Music moves fast these days – good quality recording is cheap and artists can get their music out there immediately. How do you see the role of the classic singer/songwriter changing in this tech-tectonic shift?
It seems crazy recording a record in a studio and putting out a physical record when you can do it yourself and get it out that night, but there's something special about making a piece of vinyl. It's just another way to do it, I think it's great to put out music online but I still find value in physical media, and at the end of the day I have to just do what I think is cool. It will be around when all your hard drives crash or you can't download music to your phone because the satellites aren't working. As far as the relevance of the singer-songwriter, in today's pop music landscape it's mostly about production with the songwriting coming second, and I wanted to focus on songs first and production second, maybe because I didn't see enough of it around, maybe because I mostly listen to old music. I can't worry about relevance, I can only do what I like. As far as shifting with the times, I'm not opposed to technology, it's just apples to oranges and I can like both.
I heard that when you were growing up you were into J Dilla and hip hop. Could you tell us how these early influences translate into your music now?
The types of sounds that I'm drawn to tend to be the type of things that early hip hop producers and DJs exposed me to through sampling, which I think of as a wonderful way to share music history. Certain types of drum sounds, also tempos and grooves. I like soul and folk and rock and pop from the 1960s–70s the best, and that ended up becoming proto-hip hop in the 1990s. They would sample anything and mix it together, and I'm trying to mix all the things that I like. Like, an old soul song that I was influenced by for "Just Tell Me" is "I Forgot To Be Your Lover" by William Bell – just the guitar playing and tone, and it has been sampled by several different people. I wanted my drums to sound like Al Green records, punchy and minimal like Al Jackson Jr.'s playing (he played on tons of Stax and Hi Records and was in Booker T and The MGs). I like The Band and people like Van Morrison, they blended genre in a way that I love. I just want my friends to hang out with each other!
California + music. The mixture creates a really specific vibe. Could you tell us a bit about the context you grew up in and how you think it's influenced you?
I grew up in a really loving household in the Santa Cruz mountains, skateboarding and wandering out in the woods, but I was always interested in cities and culture, so I moved to San Francisco as soon as I could. A lot of my music is about being in between places, feeling torn, just as much something that is inevitably produced from California, but that feels without a place or a time. My parents definitely encouraged me to pursue what I love though – I'm super lucky to have been raised by hippies.
From schmaltzy crooning to lonesome howling, sometimes it feels like all pop songs are love songs. Your new record seems to dissect the idea of the love song as well as immersing listeners right into that feeling. What attracts you to the format?
I like the love song as a framework for songwriting, I think singing about love is the most satisfying. I'm not always talking about literal experiences of my own in songs, sometimes it's personal and sometimes it's a metaphor for something entirely different, but it's more fun to sing about love than politics; meaning that it's possible to craft a song that on one level seems to be about love or a simple story, but really is about something a bit darker. I'm interested in the folly and delusion of romance as much as the hope. And if I want to talk about politics, I'd rather make up a story that conveys what I feel than flat out say "America has problems" or whatever.