by: Thomas D. Mooney
Charlie Shafter has had a busy 2014 so far. The top of that list has been becoming a father. His daughter was born a few weeks back. When I spoke with Shafter yesterday afternoon, the first 10 minutes were about fatherhood. Let’s just saying he’s been thoroughly enjoying it.
Shafter’s also been getting into a good songwriting groove as of late. From what I’ve heard, it’s the same songwriting precision we’ve come to expect from the wise, sharp songwriter. There’s always a certain crisp and naturally refreshing sense to Shafter’s songs. It never feels as though he’s straining to make a song fit a certain peg.
He’s not picked up his guitar in weeks, but dusting it off for a couple of shows this weekend–Blue Light on Friday and Lone Star Bar in Midland on Saturday. As I mentioned before, we caught up with Shafter for a handful of questions yesterday which you can find below.
Watch/Listen to “Dear Diana” from the Live & Breathing Lubbock Sessions below.
New Slang: Last time you were in Lubbock was when you had done a few acoustic shows with Brandon Adams and Red Shahan. You played some new songs during that. Those songs, are they relatively new or do they go as far back as the self-titled?
Charlie Shafter: They’re relatively new, for the most part. Not that I’ve made a lot of them, but typically every time I’ve made an album, I don’t write all the time, but when I feel like doing it again, they typically come out a few at a time. Sometimes even two in a day. But I’m not one of those people who sits down and writes every day. Especially lately. I was just looking at my guitar and I haven’t played it in weeks with everything that’s been going on. I was wondering if I needed to change strings because I couldn’t remember what they looked like last time [laughs].
NS: [Laughs]. Yeah. That’s understandable. Who do you usually show a song to first? Is there anyone you show in an “approval” kind of way?
CS: I really only show them to people if I know they’re good [laughs]. I have ones that aren’t any good. The band doesn’t even hear those. I don’t really have an outside source to tell me whether they’re good or not. I just have a thing within myself–a bullshit detector. I’ve got plenty of songs that I don’t like and they’re usually just half written.
NS: What happens to those that don’t make the cut? Do you ever go back and try reworking them, combining, or taking lines for new ones?
CS: Yeah, more often than not, I’ll save them on my computer. A lot of times I’ll write them with a pen, but I’ll type them in just to have them there. More often than not, if it’s a song I just don’t like, there’s something from it that I do and I can throw them in another song.
NS: One of the songs I remember you playing–I can’t even remember if you mentioned the title–the intro really reminded my of “Lungs” by Townes. Do you know which I’m talking about?
CS: Yeah, it’s that old school seven-style drop D Townes/Dylan stuff. It’s called “Black Wind.”
NS: Yeah. When did you write that?
CS: Well, basically how that song came about was Whiskey Myers’ manager used to be my old manager and when they were making their new album, he called me and said that I should probably write a song for them. So I wrote that one just kind of thinking about them and I liked it a lot so I didn’t want them to record it [Laughs].
CS: Yeah, that’s basically how that worked. You know, I figure those guys are really Southern rock style–and one of the things I can say about those guys is that there’s nothing contrived about those guys. I figured I’d write a song in the perspective of some Southern rock band who has been traveling around drinking some whiskey and doing some strange things. I had about half of it and sent it to them and said I’d send the whole thing when I finished. When I finished, I just never sent it to them [Laughs]. I just really liked it and decided to keep it for myself.
NS: Yeah. It certainly grabbed my attention. That’s one of the things I noticed and I think some others really enjoyed about that Blue Light show with Red and Brandon. I think everyone’s first three or four songs were all pretty new songs. In a way, it felt like one of you’d play a song and then the next was like “That was pretty good. But here’s something even cooler that I wrote.” It felt like there was some friendly escalation.
CS: [Laughs]. I know what you’re talking about. I kind of looked at it from the perspective of if we were sitting in our living room and were just showing each other new songs. Know what I’m saying?
CS: And we all just started doing it because we’ve all heard each other’s old songs. That whole tour just felt like we were just hanging out in somebody’s living room on stage. And a lot of places, we didn’t give a flying fuck about the crowd. It felt like we were doing it for ourselves with friends.
NS: Yeah. One of the things I think maybe the average listener overlooks, but when you talk with songwriters and musicians, is your guitar playing. I’ve talked with a few different people about this and a lot of your melodies, chord progressions, and just guitar playing in your songs are a little more complex than your average, standard songwriter. Especially coming out of Texas right now. Where do you think that aspect of your songwriting came from?
CS: I think honestly–and I’m not necessarily agreeing with you either, but if I did [laughs]–I would say that it’s the wide range of music I’ve listened to. A lot of people listen to a wide range of music, but they never try to learn it. But when I was growing up and first learning to play guitar, I wasn’t just learning the songs I wanted to learn how to play and the style I wanted to play. I was learning Steely Dan songs. I would learn jazz songs. And a lot of times, that just creeps in. It’s just something that creeps in if you actually try and learn different styles of music. And all those chords and different fingerpicking things, they can all be used in any kind of music. You just have to find the place for it.
NS: There was also a group of folks who wanted you to play more material from 17th & Chicago. Saying they were annoying wouldn’t be far from the truth. It didn’t seem like you really had any interest in playing those–and you didn’t. Was that because you just didn’t want to or did the fact that they kept on asking really make you decide not to? You get what I’m saying?
CS: Yeah, I do. It was totally because I didn’t want to. And I did do some of them, but in a swap with two other people, there’s only so many songs you get to play and I’m not going to play the entire 17th & Chicago record. I want to play new stuff. That’s the cool thing about a song swap situation. You can rely on others to play hits too. You only have to play one or two of our own “hits.” And when you’re in a situation like that, when you’re not playing 20 or 25 songs, there’s always going to be people disappointed that you didn’t play one song.
NS: Yeah. I think even when you are playing that full set, there’s going to be someone disappointed that you didn’t play whichever song.
CS: Exactly. And like the “Space Ship” song we used to play a lot–and still do time to time. People heard the Live at The Blue Light record and will come out to singer-songwriter nights where it’s a quiet little room where I’m by myself and want me to play “Space Ship.” And that’s completely ridiculous [laughs].
CS: I’ve done it before and every time after, I say never am I doing that again. It’s one of those where you’ve got to have the drums, the electric guitars, and the craziness to play that song. And some of the others are like that. Some of the songs people ask for, I just honestly don’t know any more. I’ll screw it up and forget the words because I’ve not played it in so long. I only play three or four songs from 17th & Chicago any more.
NS: Yeah. When do you think you’ll be ready for another record?
CS: Honestly, I’m ready. I just need the money. It’s expensive to do a record. I want to try and do with without Kickstarter. I love Kickstarter. It’s a great idea, but if you’re starting the record off with Kickstarter, if you ask for too much and don’t get it, you don’t get any of it. Know what I mean? I’d rather start it off with either private investors or my own money and then knowing a smaller amount that I need to finish it later.