I spoke to the singer-songwriter about moving to New York, his new album and growing up without electricity or running water.
Well, you grew up in Washington, much of that time without electricity or running water. Firstly, tell me what that was like.
My parents got divorced when I was two, so I went back and forth between. They got along great. So, when I went to my dad’s house, he lived in the woods with no electricity or running water. We had a well and kerosene lanterns.
How does it make you perceive New York City differently?
I don’t really think about it much but when we had the blackout after Hurricane Sandy, I was on the eleventh floor of a building in the East Village, and the elevator was shut down and there wasn’t any electricity or running water. I was very struck with the fact that growing up was very easy because it was in the woods. You’d have a little cooler outside and my dad didn’t have much food that would go bad. You get used to living that way. But in the city, because you have a refrigerator and all of these things that you rely on, it was so shocking and hard.
At the end of four or five days, it was like “Ugh!” You couldn’t wait to get the water, electricity and the cellphone reception back. Growing up, I didn’t feel that at all. It wasn’t a big deal, we’d just play in the woods and hang out.
But the way that we live now, and relying on all of these modern conveniences, we can’t really live without them.
Do you think the move to New York has affected your songwriting? Has it made it more difficult?
The biggest change has been just moving across the country and everything that is somewhat familiar. I’m pushing myself in a big way to grow up and learn from the experience. I’m learning to overcome the fear of New York City being this big scary place and the possibility of failure being so strong. It really forces you to grow and change.
I can easily tend to get content with my surroundings. I think Seattle is known for that. I was very comfortable and I didn’t push myself a lot. Being here was a big motivator to push myself and do more music.
It’s made me want to succeed and get my music out there in ways that Seattle never did. On a day off in Seattle, I’d go to an island or go hiking. But here, I’m constantly feeling like I need to be writing, going to venues, making albums and performing with these great musicians. I feel a lot more motivated.
I feel like my songs have also changed because I’m thinking about those things. I’m thinking more about growing as a person. My songs are so personal that they’re about what I’m going through on a day-to-day basis.
When I was in Seattle, I was writing a lot of love songs. When I was younger, almost all of my songs were about someone that I had a crush on. Overcoming that and growing up happened as naturally as moving to New York did. I think my songs naturally became about things that were a little bit outside of myself and somehow relating to the world more.
So ‘Out of Town’ recently released in April. How has the feedback been?
It’s been really good. I’ve been excited in getting feedback and people have been responding great. When somebody really sits down and listens to it, they get really sucked into it and feel as if they are on the journey with me. That’s awesome to hear.
You’ve just returned from tour. How did it go?
I was playing some shows in the West Coast which was nice. I also performed in Brooklyn at The Living Room which was also pretty nice.
How would you describe your audience?
It’s the kind of music that if you’re at a theater or someplace like a folk show, that kind of crowd would really respond to what I’m doing. Also, I also perform at yoga studios. Me and my electric guitarist Jimi Zhivago, who’s also my producer and right hand man, have gone to several yoga studios. He plays electric guitar with eight different pedals and mixes sound with the organ. He makes most of the ambient sounds you hear on the album. So, it feels very floaty.
We’ll get into a rhythm together. We’ll turn a song into a 15-minute thing. We kind of play with the rhythm of the people doing the yoga and the instructor will work with us. It’s a really fun process.
Those kind of people, I think, also respond to the songs I write. I have songs that say stuff like “Believe in the now,” and I believe that. My dad was a yoga teacher for a while. We were immersed in that community and grew up with those thoughts.
I also think people who could be mellow to some extent. It’s tough playing at bars where it could get pretty loud. That’s not what I do, I’m not a loud rock band.
I’ve seen the video for 'Nothing but Waves,' did you have a certain feel that you were going for?
It was a lot of fun and definitely a collaboration between me and Alesia Exum, who directed the video. She had most of the ideas.
We got together several times and I initially told her some of my thoughts and what I was thinking. She listened and came back with what she saw the video’s direction was.
She brought me some storyboard ideas like an abstract video where I’m covered in these white cotton balls and they’ll disappear. There were all these different ideas and it was really fun to do. She had a lot of that vision herself. It was cold though, the water was quite cold.