Sunday, January 3, 2010

Q&A: Todd Deatherage

I've known Todd for many years now, and I've always respected his talent. I've enjoyed seeing him perform probably over 100 times and I've had the honour and pleasure of having him perform 2 live concerts with me before, one of which was released on limited edition CDR (Live Dallas 1999 on Mutant Pop Records), and more recently I remastered those tracks and reissued them on a limited edition CD and digital release (Indoor-outdoor luxury BBQ). He's one of the most talented singer/guitarist/songwriters I've ever met, and a genuine, great person as well. Introducing Todd Deatherage, ladies and gents! Photo by Allison V. Smith

Q: I first knew of you when you were in high school at arts magnet in Dallas. How long have you been playing guitar?

Todd: I've been playing guitar for 21 years now. I got my first guitar when I was twelve, and started playing classical shortly there after. From there, I went on to study blues, jazz, rock, country, etc. As a child, my mother played ukulele and acoustic guitar. She was my main musical inspiration growing up.

Q: Was it helpful to be surrounded with talented, artistic peers in high school at arts, such as singer/guitarists Matt Hillyer (Eleven Hundred Springs) and Dan Phillips (Slowride)?

Todd: Matt has always been one of my huge influences. In high school, he got me into country and rockabilly music. He took me to my first blues jam when we were both fifteen, at The Nostalgia Lounge in Dallas, TX. Ever since I've known him, he's been a great singer and guitar player. It's kind of weird, but Matt was always good. I feel like there are few people you can truly say that about, but with him, it's definitely true.
Dan Phillips and Drew Fleming were both great talents to have been surrounded by at Arts Magnet as well. Drew and I have played music together on and off for over ten years now, and he's such a gifted musician. Dan was in the first version of The Calways with Steve Visneau and I. All in all, I've been pretty lucky to have talented friends!

Q: You've moved around a lot. How has living in different areas influenced your songwriting?

Todd: Moving around and living in different cities has definitely shown through in my songwriting. When I lived in NYC, I was very influenced by the rock scene that was emerging in lower east side. Bands like The Strokes, The Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Robbers on High Street, Kevin Devine, The Damnwells, and many more were really starting to make a buzz. 9/11 had just happened and New York was a bizarre place to be. Musically, though, things were really starting to explode. So in a way, it was a terrifying and exciting time to have lived there.
When Megan and I lived in Michigan, my songwriting became a little more focused. Ann Arbor was kind of the calm after the storm and I was more in step with myself as an artist. I toured around the country a lot solo and with a band.
Austin is pretty cool so far. I'm once again in the Texas Music scene, and I really like it. I guess I kind of missed the whole experience, and it's definitely coming through in my songs. I dig the country-fried!

Q: do you have any crazy tour stories you can legally share with us?

Todd: Sure, too many, but I really don't want to embarrass anyone that's given me a place to stay for the night. I'm very thankful that strangers have opened up their homes up to me and let me stay, even as "different" as some of them have been.

Q: What's your favourite song or songs you've written, and why?

Todd: "She's Leaving Me" is still one of my favorites. I almost always end my set with it and people seem to really like it. "Linger On" would have to be a close second, because I spent so much time writing and rewriting it, and was pretty happy with the final product. It first started out as a really dark song about death and then morphed into a break-up song. I think it was a good choice to change it, because I already write too many sad songs. That would have been a little too much on the "get therapy" side.

Q: Do you find it difficult to perform older songs that were once very relevant to your life but now are no longer relevant?

Todd: No, I don't really mind at all. I'm obviously not famous or even very well known, so a lot of times that particular performance could be the first time someone is hearing a song I wrote. I try to keep that perspective every time I perform and that usually keeps things fresh for me. I can easily get lost in the song once it starts going.

Q: What sort of guitar and amp setup do you currently play thru and why? Are you a guitar nerd?

Todd: I wish I was a guitar nerd, but maybe I'm too broke or too simple-minded to be invested in equipment. I still play the same American Telecaster I bought back in '93, and my amp is a Hot Rod Deluxe I got in the late 90's. As far as effects, I use a Boss Tremolo and a Line 6 delay pedal. Nothing too fancy, really. Often I just plug straight into my amp!

Q: Can you read music? And if so, how has that helped you in your performing?

Todd: I've read music since I first started playing guitar, and it has definitely helped in my writing and live performances. I've also sung in choirs and am currently studying Music Education at Texas State in San Marcos. I try to sight read vocally for about 30 min to an hour a day. It's a skill I enjoy and always need work on!

Q: As you've aged, have you found it more difficult to hit notes? What do you do to maintain the vocal chords to keep your great range?

Todd: Actually since I've been studying at Texas State, with my current voice teacher, Dr. Mungo, it's been a lot easier to hit high notes. The voice, as an instrument, is so much more athletic than playing the guitar. If you exercise daily, one can remain fit. It's the same thing with your vocal chords. I try to work on technique as much as possible, and when I don't, I can really tell.

Q: What are you up to musically right now, and what does the near future hold for you?

Todd: I'm currently playing my own shows locally and I am the guitar player for The Jeremy Steding Band. Jeremy is a great singer/songwriter in the Texas Music circuit. Check him out!
I'm also working on a new record that I started about a year ago in Michigan. It has been a little slow coming with recording, but I think I'm finally starting to make some headway. I'm really excited about a lot of these songs. I spent a lot of time writing them and touring on them. I tried to pick the ones that people seemed to like the best when I was on the road a bunch from '06-early '08.'

Q: What's your songwriting process like, and what inspires you to write?

Todd: My songs are usually pretty autobiographical or fiction based on some sort of reality. I'm always a sucker for a love song. I think that's human nature. I usually will go through spurts of creativity and write a few at a time. I wish I knew the secret behind what inspires me. I kind of don't push it and then it appears. Sometimes I don't write anything for six months. Songwriting is an unusual process for me. I wish I could be more disciplined about it.

Q: What are some other artists or bands you enjoy listening to lately?

Todd: This is always a hard question for me when people ask, because I honestly just listen to a lot of the same people. I still love Rufus Wainwright, Lucinda Williams, Merle Haggard, Todd Snider, Lefty Frizzell, and other old country greats. I'm also a big fan of Ralph Vaughan Williams' song cycle "Songs of Travel." I have a great version of Roderick Williams singing it and I listen to it pretty frequently. I love German Lieder as well. Schumann and Schubert are kings in my book. Mozart is always amazing to me too. The way he wrote for the voice has probably still never been matched.

Q: So I've been told you're in Austin now. Do you like the slogan "keep Austin weird" or does it bug you?

Todd: I think that whole "Keep Austin Weird" thing is a little silly. I kind of don't get it. Next to NYC, Austin is pretty tame. But it is a blue city in a red state, so I guess that's what the slogan is mainly about. I am pretty liberal, and do appreciate the desire to keep it that way. So maybe I am into the slogan after all!

Q: how is the Austin music scene these days? Is it living up to the huge reputation it's gotten?

Todd: Austin is a wonderful town; I really enjoy it. It's pretty great to be able to see guys like Dale Watson and Redd Volkaert for free all the time. There are a lot of great musicians in Austin and the city really seems to care, which is a plus. I still love Dallas, though. I hate the whole Dallas vs. Austin thing. There are a lot of great musicians in Dallas that get overlooked because of the whole "City of Hate" slogan. Can't we all just get along?

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