How did you get started in music? What brought you to it?
I began studying the violin when I was 3 years old. My mom had this way of convincing each of us, (I’m the oldest of six kids), from the time we were quite small, that it was our own idea to play our respective instrument — she decided which stringed instrument we would play based upon our personalities in utero. The indoctrination worked wonders for getting us super duper excited about beginning to play our instrument, but once we had begun we came to realize that attaining some degree of competence was directly contingent upon no small degree of effort, and this seemed quite tragic. And then we would begin to wonder whose idea this really was, and whether or not this was something to be excited about. It was also around then that Mom made us aware of the fact that we would have to play our instrument at least until we were 18.
“After you move out you can do whatever you want,” she quipped. “But right now you live under a benevolent dictatorship.” And then she would laugh really hard, and we would have a hard think about what that meant. I’m the first born, so I got to experience this myself, and then I watched it happen to each of my siblings — the initial horror of having to work hard at something became more entertaining, and more bearable, as we were introduced to other victims with whom to commiserate.
Even still, I didn’t enjoy the violin for a long time, and in many ways I couldn’t stand it, but Mom was unflinching — we were going to play even if we thought it was killing us. Of course it wasn’t killing us, and eventually I came to enjoy the violin, but it took a long time. I think the issue was that I always loved music, but I detested being told how to make it. I selfishly wanted to make music that didn’t require anything of me, but this was to labor under a delusion borne out of sheer ignorance. As you come to really know music, which is an entirely different thing in substance, form, and purpose than any pedagogically sound method book would ever have you believe, you necessarily realize that music requires almost everything of you. That being said, there are many instruments that require a great deal less of you than the violin does, and I was able to find significant satisfaction in the instantaneous gratification of the guitar, the piano, and eventually the voice.
By the time I turned 18, and should have been free of Mom’s Rule, I had decided I would not only continue playing the violin, I would get a degree in it. But even after 20 years, and a degree, the violin is generally the cyclical process of laboring through (or wallowing in) the depths of my own incompetence only to be delighted by intermittent bursts of what appears to be progress. It really isn’t for the fainthearted. Thankfully, music itself isn’t the grand sum of its meager instruments, rather, music is the ultimate end to which every instrument groans to be enjoined. There are few things that could compel me to habitually practice, perform, and record on a clumsy, unnatural instrument like the violin, except my mom, and music itself — one of those got me started, and the other sustains me.
How would you describe your music?
I call it Mischievous Baroque/Folk-Pop. Which may not mean very much to very many, so I’ll try to explain: My main influences are Andrew Bird, Brian Wilson, M. Ward, Elliott Smith, Sufjan Stevens, and Randy Newman. Generally, I believe there’s no such thing as an original idea or sound — there is only fantastic synthesis (or I suppose there’s also mediocre synthesis, haha!) The point is, I don’t really think my music is particularly original, or at least it isn’t anymore original than anyone else’s. On the whole I think I’m just trying to synthesize my favorite ideas into a single place that’s uniquely my own. The only sensible hope I can have is that each subsequent album represents a better, more coherent, synthesis of better ideas.
What’s your process when it comes to writing songs?
Oh, sometimes there’s a sound you can’t get out of your head, sometimes there’s a funny thought or turn of phrase. Either way I write it down or record those little bits, and later on, when I’ve collected enough phrases, or when I’ve become sufficiently interested in a chord progression I end up with a form (musical or poetic). Then there are also those few moments where all of it happens at once, and the spontaneity and excitement leads to the whole thing being completed in close to one go. But that’s rare. My albums are loosely autobiographical, so whatever I’m wrestling with, or thinking about at the time, tends to define which songs appear on the album, and the order of the tracks, etc. I don’t tend to outline my albums far in advance, and then formulaically write the songs. I much prefer that they unravel before me with the continual passage of time. Every conscious moment contains the potential for a call (to engage), and all of my music is merely a response to the calls that seemed loudest in my head — keeps it a bit more exciting, but also, I hope, a bit more sincere.