Slaid Cleaves, Balancing between Hank and Woody
After over 20 years of consistantly excellent albums, Slaid Cleaves comes full circle with the release of Ghost on the Car Radio, on his own Candy House Media label. In a preview, Joseph Hudak of Rolling Stone called Cleaves “a master storyteller, one influenced not by the shine of pop culture but by the dirt of real life.”
What got you started in the music business?
I began playing keyboards in garage bands while still in high school. My first band, founded in 1981 by childhood friend Rod Picott, was called The Magic Rats. After the lead singer was kicked out of my next band, The Classifieds, I started singing cover songs behind my Hammond Porta-B in local hotel lounges and bowling alleys.
What have you done since then?
While in college I began learning guitar and writing and spent a school year in Ireland, where I became a busker on the streets of Cork. After a few post-college years in Portland, Maine, fronting the alt-country band The Moxie Men, I moved (with future wife and business partner, Karen) to Austin in late 1992. After a few struggling years there I made a few records, including 2000’s Broke Down, with producer and guitarist Gurf Morlix, which were released on Rounder Records.
How do you describe what you do?
Write songs. Make records. Travel around. Try to be good.
How do you describe your music and or songs to someone who’s never heard you?
I write songs that are rooted in traditional country and folk forms which speak to the everyday lives of regular people.
What was the first artist or album that got you into roots music?
I was spinning vinyl on my parents’ record player when I was three years old: Hank Williams, Johnny Cash, Arlo Guthrie.
Who are your favorite artists of all time?
If I were to get a couple of tattoos it would be Hank Williams on one shoulder and Woody Guthrie on the other. They are my two guideposts as far as songwriting goes.
How do you define what Americana music is?
A tiny outpost in the vast American culture, one that hearkens back to and celebrates well-worn familiar styles and themes.
Where do you see Americana radio going in the future?
Like “the blues” I think it will be around, albeit on the margins of American culture, for a long time to come.
What artists are you excited about?
I’m hopeful that Americana stars like Jason Isbell and Hayes Carll can help open up Americana music to a wider audience. And I’ll be looking to ride their coat tails!
What are your most memorable experiences from working in the music industry?
One time in the 1990s I was the only passenger on an American Airlines flight to Nashville. I tell the story here.
What projects are you working on next?
Right now I’m just crowing about the new record, Ghost on the Car Radio, for the next year or so.
What inspires you or what keeps you going?
Making a living, connecting with people. That’s a nice combination.
What are your most proud accomplishments?
Making a living and keeping a marriage going in this business.