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What type of music were you listening to growing up that got you into finger picking?
Early on I was a huge fan of old folk-rock, like Simon & Garfunkel and Cat Stevens, and I was really drawn to that fingerpicking style of guitar playing. Then in college, David Wilcox greatly impacted me - on top of being an incredible story-teller and songwriter, he's a phenomenal guitarist. He got me into alternate tunings and inspired me in my capo work. Ani Difranco's aggressive percussive & strumming techniques also impacted my song writing.
How do you go about creating the structure to your songs? Do you work with others?
It varies. I haven't done a lot of collaborating, although I'd love to do more of that. Sometimes I write a song based on a specific musical idea, and other times, I noodle around and find a melody that I find compelling. Every time it is different. Song-writing takes me a long time - I think I'm a bit of a perfectionist!
I read that you have a masters in civil engineering. How did playing music full time come about?
I've been playing guitar since I was 10, but my parents drilled into me that I needed to find a career aside from music. So I pursued engineering. After I got my Masters degree, I ended up teaching at the University of Colorado for a couple years as an adjunct Professor. It was during that time my music really began to take off. Pretty soon it was clear that I couldn't do music and teach at the same time, so in 2003 I quite my job and started touring full time. Quite the career change!
How important is music theory to creating your art?
Very important. When I first started writing music, I had a rule that every song had to "break a rule" of music theory at least once. I never formally studied music, but learning theory was essential for me. Once I learned the "rules" I was able to think out of the box and be creative.
When playing live is there structure to your live set or more of a jazz feel?
I put a lot of thought into my concerts, so I guess you could say there's a structure. I love to tell stories between songs and create an intimate, joyful atmosphere.
What made you want to dedicate your life to music? Was there a show or album?
My two best friends & I in high school played music together, and it was those first coffee shop concerts that grew my love of music. My passion for music is something I've always wanted to share with others, and every concert or musical experience confirmed that. Music is timeless and allows people to connect beyond language, race, class. It is an honor to get to commit my life to sharing music with others.
What would you like to accomplish as a band? What are the goals?
I'd love to keep doing what I'm doing: continuing to share my music with people as I tour nationally & internationally. My biggest goal is always to be a person who lives life with passion and joy, and if that rubs off on the people I meet, then I've done my job.
Anything you would like to say to Pittsburgh?
Just that I'm looking forward to coming back! I really enjoyed my first time through last year and hope to make it an annual stop.