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Quick Q and A with Griffin House
 by Kathy S-B  ·  4 December 2014

Griffin HouseGriffin House went from playing golf to playing guitar and the rest is history. Griffin’s songs are heard all over the radio (a week doesn’t go by that I don’t hear “The Guy Who Says Goodbye to You is Out of His Mind” on XM Radio) and he tours extensively, playing at some of the most well-known clubs in the country. Griffin calls Nashville home and is widely respected among his music peers. His fans are dedicated and hardcore. It says a lot about a musician when fans will travel quite a distance to see him perform. He touches deeply and continues to make an indelible impression on their hearts.

To learn more about Griffin House, visit his website. Here’s a video of Griffin playing his song “Fenway.”

I understand that you recently released an EP that you recorded live in a prison. Tell us about that experience. Did you do any Johnny Cash covers? ;-)
I was invited by my friend/former roommate Jordan Lawhead, who heads up an organization called YouInspire, to sing at the prison. I actually did not want to do it because I thought it would be nothing like Johnny Cash Live at Folsom or San Quentin. I thought, “times have changed, and whatever genre of music these guys like, it’s probably not me, not to mention the fact that when Johnny Cash arrived in prison, a lot of people knew who he was, and probably no one there will know my music.”
I decided to take a chance though, as a service to Jordan, and to have the experience just to take a chance and see what it was like, I thought if nothing else I’ll get heckled and it will make me a stronger performer in the long run. I was pleasantly surprised. The prisoners were hooping and hollering and singing along and clapping, they make me feel totally welcome. I was overwhelmed by the energy in the room, and I’m so glad we got it on recording, the best part is just hearing them make a lot of noise and sing along.
In reading up about you, I see that you have written with Dan Wilson (from Semisonic). How did that partnership some about?
We met through Richard Dodd. Richard mastered a few records for me and has worked with Dan. Richard thought Dan and I would get along and work well together, so he introduced us.
Dan is great. I have a great respect for his artistry and the time we spent working together was really fun, I enjoyed getting to know him and would work with him again in a heartbeat.
Have you done much co-writing? I’m always curious about how two people who don’t necessarily know each other very well can get together and come up with songs. Do you go to the meeting prepared? Do you have a topic in mind? Do you both sit with instruments and throw ideas back and forth? How does it all come together?
All of the above. I haven’t done a lot of co-writing. Just with Dan, and Jeff Trott and a couple friends in Nashville. Most of my music has come out of me just sitting alone with a pen and paper and guitar and a recorder.
When sitting with someone else, usually someone has a little nugget of an idea and we’ll go from there. On one song Dan and I did “If You Want To,” he had the chorus and I just started making up some verses as we sat together and then we put it all together.
Another time on a song called “Lonely One” I had almost the whole song except the chorus and then Jeff started singing “I’m the lonely one” over some chord changes and all of a sudden, he had a beautiful chorus to pop in there.
I wish I was more of a chorus guy, but I seem to be more of a verse guy by nature. My most popular songs barely even have a chorus, more like tag lines. But some of Bob Dylan and Johnny Cash’s best songs have no chorus either, I just happened to write a lot of those type of songs. Coming more from a poetry background instead of a musical one, I guess the verses just come more naturally. I’m a sucker for a great pop song though too, so I really strive to make that a huge part of what I do.
You recently covered “Barricades of Heaven” for a Jackson Browne tribute album. How did that opportunity come about? Have you always been a Jackson Browne fan?
Being a part of the Jackson Browne tribute was really special.
I was invited by Kelcy Warren, who put the project together with his record label Music Road out of Austin.
The song was very special to me, because my uncle (my dad’s youngest brother, who I was very close with) introduced me to most of Jackson Browne’s music. He would play Barricades over and over and over in his car as we drove around Cincinnati together. And he made it clear how much he related to and loved the song.
So, 12 years or so later, to be invited not only to be a part of the Jackson Browne tribute record, but to be invited to sing that song in particular, felt very serendipitous and synchronistic.
The recording process was really meaningful and felt very connected and it’s just a thrill and honor to be a part of such a great tribute album.
Are there any other artists who you cover during your shows?
I’ve done Chris Isaak’s “Wicked Game”
I’ve done some Johnny Cash songs, and done some bits and pieces of the Rolling Stones.
Sometimes we’ll do more of a bar gig where we play longer and then we’ll throw in a few more covers. But the majority of my shows are cover-free.
Do you keep up with new and emerging artists? If so, have you heard anyone who has impressed you lately?
I usually am more aware of new and emerging artists, however now that I’m a dad (I have a 3 and a 1 year old) and a husband, I can barely find time to write half of a song. So, music and free time is very limited right now. I’m still not great at time management.
I heard a John Legend (who I coincidentally went to high school with) and Pink, cover of Peter Gabriel’s “Don’t Give Up” last night in the car and it completely moved me. They obviously aren’t emerging, but they are at least close to my age.
Since the music business has changed so much over the course of the last several years, have you discovered that your fans are finding your music in a variety of different ways? Do you see any trends about how they find you (via streaming music, TV, other media)?
Yes, I think a lot of people hear my music on Sirius/XM radio, so I am so grateful that they play my music on their Coffeehouse station and the Loft.
I have heard that I often pop up on other folks Pandora’s stations like “Bon Iver” “Mumford and Sons” “Ray Lamontagne” etc.
So, I think a lot of people seem to be hearing me that way too.
I’ve had quite a few film/TV placements too so I think some folks have been introduced to my songs that way.
We hear that you got cited as being one of Top 100 Musician Golfers in Golf Digest magazine. How often are you able to get out on the course? Do you ever get a chance to play while on tour?
I don’t get to play much. I have some nice spots around the country that I visit and revisit, and hit a bucket of balls. I don’t get a chance to play all that much. I hardly ever play when I’m home because it takes too much time and I’d rather be with my family.
But when I’m on the road I’ve been treated to some very nice places like Olympic Club, Waverley in Portland, Winged Foot, and I will take those opportunities to play 9 or 18 anytime I have time on the road, even if it’s the local 8 dollar municipal course, I don’t care what the course is, I just love to play.
Were there any surprising musicians on that list — someone who you would never have expected to be a golfer?
Not really. Almost every musician I know plays golf. Some are more open about it than others. I think there used to be more of a stigma that it was un-rock n’ roll to play golf, or somehow diluted one’s credibility as an artist to be associated with a sport that’s often stereotyped as being only for the rich.
It’s simply not true. Blue collar golf is everywhere, and it’s just as fun and the golfers are just as good if not better than the ones at the fancy spots. I love the 8 dollar for 9 hole municipal courses, I love the country “goat-runs” and man I love the fancy spots too!

Quick Q and A with John Fullbright
 by Kathy S-B  ·  17 November 2014

John FullbrightWhat can I say about John Fullbright that has not been said already? He’s got the Okemah, Oklahoma Woody Guthrie connection. He’s got the Grammy Award nomination connection. He’s got direct connections with artists like Jimmy LaFave, Patty Griffin, and the legendary Jimmy Webb. He’s even got a David Letterman performance on his resume.

That being said, I’m lucky enough to say that I first saw and heard him about five years ago in Memphis. I was attending a Folk Alliance conference and he was the buzz of the place. From ear to ear to ear: “Did you hear about this young kid who drove his pick-up truck from Oklahoma to play here?” Needless to say, his showcase room was overflowing and the legend of John Fullbright began . . . at least for me . . . and it should for you too.

To learn more about John Fullbright, pay a visit to his website. Here’s a video of his performance on Letterman. Here’s another song that totally slays me.

When did you first start playing music? What was your first gig like?
I’ve played the piano all my life. There was always an old piano around either in my parents’ house or my grandparents’ next door. That being said I didn’t put words and music together until I was probably 15 or 16, whatever the age of public brooding begins. I mostly played covers of songs I liked. My first gig was in the corner of a restaurant in Okemah called the Brickstreet Cafe on Friday evenings. I ran a guitar and mic through the school band’s bass amp and sang for tips and catfish. They always fed me well. Nobody told me when to start or stop so I would go on for four or five hours some nights. I played until my voice gave out and then I’d stop. That’s where I really learned what I sounded like, limitations and all.
If you had to name some influential artists who have inspired you, who would they be . . . and what is it about them that inspires you so much?
Bob Dylan got me on the guitar and Townes kept me there. I like Townes because he goes to some pretty odd places conceptually but he always pulls it off because his craft is unbelievable. I think about that a lot. Anymore I seem to have a “Warren Zevon filter” in my head that my lyrics go through. I think, “What would Zevon say about this?”
Do you have a list of “I wish I wrote that” songs?
Everything Roger Miller ever dreamed up in that wonderful head of his.
When your first studio album, From the Ground Up was nominated for a Grammy alongside Bonnie Raitt, Mumford and Sons, The Lumineers, and the Avett Brothers, what went through your head?
1. what?
2. WHAT?
3. Do I have to go?
Do you allot dedicated time to practice or to write each day?
No. I should. I make up rhymes that I think are funny just about every day and once in a blue moon it gets serious and matures and becomes a song. It’s rare, though.
Jon Pareles from the New York Times says that your songs reach for unassailable clarity” and a music writer from Esquire says that you don’t waste a single word in your songs. Do you work at paring down your music — both lyrics and instrumentation — to its most basic and pure form? Do you whittle away at the songs once you’ve started writing them or do you have a natural tendency to write that way in the first place?
I put high expectations on myself musically and lyrically. Musically I tend to write just out of my vocal range because I like the sound, but it’s hard to pull off every night. The simpler the better all around. I pride myself on writing songs that are simple enough to play on the guitar and/or the piano, though that’s certainly not always the case. I try to build a song strong enough to withstand the fact that I’m going to mature and possibly be embarrassed by the idea it later. I don’t want to not want to play a song I wrote when I was 25 because I think it’s silly. I think about that a lot. People get mad when you don’t want to play a song they like that you don’t think is up to snuff. I want to ask them to publicly read a high school term paper they wrote about penguins or whatever. I’d pay good money to see that.
You’ve had some great opportunities to tour with some top notch artists like Patty Griffin and Shovels and Rope recently. You played at some fabulous venues. Is it strange to play at some super large places and then go out and play more intimate places or even house concerts?
It’s all strange. The idea of going out and getting paid to play music is strange. I’m terribly shy and it’s very hard to get up on any stage. That being said, it’s been a VERY fun few months. I’ve made a lot of real friends and played a lot of wonderful rooms. I look forward to listening rooms, though. There’s a connection there you don’t find on a big stage with a bunch of hot lights and a loud crowd. People really care about what you say and how you say it. I’m already nervous just thinking about it.
What’s your favorite thing about touring?
Food.
If you could come up with a perfect “year,” how much of it would you devote to writing, recording, touring or down time? Are you even able to take any time off just for yourself?
I’m figuring that out right now. Next year might be that perfect year. I’m taking a lot of time off until summer to figure out what this next album is and who I am making it. It’s a luxury to be able to do that and I’ve never done it before. There’s always the fear that you’ll reach into that hat and pull out absolutely nothing, but I don’t think about that too much.

Quick Q and A with Greg Klyma
 by Kathy S-B  ·  1 November 2014

Greg KlymaGreg Klyma is a product of the Rust Belt — Buffalo, NY to be exact. As his bio states, he’s an old-school troubadour with contemporary savvy. He’s a guy who has a ton of stories to tell and songs to sing. He’s rambled all over the country but decided to call Somerville home in recent years. The greater-Boston area has benefited from his presence. If he’s not on stage doing his own set, he’s sitting in with the best of the best at any number of clubs, coffeehouses or festivals. He’s a go-to kind of musician who is much beloved for his musical integrity and hard-working ethic.

To learn more about Greg, check out his website. Here’s a video of Greg singing “Talking Talking Blues Blues.” And for good measure, here’s Greg and friends playing at his regular Monday night gig.

I’m always interested to hear about what hooked musicians on music. What’s your story? Were you influenced by someone in your family? Or did you have an inspirational teacher? Or did you discover music by listening to some kind of electronic device?
Music was always around. Whether it was mom and dad listening to Everly Brothers and Buddy Holly, going to see my cousins’ Polka band or listening to grandpa play harmonica in the living room while my uncle played guitar and sang country songs, there was music. My friends and I bought and shared records, made mix tapes. I didn’t know people lived otherwise.
Has your taste in music changed over the years since you’ve gotten deeper and deeper into the Americana scene. Who would you say are some of the best musicians and songwriters around today?
Anais Mitchell and Jonathan Byrd are two of the best songwriters I know. Duke Levine and Michael Bean are a couple of my favorite musicians. I don’t listen to much current music ’cept what I might catch on WUMB. At the moment, I’m listening to Kris Kristofferson’s first albums on Monument Records. “Sunday Morning Coming Down” is as good as songwriting gets.
Did you take music lessons or are you self taught?
I took guitar lessons when I was 13. I studied music a little in college, mostly because I thought I was supposed to. I haven’t stopped learning. If I live a long life, I hope this remains truth. Lately, I’m inspired to work on my lead guitar playing. I have a Telecaster and Fender Princeton Reverb. Now, if I only had chops.
Tell us about your latest release, Another Man’s Treasure. It got some great radio airplay which makes me do all kinds of crazy happy dances.
Thank you. Yeah, it was in rotation on WUMB for a while and then got added to rotation on The Village on Sirius XM. All very exciting!
Another Man’s Treasure was my first fan-funded project. We reached our goal a full week before the deadline. Then, on two glorious days in June 2013, me and 7 friends gathered at a barn-turned-studio in Eden, NY. Some had driven in from Boston, a couple live in Buffalo, the organ player drove up from Central PA by way of a wedding in Indiana, and yet another flew in from Houston, TX. On Day 1, we tracked 10 songs over 13 studio hours; on Day 2, 6 more songs in 8 hours. All on 1• analog tape! The 16 songs were mixed down and we found the 12 songs that made for the best album. I couldn’t be happier with the sound, vibe and feel of this record. Folks can find it online here:
I’m not familiar with Village Produce. Is it like CD Baby or Amazon?
I’m really down on all the big stores and how they ultimately undercut us independent artists, playing on our emotion and desire to get our music out there. I prefer farmer’s markets to big chain grocery stores (even though the big chains fit my budget better • which is why I end up shopping at them). Village Produce is run by a friend. He’s local to Boston. So, while in theory, I’m supposed to have my music available in as many outlets as possible, the only place you will find Another Man’s Treasure is at my concerts or at Village Produce. This is what local looks like.
One track that stands out is actually not written by you but you definitely made the song your own. What inspired you to give “You Are My Sunshine” such an interesting and plaintive take?
You told me once dear, you truly loved me and no one else could come between. Now, you’ve left me for another. You have shattered all my dreams.
She “shattered” all his dreams. This is a happy song?
The production of the album is really spectacular. There’s a lot going on and it’s all so tight. Did you produce it or did you work with someone else on it?
Ryan Fitzsimmons and I produced it. I’ve played a lot of gigs with Ryan and had played some with most of the other musicians, but they all hadn’t played together until we started to roll tape. It was an interesting experiment. They all brought independent gig experiences to the songs, but there was this freshness and excitement of playing this music with new talented friends. Everyone clicked, and that’s good luck.
It was great to work on this project with my brother in arms. Ryan was particularly helpful when it came to mastering and sequencing the album. I nearly left “Scream” off the album. Ryan fought for it. It was a great call.
If you were asked to put a compilation of your favorite Greg Klyma songs for someone who was not familiar with your music, which ones would you choose and why?
I think you just asked me what my favorite songs by me are. I’d probably just make someone a mix tape of Steve Earle, Tom Petty, Todd Snider and The Band with some Dylan, Stones, Waylon, Willie and Cash peppered in there. Then, I’d invite ’em to pick up a copy of Another Man’s Treasure. It’s where I’m at right now. By the time you read this, I’ll have a different answer. Come to show. I don’t play songs I don’t like.
You’ve created a lively scene called Americana Mondays at P.A’s Lounge in Somerville. Do you generally play with the same band every week or do you have guest musicians sit in and mix it up a bit? What’s your favorite part of playing gigs like this?
Americana Mondays make my week. I’m regularly joined by Joe Klompus on doghouse bass and Steve Latt on pedal steel, fiddle and harmony vocals. We play a lot of Hank Williams, Ernest Tubb and the like. Most Mondays we start as a trio. I’m lucky to have a lot of talented friends. They come out for a beer or to network with other musicians, then I put ’em to work in the 2nd set. By the night’s end, there are usually more musicians in the band. It’s a fun hang.
What is it about the Cambridge / Somerville area that attracts so many musicians?
Community. The sense that we’re all in this together. That’s what got me.
One of your many talents, beside playing a multitude of instruments and writing fine songs, is that you are a most excellent storyteller. It’s clear to me that you craft these stories very carefully and choose the correct words and phraseology to set a tone for the tale you’re spinning. Have you always had a penchant for storytelling?
Growing up I remember being asked a lot “do you talk just to hear yourself talk?” For a while I wondered, “do I?” All the while I was simply honing my craft of choosing correct words and phraseology. Could be I talk because other people like to hear me talk.
You spend an awful lot of time in your car when you tour. Do you listen to music, NPR, audiobooks, or all of the above?
I’m not touring so much these days. When I am out there, I don’t listen to much of anything. The road is noisy. I might look for All Things Considered and I do keep the iPod nearby should I need a fix of Hank Williams or Tom Petty. By and large, I value the alone time.
What’s the longest road trip you’ve ever taken? Do you have any advice for young singer-songwriters who wish to pack up their cars and take their songs on tour?
I have all sorts of advice for young songwriters. If they happen to be in town, we can go out for coffee or drinks and I’ll yap till it crushes their souls. If they aren’t dissuaded, then good luck to ’em. No one is doing this because it’s easy.

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