A recent phone interview with Blues Matters:
Jeff, welcome and congratulations on your tenth studio album, "My Wicked Ways"! Quite an accomplishment! Can you tell us a bit about it?
“Thank you very much, it's flattering even getting to talk about my music. Like all the other releases, it was a complete labor of love, making music that I enjoy making and listening to, 100% built in my studio in my backyard. I used to do my own mastering, huge mistake, and as an experiment I started using LANDR for mastering instead - they did better than I could, much more consistently and faster. Bastards! I still have my druthers about their service, there's features I'd like to add, but they are affordable, still whipped my ass in terms of finished product, and now I know how to prep my mixes to get out what I want. In terms of music career, or lack thereof, of course, I can't get arrested in the US, but people in Europe and Asia seem to be a lot more interested in my take on the the evolution of blues music, melded with my funk and the occasional guitar pyrotechnics.. I'm slowly finding an audience, but I'll be keeping my day job for now (laughs)..”
Really? What is your day job?
“I'm a senior engineer, writing software for a very large automotive manufacturer. I don't really talk about it..”
I'm surprised - I didn't expect that! I guess I expected you to work in a studio somewhere..
“Neither did I. I'd rather be in broadcasting, for sure, but I think we all end up on the paths we're supposed to be on regardless, so there you go. My big plan, initially, was to sell my late dads record store inventory on Ebay and continue writing, tracking and releasing my music until either something finally breaks or I die, whatever comes first. I'm hoping a song breaks BEFORE I die. (laughs) This automotive manufacturer contacted me, and my family talked me into going the mile in terms of applying, interviewing and eventually accepting their offer. Mostly, I think they, my family, were excited about the prospects of continuing to eat and have a roof over their heads. (laughs)”
Let's get back to the new album, so you go from power trio to large band with horns - how do you keep a band like that together - you don't seem to tour often?
“Most of the "band" is me; vocals, guitars, bass, drums (playing or programming), electric piano, organ with the exception of the occasional drum tracks and the horns (which I wish I could play). I track and mix as well, obviously. I start by having a vision for the song, the trick is getting it out and making it live up to the party in my head. Sometimes the party makes it on to tape with accuracy. When it doesn't, and sometimes, it really, really doesn’t, the song never leaves the studio - for every one song you hear, there's another 10 that will never see the light of day for whatever reason - usually it's the drum tracks don't live up to what I'd like but sometimes it's the key of the song doesn't serve the vocals very well and I get too burned out on the song to redo it in another appropriate key. It took a long time for me to figure out what I could and couldn't do vocally and now that I know, I'm hopefully smart enough to know to start 'em out in a flattering key. The music comes effortlessly, it's my broadcasting background and working in a local guys’ studio, Ben Blank, that has enabled me to commit this stuff to tape with any accuracy. I signed a highly questionable publishing deal that destroyed me for 7 years and Ben let me have the run of the place at night, which while I didn't really produce anything of note, was an invaluable learning experience and I'll always be grateful to him for that freedom and education, on many levels.”
We notice this recording, like many of yours, is of superb sound quality, even our latent audiophiles are impressed - yet clearly you're evolving - anything you're doing differently?
“I'm clawing my way out of the cave, thanks for noticing! (laughs) I'll keep banging the rocks together, maybe something will hit. I just made myself sit on this album and perfect the mixes and masters before I sent it out.. a light touch on mastering, with as little limiting as possible goes a long way. Louder does not necessitate better. Simple truths! I also have a hybrid approach now, which I think really contributes to the sonic depth, width and overall fidelity, using fancy outboard compressors and eq's to deliver the goods on the 2bus, FAR surpassing the vst 2bus compressor plugins I'd been previously using, not that Slate and Waves don't make superb products. Tell my wife it was all worth it! (laughs) I tend to rush things out, as I get really excited, what with all my ill-conceived delusions of grandeur (laughs) but I'm a) not getting any younger, and b) really believe in these songs, despite some fairly racy lyrics in places. I never really planned on 'working blue' but hey, I'm human, this is how people talk, for better or worse and they fell out of the sky like they are. I edit myself for no one. I did the best I could in my shack in the backyard. On "Ice Cream", I sort of envisioned it, and myself, as a 'Morris Day & The Time' and the lyrics just fell out of the sky, for better or worse, like they do, all the time. I've never labored on a lyric, nor have I ever labored on a particular solo - they are what I feel and how I react. Now, there are likely a few people thinking "Jeff, maybe you SHOULD start laboring on those things!" (laughs) but that's not me. I listen to jazz and older blues and whatever my kids turn me on to, but mainly, I listen to a lot of Art Blakey, BB King, Miles, Bill Evans, Coltrane, Lee Morgan (my favorite trumpeter, tied with Armstrong and Davis) and a jillion others. Contrived music sounds contrived and no one cares how complicated someone makes their 'wheedly-wheedly look-at-me-go’ approach to songwriting/soloing and I'm more purely reactionary, improvisation with funky beats. Most solos are first takes, the entire guitar on 'Walked All The Way Here' was first take scratch track. It grew on me. The drums were a pain in the ass - I shouldn't have killed myself on that one, there's two excellent drummers I know, that are so good, that are so very, very good, they never have time to come to my place, which is way north compared to where they are. They're always working, but Charlie Fountain (Van Wilks) and Tommy Taylor (Eric Johnson) are, in my opinion, the finest drummers in town - I wanted to approach Tommy for this entire album, but a) I knew I couldn't afford him and a decent room and b) I was afraid he wouldn't have time and that would have hurt more than the money. I can't justify taking money away from my family, so I do what I can on my own. But mostly, this stuff is super easy. The guitar on 'Walked All The Way Here' was done in 5 minutes, one track, my old green guitar which is about 25 years old (a local guy, John Straum gave it to me, when he played bass for Ian Moore, we, tripping our balls off, painted it MANY colors, for your visual delight), just a tube screamer off the shelf and a '74 Marshall combo. I'm also using my sons bass rig, which has simplified my life dramatically - it instantly sounds excellent. My vocal chain is always the same, Rode NT-2 mic into a distressor and on mix, it gets an 1176 and some delay or something. I have no problems in the world mangling the shit out of a vocal, nothing is sacred in a recording or mix to me, something many musicians don't really agree with. Mixing is as relevant as playing an instrument, because it IS an instrument.”
So no plans to tour or put together a band to promote this?
“In this day and age, I don't know that it would be in a professional musicians' best interests to hitch their wagon to me. I'm older and I don't suffer fools whatsoever. I have my priorities.. I'd love to take a large band on the road, even a 3 piece would be a blast, but even from a logistics perspective alone, a song is going to have to do something massive in terms of sales for me to realistically consider that as a career option. I know my wife and kids would love it, I'd have my son and nephew start homeschooling so fast their heads would spin and we'd all go on the road to see the world. This is also probably why I can't seem to break out, because if I went out to play this stuff live, I believe our lives would change fairly rapidly, because I think it would absolutely catch fire. I need help. But mostly, I'll continue working during the day, writing and recording songs at night and weekends until something changes in my favor.”
You written about so much on here, from aging to apparently a threesome to views on the Houston flooding tragedy - your songs seem very personal for the most part. You've resisted writing anything political?
“Sure, I'll give you a paragraph that will destroy both of ours careers! (laughs) If I wrote about how I often feel about politics and our Moron-in-Chief, it would likely come out as very angry, hateful speed metal (laughs). No one needs that. It’s how I feel, though.. For the most part, unless you've been homeless, truly homeless (I have) or been truly oppressed, I don't give a shit about what you think about politics. 'Oh yeah, let's hear what the privileged people think about how things should go - ya know, if they are living a wealthy, relatively stable life, no one cares or needs to know what they think - you are successful because of the status quo - show some humility and thankfulness, not just ask for more. Trickle down doesn’t work, so clearly only the insane would try that again. Our president? Clearly born a poor black child, he somehow found success with only an interest free million-dollar gift from his father to start with. (laughs) It's important to feed people if they're hungry, to treat people fairly and with dignity if they need a place to stay, we have the ability, we just selfishly choose not to - it's also important for the people who have been the most successful to be taxed appropriately, taking care of the middle class who makes all of this more than possible. I could go on, but I won't. The world is upside down, and we, as a species, as the caretakers of this planet, turned into the most dangerous predators possible and have been completely lax in our innate task of caring for our planet and each other. With love. For people who talk a lot about 'God's love', they sure don't put that perspective into practice, with the exception of very few. If I had something finally break, maybe I could do something to inspire some positive change - right now, I'm nearly unknown so it's just more erratic static online. I'm thankful for what I have and what we've built.”
Some very clear perspectives! (laughs) I hope you get that break; I think you might be one to actually deserve it. What's next for you?
“Thank you so very much, it really means a lot, I appreciate you taking this time with me and I don’t get to do this often, so I have to drink it in when I can. Music is why I get up in the morning. I don't want to contemplate my life without it; like my family, it's a significant part of who I am and what I strive for. I don't really care about writing code, that's always been a hobby, like a crossword, chess or solitaire, merely a problem-solving brain teaser to keep me occupied that pays the mortgage while I try to get records out the door, but despite not necessarily being ‘artistic types’, I like the people who write code with me and I've made some excellent friends from all over the world and can't imagine them not being in my life, although they don't really know this side of me, it would be a distraction. I'm always writing songs, playing guitars, my old piano finally gave up the ghost, I wish I had the room to get another one. I also need to quit buying guitars. My son disagrees though! I don't know what my problem is there, enough is never enough. (laughs) My plans for the future are to get the next release together, and now that kids are getting older, I'd like to finally start playing around town again, maybe just jam with some of the heavyweight pros that I admire, and sell a bunch of songs through Spotify, Itunes, bandcamp, etc.. Also, Soundcloud has been very positive, I've met some nice people there, one whom I’m doing a fusion album with but mostly, I think I would like more improvisational ensemble recording, with some pros. Jazz and blues is what it's coming to for me, I hear all the kids dig it! (laughs)”