I have been playing music and writing songs for nearly 30 years. I grew up in the small North Carolina mountain town of Boone, just a couple of miles up the hill from bluegrass legend Doc Watson. Boone was a creative place for a boy to grow up, surrounded by the beauty of the mountains and the hardworking people who have called the place home for generations. This rootedness in nature, tempered with the influx of culture and academia that flowed through the local college, Appalachian State University, gave me a diverse education and an abiding love for creating. This sense of place and connection to the natural world are themes throughout my writing.
Growing up, I played in numerous bands throughout high school and into college, touring around the southeast and at one point the Middle East during the first Gulf War conflict as part of a USO tour. As I was finishing up my music degree, I found himself picking up the Stratocaster less and less and reaching instead for my acoustic. It was at this point that my songwriting became a more conscious activity - more craft and about waiting for lightning to strike. I was drawn to and profoundly influenced by artists in the Fast Folk movement including John Gorka, Suzanne Vega, Shawn Colvin and David Wilcox. This is what eventually called me to leave Boone after graduation and to move to Atlanta, Georgia where there would be more opportunities and more importantly couches to sleep on (my older brothers had previously migrated down from the mountains).
Once in Atlanta, I quickly identified the place to be was Eddie's Attic. This little club was second only to the Bluebird in Nashville, Tennessee for being the place to encounter great songwriters in America at the time. It was here that I first met folks like Shawn Mullins, Matthew Kahler, Kristin Hall and Kristian and Brandon Bush (of Sugarland fame). After a couple of open mics, Eddie took a chance and gave me a slot on a Wednesday night. I went on to play there on a regular basis for many years that followed and came to call a number of the songwriters I shared that small stage with, friends. During this time I would also get the chance to meet and share the stage with other great artists like Gillian Welch, Ellis Paul, Martin Sexton, Jennifer Nettles, John Mayer and Clay Cook (Zac Brown Band).
I learned more on that small ten-by-twenty foot stage than I think I learned in any other physical geography and by this point in my life, I have been all over the world. I gained confidence as a performer and a storyteller from watching and emulating my friends and heroes work that stage. I heard their stories at the bar after the show, long after even the most die-hard fans had left with their autographed CDs and t-shirts. I had a small taste of life of a troubadour, but it was nothing to these road warriors. The road is a hard place for anyone, but for the working musician, operating at that level, it is a never-ending loop of small, noisy rooms with a platform for a stage, a surly soundman who'd rather be running the board for Sound Garden and often, your audience merely showed up by chance because there was a good beer special and must be convinced that you are worth giving a shit about.
It was during this time, the release of my second album,The Overall Distance and the birth of our first son, Ian that I realized I did not have the kind of sand required to gamble for a life as professional musician. Maybe I could do it for myself, but I could not ask my wife and son to make the sacrifices that I knew would have to be made - the number of musicians I had met over the years who could claim a happy, intact family were all but non-existent.
So, at 27, I settled down, got a straight job as a lot of musicians like to say. It was the booming, birth of the Internet to the world outside of college computer labs and military bases so I taught himself to program and eventually got work building web sites and later software applications. It's easy, in hindsight to make this sound like such a simple, clear choice, but it was actually long and painful and even today, I still think of what I do for a living as a day job. You see, I never stopped making my art, I just stopped believing I could give up everything else of value to make it.
I do not put the music or the writing first. First comes my family and what they need. Whatever was or is left of these long days, goes to my art. In those twilight hours I've delivered five albums, continued to write and play regional shows albeit with less frequency and considerably smaller type on the billing. I have never given up, but only found ways to grow deeper and more expansive in the limited space - hopefully this evolution can be seen in my work.
My restless creative inclinations have always driven me to explore and reinvent himself. I've never waited for permission to try to be something new - something I learned from great performers on the stage at Eddie's. An example of this is an early podcast series I did called Take Me to the Bridge. I saw this platform as the ultimate DYI opportunity and I used it as an excuse to sit down and have in depth conversations with many of the songwriters I've always admired.
In the last few years, I've taken up writing fiction in much the same, enthusiastic, irreverent spirit. The idea of committing to the writing of a novel was daunting so I set out to do it and in the process found it to be one of the most satisfying experiences of my life. I completed the first draft of, Rewind, Playback in seven months and I had given myself a year. I did three rewrites, recruited friendly readers and coerced a writer friend into editing for me and then tried to shop it around to literary agents for a couple of years. Finally, I conceded defeat with the traditional publishing route and took the DIY path I have always known. I published at the end of 2014.
Sometimes I feel like the invisible artist, hiding in plain sight but that's okay. When neighbors or coworkers stumble upon my work or happen turn up to a small gig that I'm playing, they are often shocked and in a some cases outraged that I have not given more chase to my art - gotten published, made it big. "I didn't know you were... good," they say, "really good." I smile and thank them for showing up. It's that showing up part that makes it all work.
Since that first novel, I've completed a dozen short stories and more recently, another novel I'm calling The Sound in the Space Between. I'll once again, court the publishing gatekeepers, but if there are no takers, I will put it out there myself as I always have because fundamentally, I believe art is meant to be made and shared. If you've read this far, we really should be friends by now. Drop me a note to say hi!
Peace & music,