I think silence was one of the most notable aspects of #N/A’s songwriting, but to be fair that isn’t something shared only by him. The things one doesn’t talk about are just as important as the things one does talk about. I can remember when we were in the studio that a lot of us would joke about our sexual experiences and he wouldn’t say anything at all. From that you can draw one of two conclusions, either there isn’t anything to talk about–which for him was true–or he was ashamed about it because it didn’t match our expectations. It wasn’t as if he lacked attraction. He wasn’t asexual in the sense of not being drawn to intimacy. We would see the way he interacted with people and we could see that he was attracted to others, but he was very shy about acting on it. It wasn’t something that we readily understood. Most of us were raised or trained in an atmosphere where one acted on one’s feelings and desires without question, and that’s clearly not the way it was for him. Besides that, he just wasn’t a very coarse person. It’s not as if he was mean or condescending to others because of the way they talked, but we could tell from his conversation the absence of that kind of mentality from him. It was what he didn’t say, the terms he didn’t use, the subjects that he didn’t mention in his music or his conversation that told us a lot about him, and that may have influenced us to be less friendly to him than we would have been otherwise.
Silence is a funny thing. What is not said is as important as what is said. That is true whether one is writing a history book or a song. Let’s say we’re listening to a song by Elton John, for example, or Luther Vandross, and they are singing about secret loves or the one, but what one is missing is detail. Who are they singing to? When Luke Bryan sings a terrible song like “Country Girl (Shake It For Me),” we know that he is singing about a girl with an attractive butt. The same is true when we hear Sir Mix-A-Lot or any other number of musicians. When Ed Sheeran sings about a Galway Girl, or Bruno Mars sings “Just The Way You Are,” we are similarly clear that they are singing about girls. The same is true even for Air Supply when they say that someone is every woman in the world to them. Their songs includes enough details to make it clear who they are singing to, but that sort of detail is precisely what is missing from an artist like Elton John or Luther Vandross, and that absence of detail is important. By that absence of detail, we can see that they are likely not singing to women but they want women to imagine themselves in that role. A man might sing a song like “Secret Love” because one is in love with a woman in a relationship, although many contemporary rappers are quite open about wanting to steal the women of their listener, or because they are in love with an underage girl, although many singers are pretty open about their attraction to young women who are perhaps just a bit too young, or because one is attracted to a guy but can’t openly admit it because of the social cost that would follow, although those costs are becoming less and less present, which is why more and more artists are becoming more open about such things. Whatever could bring shame or disapproval on someone is likely to be something we are silent about. Nowadays people are often silent about politics if their views are out of the mainstream. The Dixie Chicks lost a great deal of their popularity within the country world when they expressed shame for George W. Bush, a man no state ought to be ashamed of, for all of his flaws and imperfections. We might say they deserved that, but plenty of celebrities faced a great deal of scorn and a loss of popularity for expressing even moderately conservative opinions, like Five For Fighting, a band whose later era albums like Two Lights and Slice are amazingly good. Is it right that one should be blackballed for singing an anthem to the innocent victims of abortion or for preferring Mitt Romney to Barack Obama as present? That is not an unreasonable preference to have, even if one is not a particular fan of Governor Romney. If there are other aspects of a person’s life, like their religious beliefs, that would bring someone into trouble, we might expect some degree of silence about them as well. We may emphasize standing with others in terms of a broad culture of life, but de-emphasize theological matters where we would disagree with others. Silence is a tool of politeness to avoid conflict by not bringing up contentious matters, and is often used by tactful people who dislike conflict. But a wise listener will notice what is silently left out as well as what is openly discussed.
Are there any subjects you won’t talk about in your songs?
I’m not sure what you mean.
This isn’t a very difficult question.
Well, it’s a rather vague question. There are certainly many subjects I have not yet talked about in my songs, but I don’t think that I have set a boundary that there are subjects I will not address whatsoever. The fact that I haven’t sung about something yet doesn’t mean I won’t sing about something in the future.
How many songs have you recorded?
I don’t know how to count that. I recorded a song back in 2004 while I was attending a religious college in Ohio, but I don’t think that anyone will be releasing my version of “Thanks Be To Thee” as a b-side to a single anytime soon. I’ve also sung live at church a few times where it was recorded, but those songs too I don’t think will ever be released as singles, even on a rarities album. At the Sub Par studios I recorded dozens of songs and participated in dozens more as a backup vocalist or instrumentalist. Since then I have recorded dozens more songs live and in various studios. I don’t know the exact number, but I’m sure it’s well over 100 songs total, only a few of which have been released at this time.
Have you ever sung about your love life?
Does “Beside Me” count?
What do you mean? That’s not a song about having a love life.
No, it’s not. It’s a song about wanting a love life with a wonderful woman, but not having it.
Are you saying that you don’t have a love life then?
Yes, that is exactly what I’m saying.
I don’t really believe that.
Look, there are some artists who make their relationships fodder for the music that they make. When we listen to a song like “Thank u, next” by Ariana Grande or any number of songs by Taylor Swift, we have no doubt that we are listening to songs about actual relationships, past and present, and that context adds something to the songs we are listening to. With other artists, like a Bryan Adams for example, we hear songs that likely don’t have any relationship to their current or actual relationships, because they have fanbases that expect songs about certain materials. I’ve always made it clear that I was going to sing songs that I had a personal connection to or write songs about my life as it was lived, and as a result I have sung plenty of songs about the way I feel about love and relationships and the sort of relationship I want, and also sung about the struggles in relationships I have had or that I have seen others have. I’m not going to make up material about relationships I don’t have.
Are you saying you don’t take advantage of the opportunities for lovemaking on tour?
I haven’t gone on a full tour yet. And no, as a performer I am not interested in groupies.
So you don’t expect to ever make a song about them?
I think one could make a song about the context one is in without glorifying conduct or without pretending to do what one hasn’t.
So you don’t have any sort of secret partner to talk about?
No, I don’t. I doubt I could keep something like that a secret. I’ve always been bad about such things. I reveal the secrets of who I am interested in before I realize that I am interested in them myself. Other people know my secrets before I am aware of them myself.
That sounds like a pretty serious problem.
Yeah, it is, especially when they don’t feel the same way.
I can’t see why that would be the case.
That’s very flattering. You wouldn’t think it would be the case with Carly Rae Jepsen as well, but she has spent her whole career making music about not getting the guy, despite being very interested in him and despite being a very beautiful woman.
Would you ever go on a date with Carly Rae?
Absolutely. I’m sure she’d be fun company and that we’d have a good time talking about what it was like to want people who don’t want us.
Are there any other celebrities you’d happily go on a date with?
I don’t tend to think about that. I mean, celebrities as a whole get objectified by others. We see their public face and it’s usually a friendly one and one that looks its best. But I’m not going to go to awards shows to look for dates. When I go out to eat by myself, there aren’t a lot of celebrities come over to sit at my table and have a conversation with me. And I’m usually trying to read a book or three so it’s not as if I look like someone who is waiting for someone else, either.
So you think you come off as a bit standoffish sometimes?
I think that’s fair to say. I don’t consider myself an actively unfriendly person but I’m sure there are many times where I don’t appear to be very friendly or welcoming intimacy.
Do you think that’s a defense mechanism of sorts?
I think it may uncharitably and not inaccurately be viewed as such.
Is this how you actually talk to people?
Yes, at least people I don’t particularly like.
What’s not to like about me?
That’s a question I ask about myself a lot, too.
Are there any projects you’re working on right now?
Yes, I’m trying to get a few albums released and also recording some songs that may be a part of a follow-up album in the next year or two.
You record songs that far in advance?
I’m pretty sure fans would get sick of me if all of my material was released at the same time. My debut album came out less than a year ago, and there are already three full-length albums worth of material I have recorded that has yet to be released, and that’s if you count the live and studio versions of the songs that were in the benefit concert as part of the same CD/DVD release.
That’s a lot of songs.
Yes, it is, but I feel comfortable in the studio and writing and performing helps me release the emotional burden I live under and makes it possible for me to be mostly at peace in my day to day existence.
Is that why you haven’t gone on tour, because of the anxiety?
That’s a big part of it. I’m kind of a recluse and it’s easy for me to go into the studio and write and sing and play the viola or something or fool around on the bass guitar or drums, but to go out in front of strangers and perform for people who think they know you because of that one song you sang, that’s way less comfortable.
Is that why your benefit concert had a lot of other stars?
Yes, it’s way less stressful to perform with a solid group of people that one considers friends, but again, I tend to perform in the studio, and most of the time I’m making my tracks by myself and others come in later and fill in, so there’s not that group cohesion that makes performing the songs less stressful and more enjoyable.
You should get a posse together.
I would like to, that’s for sure, but it hasn’t happened yet.
Put something on Craigslist that says something like this: Pop star seeks posse of musicians to perform with who must put up with awkwardness. Must be willing to perform encore of “Beside Me” at every concert.
That sounds like it may work. Maybe you can post it yourself and see who responds. Maybe my agent is typing this up as we speak.
You mentioned earlier that you had several albums of material to release?
What sort of material would it be?
Well, I have a two-disc cover album of songs focused on the response of someone to child sexual abuse, along with a dvd of the concert. Other than that, I have a project tentatively titled Bellum Omnium Contra Omnes that contains songs in English with Latin titles that deal with love and faith and the struggles and conflicts of our times.
That sounds like heavy material?
It’s not that heavy. A couple of the songs are country songs, one of them is a cover of Agnus Dei, and a few of them are more comic in nature.
Is there anything else you have?
I have a proper follow-up to High Anxiety called The Centre Cannot Hold, with a variety of songs that deal with the struggle of people and society as a whole to hang together in light of the tensions we feel as individuals and as a society.
Again, that sounds pretty heavy.
It is. Sometimes one is in a heavy mood, and the result is heavy music.
Will it ever be released?
I don’t know. None of those recordings are under my control, so I don’t know if I am going to have to re-record them in new versions or if they will be released all at once as part of some kind of Sub Par records box set of the complete #N/A recordings or what. I’m not involved in that label planning at the moment.
Would you want to be?
Of course I would want to be. It’s my music. I would like to release it a certain way, with certain songs released as singles with videos and all of that.
So you have no idea if and when that material is coming out?
I have no idea as of yet, and if I had heard various rumors and scuddlebutt, I wouldn’t be at liberty to say. That’s all for the label to discuss.
Do you have a new label yet?
I am working on my own imprint, but no, I have not signed a contract with another label yet. There are still some questions about when that is happening, but I am working with the lawyers on that and making sure that previous recordings are part of that. The momentum of Badfinger was greatly harmed when Apple Records released some rough tracks around the same time as they released their Warner Brothers debut, and the band was never able to recover from the sales hit they took as a result of that. Obviously, with so much previously recorded material that could be released, it would be important to make sure that my previous label and my current label were able to work out a way that all of them could release material in an organized fashion that wouldn’t hurt my career.
Could you stay independent?
It’s possible. I don’t think I’m an artist that is all that high maintenance when it comes to expenses. I’m in the process of building my own studio and I don’t need a big advance, so those expenses aren’t going to be too serious. But I think my career is a bit difficult to market because I sing such an odd variety of songs. Not all labels are able to handle someone who has to cover all kinds of bases and do it well, so mostly it has been larger independent labels and the majors that I have been talking to.
Have you ever thought of releasing a country album?
I think it will happen someday. I’m not sure exactly when, but yes, I think a country album of some kind is definitely going to happen at some point, and sooner rather than later.
Are you going to wear a big belt buckle and a cowboy hat?
I’m not interested in doing something that isn’t real and genuine, but I grew up in the country, and wearing jeans and singing songs about small towns and family and negative nostalgia and having one’s dog, girl, and truck leave you are definitely songs I could see myself singing without any problem, whether I’m writing the songs myself or working with co-writers or singing covers of songs that others have sung, or a little bit of all of the above.
Is that a hint of where your career is going?
You can take it that way, if you wish. I’m certainly not going to stop you, if you do happen to view it as a clue of where I am looking to take my career. I could always do a neo-soul album, though, or something to throw off those who are expecting easy patterns.
You’ve got to keep the element of surprise.
That’s right. One can’t be too predictable or one becomes a self-parody. If something is becoming too stale, it’s time to stop it, because it’s not serving its purpose as a creative outlet anymore.