Your new album “Bruises” will be released April 27, can you share with us the most difficult moment of its preparation? Any crazy/funny behind the scenes?
Making a record is pure joy to me.
Some musicians like the writing, some like the live shows, but the studio is where I’m happiest. Working and whittling away on an idea and obsessing over every tiny detail until it’s done.
Trying new melodies and parts and bringing friends in to spice up the tunes. It can be frustrating and drive me crazy, but I love it.
The funniest thing that happened was actually getting ready for the record release a couple weeks ago. I wanted to play the part of a defeated boxer on the record cover, so I went to a make-up artist’s place to paint my face and make me look all beaten up. It looked so incredibly realistic and brutal.
On the way to the photo shoot, I completely forgot I had the make-up on and stopped by a convenience store. When I walked inside, people let out audible gasps and were absolutely terrified of me. I swear one woman almost started crying because I looked so messed up, like something out of The Walking Dead.
I couldn’t help but laugh, which I’m sure only made me look much more insane. Someone definitely went home to tell their friends about that crazy bloody dude in the 7-Eleven.
How do you usually write the lyrics of your songs?
I tend to write the music and melodies first, and then I try to figure out what emotion the music is conveying. A word or phrase usually leaps out in my mind, and that’s when I start to dig into the lyrics.
The music is the fun part, and the lyrics are the work.
They are two very different parts of the process to me. I dive in an write and re-write lyrics until the words flow perfectly to my ear. Sometimes it takes a night, and sometimes it can take years.
What is the best verse you ever wrote?
Well, I don’t know if it’s the best thing I ever wrote, but the most important verse I’ve written was in a song called “Words of Mine.”
When my father died, I couldn’t get a flight back home to my family until the next night, so I just started writing to deal with all of the sadness.
I wanted to speak to him so badly, and this line came out –
“Wish I had more time to tell you of my life. Wisdom, wars, and trials. Oh, I tried to raise you right.”
I started writing from his point of view.
It was a final conversation with my Dad, and it was the comfort I needed to get me through that painful time.
Music has always been therapy to me, and never more so than that day.
What was the soundtrack to your childhood?
I grew up in Nashville surrounded by country music.
It was so prevalent that it was like air or water – just everywhere. I never had a chance to decide if I liked it. It felt like it was forced on me.
So like any proper young kid, I rebelled against it. I went out of my way to discover music coming from the UK. There was a romantic darkness in those delay guitars and synths and heartbreak.
Since there weren’t any radio stations in Tennessee playing that music or stores that could help me find the records, I found them on actual movie soundtracks. Mostly John Hughes films.
I discovered The Psychedelic Furs and Echo & The Bunnymen and Modern English, and suddenly I found the sound of my childhood.
There was a mystery to those bands that was the opposite of the way country stars presented themselves, and it fueled my imagination.
What was the first record you ever bought?
Outside of “Sesame Street Disco” when I was a real little kid, I think the first time I went to a record store with a purpose was to buy Michael Jackson’s “Thriller.”
I had seen him do the moonwalk on the Motown 25th Anniversary Special, and it blew my mind. It blew everyone’s mind. I probably moonwalked into the record store.
What has your journey in the music industry been like up to now?
I started writing songs alone, by myself and for myself. It took years for me to get the nerve to get up on stage and do it. There were two important events in my life that got me where I am today.
The first was finding a venue called The Hotel Cafe in Hollywood.
It was a great community of young musicians who all supported each other and challenged each other.
I was able to try new things and find my voice there. Right as I was starting to play a lot in LA, an old friend named Zach Braff asked me if he could use my song “Blue Eyes” for a movie he was making called “Garden State.”
I was so excited to be on a movie soundtrack like the soundtracks that had influenced me so much when I was young.
To everyone’s surprise, that soundtrack went on to be very successful and opened lots of doors for me in the industry.
I decided to stay independent and run my own label. These songs are so important to me, and I wanted to make sure I have control of them.
I decided that if I was going to succeed or fail, I wanted it to be on my terms, not some big record label.
Fourteen years later, with many ups and downs, I think my greatest accomplishment is that I’m still able to make a living making music. It takes a lot of work, but I love every minute of it.
Do you remember the day you wrote “Cool City”?
I remember that day so clearly.
It was raining in LA, which is not a common occurrence. I had been out the night before and partied til the sun came up and didn’t quite remember the last part of the evening.
I was hungover and suddenly realized I left my credit card at the bar. I felt like such an idiot going to the bar when it opened and asking for the card.
All these crazy nights that used to be funny to me suddenly became less amusing. I was in a rough place in life after some heartbreak and the loss of my father, and I was going out too much and staying out too late because “home” was just a place I was left alone to deal with the sadness.
It was the beginning of me getting my act together and finding a new lease in life. The song helped me get to the other side.
When did you write your last song?
I’m always juggling three or four song ideas at the same time.
The last song I finished was “Past Come Round” on the new record. I started playing this riff and couldn’t get it out of my head.
I made a little demo, and the lyrics just spilled out It’s fast and pop and fun, and it was the last little piece of the puzzle that the record needed.
Are you ever scared of revealing aspects of your personal experience to strangers through your music?
Sure. It’s scary to put your heart out there, and a lot of the stuff I write is very sincere in an era where sincerity is frequently mocked.
Five minutes ago, I got a message online from a girl who said that a song I wrote got her through a very traumatic time in her life. Whatever fear I might have about sharing my feelings with the world, that message makes all of the risk worth it.
What inspired “Blue Eyes”?
“Blue Eyes” started as a lick to country song I came up with when I first moved to LA. I would play it over and over for years but never knew what to do with it.
Then one year, I was dating a girl, and Valentine’s Day was coming up, and I was pretty broke and couldn’t afford to get her anything nice, so I used that old idea to write a song about her.
She had been through some difficult experiences in her childhood and in many ways didn’t think she was worthy of love. I wanted to make sure she knew just how much I cared about her and her story.
What is the best show you ever played?
In the summers during college, I lived and worked in New York City, and the energy and culture of that place made me wake up to a lot of wonderful diversity I hadn’t seen or noticed growing up in Tennessee.
I love that town. I saw so many great shows there, and my favorite venue was The Bowery Ballroom.
I played the Bowery on my first headlining tour, and it was the first time an audience ever cheered me back out for two encores.
I ran out of songs to play and had broken the strings on my guitars and ended the show with a solo acoustic cover of an old Yaz song.
The room went quiet for the tune, and in that moment, winning over a New York crowd, I felt like I had made it.
What are your plans for 2018?
I’m putting out a new single called “Crush” this month. It’s a bit of an homage to all the New Wave 80’s songs that I obsessed over in my childhood.
My record “Bruises” comes out April 27th. After that, I’m off to China and Australia to tour with my old friend Josh Radin, then planning some touring in the US and Europe for the rest of the year.
I’m so excited to play these new songs and can’t wait to get on the road.
Photo Credit Michael Muller