B&L: What animal do you associate yourself with (given our ties to oxen)?
Cleaves: An ant. It’s been a lot of work lately, putting a record out on our own label.
B&L: Why music? Why do you seek it? Why do you create it? How’d it come calling to you?
Cleaves: Why music? Why air? It’s been part of my life since I can remember. Music moved me at a young age. It only seemed natural to want to reciprocate, as I got older, to make music that moved people.
B&L: What’s the making of a great show?
Cleaves: Make ’em laugh. Make ’em cry.
B&L: Let’s talk about your latest record, “Ghost on the Car Radio.” What sort of goals did you have for yourself when you set out to make this record?
Cleaves: As with every record, I want to make music that connects to people in a deep way, to recreate the experience I’ve received from songs throughout my life.
B&L: Is songwriting an easy or arduous process for you? Are you a fly-by-the-seat-of-the-pants kind of writer, or do you schedule “office hours”?
Cleaves: I try to set aside a 3 to 4 day stretch away from the chores of daily life, every month or so, to try to write. Songwriting for me is: long stretches of tedium, trial and error, fear of failure, self-doubt, and despair punctuated by brief instances of insight and accomplishment.
B&L: What led you to pick up a guitar and start singing in the first place? When did you think, ‘yup, this is something I ought to try for a bit…’?
Cleaves: Bruce Springsteen’s “Nebraska” album showed me that with just guitar and voice you can make arresting, spellbinding music. You don’t need a whole band and lots of gear and a fancy studio.
B&L: You still have your Dodge Dart? My best buddy’s first rig was a ’75. Pea green. Bench seats. The stuff of legend. What’s the best vehicle you’ve owned? (From a sentimental vantage point – not a logistics question…)
Cleaves: I retired the ’74 Dart Sport in 2001 when I began touring in a 1986 Dodge Ram conversion van called “the Blue Whale” for it’s extended size. Captains chairs, a bunk, plush carpet. But only 11 mpg, so it’s retired now.
B&L: You were raised in New England – right up the street in South Berwick. What led you to head for the Lone Star State? What do you enjoy about getting back up to the ol’ stomping grounds?
Cleaves: Austin, Texas, has had a vibrant music scene for decades, and in the early nineties, when I was looking for a town with the necessary music infrastructure to launch a touring career: venues, supportive press and radio, SXSW, Austin City Limits, artists to emulate like Joe Ely and Lucinda Williams. Plus: no snow. I do miss Bob’s Clam Hut.
B&L: What’s one tune (or, heck, a couple) that exists out there in the ether that blows you away that you kind of wish you had written yourself?
Cleaves: Bill Morrissey’s “Birches,” especially Mark Erelli’s version. Eliza Gilkyson’s “Beauty Way.” Mary Gauthier’s “I Drink.” Adam Carroll’s album “Lookin’ Out the Screen Door” is a perfect album, as is Billy Harvey’s “Dear Danger.”
B&L: I read somewhere (okay, I won’t lie, I read it on Wikipedia) that you were once a human guinea pig. Man, that sounds rough. How’d you fall into that sort of thing? This is much different than the typical “experimental” drug use conversations one might have with a musician. How are you holding up? Any long-term effects show up as a product of those sessions?
Cleaves: That was a long time ago. I don’t remember much, but I wrote a story about it: www.slaidcleaves.com/stories/2013/3/24/my-day-job
B&L: What can folks expect when they come out to see you perform at the Word Barn on July 30th?
Cleaves: Laughter. Tears.
B&L: Question number 12. If you could have a dozen of anything, what would that dozen of something be?
Cleaves: A dozen days of 70 degree weather at our off the grid cabin in Washington County, Maine.
Slaid Cleaves will play the mighty Word Barn in Exeter on Sunday, July 30th. Few tickets remain. To snatch one up while the snatchin’ is good, click here.