Tell me about how you got started in music and what is your approach to the "music business" of the 21st century.
As far as playing goes, at 5 years old my parents decided that I needed a hobby, and they sent me off for guitar lessons. I haven't stopped playing since. I can play about eight instruments. I've never not played music; I don't know what it means not to play music. I grew up listening to Triumph and Journey and Boston and Styx. My influences run really wide. I listen to everything and anything. Take all of those guys and lump in Blondie and The Cars and all of the 80's and 90's bands. It's never stopped because I always find something new to listen to. Jeffrey Gaines, Martin Sexton, Patrick Monahan from Train, and Edward McCain are big influences on me as a songwriter.
My approach is to simply work my ass off. I used to be in a lot of bands, and I got tired of seeing things go wrong despite the fact that I was working my tail off. In the late 90's, I decided that it was enough and I went solo, releasing my first record in 2000. I haven't looked back since. I got signed on my first record to a label out of Europe. It went great, but I didn't like the deal they were offering on the second record. I walked away and started my own label, Leap Dog Music, and a companion publishing company. It's a very simple equation: I create the product, I make the product, I put the product out, and I get out there to hustle it. I sell as many units as I can. I don't have to answer to anybody, including a room full of board members who don't play music trying to decide what good music is. I can put anything I want on my records. If I believe in the song it goes on my record. It's that simple. That's a nice freedom to have. Of course, you still want to make the right decisions, running your business professionally and lucratively. We'll see how the next record goes, but I have never lost money putting out a record. When you're an indie, you don't have to sell five million copies to turn a profit. My manager and I did the math one time and if I was on a major label, a guy like me on his first record would have to sell 150,000 copies to make the same money I make now selling 5,000. Everything is different about running your own label and the way you recoup your money is different, but it's much more gratifying.
Many music veterans state that one of MySpace's negatives is the amount of time that they spend self-marketing and communicating with fans. What effect has MySpace had on your musical career?
For me, MySpace is a huge positive. Putting it right on the line, without the Internet I wouldn't have a musical career. It's that simple. The Internet allows me to get to people and places I never would have. For my first record, I was signed to a label out of London. I've never been to London! But I was doing well and getting so much press in the same magazines that their artists were. They took a look at me. I have fans in Germany, Sweden, Australia, and all over the place. That doesn't happen without the Internet. It's a lot of work; don't get me wrong. I've worked real jobs before, and I walked out on one almost three years ago. I haven't looked back since. Yet I work harder, I work more, and I put in more hours. I'm more tired now than I ever have been from working a real job. But it's all mine and I don't answer to anybody. In a lot of ways, being in a major label system is probably easier. Many of the music veterans were brought up on advances, big studios, publicists, and getting on television. They weren't brought up having to work for it. The machine did all of the legwork for them that indie artists have to do for themselves these days. I'm not saying that's bad; I would love it. But barring some miracle happening, I have to do it this way. It comes down to how bad you want it, what's your goal, and what are you willing to give up for it. Those three questions are the definition of indie. My goal was to never be a star or never to be famous. Since I was a little kid, all I wanted to do is have a musical career making a living doing what I love. If I get famous in the process, that's a bonus! I could never ask for more than the fact that every day I wake up and I'm a musician.
Tell me about your latest CD, "Wide Awake and Dreaming."
It was released April 17, 2007. Fans can hear samples at both my website and my MySpace page, and then can buy it at cdBaby which is linked at both spots. They can also buy downloads at iTunes. This record is like if Third Eye Blind or Vertical Horizon got hit by Train. "Wide Awake and Dreaming" is a little different because I did my previous three records alone. I did them in my home studio and I handled the production and engineering. That's a bad thing and a good thing. It's bad when you wake up at 3a.m. and change a perfectly good take because you woke up with a "good" idea. For this record, I hired a producer, I went to a new studio, and the guys in my band played on the record. With all honesty, I feel that by far this is the best record I've ever put out. The songs are better, and my songwriting is in a better place now. I've studied other people's songs, and I've picked them apart to find out why they work or don't work. Doing that made me a better songwriter.
Introduce your live band and talk a bit about your live performance.
It's kind of a rotating cast. My keyboard player, Tom Darby, has been with me for almost three years. "Wide Awake and Dreaming" was produced by Drew Yowell, who was my guitar player when we did the record. We wrote a few things together in the studio in the midst of the sessions. Currently, in addition to Tom on keys and vocals, Josh Rifkin plays bass and vocals, Brad Whitley plays guitar and vocals, and Steve Kelly is my drummer. I'm good on record but I'm a "live" guy. I live to be on a stage. I wish I could capture my onstage energy when I'm in the studio. I'm a better live singer than I am in the studio. Despite playing many instruments, I pride myself on being a vocalist. That's my main instrument. When we play "original" shows, I throw in a few covers for the people who don't know me. I want to keep their attention. I do go out and play "covers" shows because it helps pay the bills. I balance the types of shows. Original shows are tough because you're playing for nothing or the take at the door. I don't have to sweat those if I'm getting paid doing "covers" gigs. The nice part is my original gigs are paying much better. We're climbing to a new level, little by little.
Feel free to promote anything else you'd like that applies to your band.
A DVD titled "This Was Now" is on its way. It should be out at the end of this summer. It's a full concert from the tour supporting my previous record "Now." It was filmed at Higher Ground in Burlington, Vermont. There are also some music videos, an interview, and a slide-show. The MySpace page, at any given time, has four or five videos uploaded there. Type in my name at YouTube and you'll find a whole bunch of stuff. My website also has a merchandise page. I plan on supporting this record like mad, and I'll be playing as much as I can. For the next year and a half, my life will be promoting this record. I'm very interactive with my fans through the Internet. The gig becomes almost like playing for your friends because you've been talking with them online for two months before you get to their city. Willie Porter said something at a gig I attended recently, and it's cool as hell and I believe it to be true. He said, "I get paid to travel; I play the gig for free." That's a great way to look at our business.
Please share your thoughts on the senseless murder of Dimebag Darrell.
I can't say that he was an influence on me because I wasn't into the bands that he played in. But he was a phenomenal guitar player. He was a monster. I know people who knew Dimebag and nobody ever had one bad word to say about him. There's nothing you can say about his murder or the guy who killed him. It was such a waste. There is nothing that Dimebag could have done is his life that deserved a guy walking up on stage to kill him. Musicians don't often realize the effect that their music can have on people. Sometimes some people take that influence a bit too far. It's unfathomable that somebody could blame a band or a musician for something to the point where they'd want to kill them.