Bret Dennon (he actually opened a show for us at a coffee shop in 2002 or 3), Amos Lee and Mason Jennings were all the conscious or unconscious leaders of this quiet scene, and I was a junior in high school. This was when I took the stage at my first open mic, with my acoustic guitar and my voice.
I’ve always been fascinated by the earthy, intimate quality of acoustic guitar and the percussive way it’s strummed, but most importantly I love the stories told over top of acoustic guitar: The truth, often through quiet, soulful singing, and often too quiet for big, crunchy electric guitar to support it without overshadowing it. I had a rock band at this time, but what I loved was staying up late with my acoustic, writing new songs and playing them at the open mic that night.
I always loved the simplicity of a clear song, a story told that everyone knows or wants to know, or a moment someone is happy they left behind when they hear a song that makes them think, “at least I’m not alone.” It’s the simplicity in a good song that attracts us to songwriters, but simple truths are not the easiest to say or sing. In fact, I spent much of my musical career complicating my stories. Running from the truth…
Around 2005, when I thought I couldn’t make it as a singer/songwriter, I reached for something else, something bigger and louder. I became a drummer, a bassist, a jazz musician, lead man in a funk group, rocker, rapper, everything short of comedian. I loved the dancing crowds and flashy lights, I loved entertainment and seeing what I could do. I was learning and doing a lot, but I never forgot: the simplest songs I ever wrote were the ones that really touched people. That always felt the best. Felt right, but a full band is like having tanks, tear gas and heat seeking missiles, whereas a solo singer songwriter who is simple and quiet is like the frontline of an old army like in Braveheart. At least for me, it’s not as safe. It was almost like I was scared to open up that much, to open pandora’s box again, to be vulnerable.
But it’s the vulnerable stuff that people can always relate to, and which is always true and satisfying for the artist- both parties really feel that stuff, because that’s the stuff we’ve all been through. So I got my act together and found my most open, simple, and profound recordings of these kinds of songs and I also recorded a batch of new ones -my years in “the circus” gave me lots to write about)- my rise, my fall, the stuff I was too embarrassed to sing. My imperfect journey. I took a risk and sang it out loud.
The result has been high praise from CD Baby’s founder, a private gig for Hollywood star Chris Tucker, gigging solo on the Mainstage in one of my hometown’s biggest outdoor venues (Cal Expo), positive press reviews, and this after being awarded for touring nationally with an act that I didn’t really believe in. I thought I’d never rise from that high of a fall, but it proved to be the best thing that ever happened to me, and I’m just getting started.
The producer of a Grammy Winning album for one of the best singer songwriter’s that’s ever been -Tom Waits- heard my stuff and he worked with me. Said that my music is on that Grammy winning level! Pretty good for a kid who was scared to sing his real truth, and would rather hide it behind complicated musicality and flashy loop pedals (Still awesome if peppered into the set the right way 😉 )
Whatever the accolades, whatever the journey brings as reward for opening up and working hard, there are only two voices that matter: My own, because I have to sleep with myself at night feeling satisfied or not proud of the material that represents me. And perhaps more importantly: YOU. The only critic a songwriter ever needs, is his audience.
I can tell from a prolonged clap after I debut a new song, that my song passed the test. I can also tell from a flat response which songs needs improvement. My connection with my audience is the whole point of my journey, that relationship is the lifeblood, that reciprocity is the prize. It’s the lessons learned from missed opportunities, the opportunities I made from thin air and grabbed, the familiar weight of my acoustic guitar case, the all nighter drives on tour and the right song I’ve played at the right moment for someone in need- it’s all of this that makes me proud to not just be a professional musician, but a veteran.
So here’s hopping you’ll come along with me on this journey, have fun and experience many more sometimes hard, sometimes ugly or even sometimes funnny, but always worthwhile moments of honesty, growth, and always good music. If you’d like to catch the latest milestone of this journey, click here to listen to my most recent album, “Imperfect,” because after all, it’s YOU, the listener, that makes it all count. Thanks for listening.
Please leave your thoughts below, I look forward to hearing them!