What is your name?
What is your genre of music?
It’s been described as “climate folk rock” but on a broader sense, it’s indie rock that draws inspiration from 60’s folk, bluegrass, and underground rock
Give us a little bio about you.
I grew up on the eastern end of Long Island, and was in a few bands in high school, right at the tail end of a pretty rockin’ Long Island indie/hardcore music scene that included On The Might of Princes, and a few other bands that became relatively well known. I was always captivated by singers and singing, but I really saw myself exclusively as a guitar player for a long time. I would try to learn Jimmy Page guitar solos, things like that. It wasn’t until I was out of high school that I started discovering myself as a singer-songwriter, and discovered Elliott Smith. Smith is an excellent guitar player, but it was his personality, his relatability, that was the appeal, and the playing was more of the vehicle for that. At least that’s how I see it.
In my early twenties I spent a lot of time at Sidewalk Cafe in the East Village, hanging in the antifolk scene, which was fun, and I got to play with a handful of artists who have done well, including Wakey! Wakey!, Darwin Deez and Caged Animals. I think the highlight of that time was sharing a bill with Adam Green of the Moldy Peaches. After that I played under a couple different monikers, I was Ghost Boy of the San Joaquin for a while, then just San Joaquin, and put out some music under that name.
Then I didn’t play out for a long time, and started exploring other pursuits like environmental activism, Buddhism and programming. I was still writing songs, I’ve never stopped doing that, but I didn’t feel compelled to perform, and didn’t have the money to record. But at some point that changed and I wanted to start sharing music again. I had written these protest songs, under the name Hayride Casualties, and that’s where I’m at now. I’ve been pretty “underground,” pretty private. Releasing this album is probably the most public thing I’ve ever done.
Are you signed?
Your set to release your new album Fossil Fuel Kid on the 9th of June, what can you tell us about it?
The album takes the climate crisis as its central theme. So it’s very much geared towards folks who are on that wavelength: concerned about the planet, grappling with the existential threat of climate change, with possibly some experience in political action. But the songs are not driven by any sort of political agenda. They’re striving to be personal more than political. Also, with a lot of the folky protest music out there, the music is quite secondary to the message. Fossil Fuel Kid is different in that it’s focused throughout on putting aesthetic first. The hope there is that it can be heard as music for its own sake, even though there’s a lot more there.
Describe each track in two words.
Antarctica: “Bluegrass penguin”
The Catskills Ain’t For Sale: “Angry hippie”
Hi Def Sex: “Angry millennial”
Coal Fired Train: “Couched Leviathan”
DeepWater One: “Sushi ginger”
Muryo: “Nutella latte”
Fossil Fuel Kid: “hangover nap”
Offshore Wind Farm: “Mermaid prom”
Storm of Light: “Forest chapel”
Same Side: “Full battery”
How long did it take to write?
The songs themselves were written between fall 2013 and winter 2015. Recording began in summer 2015 and we finished up in January 2017. Start to finish, about 3 1/2 years.
What was the writing process like?
The time when these songs were written, I was immersed in environmental activism, and very much thinking like a radical. I was totally obsessed with how fucked up the situation with climate was (and still is), so the songs were kind of like a “brimming over” of that obsession. I’d be walking around, to and from trainings, meetings, filled with worry or excitement about the climate movement, and ideas for songs would just sort of emerge out of all that chatter. So I would break out my phone and type in a few lines in a note, then flesh them out while on the subway, or walking to and from places. It was very much a “lyrics first” process, which is almost always the best approach for me.
Lyrically I borrowed a lot from Jackson Browne’s style, which looks at a song as a poem or a diary entry brought to life, so there’s emphasis on precision, finding just the right words, letting the words dictate the structure of the song. A Hayride Casualties song like “Storm of Light” or “Antarctica” takes that approach, letting the words drive where the song goes, instead of the other way around.
What was the recording process like?
Recording was on one hand an incredibly fulfilling and incredibly fun time, and on the other it was grueling, soul-crushing, demoralizing. Fulfilling and fun because I was working with incredibly talented people, who happened to be friends I got to really bond with during collaboration. And there’s really nothing more fun than making music with a bunch of goofball friends. Grueling and soul crushing because I was learning how to arrange and produce an album as I went, and that meant I was failing a lot, which can be painful. It’s like, I’m listening back and I know something is not right with a vocal take, an arrangement, an effect on some instrument, and I have to drill down and get to the bottom of it, and fix it. It’s this constant battle with my own perfectionism, being constantly up at the edge of my capabilities.
Do you have any gigs coming up or maybe a tour of your own?
No tour planned. The Fossil Fuel Kid record release show is Sunday, June 11 at The Paper Box in Williamsburg as part of Behind the Curtain Media’s Northside Festival showcase. It will actually be the first Hayride Casualties performance with a completely new line-up. Singer-songwriter Lesley Barth will be on stage, as well as Ryan McCoy (formerly of Raheem) and Jack Marshall who cofounded Hayride Casualties with me back in 2013. It’s gonna be a lot of fun.
Publicists note: Our Northside Festival “Rock N’ Shop” showcase is co-promoted by Behind The Curtains Media, Rocker Stalker and TJO Presents – it’s free, all ages and all day! Link here: https://www.facebook.com/events/168783253650481/
You work with Behind The Curtains Media, how did that come about?
Mike Abiuso, who founded BTCM, and I grew up in the same town and we’ve have been friends for like 15 years. He also engineered, mixed and mastered Fossil Fuel Kid, in addition to playing a bunch of guitar and cello, and had tons of input on arrangements as well. He knows the album inside and out, so it seemed like a very natural progression to work with BTCM. Way back when I was a freshman in high school, Mike invited me to join his band at the time, which was very exciting because he and the other guys in the band were juniors and could drive. We recorded an album together in his parents’ basement. Mike was engineering on this 16 track recorder, and I remember sitting there for hours trying to get my guitar parts right. I just kept fucking up and being like, “DUDE, I can’t do it! I suck.” And he’d be like “Nah, man, you’ve got this. Let’s try it again.” 15 years later, recording Fossil Fuel Kid, the conversation was pretty much the same.
Where is your dream venue to play in the UK?
My good friend Darwin (of Darwin Deez) has raved about a spot called Hare and Hounds in Birmingham. He said they treated him very well there, and the shows have been great. So that’s the place.
Where is your dream venue to play anywhere overseas?
To be honest, I don’t know enough about gigging overseas to tell you which. Generally speaking, I’ve found that I pay less attention to venues and appreciate more the vibe of an audience or the vibe of a night, which everybody co-creates. It can be someone’s living room.
Do you have any collaborations with any other artists in the planning?
I’m talking with composer and singer/songwriter Chris Bordeaux about sort of helping to guide the development of a new batch of songs that will eventually be the next Hayride Casualties album. Chris wrote the soundtrack to the film Obvious Child, has played in a bunch of bands, and has his own project called CBX. He played bass on Fossil Fuel Kid, and it was very educational to have him onboard. He has the best ear, and the best musical sensibility of anyone I’ve played with. So I’m excited to see what could happen by starting a dialogue around my new batch of songs. It’ll probably be a fairly low-key, over-email form of feedback. He’s a busy man.
Would you consider collaborating with any other artist? If so how could they contact you?
I’ve co-written lyrics with a few different artists. That’s something I dig a lot. Whoever wants to can just email me: firstname.lastname@example.org and we can take it from there.
What made you go in to music?
Honestly, sitting in my garage when I was like 10 years old, listening to Baby Let Me Follow You Down, from Bob Dylan’s first album, titled simply Bob Dylan. I had a harmonica around my neck, trying to figure out what key he was in, and how the hell he was making his guitar sound like that. I couldn’t find the root of the chords and I was trying to play a harp in the wrong key. It was a disaster. But that song hit me like a supernova at the time. That was when the seed was planted, I am certain of it.
What instruments do you play?
I am primarily a guitar player. I play a bit of ukulele, and a bit of harmonica. That’s pretty much it. I’m a god-awful pianist and drummer. I am decent at composing parts on GarageBand and using those as a starting point for the band. That’s about it.
Who are your influences?
I could rattle off a long list of early loves that made me want to be a musician. But genuine influences, as in, those who I intently, regularly study and am sort of a “student” of, are, in order: Tom Waits, Elliott Smith, Jackson Browne and the Arcade Fire. But, especially, Waits. I can’t emphasize what a huge influence he has had on me, and it’s very strange because Hayride Casualties sounds nothing like his music. But those albums of his are brimming with life. There’s so much going on, they’re like these bustling terminals of historical and musical reference, homage and satire. But they’ve got backbone them it too, all that passion, experience, and practice. I can listen to Frank’s Wild Years, or Mule Variations, or Alice, over an over. And I really strive to integrate that level of devotion into Hayride Casualties.
How do you get inspiration to write songs?
I am actively rediscovering how to answer that question. The songs on Fossil Fuel Kid have a certain energy about them. They feel alive to me, and I think that has everything to do with the inspiration and intention behind them. They come out of these glimpses of personal insight, which I can’t ultimately control. It comes and goes. In an ideal world I would harness that feeling of insight and just dial it in whenever I feel like it, but of course it doesn’t work like that. There’s an element of grace to writing a song that as a songwriter you consider “good.” Even though I have years and years of experience writing songs, it’s still kind of a crapshoot. Generally I’ve found that when I’m interacting with my world and putting my whole heart into it, or going exploring out into the raw world with no plans and no timetable, I’m more likely to get paid a visit from my muse.
Where do you see yourself now in 5 Years?
On the third or fourth Hayride Casualties album, rocking the shit out of venues all over. I’m seeing performance art being integrated into sets. But mostly I just want it to be an incredibly solid show. I want people walking out at the end totally fired up.
When you’re not doing music, what do you do?
Working. I have a very demanding day job in the coding world, so even when I’m not actively working I am reading about programming languages and program design.
What was the song you listened to most that influenced you to go more in to the music scene?
I used to go to Wakey! Wakey! solo shows around the lower east side when he was just starting out, like 2006 or so. He had a song called “Take it like a man” which I found to be pretty much a perfect song. Mike Grubbs is a great pianist and used to just slam the shit out of the keys on that song. Like he was trying to break them. Everybody in the room would feel it. Very direct, very poppy, but also operatic and theatric in a way. That song, and others from that first batch of songs that became his first album, set a bar that’s so high I am pretty sure will always live under it. But aspiring to write songs that are good is one of the reasons I still play and write.
What’s the best advice you have ever been given?
There’s a John Lennon song, God, one of his lesser known ones. He lists all the things he doesn’t believe in, and at the end he says, “I just believe in me.” That’s probably the best advice I’ve ever been given: just believe in you. The more I do that, the more fulfilling my life is. Staying really true to my personal experience and not falling for hype. Probably the hardest thing in the world to do.
What advice would you give to aspiring musicians not about the industry and just as an artist?
When you’re first starting out at music, or anything really, you get imposter syndrome and wonder if you’re “cut out” for the pursuit or not. And sometimes that feeling of being an imposter can be super intense and can make you want to die, or worse it makes you give up. The good news is that that’s all a bunch of bullshit. You’re not an imposter. You can do literally anything you want and become whoever you desire to be. At whatever age, it doesn’t matter. You can become amazing and become a master at any pursuit you want, maybe even surpass your teachers and idols. Try not to get too caught up worshiping “natural, God given talent.” True talent is simply deep love for the craft you’re practicing.
What quote or saying do you always stick by?
My good friend and one of my favorite singer-songwriters, Matt Butler, once paraphrased Chekhov for me like this: If you want to be a good artist, be a good person. It means there’s no separation between your art and who you are. Good luck writing a great love song that connects with millions of people if you’re emotionally distant and treat romantic partners like junk. Great music, all great art, begins with an honest inward look.
When you are at a gig, what are 5 things you cannot forget?
1. Eat a square meal before the show so I don’t have a temper tantrum on stage
2. Be practiced enough that if my mind wanders (and it will) I won’t fuck up too bad
3. Be myself whoever the hell that is today
4. Let it go and have fun
5. Try not fall over while I’m rocking out, and try not to bump into anyone else on stage with me
You are away from home on tour for ages and you get back, where is your go to place in your hometown?
I don’t have much experience touring, but a decent amount traveling. And when I get back to Brooklyn, I head straight for Brooklyn Bridge Park.
Do you have social media accounts so your fans can follow you?