Next stop: his inaugural WOMAD outing in New Plymouth, March 17-19. Stacey Anyan caught up with him.
On performing with Willie Nelson at Austin City Limits last year, in front of 10,000 people: “It was surreal... I felt like I was dreaming. There were 10 of us onstage, including Matthew McConaughey and Marcus Mumford from Mumford & Sons, and we sang [gospel standard] "‘I’ll Fly Away’. I didn’t get to talk to him; I just did this thing with him, which I kinda like. ‘You ever meet Willie?’ ‘No, but I did do this show with him…’”
On songwriting: “I liken it to driving down a busy main drag with cafes blaring out music and you happen to catch a little bit of the chorus, and from there I extrapolate until I’ve got a whole song.”
On being drawn to darker subject matter: “As a songwriter, that’s where the gold is. But it’s always got to be tempered with lightness – so I try and keep some sense of irony or cheek to the proceedings.”
On teaching himself how to play guitar: “I hated lessons. I wanted to use guitar to accompany my voice, so it was a process of self-discovery. You give up a little bit of the organic nature of music when you study it.”
On his “old soul” voice: “I borrowed that crooner element heavily from Roy Orbison and Elvis. I remember being a young man and saying, ‘I’d love to make people feel like this makes me feel with my voice.’”
On Leonard Cohen: “A geography teacher got me into his poetry and novels when I was 14 and he’s been my right-hand man through this world in a lot of ways ever since. When I’m on tour and by myself feeling lonely, I put on Leonard Cohen and that loneliness feels like a strength.”