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Quick Q and A with Rod Picott
 by Kathy S-B  ·  29 October 2014

Rod PicottRod Picott refers to himself as a lucky guy. He feels blessed to be able to live the life of a troubadour who travels from town to town singing his songs, seeing the sites, and meeting all kinds of people along the way. One music reviewer described his songs as “gems that finely balance despair, desire and optimism with dexterity.” I nodded my head. That’s it . . . in one sentence! As a music fan and as someone who helps to produce a concert series and is very involved with promoting independent musicians, I have to say that there is not much more that one can ask from a musician. Rod Picott has it all. He delivers his songs to each and every audience with sincerity in a humble and often self-deprecating manner. His songs resonate in one’s heart long after the last chord has been strummed.

To find out more about Rod, visit his website. Here’s a video of Rod singing his song “You’re Not Missing Anything” from his latest recording, “Hang Your Hopes on a Crooked Nail.” It’s a great example of how he digs deep and lays his emotions on the line. Worth a viewing for sure!

Your music is often labeled as “Americana.” What does that term me to you?
“Americana is a tricky term. It’s useful in that it’s given a home and a landing place to a lot of musicians who otherwise wouldn’t have a way to describe what they do. It’s tricky though because “Americana” covers so many styles that it doesn’t really describe a genre. People use the term as a genre but I believe it was coined to cover all the American roots music that was sitting outside the mainstream. To me “Americana” means all the roots music that can climb inside that clown car.
You’ve been living in Nashville since the mid-1990s. Have you seen the music scene change much since you arrived there?
Oh yes, it’s changed drastically. I arrived in Nashville at the end of what Steve Earle famously called “The Great Credibility Scare” of the 90’s. Country music had embraced Lyle Lovett, Steve Earle, Mary Chapin Carpenter, Rodney Crowell and other authentic artists. It’s unimaginable now to think of any of those artists on country radio. There was a brief moment when great smart songwriters were really encouraged and embraced by the mainstream country music industry. I watched that moment pass and blew around in the tail wind of it myself. I was thought to be a very good young writer back in the day and I’m grateful that I caught the last couple years of that time because the song really was the thing when I moved to town. I don’t think that’s the case anymore but I was lucky to breathe some of that air when I arrived in Nashville. It set me on a righteous path so to speak.
According to your biography, one of your earliest breaks was co-writing a song called “Getting to Me” with Fred Eaglesmith. How did that co-write come about?
I was being courted by BlueWater Publishing so they were having me write with some of their staff writers. Fred was writing for them at that time. I learned more from Fred in that first co-write than I learned from anyone else. It was nerve wracking but exciting. Fred said, “Do you mind being the guy with the pencil?” then walked around my house being brilliant for about 4 hours while I wrote down all the ideas, then we went to lunch and when we came back we had a song. Brilliant guy.
I’ve seen a video of you talking about your first encounter with Fred and your experience driving a 1966 Falcon Futura. Your latest recording, “Hang Your Hopes on a Crooked Nail” includes a song called “65 Falcon.” What’s the story with Falcons? ;-)
I use my own life constantly in my writing. I had a 66 Falcon. This is how writers work. You use pieces of yourself and the world you walk through in your work. It’s all fair game. We all deny the songs being autobiographical to protect ourselves and because people often don’t understand what a delicate dance it is to explore these things in the sunlight but of course it’s autobiographical . . . and not. . . .
You spent many years working in the construction business. I understand that sheetrock and drywall were your specialties. You’ve got a song called “Sheetrock Hanger” . . . do you have any other Rod Picott work-related songs?
Not as specifically as “Sheetrock Hanger” no. That one is right out of my life. Work appears in a lot of the songs though. “Rust Belt Fields,” “Wrecking Ball,” “Welding Burns” all have work as a pivot in the song. Work is such a big part of our lives that I’m drawn to explore it. The work you do is a huge part of how you see yourself, isn’t it? I’m fascinated by how people see themselves and how your environment and choices and history play a part in how a person feels walking through the world. My father comes from a fairly rough background though he doesn’t see it that way, it was just his experience you know? I’ve watched how his experiences play out for him for years. We never get far from where you come from, do we? You can move across the globe but you are still that kid with dirty knees and a black eye if that’s who you were. You can put on a suit but it doesn’t change you really, does it?
You toured for a while as the opening act for Alison Krauss and Union Station. Did you learn a lot from that experience?
I learned how things work at that level. The whole band was very relaxed and confident and they were all honestly very kind to me. I didn’t even have a record out at the time. Alison gave me great advice about my voice and singing that I still think about today. Not that she sat me down and gave me lessons but when a singer with that kind of talent says something to you about your voice you listen. They worked. They warmed up. They were aware of each other. There was no one upping each other. They were a wonderful smart bunch of people and more fun than you would expect from how somber most the music is.
You’ve known Slaid Cleaves for most of your life. You played music together as kids. He’s been living a full-time music life for a lot longer than you have. Did he encourage you to take the plunge and get out on the road to share your music?
No, to be honest he told me for a long time that I shouldn’t sing. Slaid’s a very good singer just naturally. He could sing sort of effortlessly even as a kid and I’m the other guy. I worked very, very hard to find how my voice could work for me. I don’t have that natural skill in my blood. Back when we were younger we were quite close at times and not as close at times, like any friendship goes over many years. All along the friendship, however, we’ve been very honest with each other and that has helped the co-writing to be very effective over the years. Most, though not all, of our strongest songs have been written together. I think that comes from the level of honesty and also that we have slightly different skills as writers that seem to fit like puzzle pieces. So, no Slaid was not a champion of my career as a performer as I started. Having said that, he was very gracious when he saw I wasn’t going away. He used to have me open shows for him quite a lot in the early days which was very helpful to me in finding my footing.
Your songs definitely reveal a depth of insight about the human condition. Are you inspired to write by everyday moments that resonate within you? You have such an eye for detail, I can’t help but think that you are an accomplished people-watcher!
That’s a very kind thing to say. Finding the greater resonance in the common is my reason for writing. There’s nothing more beautiful to me than a when a writer finds a way to say something big using something small. This is the true love of my work life. Yes, I’m a people watcher and I love a well-placed detail. I’m also interested in how words feel if you know what I mean. Words have moods. . . .
You’ve admitted that most of your songs are not the happiest of songs. Do you think that typical acoustic music fans are drawn to introspective lyrics?
I think there is a huge range there. I’m not sure Bela Fleck’s biggest fan would be drawn to introspective lyrics but maybe. . . . I do think that people rolling around in this scene tend to be very bright and curious. I’m always amazed at the interesting and incredibly bright people I meet at shows. I love seeing people’s passion for music, it’s a thing I understand. I’ve been obsessed with songs and songwriting for most of my life. I’m drawn to art that has a certain weight to it. That doesn’t mean I don’t have a sense of humor, that’s there as well. But as a rule I’m interested in thoughtful explorations of life and how we walk through our lives, how we see ourselves and what that feels like.
What’s next on the horizon?
Hopefully I’ll be recording a new album in January and then I’ll change the tires and go again . . . I love this work. I hung sheetrock for 18 years and I’m grateful every day I get to do this for a living. I fought hard for a long time to get here, to find my voice as a singer and a writer and I feel incredibly lucky. . . .

Quick Q and A with Radoslav Lorkovic
 by Kathy S-B  ·  24 October 2014

Radoslav LorkovicIf you have never had the opportunity to experience Radoslav Lorkovic, you are missing a master at work. Whether it be his virtuosic piano playing or his uncanny way of adding just the right touches from his beautiful red accordion, concert goers are in for a real treat. It truly doesn’t matter who he is playing with; he’s played with so many of the A list musicians in the country and each and every show that he is involved with is an utter pleasure and delight. Born in Croatia, but his musical pedigree comes from many years on the road all around the world — traveling and doing his thing with the best of the best and on his own. Rad’s music is unique; it’s atmospheric; it’s jazz and blues infused. Give your ears a treat and listen!

To learn more about this formidable and most talented musician, check out his website. Watch Rad playing a haunting song called “Northwind.” Here’s a fantastic video of him playing with Odetta.

Has music always been a major part of your life?
It’s really all I remember. My singer Grandma was teaching me Slavic folk songs as classical music played. I had a whole set learned by age three which I would perform for my gramp’s pals. They would throw money. As a toddler I would wander around the place singing several key passages to Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition.
I understand that you that your grandmother, Melita Lorkovic, was a classical pianist. Is anyone else in your accomplished family musical?
Melita headed the list. The list is quite long. My maternal great grandfather conducted the opera in Ljubljana. Hilarius Benishek. Melita’s brother Mladen Pozaic conducted the symphony in Sarajevo. My father’s cousin Nikolai Debelic was the conductor of the Dubrovnik symphony and Radovan Lorkovic, my uncle who is a violinist and music history professor in Switzerland he is currently whipping me into shape as a classical accompanist.
Was practicing something that you did willingly?
Absolutely not! I was a teacher’s nightmare. My assignment was likely “Mary had a Little Lamb.” My diligent teacher asked “Radoslav, did you practice?” I said no. After a few more unproductive sessions I arrived not knowing the assignment but I did learn a Bach two part invention instead
You may have studied classical music but you grew to love popular music. So you were one of those kids who had a transistor stuck to your ear all the time? Do you recall what songs captivated you during those early years?
It was a green transistor radio. It was tuned to WDGY. Minneapolis. I liked “Sweet Pea” and “Red Rubber Ball” but likely had the top 40 memorized. This led to the subsequent slippery slope which led to blues.
When did you first start playing the accordion? Was the main reason because of its portability? Did you find that having an accordion at a folk festival is a lot easier than relying on a decent piano?
An accordion literally landed in my lap at a party in Iowa City. Everyone had guitars so I made do. Took it to sound check with Bo (Ramsey) the next day. He said. “Keep doing that.” I fell I love with Clifton Chenier and Flaco Jimenez simultaneously and did my best to imitate them
What are your fondest memories of your days working with Bo Ramsey and Greg Brown?
Many of them I am unable to discuss :). But it was basically living the dream playing with those guys. Still livin’ it.
How did your tours in Europe come about? I’m intrigued about you getting to play in castles and exotic other locations!
My first European tour came about by accident and fate. Dave Moore had a hit record in Italy. He said stop by and sit in on one show. I did. The promoter went nuts and added me to the whole month-long tour. The rest was history. I met most of my folk scene friends in Italy
There’s a video of you accompanying the legendary Odetta. When did you first meet her and discover that you’d be a good combination?
My friend Seth Farber was running out of substitute pianists. He was Odetta’s principal pianist. She disliked most that he sent as a result of his music directorship for “Hairspray.” It was musical love at first sight at our first show at Maine’s Flye Point Festival
You’ve probably seen it all — huge capacity festivals to small, intimate house concerts. Is there any rhyme or reason to the music business?
I’m writing this from the humblest of house concerts. No reason but lots of rhyme. It never made any sense. That’s why I love it!

Quick Q and A With Catie Curtis
 by Kathy S-B  ·  21 October 2014

Catie CurtisA music critic once described the music of Catie Curtis as “sophisticated simplicity.” That’s an excellent way to highlight the fact that Catie’s songs reflect the pure emotions and feelings that resonate with her fans; yet those very same songs are wrapped up in an exquisite musical quilt of sound and rhythm. Well-respected songwriter, Mary Gauthier, praises Catie in one of the most heartfelt quotes I’ve seen in a long, long time. She says about Catie: “She is an inspiration to me. She knows the power of gentleness, and the vulnerability in her voice has always undone me. Made me want to be a better person.” Catie’s ability to sing about what really matters has made the world a better place.

To learn more about Catie, visit her website. Here’s a cool video of the song “The Voyager” from Catie’s latest CD, Flying Dream.

How do you manage to juggle all the aspects of being a full-time musician? Do you plot out time to be in “creative mode”?
Yes, I have to set aside time for writing or it just doesn’t happen!
Touring can be grueling. What do you do to keep yourself balanced when you’re on the road?
I go for walks, and do yoga in my hotel room. I focus a lot on writing/finishing new songs on the road because it helps me to feel fresh at each gig.
Tell us about your latest CD, Flying Dream. First of all, what does the title mean?
Flying Dream is a moment when life seems too good to be true. So the line in the chorus, “Don’t look down in the flying dream” means don’t get in your own way” let the good stuff happen. Most of the songs were co-written by Kristen Hall. She sings harmony and produces the CD too.
You’re now on your own record label. Is that a freeing experience or is it a bit scary after having been affiliated with a label for so many years?
I was with an indie label, so it doesn’t feel like that huge a change. I already had freedom and being in charge isn’t really scary- it’s just more work on my plate with the upside of more potential reward!
You’re co-written many songs on this CD with Kristen Hall. Were these forays into crafting songs together different than your previous co-writing experiences with Mark Erelli, Mary Gauthier and Beth Nielson Chapman?
Co-writing is remarkably similar from writer to writer. We just talk, play and brainstorm, riding the ups and downs of the creative process together. I love it!
Your promo for the album states that there is some “subtle jazz, electronic and AM pop shadings.” That sounds intriguing and very different from your other recordings. What’s the reaction been from your long-time fans?
I was going for dreamy and yummy, which we got. So far, my fans have said it’s one of their favorites, if not the best CD I’ve made. Of course my fans are kind, so you’ll have to listen for yourself and see. :)
You are well known for supporting causes like the Voices United for Separation of Church and State and Equal Marriage. Do these causes give you strength and insight which fuels your songwriting?
I get involved with causes because I believe that music can shift people’s thinking about issues. I also love bringing people together to support a cause — folk music is about ideas as much as music. The reality is that I’m singing mostly about love/relationships and stories that are not overtly political. But taking a stand on some issues brings a little more meaning to my work.
You’ve become an ordained minister and are able to marry friends and fans. What prompted you to take that step?
I went to a couple weddings at which the couple didn’t seem connected to the officiant and vice versa. What I like about getting involved in weddings is the preparation with the couple to help them create the content, and to get to know them. Then when we get up there on their wedding day, I’m relatively calm (having stage experience helps) so I can help them with their jitters, and help them feel as comfortable and authentic as possible.
You’ve had the opportunity to play at one of Obama’s inauguration parties as well as playing holiday shows at the White House. How did you come into the radar of the Obama administration?
The White House Director of the Office of Visitors is a fan. Sweet!
Do you have any cool stories about adventures in the White House?
My dad got to pick up basketballs from Obama’s rack, and I got to play with the White House dogs — Sunny and Bo. Both pretty great experiences.
Are you listening to any new artists these days? If so, who . . . and what are your thoughts about them and their music?
I love Boston-based Tall Heights. They are two guys who play cello and guitar, have gorgeous voices, great songs, and the love for what they are doing. Total package!

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