So that’s how you ended up in San Francisco. Since then, you’ve been all over the place; L.A., Hawaii, San Francisco, Austin for a period of time, and now you’re in Nashville. How did you end up there?
That kind of comes full circle. Growing up in Virginia, before we lived in Florida, I had always heard about Nashville. I had friends who were doing country, and I eventually played country music in high school. I was always kind of coming from an edgier, rock approach, but I always liked country and bluegrass. I still do, I love bluegrass.
I had initially thought about moving to Nashville after high school, but because my friend was in San Francisco, it made more sense; I had at least one couch to crash on. If my friend had moved to Nashville, I would have moved to Nashville. When I was in high school, anything seemed like a bigger world to me.
When I ended up in L.A. in the ‘80s, heavy metal and hair bands were popular, and I was still playing a Telecaster. I rarely used a whammy bar; I kind of resisted while everybody else was using them. Being in L.A. at that time and playing a Tele, I felt like Opie from the Andy Griffith Show. I always felt a little out of step, and I wanted to get back to a song-oriented town; a more organic, roots-music type of scene.
Then, after living in Austin for ten months, I realized that the Southern experience was something I really wanted to get back into, where things were a bit slower, in a good way. People were more relaxed; there were fewer mice fighting over just the right amount of cheese, so the mice were friendlier. I realized that just made me play better, and it enabled me able to dig into my instrument even deeper because I’m less distracted by life around me.
A place that’s a little more nurturing?
Yes. There’s a tremendous amount of opportunity in a lot of other cities, and I feel fortunate that I’ve been able to live in some of them, and gained the great cultural experiences and all of the other wonderful things that go along with living in a big melting pot of millions of people. But, at this point, I really wanted to come back to where things were lush and green and pretty, and the level of musicianship in Nashville, I think, per square inch, is much higher than I’ve experienced in any other music center.
So it’s like Paris was for jazz in the ‘20s: a scene with everyone at the top of their game.
You know, my joke here is the bagboy at Krogers asks you, “Paper, plastic, or should I melt your face off with some Tele licks?”
It’s true. It’s the people who are the best of the small towns, not just across the U.S., but all across the world. I’ve met some amazing international musicians here, basically the best of their respective small towns. People used to tell me, “Hey, you should move to Nashville.” And that’s what happens; these players who are the best of their local areas come here and then they get elevated themselves because they’re all coming here, pushing each other to excel on their instruments. There is a monstrous amount talent in this town – not just musicians, but writers, engineers, producers – the whole infrastructure of the music industry has unbelievable talent.
|You know, my joke here is the bagboy at Krogers asks you...“Paper, plastic, or should I melt your face off with some Tele licks?”|
That leads right into the next question: everyone’s heard of the local hot picker who goes to Nashville, and comes back six months later and signs up for computer programming classes. How has Nashville been treating you?
You know, there have been some nights where I’ve been, like, “What am I doing here?” When you go see some of these pickers here, I mean, it’s monstrous. But the difference is if you really have it in your heart, if you have absolute desire and conviction to the art form, then you’re not easily swayed – you’re actually inspired by that level of musicianship, you know? So, on the one hand, I might get terrified briefly, but on the other hand I’m going, “Oh my God, this is what I want to be around!” I want to be elevated. This town can crush people who don’t want that.
I don’t look at music or guitar playing as a competitive sport. No matter how great somebody else plays, you have to recognize they can’t do what you do as well as you do it – hopefully. [laughs]
The trick is finding your voice on the instrument, whatever it is, and figuring out a way to maximize it so hopefully you can make a living with it. I’m certainly not a rodeo, ring-of-fire guitar player – like Brent Mason, Redd Volkaert or Ray Flacke, or even like the new guys here, like Johnny Hiland and Guthrie Trapp. Those are the terrifying players and they’re incredible. I’m much more of an eclectic type player and my approach is more textural – that’s not to say that those guys don’t do that or can’t do that, I’m just recognizing where my talents are best maximized.