A collection of singles looks like a clever way to reach a bigger audience. How did you have this idea and why right now?
«I don’t know if releasing this album was a clever way to reach a bigger audience. Whether it has or hasn’t, that wasn’t my main intention. I released this album because I wanted to put these songs out into the world. I didn’t want to sit on them. I didn’t want them to grow stale. I didn’t want them to be forgotten in one of my notebooks like hundreds of my other songs. I’ve written almost one and half thousand songs. No one will ever hear most of them. I want to release them all, but I can’t. It costs thousands of euros to release an album and most listeners just get overwhelmed if an artist releases “too much”. Thus, releasing this album was just for me and the people that like my music. Now the songs are out there for people to listen to. They’re alive. Now I can move on. Now I can write and release new songs».
The album cover, beside picturing one of the most interesting songs, also symbolizes you being constantly traveling. I would personally add another meaning to the image of the suitcase: it's a place where you can put different things inside, such as your songs, that have been recorded in 10 years so they must portrait very different moments of your life. Do you agree with this interpretation?
«I think there’s some truth in your interpretation. I think that all of my songs are a bit like suitcases for me. I write about moments. I put all of my feelings and thoughts into these metaphorical bags and I carry them around with me. I open them up on albums for people to hear. I tour around the world with them. Opening them here. Opening them there. Each time I open them, I share those moment and the way I perceived them with whoever wants to look inside».
About the first single "Candle for Elvis", you explain what the song is about, but I wonder: don't you think that many people would actually need idols? Something to believe in, even if not real?
«PEOPLE DO NOT NEED IDOLS! Idol worship on all levels, especially political, is a dangerous and inevitably destructive thing. When it comes to the idolization of a living leader [a king, a fascist dictator, a religious leader, or a president], to blindly follow an idol means more often than not to sacrifice one’s own freewill, to be turned against one’s fellow man, and to be used as a thug by an egotistical self-righteous psychopath. When it comes to idolizing a cultural or religious figure, it is less dangerous, but it also isn’t necessary or even productive. One can of course learn from some of their positive characteristics and try to emulate those traits, but to “need” an idol on whose image or example one builds their own identity is the type of thing that make a man feel like a stranger to himself. Yes, it is good for people to have something to believe in, but they should try to know themselves and then believe in that. Self-awareness and self-love are much more fulfilling and healthy for an individual and society than trying to find yourself in something apart from yourself».
Would you talk a bit about other song's lyrics, so we as Italians can understand better what you sing?
If you wanna stay:«I spend a lot of time in the Alps. The folks up there have perfected the art of drunken flirtation. After a night of a little cultural exchange, I wrote this song about that timeless tradition of theirs. I stumbled down the mountain when the hangover finally wore off and took the song to Berlin to record it: and the song was finished quicker than a bottle of Tyrollean schnapps».
Thinking about you: «This song was written on a hotel bed one afternoon between a soundcheck and a concert in some shitty little town somewhere in the Netherlands. I was feeling sorry for myself and a little in love with a girl in Amsterdam. I was in the middle of a hardcore Townes van Zandt and Jason Molina binge, thinking I was going to turn into an alcoholic and die alone sooner or later».
Koffer: «I usually start thinking my poor German is pretty great when I’m back in the US and don’t have to talk to anybody in “Deutsch”. That’s where I wrote my first and, so far, only song in the language of the countries I’ve been living in for the last eight years. I was in my shower thinking of Marlene Dietrich nostalgically singing about how she still has a suitcase in Berlin. I dried off and wrote the song in a few minutes. Oh, I thought I was pretty damned clever. I went back to Munich a few weeks later and showed it to my friend Rosalie Eberle, who happens to be one of my favorite German lyricists, and, with a grin, she helped make sense of my babble».
Did you start as a child to listen to certain musicians from the contry / folk/ rock scene who inspired you as a songwriter?
« I listened to a lot of shitty 1990’s American Pop-Country music when I was a kid. I eventually got sick of that though and started listening to classic rock, like Led Zeppelin and Pink Floyd. When I was 17, I started listening to more folk artists like Bob Dylan and Simon & Garfunkel. I moved to Europe when I was 21 and that is actually when I got into country music. Being far away from America made me romanticize my roots more. I started listening a lot to Gillian Welch, Hank Williams, and Willie Nelson. I learned a lot about songwriting by listening to them. I still listen to that stuff now-a-days, however, lately I’ve been listening a lot to Songs: Ohia and Father John Misty».
What led you to move from Missouri to Europe? Were you "running away" from something or rather "looking for" something?
« I left for a million reasons. I also go back to the US a few times a year for a million reasons though. I think it was and still is a mixture of “running away” and “searching”. I was running away from the political and economic landscape that gives birth to ruinous bigots like George W. Bush and Donald Fucking Trump. I was running away from racially divided cities, plagued with the poverty inherent in unrestricted capitalist system. I was running away from nationalism, religion, militarism, and endless whitewashed suburbs. I was searching for cities where I could walk the streets, places where I could play my music to open ears, and people whose identity wasn’t dependent on nationality or religion. I found some of those things when I came to Europe in 2008. Europe is changing though. Unrestricted capitalism is making fewer people rich and more people poor and, in doing so, making it harder for democracy to exist. Climate change, short-sighted foreign policy in the Middle-East, and xenophobia are stirring up hatred among neighbors in the streets. And an aging population, who finds it easier to romanticize how the world used to be than to imagine how the world could be in the future, is electing anti-democratic leaders who will lead us back to war and certain nuclear mutual destruction. If that happens, then it won’t matter what continent I’m on. We’ll all go down together. All that being said, I’m still searching. I still have faith in Europe though. We have to fight for it».
You have visited a lot of places: which ones you liked the most?
«Vienna when it snows and you’re walking home alone from a bar at 2am. Doing the same across the Brooklyn Bridge. Missouri in late October when the leaves turn red, yellow, and gold and you’re driving in a truck with the windows down. The Alps in the springtime when everything is green and the snow melts into the streams and just breathing feels healthy. Aimless in the streets of Rome full from a good meal and looking for another coffee before more wine».
The music industry has changed, and young people listen to the music with different means than before. As a musician, how do you live this changing/ transition phase?
«Most people listen to music via Spotify or other streaming services. I usually get €0.003 per-play when they do that. Thus, I, like all independent musicians, are suffering. I have to tour constantly just to make the few thousand euros every year that I can barely live off of. The internet makes it much easier for people to find your music, but it doesn’t translate into any direct financial payment for what you do as a musician».
Earlier this year, you released another album, Nero. Can you tell us something about its realization?
«‘Nero’ was born in early 2014 when I brought a few dozen songs to Berlin. Before the album was done it had spilled over into three different studios, two bedrooms, and one concrete basement (with no toilet) in Berlin, Hamburg, and Vienna. The album has a lot to do with the destruction of who you once were in order to become something different. I felt like I really lost my Americanism, the majority of it anyway, and one of the reasons why I turned back to country music was in an attempt to find a part of me that I lost. Nero is based on my country and folk songwriting and shaped by a tasteful, “no fancy stuff”, German production approach. The tracks are largely lead by my voice with a consistent backdrop of close acoustic guitars and spacious piano and pedal steel guitar. Percussion is also quite present throughout the album, allowing the acoustic guitar to fall into the groove while the rhythmic burden is carried by someone else, á la Johnny Cash. Nero’s palette is broad and the variety between tracks is very rich with uncluttered and poignant arrangements that always put the songs first».
Next Jenuary and February you'll be in Italy in tour. Is everything ready yet?
«Yeah, we’re going to tour the entire country for the third time. We’re looking forward to another adventure! »