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Listening to music and writing music has always helped me cope with life, relationships, depression, and loneliness, but it also can exaggerate the good times. Music has always been my way of taking an experience (good or bad) and putting it into a form that will help me more than anything. I think the best songwriters are using music to help themselves and it is an amazing bonus if others relate to that feeling. Since I joined the Air Force about eight years ago my style hasn’t changed nor have I, but so many new experiences came into my life. New friends, new places, fun times, lonely times and sometimes scary times. The Air Force and my job as an aviator has accelerated the amount of experiences and emotions, but it hasn’t changed the way I write music. When I am away from home for a long time writing songs keeps me busy and helps me work my thoughts out. It also brings a little joy to everyone else if I am making up some funny songs to make people laugh. Sometimes the guys would ask me to make up something specific about a funny situation or food or anything they came up with. I would write a little song and they would sing it for a couple days. The more serious stuff I was working on I kept mostly to myself. I would find a quiet spot under the stars and work on a few songs at a time.
How Long have you served in the Air Force? Was it always your dream since childhood to be an aviator or was it something you decided you wanted as an adult? What would you say is the most rewarding part for you of being in the Air Force?
After eight years in the Air Force my dream hasn’t changed. I remember borrowing my mothers cassette tapes and listening to whatever she had. Tom Petty, Fleetwood Mac, Meat Loaf, The Rolling Stones… I remember being overwhelmed with feelings. As I got older and started buying my own music like Nirvana, The Offspring and many others from the early 90’s I started to realize how much could be done. Music is all about feeling. All I ever wanted and still want out of life is to give other people the same feelings I feel when I listen to something that moves me. If I could make a living writing songs, recording, playing shows – I would quit everything else because that is all I ever wanted. I do love flying. I have always loved the idea of flying, the openness of the sky, the freedom. It is a very rewarding job, we are rescue. We train to save people and in the past few years we have saved countless lives. I work with a very smart and loving group of people who put it all on the line. The Air Force brings me much joy but it was not what I dreamed of.
You have been playing music for most of your life across a wide array of genres. Who would you count as the bands that have had the most influence on you? Who are you listening to currently? Are there any up-and-coming bands that you’ve discovered recently?
I listen to so much music. When I discovered music I would take anything my mom had in her cabinet and listen until I had it memorized, In my teens I explored grunge, metal, hip hop, and 60’s and 70’s music. I think my biggest influences have to me Nirvana, The Doors, Tom Petty, Beck, Queen, The Deftones, and most of all The Beatles. Recently Foster the People, Vampire Weekend, Post Malone, Childish Gambino and Beck. Real rock and roll music has almost disappeared from the mainstream which is why I think Greta Van Fleet is awesome, they are bringing some rock music back to the listeners. I always go back though. No matter how much new stuff I get into I find myself searching through decades of music trying to find what makes music so undeniable. No matter what time in comes from it all has relatable emotion.
Your songs are described as offering a unique perspective that looks at life through the eyes of a world traveling aviator. How has being an aviator and traveler changed your perspective on the world and on songwriting?
When you are stuck in the American bubble people tend to worry about silly things. Yes my job as an aviator has opened my eyes to so much. I have been to every continent, small countries, big cities, you name it. When you start seeing how things work else where, what people live with and without you start to see things differently. It has changed my perspective but not my writing. I just have more in my head now. More to reference, more to compare. More experience.
I read that most of your songs are written in your head while you are in the air during active deployment to be worked on later if they are still there. How often do you remember the songs you write versus forgetting them?
My songs have mostly always started in my head. Before, during ,and probably after the Air Force. I just get a line or a melody and sing it to myself. The last two singles were written that way. “Rock Me To Sleep” popped in my head while we were flying around. It’s about how safe I felt in the plane. It’s almost a love song about it. Once we landed and I was trying to sleep and couldn’t finish the rest of the song laying in bed. A few days later I picked up the guitar and put chords to the melodies. “Tell Me That You Love Me” started on the ground when I woke up with a melody bouncing around my head. I worked on that song for about a month. It’s full of subtle and not so subtle references to war, the desert, loneliness. I let that one write itself. Everyday something happened that added to it. I do forget a lot of ideas but if it is awesome and I really don’t want to forget I will sing it into my phone. If you listen carefully to the beginning of “Rock Me to Sleep” the sound you hear is from inside a C-130. I was singing into my phone but the engines are so loud you can barely hear it.
“Tell Me That You Love Me” is about my family at home needing more from me. I couldn’t give them more. There was a lot of things I couldn’t say and a lot of things I didn’t want to say. It is about the struggle between what I was feeling, and what they were feeling. During the deployment one of our helicopters crashed with seven of our brothers on it. They all died. From that point on everybody at home was very scared and nervous. So you can imagine I didn’t want to tell my loved ones how often I was flying or what was going to. But I realized my lack of communication made things worse. Kelly is a singer and an actress. Tom Flynn who shot the video knew Kelly and we got her to be in it. I had to leave NY for a little bit so I rushed to record the song and shoot a video. I did my day with Tom and a couple weeks after Kelly and Tom shot the other part. Kelly and I never meet in the video. We are both alone and sad. But she is in the comfort of home, drinking wine, driving, waking up in her own bed, she can’t possibly know what I am going through but she still needs to hear that I love her.
What kinds of things do you do for fun when you are home?
When I am home I record as much as possible. I skydive when I can, I have had about 500 jumps. I need that excitement I guess. I play with my dogs, get tattoos, cook lots of food, go to the beach, go snow boarding and hang out with my family.
You’ve said that you are learning to be human everyday and that you take many things from life and mix them with metaphors. What have you learned about being human? What does it mean to you?
Being human is un-learnable. We all feel everything so differently. We all deal with things so differently. There is no possible way to ever be perfect as a friend, a lover, a parent. We learn from mistakes as we go. I think the more mistakes you make the better you become if you learn from them. But those mistakes you are learning from could be hurting someone else. The cycle continues. I wish we could all be good to each other. Being human, I believe, is a constant struggle between right and wrong, wants and needs, and love and hate. I think they are all the same sometimes.
You mentioned last year that Teach Me Human would be surprising everyone with great new songs and a great new sound! How do you feel that your sound has evolved since you started the band? Was a change in sound a conscious decision or just the natural progression of things?
My sound is changing because I am removing the walls around me. I am doing whatever feels good and sounds good. I no longer have a band. I am just in the studio doing whatever I want. Jared Julian is the other member of the band. He played drums on our first two EP’s but he is an amazing pianist. So incorporating piano alone has changed the sound. I am just trying to create some distance from the three piece 90’s grunge sound that I have been doing for too long. I want to explore. I also have been playing more guitar. In past band I wrote everything on bass and played bass live. So I have a little more control of the sound being the guitarist, and the bassist. We do I mix of live and sample drums, we use synth sounds and I am trying new things with my vocals. Very exciting.
You are currently working on a full-length album. What can people expect from the album? What can you tell me about the songs? What else is coming up for Teach Me Human?