The Concrete Blonde Singer/Songwriter
Reaches New Heights With Solo Album ďNakedĒ

Photo by Barfly
By Paul Freeman [December 2015 Interview]

Johnette Napolitanoís new album is ďNakedĒÖ and not in name only. Itís a strikingly stripped-down production. And the minimalist approach leads to maximum emotional impact.

The record is dark, beautiful and brilliant - like the resilient Napolitano herself.

A true rock icon, Napolitano is best known for her ongoing work as lead singer/songwriter/bassist with the influential band Concrete Blonde.

In 1981, she founded the group in Los Angeles with guitarist James Mankey. Lyrically, Concrete Blonde went to places rock rarely ventured, certainly not so eloquently or profoundly. The hit ďJoeyĒ offered an intense, unvarnished, moving portrait of an alcoholic. Other unforgettable songs include ďSomeday?,Ē the vampiric ďBloodletting,Ē ďCaroline,Ē ďWalking in LondonĒ and ďHeal It Up.Ē The alternative bandís evocative music has been featured in numerous films and television shows. They continue to reunite for occasional, short tours.

But Napolitano has also carved out an impressive solo career. Sheís one of the most distinctive, daring singer/songwriters of our time.

And now comes ďNaked,Ē perhaps her masterwork. The atmospheric melodies and poetic lyrics will linger in your mind, conjuring up vivid imagery.

Throughout, Napolitano plays the instruments, including guitar, piano and viola. The acoustic guitarís subtle, edgy distortion adds just the right, slightly unnerving touch.

And oh, the vocals. Napolitano can rivet you with a wail, warm you with a whisper, chill you with a penetrating vocal delivery. A brief spoken phrase can drip with drama. Her voice is endlessly expressive, exuding genuine emotion.

Fasten your seat belts, itís going to be a bumpy night, as the album opens with the arrestingly tense ďAll About Eve.Ē The lovely ďHereĒ presents a remarkably evolved, unselfish view of love. A terrible torment pulses through the sparse, but powerful ďMemory Go.Ē Napolitano segues from the deeply unsettling depiction of evil ďPastor FinchĒ to the gorgeous purity of ďChristmas Morning.Ē A basic, addictive blues-rock riff carries the ultra-cool ďJazz on Vinyl.Ē The road is a theme that weaves through so many rock, folk and blues songs, but rarely with the transcendent sense of mystery found in Napolitanoís ďThe Highway.Ē

As carefully chosen notes on the piano establish the mood, Napolitano tells the story of ďConstanze Mozart,Ē a despairing tale of love, devotion, sacrifice, creative genius, loss of identity and searing loneliness. It sensitively brims with passion and pain.

Napolitano artfully paints the pathos of ďSheís Gone.Ē

And thereís ďLady Day,Ē a smoky, sultry, poignant, after-hours homage to Billie Holiday. With piano mingling delicately with guitar, itís a song and performance that will haunt you.

ďNakedĒ will take your breath away, a stunning album. And each time you listen, youíll be even more immersed in this hypnotic work.

Napolitano is a gifted multimedia artist, who has poured her many talents into a book called ďRough Mix.Ē She is working on a second volume, as well as a screenplay.

Pop Culture Classics reached Napolitano at the home she shares with a rescue horse and other animal friends. Itís in Joshua Tree - natureís spiritual oasis in the California desert. There the artist continues to bloom.

In conversation, her words flow forth in rapid, tremendous torrents, reflecting the myriad thoughts - farsighted and far-ranging, intuitive and insightful - that dance endlessly in her marvelous mind.

Do you decide when itís time for a new solo project, rather than a band album? Or do the songs make that decision for you?

Johnette Napolitano & Star - photographer: Amber Rogers

I kind of knew I was going to do this for a long time. Iíve been touring this show for well over a year now. My goal was to develop it to be shot for a DVD. And it wasnít as easy as it seemed, the balance of the material. The new songs, I had been playing for a while. And that was really good, because for quite a few years now, it was basically about writing in the studio. And this was very much kind of like back to the old days, where we were on the road quite a lot and Iíd be sitting around in dressing rooms or a hotel room and writing things.

So the things started to really develop and sit next to the old stuff real nice. And the audiences seemed to know the new stuff real quick. I donít know how. But they were responding really well to some of the new songs, so I decided, ďWell, itís time to record them.Ē

Anyway, my goal was to do this for a DVD. I read from my book. And that isnít as easy as it sounds at all. I mean, it took me a while to learn how to do that right, to pace correctly, to emphasize. It wasnít as easy as I thought it was going to be. So it took quite a bit of time to get the pacing of the show and the dynamics of the show the way I wanted them. And illustrations. I illustrated my whole book, so in the venues, most of the venues have screens now, so I had a really good time drawing on the spot, the images to project, at soundcheck. And then theyíd shoot them out. So every city had its own illustration. And thatís going to go in the second book. So it wound up to be quite a creative process, which I really enjoyed.

But my other issue was, how do I record this? And so, every location, I was really considering. I considered doing it in Australia, because thatís always been a really amazing country for us, and me, and we got our first gold record there. But I decided that I wasnít that crazy about doing it in front of a live audience, because theyíre quite unpredictable. And sometimes a bit unruly. [Laughs] And the whole point of doing this was that I got sick of seeing people posting stuff on YouTube and itís not very good. And itís for a lot of the same songs that I havenít been paid for in almost 15 years - there is a big royalty battle going on there now. And so I decided, Iíve got to really rage against the machine here and come up with new stuff that rivals the old stuff - which it does, to me. But you have to prove that to people, because thatís the only thing they really have in their heads. So Iím really, really proud of the set.

Now, having done that, I didnít know how to record a new album. All my gear, as it is with computers - Iím really over. And I live way the hell out here in the desert, so to get away is difficult, because I have a horse and a goat and three dogs and itís hard to get somebody to come out here to look after everybody. And I couldnít do it in L.A., because itís just too hard for me to be away that long. And I didnít think Iíd really be able to do what I really felt I wanted to do. I didnít want to feel pressured. I didnít want to be considering what was being spent every day to do the album, you know, to worry about, ďOh, my God, this is $800 a day. Iíd better work my ass off.Ē I didnít want to go back in that mode either. So I was kind of getting pretty depressed by it.

My friend Brian Mansell, he and I both worked for Leon Russell for quite a long time. And when you work for Leon, you develop a standard that is very high and just a whole spiritual approach to the work. And itís like a support group [laughs]. And working with LeonÖ heís Leon! Thereís only one. And heís quite the master of space and time. They donít call him that for no reason. And Brian was Leonís tech guy. People donít think of Leon as a tech guy, but heís way ahead of his time. He built one of the first mobile units. He said back in 1979 that the future of music was in video. That was before MTV. And he was letting a lot of young bands, a lot of punk bands, record at the studio. And he had a three-camera shoot going on. And he was way ahead of his time with computers and a lot of things like that. And he surrounded himself with the best minds in that field, who all wanted to be around him. So it was pretty cool.

So Brian said, ďYouíve got to make a record.Ē I said, ďI donít know how Iím going to do it, because Iíve got to update all of my computers and I canít really afford to do that. And Iím just kind of over it.Ē Iíve recorded a couple of records myself here, the limited editions projects. But now, thank you Apple, thereís no sound card available for my G4 anymore. So itís really a hassle upgrading anything. And with Mac, God bless Ďem, you have to do that like every five minutes.

So Brian, this is last July, he said, ďLook, Iíll bring out the mobile unit and Iíll stay there for a month.Ē And that was really great, because he was literally living here, on the property, in the mobile unit. I only go out for a week at a time. I think next year Iím going to have to go out more than that. And so he was able to stay here and feed the livestock and everything else and then, when I came back, we just got right to it and recorded the album. He just ran the lines in my cabin. And I was able to be at home and record at home and work at my own pace. But sometimes that was real quick, too.

Brian would wake up, heís a night guy and Iím up in the morning really early to feed everybody. Iím always up between five and six oíclock. Lately Iíve been staying in bed another hour, because my horse is spoiled and, if I go out again, I have a neighbor thatís going to come over and my horse just has to get over the six oíclock feeding. Sheís got to wait till seven or eight. But sheís real spoiled [laughs].

So we did it. We laid it out. We went through the tracks, went through everything. And we slammed down the ones that were easy, the ones that IĎd been playing all year, and then Iíd go to bed, Brian would stay up all night, mixing things. And then weíd get up and do it again. Iím like, ďWhat do I need lyrics for?Ē And then in the morning, Iíd work on lyrics and, by the time Brian got up, I was ready to record. So we got one or two things done a day. And that slowed down a little bit towards the end, because a lot of stuff wasnít finished yet. But I was real happy with it.

As well you should be. You played a number of instruments.

Photographer: Catherine Copenhaver

I wanted to play everything, because Iíve never done that. I mean, Iíve always done it, but Iíve never done it on record. I used to play quite a bit of guitar in Concrete Blonde, but I donít think a lot of people realize that. And I play drums. I play everything. I love to program stuff. Iíve become a much better guitarist, because of touring alone for so long. But thatís how I started, as a 12-year-old, sitting on my bed, playing guitar. My Dad gave me a guitar for my birthday and that was it. I got a viola. Iíve always wanted one. I had a violin and wanted a viola. And Laurie Sargent, who I tour with a lot, she had a viola that she wanít using, so I bought hers and, oh, my God, it sounds like heaven! So amazing.

So I was really happy, because, even people that Iíve known for 20 years, Iíd say, ďIím touring by myselfĒ and theyíd say, ďReally? Well, what do you do?Ē Iím like, ďIíve been playing guitar since I was 12 years old and I can do a lot of stuff.Ē [Laughs] Iím really comfortable with the show. Itís a good time, as long as Iím out for a week. Laurie and I are going out to Texas in February. Weíve got three shows there. I think weíre going back to New York. And I keep wrestling with Australia. But as long as Iím out for a week out of the month, I donít feel like Iím away from home so much that Iím emotionally unstable, which is easy for me to do on the road.

I really do have my roots here and my little animal family here and my horse and Iím real happy at homeÖ for the first time, possibly, in my life. And so it really stabilizes me, emotionally. I get pretty wild on the road still. But thatís what itís supposed to be. Laurie and I have been driving around, just the two of us, for a year now, and itís a blast. Iím not surrounded by a bunch of crew. Iím not surrounded by a circus. We can basically move when we want, how we want, drive when we want, stop at a diner, if we want. And itís not like hauling around a whole community on your back, which is hard on me a lot. So itís just been fun. And it should be fun. And if itís not fun, thereís no point in doing it. Thereís a whole lot of things you can do in life that arenít any fun. But touring and making music should be fun, especially if Iím still doing it.

I remember when I turned 40, I said, ďWell, shoot, itís got to be over now. I mean, Iím 40.Ē And so I spent a lot of time in Mexico, painting. But it seemed like the work was still there. People still wanted me to come around. And Iíve got the catalog now. One of the good things you can say about getting older is that youíve got a body of work. When we were young and first starting to tour, Iíd look down at the set list and Iíd be terrified, because that was all the songs we had. And Iíd get really scared, because I just wanted to play bass, basically, and Iíd look down and go, ďOh, my God, song number four is coming up. Geez, how does it go again?Ē And it was pretty stressful. I can still have anxiety attacks, but finally talk myself down and just say, ďLook, youíve been doing this now for 30 years. If youíre not good at it by now, youíre never going to be.Ē [Laughs] So I donít care anymore. And itís very freeing.

In putting together the material, when you looked back at it, did you find a connective lyrical thread? How do the songs reflect your mindset? Your emotional landscape?

I have learned, because in the old days, everything was so personal with me. But Iím a bit of a method actor [chuckles] and all that stuff would go through my head, when I was playing and I wasnít very happy. Just because you write a song when youíre unhappy doesnít mean you want to be in that state of mind all the time. So itís taken me many years to emotionally detach from the songs as being part of my DNA and just stand back and appreciate them for being good songs. And that I wish I would have learned a long time ago. But itís hard, when youíre so emotional about it.

The material is inspired by quite a few things. I lost my Dad and that was one of the reasons I wanted to do record all on my own, because I just felt he was encouraging me to do that. He didnít understand the rock star thing. There was a long period of time where we didnít speak at all - for 17 years, as a matter of fact. I think, when he came around and he saw me doing that, he was pretty shocked. When heíd read about me in the paper or whatever, he didnít quite understand it. But he also knew it was a tough life. My Dad was a road dog and a chopper rider. He really liked being on the road, so he understood that part, but he also understood the pressure was no good for me, because he saw me very unhappy a couple of times.

So I wanted to just really enjoy these songs and make them simple. The first one, ďAll About Eve,Ē itís always about a couple of people or a couple of things. My friend Jason Bogart gave me this really wonderful painting and thatís always been one of my favorite films, but the dynamic, I think I always related to it - being older, thereís always somebody younger coming up behind you, ready to take your place. And I always see artists my age trippiní about that. It especially depends on the genre. And one of the things I knew I could do, as I got older, was sit and play guitar. Itís about aging gracefully, to me. Iím from Hollywood and I see a lot of people who have a problem with that [laughs].

The song ďHere,Ē is that a result of coming to a new perspective on what love should be?

Photographer: Catherine Copenhaver

Yeah. Yeah. ďHereĒ is an acceptance of the idea of, ďLook, all I can be is here for you.Ē Itís about freeing, letting somebody be themselves and not imposing some template on someone, a template of what you think a relationship should be, whether your model is your parents or society or Hallmark cards. You just really have to let somebody ebb and flow and be who they are. And when itís there, itís there and itís great. And when itís not, it doesnít mean youíre not there. So just, ďIíll always be here,Ē I think thatís the greatest thing you can say to somebody - ďI donít need to hear it every day. I donít need to look over your shoulder. You donít need to look over mine.Ē And especially if someone is very driven by what they do, you know that their other love is what they do. Itís not necessarily another person. Jealousy and insecurity is a very unattractive traitÖ in anyone. And I used to have that - a lot of insecurity. But I just really worked on that over the years and Iím much more secure now, in myself, in what I do.

And just because I want to be aloneÖ that was always real hard for somebody. Itís easier for a man, I think. Itís harder for a woman. Itís not like I come home and somebodyís going to be there doing my laundry. You know what I mean? So itís like, when we first started touring, I had a lot of problems with that, in relationships. Just because Iím on the road doesnít mean I doing anything. Iím drinking a bunch of wine and playing music and then going to bed in the bus and letting the crew watch porn in the front or whatever.

So itís like, it doesnít mean Iím doing anything I shouldnít be doing. But Iím in love with my music and I always have been. And sometimes thatís hard for somebody to accept. And itís hard to accept in someone else, unless you really understand it. And Iíve seen so many people, Iíve seen a million casualties in this business, with artists in general, who have a hard time with that. A lot of casualties, man. Iíd be out on the road and one of my crew would be like, ďMy wife just emptied out my bank account and sheís leaving me.Ē Itís just like, ďJesus Christ!Ē So I just think ďHereĒ is a very mature song about relationships - I donít expect anything and whatever you want to give me, whenever you can, I will treasure it and thatís great. But there are no demands, no conditions, no nothing. People really like that song a lot and I finally recorded it. And I really like it, too. And itís about limited time.

Life goes by so fast and Iím out here in the desert. Thatís where ďThe HighwayĒ comes in, too. I wrote that pretty quick. I had that as a poem and before Brian woke up, I set it to music. And Iíve seen carnage out here - human and animal. But the human really shakes me up. There was a local musician who was hit and killed on the highway and I just thought, ďMan, this highway has seen so much stuff.Ē Came upon a dead guy on the highway. I came upon another guy who was dying and ended up being taken off life support. Itís really brutal out here. I donít know particularly why. Well, you know, they come out to the desert and get their party on, on weekends or whatever, and then they drive around - they wouldnít do that at home. But here, they tear around. A lot of drinking. And itís really dark. Itís a very dangerous highway - Highway 62 - notoriously so. So itís just the highway, boy. If the highway could talk, it would have a lot to say.

Do you find the road to be kind of mystical?

Absolutely. The road it calls people. The road called my Dad. My Dad went out on his Harley. He went on the Four Corners ride, back to Wisconsin for the anniversary of Harley-Davidson. Thereís something about the road. I think itís that thereís always the sense of possibility. And the moving. The always moving is really something that Iíve tried to analyze for a long time. And, of course, greater writers than me have written about it for a long time. Itís like, you come, you party, you leave. There are no strings attached. You meet people and everybodyís happy. And thereís a show and itís great. And you see new things. I call it ďthe front lines.Ē When youíre out there, itís like being on the front lines of America. Laurie and I just driving around, unencumbered by having to stop, like when youíre on a bus or something like that. Just going through towns, seeing them.

I remember how the country changed, from back in the days before Starbuckís. Seattle was kind of divey. And then all these communities that were abandoned and were going to hell, the artists moved in and started the little coffee places, started the little poetry scenes. You know, downtown Portland was a dump and crime-ridden. And to see the gentrification of the cityÖ to have lived in New Orleans before Katrina, to see it after Katrina. Just the evolution of America. To go through Michigan, to see all those amazing, huge houses, miles and miles of abandoned housesÖ the stories! Oh, my God! These houses just rotting. Thereís these gorgeous, two-story houses and youíre going, ďJesus, man, itís like a ghost town! People lived here for generations.Ē And Iím just thinking of grandmothers. My God, you couldnít even afford to live in a house like that anymore and heat and cool it. Itís just really seeing, first-hand, on the front lines.

Driving around like that, it must give you a lot of good ideas for lyrics.

Photographer: Amber Rogers

Oh, yeah. Yeah. Absolutely. Iím not a very literal writer. Never have been. But the thing thatís more valuable to me is the emotion that it invokes. And humans, we have the same emotions. And theyíre triggered by the same things. I feel a real sadness, wondering about the history of some of these placesÖ or the happiness within those four walls, the Christmases, the holidays, the Thanksgivings, or getting word that your son died in the War, in Vietnam, or whatever. Iím thinking, ďGod, what went on in these places? What went on here?Ē Just the nostalgia is amazing. And it definitely is an emotional thing to see.

And ďLady Day,Ē is it the emotion of BIllie Holidayís songs, her vocals, that resonates so deeply with you?

Yeah, absolutely. I was always a huge Billie Holiday fan. She was just amazing. My Dad, having the Italian-American influence, of course, we always had the Rat Pack on in my house, always Dean Martin, always Frank Sinatra. And I was listening to a Sinatra special the other cay, because of his 100th birthday, and they were saying like what a huge influence Billie Holiday was on him. And Iíve just got to say, as a singer, I really want to work on the craft, at what I do, and be the best, rather than be all wrapped up in my own emotions. And her phrasing was so impeccable. To listen to somebody that good is really like, damn. I mean, damn!

Once again, as a woman, itís really rough and she was taken advantage of by a lot of men. As a matter of fact, I was just listening to ďLady Sings The BluesĒ the other day, on my turntable, and I was thinking, for the first time, ďGeez, lady, youíve got to stop getting so hung up on men, you know?Ē [Laughs]. I mean every single song is about men.

ďChristmas MorningĒ is hauntingly beautiful.

I always wanted to do a Christmas song. Always, always, always wanted to write a Christmas song. And time isnít waiting for me. So I figured, okay, weíre making this record in July, Iím going to have an opportunity to do a Christmas song. And Iíve always wanted to. I wrote one for kids, many, many years ago, when my nieces were little. But now theyíre all grown up and it needs to be sung by a kid, so Iím going to have to get a demo together of that, because thatís a good one, too. But Iíve always wanted to write one. So I finally did. I got off my lazy ass and did it [laughs].

And ďConstanze MozartĒ - was she always an intriguing figure to you?

Photo by Amber Rogers

Constanze Mozart, well, Mozart, in the first place is an intriguing, amazing human being. I mean, he was just incredible. I have a book called, ďMozartís LettersĒ and itís the letters he wrote to his father. His father completely pimped him out, ever since he was a little kid and worked him to death. And all he wanted to do was his own music. His father wanted to have the social standing that he did, which in those days meant kings and queens and the clergy - I mean the Popes and all that shit. And so he pimped Mozart out to teach.

And Mozartís letters are just unbelievable. He was really a punk rocker, man, you know? He was just like, ďIím teaching these princesses who canít sing.Ē And heís having to write all these operas and all these things for people who canít sing, musicians who canít play. And it just frustrated the hell out of him. Itís amazing, as a writer, he worked with what he had to work with, but he just hated it. So he would write for whoever he was commissioned to write for. He was always broke. And his dad always sent him out to do stuff he really hated doing and heíd stay up all night and work on his own stuff, which was what he wanted to work on.

But then, when he married Constanze, her family was very musical, as well. They were a well-respected musical family. And itís very interesting, because Mozart was seeing two women called Constanze at the same time. And he ended up marrying the one with the ďzĒ instead of the ďc.Ē And Constanze Mozart, his dad was not happy. His dad did not want him married, because it would interfere with his work and he did not want that to happen. Mozart was on the road quite a while anyway.

That song took me six years to write, because Iíd written the piano part first and I knew the vocal had to be an absolutely certain melody, which it was for a long, long time. But the lyrics had to come from a place that came from her. Like, what was she feeling, playing the piano herself at night alone, waiting for her husband to come home, waiting for letters to come from home or a new piece of music? She would have to take the new music to the publisher and have it copied. And she did all this stuff to support him and never got anything but shit from his dad.

And she ended up losing a couple kids, having a bunch of kids. And I canít imagine what that was like back in those days. You donít even have running water. I just have no idea how they did it. But she always just got shit. And the letters from Mozart to his dad, heís telling his father he wants to marry her and itís just so like, ďPlease father, give us your blessingĒ kind of a thing. And his dad did not want him to do that. So I think that this woman really took a lot of crap from Mozartís dad and he just kept sending him away, sending him away, sending him away. And he didnít want to go. He wanted to work on his own stuff.

So Constanze would have his own stuff copied and taken care of, while his dad pimped him out, basically, to do all these crappy things that he had to do that he didnít want to do, because his dad wanted the social standing of it with the court. So I just thought she was fantastic. She was an amazing woman. And she got a lot of criticism, too, because his most famous piece, the Requiem, was what he died doing, he died before it was completed, but he had a commission, which would be paid when it was finished. So she had to have somebody else finish it. So thereís a lot of controversy and mystery surrounding that particular piece of music. And she gets criticized a lot. But she did what she had to do. She had kids to support. Here her husband died, because he was worked to death.

Well, it certainly makes for a powerful piece on the album. And ďPastor Finch,Ē where did that come from?

ďPastor Finch,Ē thereís a story Iím working on called ďWitch.Ē Itís a true story. A friend of mine who was a teacher and a mentor of mine in New Orleans and she was a psychic down there for almost 40 years in a place called The Bottom of the Cup Tea Room. And she had quite a life. She was tried in 1962, as a witch, in Arkansas. I got the transcript from the D.A. She had read for a woman who passed way and left her everything she had. Well, the womanís husband found out about it. Imagine Arkansas in 1962 for one thing. 1962 was an amazing year in this country. That was around the time Kennedy was shot. There was a lot of stuff going on.

So Iím working on this screenplay and Iíve designed the clothes, done the research, and the set, and the score, and Iím not sure exactly now to produce it, but Iím going to publish part of it, in my next book, just to make sure that itís there and I donít get ripped off, But itís a true story. She said to not work on it while she was alive. She died early last year at the age of 96. She had said,ď Donít work on it until Iím gone, because of all those people I helped in that courtroom. There was an amazing, true ending in that courtroom. Her lawyer quit. It was a pretty heavy. And she was a really dear teacher and mother figure to me for many, many, many years in New Orleans. So she taught me a lot of stuff. She worked for the cops, found bodies, and all kinds of things like that. And they were a very powerful group down there, as far as fourth-generation Irish psychics.

So ďPastor FInchĒ is her nemesis in this play. And the Holy Rollers were all against her, because they were Bible-thumping Holy Rollers and she was this psychic woman. And so she got a lot of death threats. And she said, ďI donít want to go through that again - looking down in that courtroom at all the faces of all the people that I helped, that were claiming to not know me.Ē She said, ďI donít want to go through that again.Ē So I was committed to working on that. And itís coming along slowly, but I really like what Iíve got. And thatís Pastor Finchís song. The pastorís up there, preaching, basically, saying, ďYou owe me your love.Ē Thatís the character of him that Iíve come up with, that Iíve kind of given flesh to. Thatís the song that he sings. Thatís his theme.

And you can relate to having to fend off the Bible-thumping Holy Rollers?

Oh, yeah, yeah. I mean, look what weíre going through now. Look at it. I know good Christian people, let me tell you. But thereís lots of them out here in the desert that are convinced of the End Times, the haters. Those people arenít Christians to me. The hypocrites. Yeah, I can totally relate to that. The haters. Especially with Facebook, the things people post to each other, the stuff that I see going down online, this whole going to war against Islam and, oh, my God! Itís just - come on, man! What would Jesus not do? What youíre doing. [Laughs]

Do you find that generally, the songs tend to come to you from some mysterious subconscious or unconscious place?

Yeah, I have a tattoo of Nikola Tesla [scientist/engineer/futurist] on my right arm. And Nikola was one of the greatest heroes to me, because he admitted, ďThis stuff doesnít come from me. It comes from somewhere else.Ē I just discovered this Victorian writer, Marie Corelli, who was like a female Tesla. She was like the biggest-selling writer, Queen Victoriaís favorite writer, but you donít hear much about her anymore. And Joe Meek, who was a very famous producer in the 60s. ďTelstar,Ē which was Queenís favorite song. And thatís an amazing film, if you can get a hold of it - ďTelstar.Ē Itís just heartbreaking. And he was just channeling it in from somewhere else.

And I believe in that absolutely. Absolutely. Definitely. Especially out here in the desert. On a good night, all of a sudden, something wakes you up at three in the morning and thereís a planet peeking in your window and all of a sudden youíre hearing these things and itís quiet enough for you to be hearing whatís inside your head. And all of a sudden, thereís a song in my headÖ and I have to learn it! And ďLady DayĒ was one of them. Thereís a chord jump that I had to do, that I didnít even know how to do. I had to figure it out, because thatís what I heard.

To this point, what are the most rewarding and the most challenging aspects of your life in music?

I had a really talented, young musician out here the other night and we had a really good time, making some music together. And she was kind of going through the same thing that I went through. I said, ďYouíre an artist. Unless you really need five cars and the three houses, you must be happy with creating itself.Ē I have my cabin. I have my little family. I have my health, which is the most important thing. It may seem like a cliche thing to say, when youíre 21, but you get to be my age and you see people being struck down with cancer, people who have just gone away, and you have your health and you just think, ďThank God. What did I do to deserve to be here?Ē

You have to create for the simple act of it. I would trade anything for good inspiration, because nothing is worse to me than not feeling like playing. But Iím not one to say, ďIím going to force myself to sit and play today, even though Iím not inspired.Ē Iím not going to do that, because I just donít see the reason for it. Itís not any good to me. I have done that, because I feel guilty, if Iím not doing it. But Iíd much rather be inspired and thereís nothing in the world like the rush of great inspiration, where you really want to play, to write, you really want to sit down and jam.

The thing youíve got to get over is that thereís some goalpost. And there isnít. If you want a Grammy, if you want a lot of money, if you want all kinds of awards on your mantlepiece, thatís a whole other ballgame. Thatís a business. And youíve really got to do if for the sake of the art. And basically, the money doesnít matter. Money does matter. You need it, right? But how much of it do you really need? I mean, what do you really need? Do you need 60 pairs of shoes in your closet? Do you need more than four dresses? Do you need more than two pairs of boots? People donít know what they want. And people donít know what they need. So itís a matter of remembering why youíre an artist in the first place. I have this theory that you are truly who you are before you learn to drive, because after you learn to drive, you start feeling like you have to go places and do things, And you start comparing yourself with other people and what they have.

What do I really need? I have my sewing machine set up, because I love to sew. Iím doing a couple of alterations for some of my friends. And Iíve been drawing and painting and doing clay since I was a little kid. And Iíve got my guitar in front of me. Iíve had a number of guitar and I look around, going, ďI donít need this many guitars. I need one guitar, on a Willie Nelson level. And I need to keep playing. And I need to keep enjoying it.Ē And nothing in the world can compete with that - no possessions, no nothing can compete with the simple pleasures. And itís easy to lose your way, along the way and feel like, ďWell, this man has thatÖ ď

I would see road crew do it all the time - ďWell, we need a bigger bus. More of a rider. We need more beer on the rider.Ē Why? Youíre going to end up at the end of the tour with 16 cans of tuna, 14 containers of yogurt, not being able to take it anywhere, more booze than a liquor store. And Iím like, ďWhy do we need all this?Ē I donít even have anything like that anymore. Iíll get my own bottle of wine during the day and a couple waters and maybe a bag of chips. If the venue gives us dinnerÖ I can generally take care of myself. Iím an adult. I donít need to eat all this stuff, because I feel guilty before going on stage. It was horrible. I was in terrible physical shape, because Iíd be eating, when I didnít want to, what I didnít want to. And I would just wind up with all kinds of fluctuating blood sugar, weight problems. And I would feel terrible going on stage half the time, because theyíd be feeding us dinner at six oíclock. And I donít even eat then. But Iíd feel like I had to, because theyíd made it. Just trying to please everybody. You canít try to please everybody all the time. Youíve got to take care of yourself. It took me many, many years to realize that.

Have you found a way to coax the muse?

Oh, a bottle of wine usually does it [laughs].

For the latest news on this extraordinary artist, visit


DEC 29 2015 Yoshi ís - Jack London Square - Oakland, Ca. w/Laurie Sargent
FEB 04 2016 One World Theatre - Austin, Texas w/Laurie Sargent
FEB 05 2016 Live Oak Music Hall - Ft. Worth, Texas w/Laurie Sargent
FEB 06 2016 Dosey Doe/ The Big Barn - The Woodlands, Texas w/Laurie Sargent