Q: What has music brought to your life and why do you love performing?
A: MUSIC is a vessel that takes us to some place universal. I love performing because I feel most alive and open, and I enjoy the way different elements combine and interact to create a performance: energy, emotion, surrender, physicality, technique, material, with the audience being a fellow conduit and capacitor.
Q: When did you realise you wanted to be a singer and what inspired you?
A: IT took me a while to find the courage to write and sing. I was an artistic child in a large family with no other artists, so I just languished for a while.
Then I taught myself guitar when I was nineteen; I wrote my first song and discovered something. Writing songs, or arranging someone else’s song, is the place to be. There’ are helpers, there are all the voices who have come before, resonating with you in the larger whole. It is akin to the dream state where we all are fluent in the language of allegory and metaphor, of tone and texture and inflection. It is the joy of moving between worlds.
Q: I read that you spent a lot of your career on the road working odd jobs and even sleeping rough. What was that lifestyle like and how did it help shape you as a performer?
A: IT is something most musicians have to do. Working odd jobs as a means to an end, a way to stay afloat and alive until the next gig or tour.
Picking up odd jobs does not require much of a person, beyond completing a task reliably. So while part of me was washing the dishes, or emptying trash cans, or painting a barn, the rest of me could be immersed in music. I would come up with enough cash to put out the next record, or leave for the next tour, and be on my way again.
Q: Did that way of living inspire your song writing?
A: I WRITE all the time. Even when I became very ill and was forced to stay in one place, I was writing lyrics and finding songs that I wanted to learn – and filing them away for later. I try and keep a channel open for words and music, and trust that it will come through when I i’s meant to do so.
Q: Do you have any stories you can share of life on the roads?
A: I STAYED awhile in a trailer park in a little desert town in Southeast Oregon, writing and cooking at a restaurant. The days had a rhythm: the dogs would get up and move every so often to stay in the shade, the deer came down from the mountain at sunset, the air raid sirens would go off at noon every weekday.
Some miners who were living rough in the Oregon backcountry came to the restaurant, and they invited me to visit their sunstone mine. I did, and it was one of the most beautiful lonesome spots you could imagine, high atop a fault block mountain, with antelope and wild horses and caves, a hundred miles from anywhere. Drawing a map of places and people, and observing cultural shifts on a continent-wide scale. Like touring in America after 9/11, when businesses all over the country put “Never Forget” on their signs out of respect for the victims. But after a while the businesses started wanting to use the signs again…there was an awkward moment where it was both: “Never Forget” and “Marlboro Box, $2.99” on the same sign.
Q: You were hit by serious health issues in 2010. Can you tell us about that time and how you are currently doing?
A: I HAVE endometriosis, which is a poorly understood, progressive genetic disease that can cause severe pain and fatigue, and affect multiple organ systems.
There is no cure, only ways to try and manage symptoms which can range from mild to debilitating. After numerous treatments and surgeries, and years of being quite ill, I found an advocacy group called Nancy’s Nook for Endometriosis Education. Through the group, I was able to find a good specialist and have excision surgery in 2017. I have recovered to the point where I was recently able to play my first show in five years. And with any luck I will continue to be able to play.
Q: Your wonderful cover of Townes Van Zandts’ Buckskin Stallion Blues appears in the final scenes of the highly-acclaimed film Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri. How has that been going?
A: I AM thrilled that my music plays a small part in Mildred’s story, and to see the film doing so well. Townes’ beautiful original version of the song plays earlier in the film. A whole new audience is discovering my music after seeing “Three Billboards”. The fact that the screenplay was written eight years ago, yet resonates so powerfully and imperfectly with our current state of affairs, is a testament to Martin McDonagh’s sensitivity and prescience as a writer.