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Julian Lage: And now the hot new major guitar voice – Portland Jazz Festival

BY NATHAN RIZZO // Julian Lage is one of jazz guitar’s most vibrant and special talents.

The subject of the Oscar-nominated documentary Jules at Eight, Lage, now 27, has been performing and recording with vibraphone legend Gary Burton since the age of 12, holding a seat once occupied by the likes of Kurt Rosenwinkel and Pat Metheny.

Personable and deeply modest despite a near lifetime of ebullient praise, the breadth of Lage’s musical inspiration is truly remarkable. Drawing equally from American roots music and Spanish guitar, Lage can extend the jazz paradigm to embrace the many colors of his singular and organic musicality – fashioning music in his own image while never betraying the aesthetic and spirit underlying it.

The Julian Lage Trio will perform as part of the Portland Jazz Festival at the Lewis and Clark College Evans Auditorium, at 7:30 PM on Friday, February 27, $30 general admission, $15 students. Opening will be John Stowell, Dan Balmer & Dave Captein: “Remembering Jim Hall.” At 5pm in the same location, Dan Balmer will have a Jazz Conversation with Lage.

Lage’s latest album, World’s Fair, was released on February 3.

I’d like to start with a couple background questions that I always ask people, because everyone’s answers are always so interesting and illustrative to me. What is your first musical memory or recollection – whether it’s a specific song, or a part, or a sound, or even an image?

Oh, good question! What was it?  I remember my Dad had John Coltrane’s “Giant Steps” on tape cassette. He also had a VHS of James Taylor and their band doing kind of their greatest hits in his barn – I forget what the name of that video was. But I remember listening to Coltrane and watching the James Taylor thing a lot. And that – god, even Eric Clapton “Unplugged” – I would have been about four. I remember when that was on MTV. Those were the three earliest things I can remember right off the top of my head.

And then Clapton Unplugged was why my Dad started playing guitar, which is why I started playing guitar. So it all kind of had a domino effect around that time.

Right – so do you come from a pretty musical family?

Kind of, kind of – a really creative family. My Dad picked up the guitar around that time, but he was always into music. Everyone was into music, but, you know, my Dad is – and was as a little boy – a visual artist – a really creative visual artist. A really kind of super prodigious artist as a young boy in Southern California. My mother is inherently – has this incredible design gene,  especially related to interiors. My brother is an interior designer. My sister, Jill, used to manage – co-manage – Fleet Foxes.

Oh, cool!

So she was always into art. My sister is a therapist. My sister’s a lawyer.

Oh, man – so you come from a big family, then?

A big family. Yeah – everyone did something. Everyone’s got a keen eye and ear. But yeah – pretty diverse creatively.

That’s really cool. Ok – so there is a strain of talent, then, that runs through your family. That makes sense. [laughs]

I suppose so – yeah. It’s cool.

So do you remember the first time you picked up a guitar?

The first time I picked up a guitar – it must’ve been one of my father’s. It must have been his guitar, when I was about four. I remember the first guitar I got. I was five.

No kidding.

I remember picking it up – yeah.

What kind was it?

It was a Fender Stratocaster.

Oh, sweet. So you started out playing an electric?

Yeah – my Dad, he’s really hip like this. He basically – the deal I had with my parents was that I wanted a guitar when I was four. Then said, “If you still want one when you’re five, we’ll get you one.” It was a year – like an incubation period. And in that time – my father, at the time, was working in San Francisco in a restaurant as a waiter. And someone gave him a life-sized poster of Bruce Springsteen’s Tele.

Oh, cool!

My father, being an artist, what it did was he went and – and my Dad wasn’t even super into Bruce Springsteen. But it was just guitar lust, you know? And so my Dad traced the guitar and then traced it onto two planks of plywood and cut one out for me and for my brother. So we had these plywood Teles for a year. Between when I was four and five. My brother would have been nine and ten – going into tenth year.

And yeah, we painted different colored pickguards and pickups. And we would change the knob color. And I just held it all the time until I – I think I fell off the top bunk in my room and landed on it. [laughs]

Oh, no! [laughs]

And it broke the headstock off. I was so mortified! [laughs] But around that time, I got a real guitar. And my Dad thought that it people are saying “Get an acoustic,” but he felt that if it was too difficult, it could be kind of discouraging. So he got an electric, which was cool.

And musically speaking, [he] also thought if I learned a song, that could be kind of discouraging, as there’s kind of a right and wrong way to go. So he taught me what he learned, which was like an A blues scale – an A pentatonic scale – in three positions.  And he would play a blues progression, and he basically said, “Anything you play is right. Anything you play is totally gonna work. As long as it’s within these scales.”

So that was my earliest memory.

That’s really cool. Ok, it was really your Dad, then, who sparked and then nurtured that interest for you.

Totally – totally. I mean, my mother and my whole family as well. They were the balance to our focus. I mean, my Dad and I kind of went down the musical rabbit hole. Everyone else kind of supported me being school, or having friends or whatever, you know? Very, very nurturing – I was very lucky.

What was the first style of guitar you were drawn to? You know, it seems like in some of your more acoustically-oriented stuff, like with Chris Eldridge – which I really liked – I hear a strong bluegrass and folk and roots, and a bit of a Spanish guitar influence. Are there artists from those genres who influenced you?

Oh, yeah! You know, you’re the first person that said Spanish – and you’re totally right! Most people don’t hear that – that’s cool.

Yeah, that stuff and blues – you know, Stevie Ray Vaughan, T-Bone Walker, Muddy Waters, Albert King, B.B. King.

Oh, Albert King was great.

Yeah, Albert King’s amazing. That was the first thing I remember, like going, “Wow. That’s what I want to do.” And jazz was almost accidental. It was kind of like, I think just being a student of the guitar, you get to a point hopefully where people are saying, “Oh, if you want to get better, you should check this out.”

And I had a lot of people like that say “Oh, if you want to get better, go check out Jim Hall,” or, “You should study jazz.”

So it wasn’t so much that I was consciously drawn to an aesthetic. I guess just learning that stuff just as a student, I became pretty obsessed with it.

I’m going through the same thing, albeit 15 years later – so I know a little of what you’re talking about. [laughs]

Yeah, it’s so funny – it’s the action in all jazz education.

Right. You get better and more harmonically advanced – that’s sort of where you end up, you know?

It’s true. And it’s a conundrum, because it can be almost too daunting for people to get into jazz. Because it’s like, “Oh, you like jazz, well learn these eight billion things, and then you can start having fun.” And I think that’s tough.

And I was lucky because I had people who were still really into the blues. Who didn’t shun – who weren’t like “Oh, that’s illegitimate.” But, you know, it made it all seem kind of like American music.

I was reading about you a little bit, and I came across this great write-up from the New York Times in which the author remarked that, “rather than working up to a level of competence, [you] spent [your] formative years learning to put a spigot on the geyser of [your] talent.”  I thought that was a really articulate compliment.

Wow, that is really nice – that is an articulate compliment.

Which aspects of music and the guitar came so naturally to you? Were you able to hear advanced harmony and then execute it? Or was it a matter of something else?

I have no idea!

I know that’s a tough one. [laughs]

No, that’s a good question. I have friends who are really – who have perfect pitch, you know – and they can hear. J.L Agassi [check] is not only someone who is naturally talented in a lot of ways, but he has worked harder than anyone I know. So he’s just a superhero as far as, like, just how he tackles the music. And it’s just so suited to jazz, and it’s so suited to so many things.

I’ve always felt like a kind of “throw it against the wall and see what sticks,” kind of guy. I just love it, and I keep trying stuff out. And harmonics and stuff wasn’t always – I don’t know – didn’t come easy to me. It doesn’t come – it’s all relative. I’m really curious about it, so I’ll try things out. If it works, cool – I’ll try to keep doing it. If it doesn’t work, out I would just go, “Oh, well that just sounded kind of cold and trite.”

Right, so it’s just kind of innate then.

I guess so. I think, but more – honestly, more than anything,  I think it’s a capacity to be very blunt and very honest about it. I feel like especially – you know, I grew up as a student and I took a lot of lessons and – not that everyone did – but I was into being a good student. So I read all the books they said, and I took all the lessons I wanted. I just did everything I could. And there’s kind of a learned ability to assess what you do, and then there’s kind of a dumbed-down, more visceral way of assessing what you’re up to.

And for me, a lot of it was kind of – earlier on – going “Oh, wow!” The part of me that can justify why what I’m doing is good, or is cool. But it’s also kind of been a vacuum. Like, “Oh, I like this superimposition because this person said it was cool, and I heard it on this record,” you know? Therefore it’s bulletproof. But then, I would always kind of check in on a personal level, and go, “Yeah, but do I like it as a music fan?” Would I want to go hear this? And that side of me goes, “You know, I was happy when you just did two notes.” And so I go, “Ok. Well, cool.”

So there’s always been a dialogue between those two sides for me, and that kind of fills the void of having some innate sense of it. You know, it’s just really being honest with it.

So developmentally speaking – musically – what were your obstacles? What was hard for you?

God, a lot of it! I don’t think I’ve ever really thought of it as really hard. I think what I would consider an obstacle was that I just wanted to be as equipped technically so that I could sit down and play with anybody and not feel like that was getting it my way.

Sight reading was another one where I felt, “God, I want to play – my goal is to play with these people, and if they put music in front of me I need to not flinch, basically.” So I did a lot of unglamorous work, of just non-stop sight reading, learning songs, non-stop technical things where I thought, “Wow. Ok, I need to have – it’s not just about alternate picking. It’s about alternate picking at different volumes.” A lot of work with the metronome, and, you know, the hardest thing for me, in general, is kind of to do the same thing twice.

In recent years, when I’ve been playing more with the acoustic scene, or with Chris Eldridge or songwriters, it’s very hard for me to play the same songs with the same arrangements and render them as great as possible without feeling the needs to change it entirely.

But I have a lot of respect for it. And I am in situations where I need to be a little bit more consistent, so that’s something for me where I’m like “Oh, ok. How do I gauge if it’s going well or not if I don’t have that kind of – that feedback of ‘Wow, this is different and exciting?’” Because maybe it’s not different or it’s not exciting, but it’s good and it needs to happen. How do I cope with that?

I like challenges and I like hard stuff, so that’s usually the starting point.

Somewhat paradoxically, I feel like a lot of people with significant artistic talent run the risk of becoming prisoners of their gifts. Yet to me, it seems like having such a profound ability has been very empowering and freeing for you in a lot of ways, leading you down different creative avenues and resulting in albums with people like Chris Eldridge and Nels Cline. What was your relationship to your talent when you were growing up? Did you feel a little suffocated or objectified by the prodigy label or anything like that?

Oh, interesting. That’s a great question.

No, I really didn’t, which is kind of crazy, because I know a lot of people who have, and I also see how I could have been. I think mainly – I think it’s my folks. They were just really, you know – I had opportunities to record or to be in the public when I was very young, but I – I basically avoided it until I was about 21, which was my first record.

My parents, they were always – they thought, “Well, it’s one thing to have a musical capacity. But to have an emotional capacity that’s commensurate – you know, that can support being in the public eye.”

That’s really wise.

Yeah, it’s really wise. And, you know, I was the youngest of five kids, and they had stuff with four other children, and I was just the baby that was doing the thing I loved. And they were very supportive and very casual, but they were also very kind of like “Look, no one’s going to benefit if you’re put in an uncomfortable situation that’s not – that’s not – “ And I knew other people that had kind of a different philosophy, where it was kind of like a good cop – bad cop thing going with their families. And it was kind of regimented. And I think it was a lot of pressure for, maybe, folks in that situation.

I also remember thinking, when people would say “prodigy,” or whatever, that said so much more about them than it did about me. And that was helpful. Like if they said, “Oh, this is prodigious,” or whatever, I thought, “you know, that’s their way of being nice. And being really – you’re young and you’re doing something -” As I’ve gotten a little bit older, I’ve seen five and six year old musicians around who are insane. And I’m like, “Wow, that’s so creepy and wonderful.” [Laughs]. Like, they’re so little and they’re doing this.

Right. [laughs]

Of course you’d say, “It’s a prodigy.” It didn’t really say anything about me, but it was, you know, a very gracious effort. And had I thought it really was the same as me, I really would have felt the weight a little bit more.

That’s really thoughtful . You know, it always comes back to family – that’s why I like asking those questions. 

Sure, totally. It’s a great question.

You ended up going to music school at Berklee, correct?


And is that when you started working with Gary Burton?

No, I actually worked with Gary when I was about 12.

No kidding!

Yeah! He had seen me on TV – on the Grammys. And he wrote me a letter – really old-fashioned.

Oh, he wrote you a proper letter? That’s so cool. Do you still have it?

I don’t think I do! I think my parents do – I wish I had it.

But I remember, it said, “Hey, I’m Gary Burton and I saw you, and anyway I have this show at a conference in Monterey coming up and I was play. And the theme is older and younger generations converging.” And it turned out to be a TED conference – this is before TED kind of blew up in the public. TED used to just be every year at a small conference hall in Monterey, California.

So, of course, I said, “Yes.” And that went really well. And he was waiting to see if that went well. Then he asked me to do another tour, which was – I was still 12. It was the Queen Elizabeth – the cruise ship – from New York to London. Or the Queen Elizabeth II –

Oh, no way!

Yeah! And that one was when I was a kid. And we did another – we did this for years. And we made our first record together when I was 15. Another one when I was 17. And then I went to Berklee when I was 18.

That’s an immense credential given the guitar players he’s worked with, like Metheny and Rosenwinkel.

Oh, my god!

Yeah, that’s outrageous. You played on his most recent album – I think it was “Guided Tour,” correct?

“Guided Tour” – yeah, yeah!

Did playing with a featured vibraphonist like Gary force you to approach the instrument in a different way? Maybe voicing chords a little differently, maybe comping more subtly, things like that?

Yeah, probably – definitely. What’s funny, though, is that Gary, being a total four mallet master, he often will say he got his comping and harmonic thing from Jim Hall.

Oh, no kidding.

Yeah, Jim was so resourceful and could use two, three, four notes and make a really compelling harmonic statement. And that was kind of a match for Gary, who was basically coming at it from the perspective of a keyboard instrument. Which is to say that, you know, his heroes, like Bill Evans – they had 10 fingers and all this stuff going on. And he had to learn how to pare that down so that made sense for his instrument. But Jim was able to do it, and he was able to do it – “That’s a way. I can do that. I can make that work with four mallets.”

But that’s definitely – there’s a symbiosis between vibes and guitar anyway. And, so yeah, anything I would see Gary do, I could kind of made sense of it on the guitar if I chose to. I’d go, “Oh, yeah.” You know, we have kind of similar sustain situations. We have, you know, watching Gary play so much, it’s like his rhythmic propulsion and the whole syncopated narrative that he has is insane. He can just like – and not only that. That’s at one extreme. But on the other end, he can be so incredibly human and so musical.

The biggest thing with Gary is like, as a guitar player, I have no excuse. [laughs] I have no excuse for something not being expressive. No excuse for something not being rich, because he does it so masterfully.

Yeah, he’s pretty unbelievable.

He’s just insane.

So who have some of your other mentors been? It’s funny you mention Jim Hall – he was actually my friend’s Dad’s babysitter growing up. It was Jim Hall and Tal Farlow, which is kind of funny, right?

I’ll tell Nels. I’m here with Nels. We’re driving from Portland.

Oh, no kidding! Cool. Yeah, so who were your other mentors?

Well, Jim, and Gary, and Mick Goodrick, a guitarist and teacher in Boston. Randy Vincent, a guitarist and teacher in California. George Marsh, a great drummer from California. Oh my god, I’m kicking myself because there’s so many other people. There’s so many of them. [laughs]

There’s so many! Honestly, like Taylor Eigsti, who’s kind of a contemporary of mine, but a few years older. Total mentor and total older brother who did everything great and did everything first – who I, to this day, just adore, you know? And I’m grateful, too, for that.

And Dr. Herb Wong was another one. A great jazz journalist and educator in the Bay Area who just me so much about the culture and the music and the community. And then all the guys who are just a little older than me. Like I said, Ambrose Akinmusire was totally like that for me, and Gene Bertoncini was always someone like that. David Grisman – total mentor. Béla Fleck – total mentor.

I mean, these are all guys that I was just so lucky I was around them as a kid, and they really, really – each individually and together just were nothing but loving and supportive.

Right. So you’ve always had good sort of protective shell, somewhat, in that you’ve been around the right people, and that’s kind of allowed you to grow.  You also studied Hindustani classical music, right?

North Indian, rather, classical music. It was my focus. I studied at the Ali Akbar School of Music in San Rafael, California. And I studied the tabla for about six months, and the sitar for about six months, which is nothing. That music takes hundreds of years to learn, they say that. But I did take one lesson with Ali Akbar Khan at his house, and that was incredible.

Yeah, and that music was just always of interest to me, and it continues to be. But my formal studying was really brief. It was a little over a year in school.

Do you feel like you’re going to explore it more at some point in the future?

I feel like I – it’s like starting a Roth IRA. You have to start when you’re really young. [laughs] I feel that way about it.

That’s a good analogy. [laughs]

It’s like, “Oh, fuck.” [laughs] Or It’s the worst analogy ever [laughs]. I love it, I just have so much respect for it. So, I’m like, “Eh..” You know, I really just feel like – I get so much out of it as a fan and kind of doing my own version – consciously ripping it off. But as far as dedicated study – I don’t mean to sound so deflated, but I got a glimpse of what it takes and I recognized, “Maybe I’ll just do it in pieces -”

“I’ll just stick to the guitar.” [laughs]

“I’ll take it as it comes.” [laughs]

For sure. Speaking of guitars – just because I’m a bit of a guitar nerd – I noticed you have a Manzer archtop. I had no idea who she was until I listened to “One Quiet Night” by Pat Metheny and I looked up the luthier who made the baritone he was playing on that album  because the sound was so unreal. When did you start playing that?

Yeah, I got that guitar when I was 11, actually.

Oh, no way!

And it was a total fluke. Because I went to a guitar show in Healdsburg, California, and – I think it just ended, maybe – but it was this famous, famous luthier show. And I went with my Dad, and we were fans of Metheny and I knew all about Linda and so I got to meet her. And Linda’s kind of the sweetest lady you’ll ever know, and she was really – just friendly, and we talked and I got to play her guitar. And she had that guitar on her at a booth, and, so we went home – had no concept of pricing or what. It was just like, “Oh, that was Linda from the guitar show. She’s really awesome.” [laughs]

Right. [laughs]

And so I wrote her an email saying, “Great to meet you. By chance, you know, how long is the – “ I had heard the waiting list was like four years or so for her guitars. And I just said, “How long is the waiting list? How much do they cost?” And she wrote right back, and she said, “Oh, it’s so funny that you write me, because that guitar is actually for sale – which never happens.”

Yeah, she built it for Dawn Thompson the guitar player – not Don Thompson the bass player – but this lady Dawn up in Rochester or Toronto. And she said, “Yeah, she ended up wanting something a little different, so I’m selling – I kind of need to get rid of it, so to speak.” She said, ”Why don’t I just send it to you, and if you like it, we’ll talk about it.” Which is, like, a total danger zone. [laughs]

And, of course, I fell in love with it. And she was so, so, so gracious. [She said] “Ok, here’s a price that makes sense, pay me as you can.” So every gig I would do, I would send her a hundred dollars, or fifty dollars, or whatever. It took me years, but it was such a delight because it was kind of this connection to her that fostered a really good friendship.

But that’s how I got the Manzer! Isn’t that crazy? I’ve had it for years.

That’s so cool! That’s a really good story.

Yeah, it’s pretty amazing. [laughs]

You’re also into older acoustics, like Gibsons and Martins and stuff from the 30s, 40s, and 50s, right?

Yeah – oh, yeah! That’s like my specialty – I have an old ‘32 Gibson L5.

Oh, are you serious? My teacher has an old L5 and it just kills me. I play it all the time.

Oh, really? Oh, that’s – oh, so you you know. Those are great.

Those are so cool.

With Chris, I play a ‘39 Martin 000-18, which I love.

Really, my main guitar for acoustic has been a Waterloo, which is a brand new guitar made by Collings, but it’s based on a Kalamazoo, which was kind of a cheap brand. It’s a ‘30s [?] – it’s a new version of a very old guitar.

And then I play another new guitar that’s like an old guitar called a Danocaster, made by a guy named Dan Strain in Nashville, Tennessee. And it’s an old relic’d – a new guitar relic’d. Feels very old – has an old Teisco gold foil pickup and that’s kind of my main electric guitar right now.

Those Collings are really nice – I have my eye on an I35 right now. There’s a really good store down in Eugene that has one, and I’m kind of like, “Oh, man.” It’s killing me. [laughs]

That’s so cool. Well, check out the Waterloo. It’s like their cheap guitar – it’s basically – I think it’s still like $1,800 dollars. But it’s basically like light as a feather, no finish, ladder-braced, there’s, like, glue running down the inside. It’s like imperfect in this very purposeful way –

In a really cool way. No, I totally will – not to divert the conversation, but I love that stuff too. [laughs]

Oh, dude. Me too. Nels and I are always looking for guitars!

Oh, no doubt – no doubt. Especially him. [laughs]

He says “No more!” He says he’s giving it up. [laughs]

Oh, right. Yeah – it’s not possible, not possible. [laughs]

He says he doesn’t like guitars anymore! [laughs]

No, that’s not true – I saw him play once here. The man loves gear. [laughs]

I don’t believe it, I know. [laughs]

Let’s get to what you’ve been working on lately. I really loved the records you did with Chris Eldridge – “Close to Picture” and “Avalon.” How did that relationship begin?

Thanks! Critter and I, we met – that’s his nickname, Critter – we met at a Punch Brothers show six years ago or so – five or six years ago. I was kind of [recording]  for my first record, “Sounding Point,” we had two songs together with Béla [Fleck] and so anyway, I was backstage, and [Chris] Thile was doing his thing, and I had my guitar and Critter was there, and we were kind of friends right away, and “Let’s just play a little bit.” So we started picking some tunes, and it was wonderful, and super fun, and like ‘Holy, cow! This is really awesome!” So we just make it a point every few months or at least once a year to hang out for a day and kind of have a shared guitar lesson where he would teach me stuff and I’d ask a bunch of questions and I would share whatever I was working on.

And there was kind of a break in our schedules a couple years ago – this is when we made “Close to Picture.” And we said, “Look, are we going to do this? Or are we just going to talk about doing this?” So we put it in on the calendar, we wrote for about four days, and we made “Close to Picture” in a couple days. That led to some brief touring, and that led to us recording “Avalon,” and some more touring. And that’s that.

That’s cool! Similarly, I’ve been listening to “Room” – I actually have it sitting next to me right now – the album you did with Nels. It was some challenging stuff, but it was neat. What inspired that collaboration? How did you guys get together?

Nels and I – we met, actually, through Jim Hall. Jim had these lunches – these kind of crony lunches – about once a month just to get him out of the house and get all his friends together and tell stories and drink coffee.

Brian Camelio, who’s one of Jim’s best friends and runs ArtistShare, this kind of pseudo-record label, crowd-funding site that actually pre-dates Kickstarter and all that other stuff. Anyway, he knew Nels and he knew me, and we were both going to these luncheons separately. Like, if I was there, Nels would be on tour, and vice versa.

So one day, it finally kind of lined up and we were there, and we hit it off, and sat outside the restaurant and talked for ages, and went to his house and played omse guitars within that week.

And Nels had a gig that was – he had kind of considered an opportunity to put together a small chamber group doing kind of this certain style of improvised music that he had in mind. And we started playing duo, and he said “Well hey, do you want to just do it? Maybe we can add a cello, maybe not.” And we got together and worked on it and it was so cool as a duo that we just left it and played that first gig and then played the next gig and then set up a record date. It was pretty – it all happened kind of fast, but really beautifully.

Was at least some of that stuff kind of one-take improv in the studio? Or did you guys really sit down and write a lot out?

No, we didn’t deliberate too much. Everything was in the first two takes probably. And the nature of that is music, is like – you know, I can’t really do – I’m not good at duplicating things all that well, so it was kind of a preferential thing. It’s like, “Which take did you like?” You know, everything would be so different take to take. So we picked our favorites and recorded it in two days just live in the same room with no headphones, and then we mixed it on the third day.

Cool. And then you’ve got a solo guitar album – “World’s Fair” – slated for release here pretty soon, correct?

Yeah, that comes out February 3.

I previewed 40s and Gardens and I also really liked them. Do you want to talk about that a little bit? 

Totally. Yeah, that’s a record I’ve been working on for a couple years. I’ve been working on that record for a couple years. It’s based on a grand kind of commission-ish thing from a different David Breskin and Chelsea Hadley from the Shifting Foundation. And they kind of proposed this thing, it’s like “What are you afraid of? What would freak you out the most?” “Yeah, so I think if I had to sit down with one acoustic guitar and write a record, I think that would be pretty righteous, but I don’t think I’m there yet.” So they said, “Ok, take the time you need, and let’s help facilitate that.”

So I made the record once and I threw it out – I didn’t like it. I kind of re-wrote it a second time, and that’s what you hear is that record. And I’m really – I’m super, super stoked about that. I’m just so happy, and I love the way the whole thing turned out, and I’m excited to share that with people.

That’s cool. There’s something so effective about solo acoustic stuff. I had that conversation with Andy McKee – the fingerstyle virtuoso – who said the same thing. Especially in today’s environment where everyone’s so bombarded with advertisements and such. It’s so direct.

Yeah, well – it’s pretty singular. Good, bad or indifferent, it sounds like you, which I like. And it’s one of those kind of things where you’re staring at yourself in the mirror, like “[makes groaning noise]”

Right. There’s nothing to hide behind.

Nothing to hide behind. So it’s  – I feel it’s something I needed to do and wanted to do. I’m happy I did it.

So musically, what do you feel like you have left to explore? What challenges are left to confront? What’s still hard for you?

Well, so much. I have a trio I’m working on – a jazz trio. I’m committed to just kind of seeing kind of what happens in that realm – something I’ve done sporadically since I was very young, but never really in an unadulterated format where I just did a trio, a jazz trio. So that’s something.

I have an electronica band with my friend Armand Hirsch.

Oh, interesting.

Yeah! Called Machine Sorry. And I play kind of double duty between laptop and guitar and he does double duty between drums and synths – actually triple duty – laptop as well. But Machine Sorry isn’t something that I envision recording.

I have this project called Rude Ruth with Margaret Glaspy, a brilliant songwriter and longtime partner – my best friend for many years. So we – there’s some stuff on YouTube of that, but we’re talking about a full-fledged recording. More songwriter based.

Then I have a project called Dads Across America, which is kind of a funny name.

Yeah, it’s a good one. [laughs]

Yeah, Gabe Payne – a brilliant kind of contemporary-classical songwriter dude. But we basically just play standards. And I just play rhythm guitar and he sings. I feel like that’s – I want to get better at that, so I hope we do that more and more.

The songs are so good – those old show tunes.


So, there’s a lot. And all the other things I can’t even fathom that I want to do. Just, you know, I count my blessings and try to keep working.

That’s cool. So it sounds like you’ve always got a lot going on. That’s good to hear.

Up to this point, it’s been busy, yeah.

That’s awesome. I respect that a lot about people. Kobe Bryant had this great quote about his career – someone was asking him about his career and when he was considering retirement. And he was like “I’m not going to retire for a long time, man. I’ve been given this talent – it’s like an orange. I want to squeeze the most out of it.” And I respect that in people. And it looks like you’ve tried to make the most out of what you’ve got.

I do. That’s well-said. Totally, totally.

That’s about all I’ve got. But before we wrap up, would you be able to leave us with a special memory, or a story, or a poignant moment from your career? If one comes to mind.

Boy, well, – you know, a lot comes to mind. It’s hard to say one thing. So I think the most relevant thing I’ll just say is, last night. Just getting to do what we’re doing – what Nels and I are doing out on the road right now is really, really special. And we go into these places where I don’t know if people totally know what they’re in for. If they think it’s going to be a loud show, a rock show, a jazz show, a trad show. You don’t know, you know?

And it’s just such a gift to go out there like last night and play for some of these people who are along for the ride, and they are just so giving with their appreciation and I don’t know. I couldn’t ask for more and I feel really lucky – and that was last night. And I’m grateful for that – that’s probably the most relevant thing I can share.

Well, that’s all I’ve got! Thank you so much – I deeply appreciate it. It’s been a pleasure talking to you.

My pleasure! Great job and thanks a lot, and hopefully we’ll see you soon, ok?

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