STAND: As you’ve noted you’ve released about eighty albums; what’s your routine for this prolific output of work?
I write with no audience in mind, really. I’ve done this for twenty-five years, life of an artist, I suppose. Life is big and unfathomable. It’s a sad, lonely, and wonderful thing to walk around and unravel. And by that I mean: there’s so much to sound the depths of within and without. So the songs keep coming. I’m pretty heavy-handed with my editing … so there are no “fillers.” If you’re a fan of Americana music, I think a listener will like what I do.
STAND: Having been in the music business for at least three decades, what advice would you give to anyone interested in becoming a professional musician?
In my opinion, there have never been so many artists … with so little to say. Songwriters have gotten lazy. Too much “paint-by-numbers” stuff out there these days.
Listen to the past. Both musically and thematically. Know your history. Draw from it. It’s your well. I’d recommend three books: Frederick Buechner’s The Hungering Dark (theology), John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath (novel), and Howard Zinn’s A History of the American People (history).
STAND: What are your regrets at this stage? Going way back to the album Jugular, I’m wondering how these lyrics line up with your thoughts: “I’ve heard it said at least a thousand times before/‘just keep knocking at the door of opportunity’/I’m the weak one now/and I don’t need your sacred cow/it’s hard to drink the dreams/mingled ashes and the might-have-been.”
That record, Jugular, is twenty-five years old … and those lines all came true.
Professionally, an artist goes in as an artist (unless they’re just a poseur), but soon, if you’re serious, you find out much of the “game” of the business is being led and played by thieves, con-men, and those with tin ears. They might just as well be selling toothpaste. So, professionally, you go in as an artist and realize you aren’t really equipped to play on such a field. For me, it’s all been about betrayals, massive displays of incompetence, the “might-have beens” like the song says. Giving too much trust to those who don’t deserve it is bad energy.
Leading by example is the loudest sermon you ever preach to your kids. And the loudest example, according to St. Paul, is love.
I’ve been able to write, record, and tour behind seventy-five albums because I distanced myself from the bad energy and started to do it all by myself. I have the greatest fans in the world. They aren’t huge numbers, but they are fans of music that means something, and they are consistent.
STAND: Even as recent as one hundred years ago, most people “made” their own music. What does having a professional class of musicians and a billion-dollar industry built up around them say about us as a culture?
Well, to me it’s says we’re starving for something good, something lasting, something hallowed, something true. But when business enters in?
Well, where there’s a buck to be made whether it’s sports, music, or politics, there’ll be a P. T. Barnum type to suss out and prey upon the gullible.
STAND: You’ve touched on fatherhood and marriage in some of your songs; what’s your ideal of masculinity? How do you strive to reach that ideal? To paraphrase our subtitle “How should men give a damn?”
I think it has to do with re-assessing the small-minded stereotypes we have of masculinity. Mostly, it means learning how to be emotionally available to your wife and kids and stay that way. Leading by example is the loudest sermon you ever preach to your kids. And the loudest example, according to St. Paul, is love.
Scot Martin spoke with Bill Mallonee for STAND.