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'I traded my telescope in for an electric keyboard' ; INTERVIEW Slaid CleavesSlaid Cleaves writes, compassionate, emotive songs steeped in Texas. He...

September 27, 2013

YellowBrix

'I traded my telescope in for an electric keyboard' ; INTERVIEW Slaid CleavesSlaid Cleaves writes, compassionate, emotive songs steeped in Texas. He told Sue Atkinson where it all comes from

How did you get started? By the age of three I''d discovered my parents' ' record collection, so I guess you could say I started as a DJ. I was spinning Hank Williams, Johnny Cash, Arlo Guthrie and The Beatles. I took piano lessons in grade school, played keyboards in a garage band called The Magic Rats in high school, and even put on the skinny tie and leather trousers for a New Wave band (The Classifieds) in the early eighties. I learned guitar and began writing songs and busking in college. After college I couldn''t find a job with my philosophy degree, so I started playing in bars.

You moved to Austin a good while ago now - how''s life there? Yes, Karen and I have been in Texas nearly 22 years now. We recently moved to Wimberley, in the Hill Country 45 miles from Austin. We spend about half the year on the road. It''s getting harder and harder to leave home for so long, but these days it''s tough to make money in the music business unless you are traveling from town to town. So that''s what we do.

Where do your songs come from? I'm always on the lookout for stories or turns of phrase that catch my ear. They come from friends, family, strangers, books, movies, dreams, life.

Your songs are very compassionate. Do you feel a kinship with the characters? I suppose so. Most of the characters in my songs are based on people I know. They tend to be underdogs or colourful sorts. What''s not to love about those folks? What does music mean to you? Ultimately it's way to connect with people and to let them know they are not alone in this world. Music brought great solace to me as a searching, unconfident teen. Looking up to Bruce Springsteen and U2 in my formative years gave me a sense of purpose, a sense of possibility that a lot of good can come from music and that I might someday be able to do good, that is, connect with people, with my own music.

Who has influenced you? My parents' love for music certainly rubbed off on me (I''m sure glad they weren''t Perry Como fans). My dad played guitar casually. The guitar I play is one he bought in 1965. I met a kid on the school bus named Rod Picott around 1972, and we became close friends sharing the dream of someday making a living as musicians.

I had a couple of inspiring teachers in college (poetry and English). In my teens I had Springsteen, Petty, Waits, The Clash, U2 and REM in the walkman.

Who are you listening to at the moment? I mostly listen to friends. I like Charles King Arthur, Adam Carroll (and his alter ego, Gary Floater), Fred Eaglesmith, Eliza Gilkyson, Rod Picott.

What are the highs/lows of life on the road? Highs: Leaving everything behind but a suitcase and a guitar; watching people having a good time as they listen to my music; seeing different parts of the world. Lows: The cramped airplanes, the stale hotel rooms, but most of all, getting sick. I think I had whooping cough on the last week of my 2011 UK tour.

Can''t sing too well with a bad cough!

Tell us something about yourself the readers might be surprised to hear.

In 1979 my parents sent me to astronomy camp in Kansas. Yep, I was really into science, as-tronomy and photography during my early teen years. I guess when puberty kicked in I figured I needed to make a change: I traded my telescope in for an electric keyboard and joined a band.

Slaid Cleaves plays the Maze on Sunday from 7.30pm. Tickets are Pounds 12 from themazerocks.com.

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