Your music is a blend of folk, glam and electro rock sounds and influenced by the Beach Boys, the Bee Gees and the Zombies. Does it surprise you what songs your fans end up connecting to?
Yeah, sometimes. Sometimes I hope someone doesn’t like a song if I don’t want to perform it. There are songs I’ve written that people love and want me to record, and I’m just not into it. That’s why I’m really picky about sending things out. My mom thinks everything I do is great. She’ll say, “Why don’t you put out that song you wrote in sixth grade?” I’m like, “Well, because that was for a school project.”
I read that you said the songwriting process can be excruciating.
Did I say that?
Can it be frustrating when the creativity isn’t flowing, or is that totally an incorrect statement?
It’s not incorrect. It’s all over the place. I guess it depends on what you allow it to be. Sometimes a song will just fall out of my mouth and I’ll think, “Oh, that was easy!” I guess it takes a long time to get to that place to be able to do that. Sometimes the songs write themselves, but other times songs take forever. There are so many songs where I know they’re going to finish themselves when they need to be finished because maybe I’m not in the right state of mind or I’m just not in the right place in my life. I rarely write full songs. I just write little bits and then when it comes time to go into the studio I’ll just take those little bits and turn them into something.
What started as a weekend living in a treehouse from AirBnB outside of L.A. turned into a year of writing in the treetops. If someone is looking for that sort of mind-clearing experience, what advice do you have?
Read “Autobiography of a Yogi”. Yogananda was one of the first yoga teachers to come and spread the word of the yogi in the Western culture.
Was it the book that made you want to live in a treehouse?
No, that was after the fact but coincidentally he actually came to the same place in California and made this self-realization fellowship in the 20s. Strangely enough he went to the same area in the canyon. I just randomly found this treehouse. It was very much like this serene, cleansing, meditative [spot] which definitely was a rebirth of my sound. I was up there alone a lot cooking for myself, writing and reading. I had to spend so much time with my thoughts because I didn’t know anyone out there.
Would you bring girls back to the treehouse?
Yeah! Occasionally. Girls like the treetops. It’s kind of like a weird “Jungle Book” fantasy I guess, like Tarzan.
“10,000 Emerald Pools” on your debut EP is about being in love with someone and diving deeper into love with this person. Are you in a relationship now?
You’re currently on tour with MisterWives. Is it hard to make time for a relationship on the road?
I don’t know. I guess you can always make time. I’ve had little relationships here and there.
What is the most important thing you look for in a girl?
Man, this is intense. I may have to finish this [drink].
Gotta make sure to cover it all for your fans.
No, I love this! I mean, this is wine conversation. Let me see, number one thing? I guess I don’t really try to look for things in girls.
It’s more of a feeling?
I like kind of weird girls. I like all kinds of girls. I don’t know, I don’t really have a type. That’s what I’ve realized. I think when I moved to California I thought there were going to be all of these beautiful women there and it was going to be so easy to meet someone. That’s not always the case I guess. I always meet girls in very strange situations where I never thought I’d meet them. Like Tinder… just kidding. Totally kidding. I’ve met some really lovely interesting girls but in very strange environments. I can’t explain it. Whenever you’re not looking for it, that’s when you meet the best, most interesting people. So I try not to think about it too much or get too hung up on it. I’m writing songs now and someday I’m going to have grandchildren. They’re going to be like, “That’s grandpa’s music,” and listen to that. Hopefully I’m going to be a cool grandfather some day!
How does the nature in the canyons of California compare to the tranquility at your cottage in Northern Michigan or hometown of Grand Haven, Michigan?
It’s just serene. It’s a completely different kind of body of water and a different feeling I guess. I have a cottage right on this little private lake called Little Traverse Lake. I used to have one on Lake Leelanau which used to be an old logging canal. There are all of these logs and sunken massive trees. I’d always pull them out of the water with my sister. We’d dry them out and use them as fire wood. It was just crazy to see these massive trees from the 20s.
What has been the toughest part of your journey thus far?
Finding the balance between giving a f-ck and not giving a f-ck. It’s hard, especially when you move out to a place like Los Angeles, and everybody is trying to get their music heard and trying to do something cool and immersed in the scene of what’s cool in Los Angeles. I try to really not care. Once you start trying to compare yourself to what other people are doing or trying to do something cool, which I don’t even know what that is, that’s when you’re going to have a mind trip. You have to do what’s naturally coming out of you if you want to have a sustained career or if you want to be able to love the music that you are playing. You have to do it every night.
How old were you when you moved to L.A.?
I was 21.
That’s pretty young to pack up and head out, but you were in New York before that?
Yeah, I was in New York. I knew that it was something I had to do, just go out on my own … I was a little claustrophobic at times [in New York City]. When you’re up in the canyons, you don’t have to care about the sound you’re making. You can play electric guitar at 3 in the morning.
Some of your other interviews made me laugh out loud. Is it true you accidentally walked into Elton John’s living room?
Uh-oh. Yes! This wine is really good…
Gia by Gia Coppola.
Pinot Noir. Good choice.
So, how did you get the opportunity to even be near Elton John’s living room?
Yeah, it’s one of those things you couldn’t even try to plan something like that. I think I was 18 and I had a meeting with, this was really random, but I had a meeting with Britney Spears’ manager because I did a cover of her song. Somehow, Larry Rudolph wanted to meet me. I didn’t know anything about the music industry, absolutely nothing. I barely knew anything about music. They flew me out to California; I went to Larry’s place in Beverly Hills. He was in a high-rise condo and the people at the front desk said, “Go up to the 13th floor and go to the end of the hallway and knock on the door.” [I did] and the maid let me in. I walked inside and as I was looking around I thought, “Hmm, this place looks interesting.” There were these crazy fur rugs. Everything was really ornate and flamboyant. It didn’t seem like the vibe of Britney Spears’ manager. I was instructed to wear a t-shirt because he’s very much a t-shirt and jeans type guy, [he] likes Nirvana. So I thought, “This does not seem right.” This guy I didn’t recognize walks out in a bathrobe and said, “Hey, are you here to fix the sound system?” I said, “No, I’m here to meet Larry,” and he said, “Oh, he’s across the hall.” I was like, “Oh my God, I am so sorry.” Larry said, “Yeah, that’s Elton John’s apartment.” Amazing right? It was Elton John’s boyfriend [now husband] in the bathrobe.
Last time you cried?
That’s a good one. Should we work up the waterworks and get really personal? I was actually just talking about this with someone. I think it was in December. I was home for the holidays and I hadn’t been home in a long time. There was a lot going on; I was about to do my first debut TV performance. I think there was a lot welling up. I just had a heart-to-heart with my mom. I think that is when I cried last. There might have been wine involved as well.
You’ve said you like to get weird in the studio. What is the weirdest thing that has happened in the studio recording?
Probably just singing phonetically and making up a weird language and seeing what comes out of that. Sometimes that forms words or sounds that take a song in a certain direction. I’ll lay down a long scratch vocal, just like a sh-tty vocal of me making up noises and stuff, and sometimes that turns into a song.
I’d like to be a fly on the wall during that process.
It’s definitely nothing you want to be a part of. It’s very strange.
Is there any meaning behind your bracelet?
This is black tourmaline. It’s an Earth crystal for grounding. I wear it everywhere. It also has psychic properties. Very intuitive.
If you could have a drink with anyone, who would it be?
Well, this drink is nice right now.
KIRSTEN MICCOLI PHOTOGRAPHY / A DRINK WITH AT LINCOLN HALL
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