Yeah, ok, so my project name is String Bone. Essentially I’m a singer-songwriter who plays with a lot of different players when recording and have a few consistent players when playing live. On my first record, ‘nadir’ I collaborated with Bob Egan, you might know him as an ex-member of Wilco and Blue Rodeo. Bob was great and laid down pedal steel and slide on 5 songs on the record. It was produced by Shannon Lyon, multi-instrumentalist Chris Giesbrecht and myself.
On my last record ‘Love & Highways’ I had a cast of thousands. lol. Like most musicians, you create lasting friendships musically, people you really connect with and become friends with and this record certainly featured a few of them like Ginger St. James out of Hamilton. The first day we met face-to-face we sang this Radiohead classic called Black Star live at my gig. I just invited her up unannounced, asked her if she knew the song and she said yeah and we sang it and it was one of those moments you knew right then we had this amazing connection. So I vowed to record that song with her. It took almost ten years, but we did it!
Also on that record is an old friend I knew in London and Vancouver, Mae Moore. I wrote this song about a mutual friend of ours who was struggling with addiction. When I sent it to Mae, she responded with tears in her eyes because it was so poignant for her and brought back so many memories, so that is a really special collaboration. And then Sarah Jane Scouten sings on a couple of songs, in particular the song that is getting the most juice this past year, ‘Where Do You Go’, which is about people that are displaced around the world and that governments need to stop being ass holes ya know. Just take care of your people. All governments. Just stop the nonsense. It’s absolutely insane to continue the way we are as a planet. Okay, I’ll stop now! Lol and back to our regularly scheduled program! (haha).
So, ya, my main group of players are many and depending on the gig - Steve Wood on Pedal Steel, Steve Clark/Jeff Laughton on upright bass, Sammy Duke on electric bass and cajon (at the same time, I kid you not!), Shane Guse - fiddle, Eric Mahar - dobro/mandolin, my new guitarist Paul Aitken and I am just now collaborating with Nathan McKay, a D&B producer, for my next bunch of singles coming out in October, so you can expect a bit of a newer sound from me.
Where are you based?
I’m based out of Canada. Just about 90 minutes West of Toronto in the county of Perth. A little town called Stratford, famous for our Shakespearian theatre. Oh and also where Richard Manuel from The Band grew up. He used to walk past my house every day to go to public school. I kid you not. Also, John Till, guitarist for Janis Joplin is from Stratford and still lives here. Also, the Celtic Queen herself, Loreena McKennitt. Oh and that young famous pop singer. I forget his name, Justin something….haha! Right, Bieber! Actually he’s a really nice guy and has done a lot for the local charities here. I’ve never met him, but almost everyone I’ve met who has, says he’s actually a really nice young man. I think he got scooped up into a world he didn’t have a lot of control over, but I’m sure he’s happy. It’s also the home of the Ontario Pork Congress. It’s true. Shakespeare and pigs!
What genre would you describe yourself as?
I definitely sit in the Americana genre. My main instrument is songwriting. So, I mix it with everything under the sun. If it makes sense, do it! But it’s mostly coming from a folk-blues-country influence. I spent time playing punk and rock as well, so they find their way into some of my songs too. Not so much punk, but there are moments! At least I know they are there! Haha
Who is your main inspiration?
For what I like to write about and style, I’d say my main influences are great writers and bands like Willie P. Bennett, The Band, Kris Kristofferson, Bob Dylan, Townes Van Zant, Jerry Jeff Walker, some of the older classics like those last few guys I mentioned and then on the more contemporary side I am certainly picking up vibes on artists like Lucinda Williams, Gillian Welch, The Civil Wars, Hozier, Mary Gauthier, Neko Case, Justin Townes Earle (RIP), and Steve Earle just to name a few. Those writer that straddle the folk-country-rock fence. But I also have a bit of a blues influence as well as I used to go out and see all these great blues artists as a kid when I was between the ages of 16-17. Muddy Waters, James Cotton, Sonny Terry & Brownie McGhee, John Mayal, Long John Baldry, Luther Allison, Buddy Guy, and on and on. They had such a huge influence on me. Watching them night after night sweat and spill their souls all over the stage for two hours. They were the real punk rockers. No bullshit! Just blistering energy. They had a huge impact on me.
How do you write your songs?
Usually I am humming or singing a bit of a melody in my head and then the lyrics start to flow. It’s always negative. Haha! I don’t know why. “I hate this place I’m living…” Blah, blah, blah, “why is life so hard…blah, blah, blah….” Haha! Then I get to a place where I start to refine the ideas. I have a lot of dark songs. I’m not really sure why I gravitate there. If you meet me in person, I think I’m a pretty happy guy! Haha! But when I’m writing it’s like I come from a place where I want to hang myself or something. It’s very strange.
I do have some uptempo songs, but most of those are about wanting to change the world. Like, let’s get rid of racism, let’s stop fighting wars, let’s stop killing each other and fighting each other. We aren’t the ones we should be fighting over or about. It’s the overlords that create messages to divide us so we don’t focus on them raping mother earth and making themselves obscenely wealthy, basically that’s where I am coming from. I hate where we are as a species. It’s so disgusting what we do to our own home. Our environment, other animals, our planet. Can you tell I should have gone into politics? Haha.
So, getting back to my process, yeah, I will pick up the guitar and start pounding out chords. Usually I’ll have an idea for a chord progression of some sort when the melody is coming together and it’s just a matter of what key. Then I start to create a lick or two to give it depth and movement and hooks. Once we’re in the studio or working things out with the band things can change pretty quick, but I always complete the lyrics and melody and the band will contribute some arrangement changes here and there. Same with the producer, sometimes we’ll listen to the demo and say, hmmmm…do you want to say that here? Maybe we can take it to another place musically? That type of thing. It is a bit of a team effort by the time the record is finished.
What made you want to start in music?
I’ve heard so many people say “because of the girls”. I never ever thought that. I just had this great feeling when I played. When I first started playing guitar, I played it for 6+ hours a day. For weeks and months. That’s all I did. Within a year I was playing live. Ya know, I just loved it so much. I believe there is this circular energy that you create in a live audience setting. You give and they give and you can have a whole room feeling the energy shift. That’s what I think happens to everyone when they listen to music. It creates energy. And it goes back and forth. Some shows are so dynamic it’s really hard to come down from. I can’t sleep for hours afterward. It’s like I am filled with everyone’s energy. Like, we’ll finish a show at what, 11pm or so, and it’ll be 4am before I can sleep. So, it’s a feeling that I have that it's part of my being. I stopped playing music for 10 years, I mean completely stopped. And I was really unhappy. I was kinda lost. I was faking life and I didn’t know what I was missing and why I had this big hole in my heart. Once I returned to music about 15 years ago, it was the thing that made me feel whole again. I really don’t know how I left it for so long.
What is on the horizon for you?
I’m almost finished an EP called Two Stars Collide with Nathan McKay, who I mentioned earlier is a Drum & Bass producer here in town. It’s a collaboration I wouldn’t have expected to work, but we are on fire right now. We really love these new songs that we are writing together and I’m really excited about it. While I expect that to continue, I will also be collaborating with my good friend George Leger III out of Las Vegas, to put out a record of covers of some great songwriters, some of which I mentioned above. That will be happening starting in October 2020.
Who would you most like to collaborate with (alive or dead)?
Oh, that’s a great question. Just the thought intimidates me. I mean, could I even walk in a room with any of them and feel like an equal?! I feel like I could hang with the likes of Steve Earle and Townes Van Zant. I don’t know why, I just think we come from the same cut of cloth somehow, ya know. I think they would welcome me in the room and we’d have a bit of a howl together. They seem like really humble guys. And great writers. I am always looking for that perfect lyric. I think those guys do/did that too. But also, Lucinda Williams. One of my all-time favourite writers. Also Willie P Bennett. A really great writer from Canada.
What is your ultimate goal?
That is a very broad question. I guess just live happily. See less suffering in the world. I mean I think that’s everyone’s goal. Musically, it’s just to keep active and keep writing music until I’ve written my best songs. And then keep going. I want to continue collaborating with different people and putting out good music. Play as many gigs as I can around the world or wherever they’ll have me. That’s pretty much it. I don’t look at goals like playing Wembley as even remotely possible, so I don’t even go there. That’s for Elton John and U2. I’m not in that game as far as music is concerned. I mean it would be amazing to gain some level of notoriety to play some 1000 seaters. That’s more my style.
If you could cover any song, what would it be?
Well, I am just about to start recording a record, which will be a total of 12-16 songs. We’ve got 24 on the table right now and we’ll definitely have 12, but it could keep going as different singles apart from the record. It’ll be a whole record of covers. Some are by my idols I’ve mentioned above and some are songs I’ve learned over the years that I really love. I’m not going to let the cat out of this bag just yet, but maybe we can talk again once we have the songs ready to release.
Tea making: milk first or last?
Definitely first. When I told my mother that tea tastes better if you put the milk in first, she didn’t believe me. So she decided to do a taste test on me. Of course, I was right every single time. She thought I was cheating. I just couldn’t convince her. Milk before. Definitely!!
Tell us your funniest joke!
I’m not that kind of a joke teller. I can tell a story though. When I first arrived in Germany at the Dusseldorf Airport - it was my first time in Germany, I had never been - I didn’t have time to do much research for my tour and my bass player at the time, Dan Henshall and I were driving down the highway and I kept seeing these signs for Ausfahrt. In Canada, every time there is an exit, the city name is on a sign at the exit. The larger the city, the larger the sign. So, I keep seeing these large signs Ausfahrt, Ausfahrt, Ausfahrt, every mile. I mean, this city had like 12 exits and I am not only sleep deprived and driving on a super fast highway a this point, but I am also now totally confused, bewildered and trying to make sense of it all, because I never heard of a big city in Germany by the name of Ausfahrt. So, I asked Dan, “Dan, have you ever heard of this city, Ausfahrt? I’ve never heard of it. But it’s fucken huge man, there are like 12 exits. It’s gotta be 10 million people. Like I can’t even see any buildings off the side of the road. Is this the German name for Berlin? Like, what the hell?”. So finally we figured out that ausfahrt was German for “Exit”. I told that story at every show we did in Germany on that tour. That was my dumb tourist story. It always got a good laugh. I think it’s good to be self-deprecating at shows. It conveys humility. And especially if it’s true! And that is a true story! Haha!