We caught up with musician Jeff Symonds following the release of his stunning album ‘Riverrun’. Read Now!
Who or what first got you into music?
It started really early. My folks tell me that they used to have to hold me over their record player as a baby so I could watch the record spin while the music played. It’s been a love affair for me ever since. The first song I can remember hearing on the radio was ‘Diamond Girl’ by Seals and Crofts— I still like the piano on that one. As for the ‘who’, it was the first friends I played with in my buddy Chris’ basement in 5th grade. We turned up and hit an E chord, and it was all over for me.
Who influenced your latest release ‘Riverrun’?
I really tried to step back and think about what music has really inspired me, put that through my own filter and blender, and have that inform the record. Some of my favourite music did that (The Who, Elvis Costello, Husker Du, Tom Petty) but some totally random stuff jumped into my head as well. There’s a Spotify playlist called ‘Ghosts Of Riverrun’ that we made to try and answer this exact question. You can check it out here.
You’re from Berkeley, CA, what’s the music scene like there?
The Bay Area scene is full of terrific players and writers, and it’s supportive—people respect and pull for one another. The tech boom has put the hard squeeze on artists, but most of us figure out a way to make it work. Like any scene in the US, it got just crushed this year by COVID, and we’re not close to being back. We have one of the best small clubs in the country— The Ivy Room —and I can’t wait to play there again.
Who would you most like to collaborate with?
Even though I play almost everything on ‘Riverrun’, I still got to collaborate with many of my favourite players on it. In terms of people I haven’t met, I’d love to spend a day with Jeff Tweedy, Pete Townshend, Questlove, or St. Vincent.
What’s your dream venue to play?
The Fillmore in SF— it’s rock music’s church. But considering how long it’s been since we’ve gotten to play, anywhere would be fine with me,
You have been a touring/session musician for a number of years, what inspired this solo project ‘Riverrun’?
It was just the right time for me. All of the other projects that I work for were in an “in-between” stage, and I was determined to make some art in 2020, so on New Year’s Eve 2019, I made a promise to myself to see what I could do. I pulled out all the songs that I’d stuck in a drawer over the years, wrote a dozen or so new ones, and chipped away from about 60 until there were 13 songs that told a story and hung together. I booked my first studio session for my own stuff in a LONG time, and ‘Riverrun’ is the result.
‘Riverrun’ is a brilliant classic rock album, what draws you to the genre?
Thanks! I really appreciate it. I tried to make an old-school double album in four parts, and I hope that the narrative comes across. And I tried to get everything I love about rock music in there— the energy, the volume, the authenticity, the tension between playing tight and loose, the crackle of electric instruments, melodies worth remembering… that sense of organized abandon that great rock music has, if that makes sense.
Other than music, what are you passionate about?
Teaching— I teach high school literature, and teaching for me is searching together through art to help us find our best individual and collective selves. Being a good teacher means I have to be a good person and a good citizen, and I appreciate that pressure the job brings.
What changes would you like to see in the music business?
I wish that we hadn’t lost the sense of music as art worth owning. I tried to make an album on purpose and not a random collection of 13 songs, and I think it belongs on a shelf in my house next to the other albums that have really moved me. So I think the music industry should value and protect its product a little more, the way film and TV has and does—people happily pay for Netflix, you know?
What is your favourite song to play live?
Can I pick one that’s not mine? I’ve been playing for Megan Slankard for about 15 years now, and playing her song ‘Like Always, Alex’ always does it for me. It’s a banger.
Have you started working on your next release?
I have, though 2021 is all about ‘Riverrun’ for me. It took me a long time to put it out—now I want to do to whatever I can this year for people to have a chance to hear it. If when 2021 ends people found out about and listened to ‘Riverrun’, then anything else is a bonus.
FVMusicBlog January 2021
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