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Interview: Charlie Treat
What got you into music, and if you had not gotten into music what would you be doing today?
Punk Rock. I was in high school transitioning from wanting to be a quarterback to wanting to be a singer. One day I walked into my room and found a red electric guitar on the pillow of my bed, hiding under the blanket - my father's gift. And there was a note that led me to an amp in the closet. I was shaking with joy. Me and my buddies immediately started learning AFI, MXPX, and Bad Religion. Within a few months I moved on to the Beatles and Stones and eventually traditional music. The music was a calling, listening to it affected me deeply. I felt compelled to wield that power, to affect change and to be changed, to have beauty at my fingertips, to have a healing force in my hands. Singing came naturally. By the time I was out of highschool I had a songbook in my head, playing guitar while singing was as natural as throwing a ball and my dreams were leading me anywhere but college. Dad regretted leaving a guitar on the pillow. If it weren't for music I'd still be writing poetry, prose, stories. And farming. I run a community garden in front of my house.
What do you like to do when you are not playing music and how does that influence your creativity?
I like to get out of Nashville, goto historical sites and old towns, or go for a hike. There are seeds of stories and songs in almost every placard and quiet town center in the forgotten outskirts of life and Tennessee. Visiting Port Royal inspired a new song "Flatboat Rider". Flatboats lead me to the "king of the keelboaters" , the legendary brawler and boat rider Mike Fink (1780-1823). Animals and nature makes its way into my writing as well, especially on the new Bluegrass record I'm releasing.
How long has music been your career?
I started playing guitar and writing songs when I was 16. It wasn't until about 10 years later that I started getting paid for it. I still find lots of work and side hustles to pay for my records and maintain the show.
Where are you based out of and how did that influence your music?
I am based out of Connecticut. Connecticut has unflattering stereotypes: like we're all double Polo, popped collar, yacht owners. I grew up on a farm, in a town of 5 thousand people, two stop lights and one bar. My mom grew vegetables and herbs, dad grew trees, we had pig roasts by the pond, half the town would come over and there'd be live bluegrass music all night. I flipped a tractor before I hit puberty. The workers flown in from Puerto Rico sang Spanish love songs throughout the fields. The oldies station still played doo-wop, rockabilly and motown. In first grade all I listened to was Oldies Big D 103. Dad's friends came over and drank beer and listened to Muddy Waters and Otis Redding. There were Bob Dylan tapes and one single harmonica floating around the house. By the time I found Woody Guthrie and Leadbelly I was hearing plough songs while running the plough. I was hearing their sweating-in-the-fields songs while sweating in the fields. There's something in those licks that was already in my blood, simply as someone whose hands were born out of the dirt.
Tell me about the best and worst shows you have played.
One of my favorite shows was Whisky Jam 2018. We had just formed the band. I just released my first EP. And it was our first Whiskey Jam. The room was packed with hundreds of half drunk college kids eager for country music. We played our style of groove and soul and blues music, caught the crowd off guard and stunned them. The band played uptempo from the record, there was a wild electricity in the air we were all plugged into, the bass player started jumping, the piano player stood up headbanging while soloing, the band came down on their knees and when I whipped out the harmonica everyone in the room screamed and pulled out their phones and recorded us. The next day Zac Brown Band's manager called me interested in signing me. The worst show I ever played was at SXSW. The regular guys couldn't make it. Three of the backups I found had played with me before. The drummer had not. I don't know if it was nerves, the thirsty Russian friend, or a day on Rainey St but he played almost as if we found a drummer on the street that night and pulled him up on stage. He started playing the chorus before the verse was done, he played some songs so fast I had to be an auctioneer to sing them, it threw off the guitar and everyone else enough so that they missed licks, I missed lyrics. Everything crumbled. After the show the drummer walked up to and said, "sorry I just completely bombed that sh*t". After we left the venue the bass player, while chasing a rowdy Colombian girl, found himself in the midst of a shooting on 6th street, a wall of Police with their guns drawn, people and cars scattering everywhere like ants when the rock is lifted. He ran back to my van and screamed at us to leave. When we got back to my sister's apartment complex all of the power on the entire block went out with a sudden jolt. The next day we played a show 30 minutes outside of town. It was outside. The wind picked up and started blowing the cymbals off the stage mid set. The guitar player, who got food poisoning at the gig the night before, left the stage mid song to run to the bathroom. The person who booked us gave us a 1pm downbeat. We didn't get to play until 4 or 5pm. And we had a 12-14 hour drive back to Nashville to relish in it all. The first 3 hours of the trip home we hardly made it out of Austin. There was a tractor trailer truck on the highway - the trailer was completely burnt down to a flat smoldering silhouette and the cab glowed red in the night, a giant devilish ember. Austin didn't want to let us go.
Tell me about your favorite venue to play at, and do you have any places you want to play that you have not already?
I love playing the old Basement in Nashville. The floor has a good stomp tone. The lights blind you so you can forget about everything and just play. And there's remnant magic in those walls, like Fenway Park, it breeds happiness. I want to play The Ryman, Red Rocks...my dad's farm. I'm especially interested in doing festivals. We have songs that lend themselves to jams and improv that a festival crowd can dance to.
If you could play any show with any lineup, who would be on the ticket?
Leon Russel, new Bob Dylan, and Muddy Waters
Realistically, artists nearer my age who I really respect and would love to share a bill with: Katie Pruitt, Lydia Luce, Devon Gilfillian, Timbo, Ric Robertson,
What is some advice that you would give to someone who is just getting into music?
Dreaming isn't enough. Hard work and practice is paramount. Don't wait for songs to "hit" you or "transmit". Force yourself to write. Force yourself to read - that's the fuel. Read everything around you, even if it's not text "read" it, read into everything you're seeing. In other words, be constantly in the position or mind frame of a writer, always spotting the beauty, or irony, or story in everything.
Learn thousands of covers. If you're blessed to end up in high level jam circles and song circles you don't want to be the one without a song. And if it's a song that other people know all of a sudden you got yourself a band, if only for the night. Likely, a couple friends too. If you don't learn covers/traditional songs, that's okay, but you probably won't meet and gain respect from as many good players. Or at least, as quickly. Learn your instrument with as much dedication as a surgeon. Talent and dreams will get you off the ground but you'll be 6 inches and never rising the rest of your life if you don't put yourself through not-fun times of rigorous daily practice: scales, form, routines, sustained discomfort, voice lessons, real change, theory - some level of correctness and academia and discipline. There's always anomalies but even if you are superhuman you owe your super humanness the investment of self love and preservation and fine tuning and fully exploring those powers.
If you could go back in time and give yourself advice, what would it be?
Don't go around that one sandy corner so fast. Don't fall in love with that girl. Kiss that one, right after you give her your jacket. You don't have to be so forward right now, words are daggers. Be forward now, you will be eaten from the inside out if you hold this one in. Just go hang out with them one time, they may never ask again. Don't hold her hand as you jump off. Focus on your left hand. Don't throw the molotov cocktail.
Of your songs which one means the most to you and why?
Look Around. It's personal, autobiographical, speaks to what I see and smell and feel daily from my front porch on Shelby Ave. It also exemplifies my feelings towards the world in that it is a spiritual and environmental warzone that requires one to tirelessly and stubbornly, perhaps blindly, strain to summon the light out of.
Which songs are your favorite to play and which get requested the most?
I love playing Lonely Believer because of the blues jam at the end. I love playing Rain Again for similar reasons, and also the character that plays in the song, as well as the character who sings it. 99 Dollar Man gets requested a lot. It's a good raise-your-glass-and-party song, with glimpses of the new gilded age.
What is the creative process for you, and what inspires you to write your music?
Conversations with Baby J. The rhythm of manual labor. Placards. Bush smoke. Strangers. Waylon's island. Jesse Thompson. These are the people and things that catalyze my songwriting. There's only certain things and certain people who possess it, and it's only a certain point of symmetry or connection to that person or thing for it to happen. But when it does it falls from the sky in waves.
When this isn't happening, which is most of the time, I believe a steady diet of reading, writing, listening, and a good news source is in order every day. You need to be deeply in touch with SOMETHING to be a good songwriter. The better the things are that you are in touch with the better your songs will be. Why not be in touch with every nuance the world has to offer? It's rather small, limited, incomplete in the grand scheme of things. I sit at the piano or guitar every day and work on a tune or try to write a new one. I'm inspired to tell untold history, I'm inspired to tell untold ideas, I'm inspired to tell my own untold secrets and lullabies.
What kinds of messages do you like to get across in your music?
I like to appeal to the working class with drinking songs and love songs. I do want people to have a good time, be entertained, dance, not have it be about me but about the mood, and the sound and the fun factor, and the song. But then once that's done I want to take them to places they've never been before, and to ideas they've never been to before. I like to speak for the unspoken. Music can be movement. It can help steer us out of, say, class division, political division, tribalism, racism, homophobia, etc. A whole record of beer can and pick up truck songs isn't doing a thing for the world.
Do you ever have disagreements when collaborating and how do you get past them?
Yes. At worst we don't talk for a few weeks and then one of us buys a bottle of whiskey and invites the other one over, we make up, stay up until sunrise dreaming up something bigger and better than whatever it was we were arguing about in the first place and then sleep on the couch. At best, it becomes a group decision, everyone weighs in, majority rules because you trust your team, the people not in favor move on with a smile because it's not about them, it's about the art, and within seconds you solve the problem. If you're not having disagreements it's a bad sign. Very few young artists have made a great record because the producer said yes all the time. Very few great records have been made because everyone was kind. It takes scrutiny, criticism, push back, reshaping, and even at times tension, hurt feelings and pain. A great collaboration is a bold, confident artist working with a producer bold and confident enough to tell them when to be better and when to do something different. There's a time, after so many records, when an artist can maybe start producing their own stuff but even Johnny Cash couldn't have made the American Series without Rick Ruben. For better or worse, music is and always will be a group effort, and artists benefit from good curators, good wranglers, and a good demolition crew.
What are your plans for the future, and do you have anything that you want to spotlight that is coming up?
My plans are to keep experiencing walking in different ways. Travel more, tour more. Break, heal, break, heal, break. My first ever bluegrass album will be released this fall. I'm very happy with it. The songs are real and the band was hot. Expect music videos, a release show, singles. After that I'm recording a pop record.