Q: Who would you name as your greatest musical inspiration?
A: The people in my life who feed me creatively and spiritually. People who have stuck by me through the tough moments in my life. Like my friend Bob Ness, who just invited me over for a drink the week before he moved. Those people.
Q: What is your favorite Bluegrass song? Why?
A: There is a track on “The Bristol Sessions”, an album from 1927 my buddy Joe gave me. It’s called “Witter’s Fox Chase” recorded by Henry Witter playing harmonica and howling and yelping into it as he plays. It so perfectly captures the fusion of Irish Reel and Cherokee wildness that I like in Appalachian music. Very unique piece of American music, and for the time, and a great recording.
Q: What is your favorite song in the Opera thus far? Why?
A: Tough to say. I’m still getting surprise songs out of nowhere. I think that something is just going to be a transition, and then it develops into a fully realized idea with a good melody and lyrics that I don’t hate!
Right now I love “Big Ol Train” – I think most of us like that one – when Sally leaves Appalachia and comes to Chicago. There is so much optimism and hope in that song. That will probably be the most produced track on the album as well.
Q: Can you tell us a little bit about the musicians you've been working with to create the music? What has it been like working with Zebulun Barnow and Jordan Lewis?
A: Two very talented dudes. Zeb and I play in Blue Man together and have know each other since 1988 (sorry, Zeb) he’s played in his bands - The Sentinels, and his Tom Waits band called B1G T1ME as well as a host of others. Jordan was one of the first we auditioned for mandolin and we liked him right away. He’s a Columbia student (like Zeb and I were) and came in really enthusiastic about the project, which the directors and I couldn’t help but respond to. He’s studying film scoring too, so I felt a kinship with him there, as well. They are from very different backgrounds, which I think only makes the product we are making for this even richer and more layered. There is no shortage of ideas in that room for sure!One thing I love about the band so far is that none of us is a bluegrass musician by trade so we’re all learning the vocabulary together. I didn’t want a bluegrass band, as such. I wanted rock, jazz, classical music, too. These are all genres that were very much alive at the time and I wanted to reflect that.
Q: How would you describe the process of jamming and writing music for Uptown Opera?
A: I have written most of the material for the opera on my own in my studio. There have been some jam sessions for the songs where I brought in Zeb and/or Jordan to play through with me and some things developed from that which could later be used. We’ve just started getting into the group devising process we will use for writing the incidental music – we just wrote 2 scenes together and they turned out great!
Q: What is your usual process to write?
A: Get direction. Look at my ideas I get in the first 20 minutes. If they suck, move on to sourcing from the best possible places. Throw it all against the wall and see what sticks, maybe check in with someone who I’m talking to about it, whose opinion I value.
Then, I open up ProTools and Word and work…and work...and work.
Q: Since you’ve began working on this project, what has been an unexpected musical discovery you've made?
A: That I actually LOVE restrictions. I always knew that they help in getting started on any project, because they help bring the big picture more quickly into focus. But they have been especially helpful in this project.
Q: What do you do in your free time?
A: I’ve heard of the concept.