|Interview TERRY LEE HALE
July 2003 (by E-mail) www.terryleehale.com
The melancholy of "The Blue Room", that's what left an impression. It was the first full album I heard of Terry Lee Hale, I got to know him when he was working for many years already as a singer-songwriter. Never too late though to become a fan & friend.
Terry Lee lived in various parts of the U.S.A., he had many jobs on the side, often working as a carpenter. He ended up in Seattle at the right time, while the music world watched that scene closely, he became best friends with The Walkabouts. They gave him the chance to be their opening act on a European tour and that resulted in a record deal.
He spends time, between extended touring, in Paris and on the Atlantic Coast. He likes Lucinda Williams, but dreams of shaking hands with Emmylou Harris one day.
He's a guitar tiger, he rocked with The Blind Docters, he is one/fourth of Hardpan. After those successful concerts, he resumed his own Frozen-tour and played a string of solo-gigs. He's worth more attention than he actually gets, that's why I interviewed him.
Johanna: For Hardpan it wasn't so difficult to get a solid four weeks of bookings, but I have the feeling that for individual singer-songwriters it's a different story, there are a lot of them around these days. Is it hard to find yourself some gigs?
Terry Lee: It is more difficult to find solo shows than "band" gigs. Of course if you don't mind playing for spare change in a tip jar and shoved into a corner somewhere then it's probably not too hard to find work although I guess there is even competition for those gigs. I've just recently become aware of just how many people are trying to make a career of music. I mean who wants to work in a car factory, right? I mean certainly playing music has moved from the being some kind of statement of rebellion or unconformity into an industry albeit "entertainment". The guitar (for example) is not some magical or unattainable tool these days. You can own one for a couple hundred bucks and certainly we've all grown up seeing them played. Now they teach guitar in school! This was all brought home to me by my recent visit to America. I saw a lot of clubs (and not just little corner bars either) with "singer-songwriter" nights where the night started around 20H00 and had one different act per hour until 02H00! There were just soooooo many musicians more. I hate to say it though but most of them were just shit. On the other hand though, how you get good is playing live and I kinda remember what I must have sounded like on my first shows. Doesn't seem like players are doing much "wood shredding" these days though.
J: As you said, you have been in The States recently, for the wedding of your daughter. Did you also play some interesting gigs?
TL: I did have some interesting shows there. My friend Joseph Parsons set up a few gigs around Philadelphia for me and I had also called a friend of mine in North Carolina who set up one small gig in Chapel Hill. Since living in Europe most of the time these days I have not really tried to stay connected with my American contacts and so I wanted to make an effort to do a few shows. Not only for the excuse to play some songs (which doesn't take much BTW) but to see if I could get some kind of sense of how Americans would respond to my current batch songs. Report? It's hard to say in a short sentence. My overall view is that America needs another singing guitar player like they need another four years of George Bush. Not at all. There are just thousands of pickers over there. As much faith as I have in myself and my music I couldn't help feeling a bit overwhelmed by the sheer mass of musicians. The quality of all that music is another story. Would I want to move back there to live and try and build a following? No. Would I like to go back and play again? You bet! All musicians need bigger worlds!
J: You were performing at the (German) Orange Blossom Festival, please tell us about it?
TL: I'm not that much of an expert in festivals but I can say that the whole OBS experience is very cool. Only 1500 tickets sold for the 3 day event. The low numbers means that it is a more family atmosphere, friendly and just managable. Good sound, great site lines for everyone and it's just a very friendly and human celebration of life and music. Of course I met lots of old friends there. Vic Chesnutt, Chris and Anda Eckman, The Bambi Molesters, Midnight Choir, Joe Pena from Greyhound Soul and of course all the Glitterhouse crew. New bands I can't remember now except The White Birch whom I especially enjoyed. Great wkd.
J: You play guitar in a rather unusual way, with open tunings. You have a six-string, twelve-string and a beautiful vintage Dobro, plus a harmonica. Do you practice a lot, trying out different sounds for example?
TL: I practice constantly, when I'm not touring usually around 4 hours a day. Practice means writing and playing. I do this because not only is it my job but I really enjoy it. I am lucky! It is true too that I am aware that the work I do today with writing and practice will be food on my plate later. It's all a rather long story about how I work at songwriting and you can check out my webpage to learn more. I do enjoy keeping different instruments around my desk though because in this way if I get tired or bored or stuck with one guitar or sound I can just reach for another. In this way hopefully I keep moving forward. I don't like to fight things too much if I run into a dead-end street.
J: You're making plans to record your next CD. I heard you trying out a few very interesting new songs already. Please, tell us about the material, is it hard to make choices, are you recording this album with a band again?
TL: I am quite ready to record a new CD and, in fact, I am looking at different studios and countries even as the best place to be. It's been almost three years since I've recorded "The Blue Room" and it's really time for a new record. The songs have been collecting since that last recording and in fact there will be a couple on this next one that we were not able to put on "The Blue Room". This next record will be focused on acoustic guitar but will feature other instruments as well. Although I have been recently listening a lot to John Hammond Jr's CD of Tom Waits music and John hardly plays guitar on the record at all. Of course having Larry Taylor on bass, Tom himself on guitar, Charlie Musselwhite on harmonica etc. And other great musicians eases the need for your own contributions. Interesting concept though- I imagine he learned the songs for himself on guitar and probably even recorded them that way but then just pulled his own self out of the final mix. I like it and it's a wonderful record.
J: Do you think it's important for artists to write about political and social issues? And to make statements in public, on stage or on the Internet, about these subjects? Or is it also o.k. to just sing love songs?
TL: I guess every performer has to find their own way with this issue. I can't say what anyone else should do. I personally believe that honesty and directness can be a political statement no matter what you're writing or singing about even if politics is not your point. So a "political" song that just used worn out slogans ("make love not war", "give peace a chance" etc.) has much less impact in this modern, input overloaded world in which we live than perhaps a love song like Lucinda Williams' "Essence", which is just devastating in its clarity and beauty. Is it important to be political? Certainly not but honesty is, at least in my opinion, vital.
J: You lived and played for a long time in Seattle, while the scene was really "hot" there. When you go back for a visit, do you see a lot of changes?
TL: Seattle has changed of course. I lived there from 1984-1996 and only came to Europe in '93 for the first time. I don't like dwelling on the past though. Certainly those days in Seattle viewed from this long distance of 2003 look romantic and fun. In fact I've finally got around to writing a song about those days and from a totally romantic point of view. In other words, everybody was friends, the music was universally exciting, vital and perfectly played, there was lots of gigs, glamour and glory etc. etc. That couldn't be farther from the truth though. Those days are gone forever. Seattle continues to be an important music city and scene though to those who live there currently. There is a healthy amount of clubs for a city its size, 5,000 bands fighting for spots and lots of great musicians in all musical styles. I couldn't begin to tell you though what the reality is like. I can say though that there is an amazing amount of "attitude" there. Lots of R&R fashion, talk and B.S. Certainly doesn't feel as friendly to me as it once did but, like I say, I don't hang out there anymore. Still a beautiful corner of the world to be though!
J: Actually, I like to ask about funny gigs. I was lucky enough to attend one in Geyer, close to the Czech border. Please, tell everybody about it?
TL: You'll have to refresh my memory of this one, Johanna?
J: There was a real tree in the middle of the pub with fake leaves and a fake snake, the audience was smoking waterpipes. (!) The Mayor was so impressed (although he didn't speak one word of English), that he bought you a whiskey, after he left you said "he's gone, now we can party" and when you had your hands in the air already, he looked at you from the doorway. You slept in a waterbed and I thought there were wolves in the woods!
TL: Hey- I remember the gig but you just explained it perfectly.
J: This is a Springsteen quote: "We learned more from a three-minute record than we ever learned in school." Was there a three-minute-record in your past?
TL: I would have to say that Duane Eddy's "40 Miles of Bad Road" would be that 3 minute song; I was probably 5 or 6 when I first heard this 45 and I can still remember how excited the sound of his guitar made me. I recently just bought a greatest hits from this guy and that particular song still sounds great BTW.
J: Can you tell us about any other good CD's you've been listening to lately? And have you read an interesting book and/or seen a movie you can recommend?
TL: Music I've been listening to is constantly changing but TODAY I would list Gianmaria Testa, Lucinda Williams, Placebo, Silo's and Ry Cooder. Of course for movies you have to consider "Bowling For Columbine" a must see and I also very much love the Tolken movies made in New Zealand. Go figure that combination.
J: I know that you like your fans a lot, what would you do if one turned into a sort of stalker?
TL: I did have one guy that was writing me all sorts of very weird and strange letters. No so very violent but really creepy. 15 handwritten pages of blah! Full of strange images, stories and the like. I used to let my friends read the letters and we were all concerned about this dude but thankfully he seems to have disappeared in the last few years. Most every other performing musician that I know has had similar stories and it's a drag for sure. I can only imagine what it must do to your head to be really well known and unable to live in peace and security.
J: What do you like/dislike most in other people?
TL: I enjoy honesty, directness, talent, humour, confidence and joy of life! I dislike selfishness, egoism (as different than confidence) and I suffer fools badly! Racism and sexism of all kinds. Bigots, liars, bullys and thieves!
J: What is your own best quality/worst habit?
TL: I don't know about what best quality I have is. I do know that I don't handle stress well and that inability often gets me in trouble. It's unfortunate but this business of music is stressfull so I am often conflicted in that business. I am also too lazy and don't do as much work as I should.
J: Do you still have unfulfilled dreams?
TL: Yes I do have unfulfilled dreams but I don't worry about as much as I used to when I was younger. I suppose that is because I have been so fortunate in achieving some of those dreams at least in regards to music. I still have better songs to write though, more love to give and take and much to explore. Dreaming indeed!!
Interview by Johanna J. Bodde, previously published on Real Roots Cafe, The Netherlands