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- Posted on Mar 17th 2010 12:18PM by Kaveh Akbar
Can you describe your sound?
A little bit of Nashville piped through a lot of Brit-pop. There's a singer-songwriter element of it, because I grew up around it in Nashville and I respect songwriting in that regard. But also, I didn't really like that music in Nashville. Everything I listened to had come over the pond. It's a weird blend of those two styles.
What are your musical influences?
Everything. Musically, I just didn't feel comfortable in Nashville. I didn't really understand country music, and I came to associate it with a lot of negative things about the South. I would be driving to school, and people would be blaring their country music in the parking lots while I was listening to Public Enemy, you know...the Cure, Morrisey. People would look at me like, "What is wrong with you?" I like the Smiths, the Cure and the Stone Roses. I understood everything so clearly. There was just this sense of mystery to it. With Joy Division, you didn't know who these guys were, you didn't know what the fuck they were about. I could sit down with the CD and go through the liner notes and make up my own story about who these guys were.
Yeah, and that's something that got lost in the transition to digital music.
Absolutely. Maybe it could be rediscovered, though, because some kid could be stealing a bunch of music and have no idea who he's listening to.
When did you start thinking about music as a career?
I've been writing songs since I was thirteen. Creatively, I didn't understand the idea of making music for other people. I just wrote songs as a therapeutic thing, I wrote hundreds of songs for myself and just recorded them on my little four-track. When I moved to Los Angeles, I was working on film, just production stuff. I'm as much of a movie geek as I am a music guy. About eight years ago, I hit a point where I realized that I had to make music. I like film, I like a lot of things, but I have to make music. Right around that time is when I found Hotel Cafe [L.A. venue] and a lot of other things to be inspired by. I just realized that I was going to be making music as long as I was alive, so I might as well try to make a career of it.
Yeah, the Hotel Cafe scene has sort of become an infamous L.A. movement that has been getting a lot of attention lately. Can you talk a bit about how that started?
The community is just this really weird, unique thing. When I started in L.A., there were a lot of these pay-to-play gigs and open mic nights. That was the only way to get heard. Hotel Cafe changed that. It was an opportunity for real musicians to get together and play. It started out as a little coffee shop, and eventually became like Cheers with guitars - a lot of good friends in a non-competitive environment just trying out new stuff. It was a really comfortable home in a city that's not really known for that sort of stuff. It became our base. I feel like it's my living room.
And then you guys started the Hotel Cafe tour.
Everybody there had certain successes and we started thinking, why don't we just take this on the road? We wanted to emulate the Hotel Cafe environment across the country, and that's how we started the Hotel Cafe tour. It was such a fun tour because basically we were out with all of our friends. Because there were so many people with us, there was never really pressure on one person to bring the crowd, you know? There's a lot of experimenting. The first year we did it, it was myself and Joshua Raiden and Imogen Heap and Bush Walker, and a lot of artists who you would never imagine being in the same room together, let alone playing together. But musically, it just made sense, just because of the spirit of the thing. It started to work.
You've done other tours with major acts like the Fray, Aqualung, Imogen Heap, and Liz Fair. What was that like? Which was most memorable for you?
I was a big 90's indie rock guy, so touring with Liz Fair kind of blew my mind. That opportunity was so amazing. I really got to know her well, and as a music geek that was such an unbelievable experience. She heard my music and just asked me to come along. It was as simple as that. When I did that Fray tour, that was before they became massive. They weren't "The Fray" yet, you know? It was interesting to watch from that perspective, to watch a band become so huge over the course of a tour. I remember playing a show with them in March in front of maybe two hundred people, and then a year later on that same day, they asked me to come play a show with them, and they were playing in New York in front of twenty-thousand people. I learned a lot from that, watching that sort of exciting rise.
How did your song "Blue Eyes" come to be selected for inclusion in the 'Garden State' soundtrack?
I went to high school and then Northwestern with Zack Braff, who wrote and directed the movie. We didn't really know each other back then, but we both moved to L.A. and I was doing crap production work and he was waiting tables. And, you know, we both understood each other creatively. I was always sending him music, and when he got the opportunity to do 'Garden State,' "Blue Eyes" was the song he had always imagined for it. After that, we sat around with some friends and just sort of made a mixtape that ultimately became the soundtrack. It was just the music we were listening to at the time. The organic success of that was just such a beautiful thing.
It's probably the only Grammy-winning mixtape ever.
Some tracks on your new record, 'Under Control,' have a more electronic feel which is a departure from the more acoustic, bedroom-pop that was on 'Who You Are.' Was this a conscious shift on your part?
It's just me getting closer to the music I listen to. The benefit of having Hotel Cafe as a base and having "Blue Eyes" was that I got a lot of exposure – but now, people are expecting that one thing. They expect this kinda acoustic guitar songwriter, and I was proud of that because songwriting above all is what I aspire to do well, but I also resented the idea that people were thinking, "This is what you are." I think this record is the first time I thought about shifting it. It's definiately a turn toward my inspirations, the music that I listened to. I think I've found the middle ground between what thirteen year-old me wanted to be and, ultimately, what I became.
That's about it. Thanks for talking to us!
Thanks so much, it's been good talking to you brother.
Kaveh Akbar is a contributor from Seed.com. Learn how you can contribute here.