Independent Musician Spotlight: Galen Clavio

I have to admit that I have been lucky throughout my life to be surrounded by so many talented friends & acquaintances. Though not musically inclined myself, I have always held music to a high position of both entertainment & solace in my life. Since I was young, song lyrics & rhythms have played a big role in the best and worst of life’s roller coaster highs and lows. I’ve owned an acoustic guitar for almost 20 years, and throughout those 20 years, I have never made a major move without it. Music is absolutely ingrained in my life.

With that said, I think it is fantastic when someone has such incredible talent to both write & perform albums full of songs. Please let me introduce you to one such person…a multi-talented musician & writer, amongst other things: Galen Clavio.

Galen has recently released his third album on iTunes, Chrysalis (now available), for a total of seven albums released since his debut in 2001. With songs entitled, “ California Midnight Fadeaway”, “The Stars Don’t Want You to Shine”, “Inconsistent Girlfriend”, and “Computer Love”, this newest album is a beautifully reminiscent collage of classic rock guitar sounds mixed with the angst of millennium technology & conflict.

When he is not writing, performing, recording, or editing his music, you can find Galen in a classroom teaching at a major university, writing for his blog, or hosting podcasts ranging in topics from college athletics to the creative process. He did take some time out of his busy schedule to answer some questions about his process for writing, his personal history with music, and a few recommendations for wine & craft beer.

H&W readers, please meet Galen Clavio…

H&W: Your new album was just released on iTunes; tell us about the process of making this most recent album. How would you describe your style?

Check out Chrysalis
Check out Chrysalis

GC: I’d say my musical style is somewhere between roots rock, Americana, and classic rock. I don’t know, really. Trying to figure out what genre I belong to is always confusing to me. I grew up listening to a lot of late 60’s and early 70’s rock, but I also have come of age during an era where I listen to bands like Wilco, Radiohead, the Black Crowes, Beck…groups and artists that have managed to stray all over the map without being handcuffed by a certain style or genre. I really like that flexibility as an artist.

The making of this album was probably the most enjoyable of any I’ve done so far. The writing for the album took about 8 months in all, and the recording and mixing took another 4 months. I played everything on the album myself, except for the drums, which I programmed myself. I did the entire recording in my home studio, and mixed and mastered it there as well. It was a lot of fun, occasionally frustrating, and ultimately very rewarding.

H&W: How is this album different from your first two?

GC: I think the musicianship is better, and the production is much better. I self-produce all of my music, and it seems like I learn a lot of new things during each album process. The songs are probably a bit better, or at least more developed, on this album than on the most recent two. Really, those two albums are basically similar – they were all written during the same time period, and recorded in very similar ways. This album is a fresh start, a step away from that group of songs and that style of recording: new hardware, new software, and new approach to actually making the record.

H&W: Where do you find inspiration for your music? What is the writing process like for you?

GC: My inspiration for this particular album was this concept of personal freedom and taking advantage of life. There’s a lot of themes twisting and running through these songs, but most of them come back to this idea that we, as people, spend so much of our time worrying about losing out on things, or getting judged by people, that we end up not living very much of our lives for our own purposes. An early working title for the album was “The Death of Dreams”, but that sounded hideously emo, so that got shelved. But the idea of personal dreams disappearing is important – and not just in the traditional “Oh, woe is me, my dream died so therefore my life sucks” sort of way. It’s more of a “Hey, this isn’t turning out how I thought it would, but my life is right because I figured out that my wants and needs changed, and the things I wanted and needed for a long time weren’t end points, but just steps along the way.”

The writing process is always a strange trip. I’ve tried all kinds of different ways of doing it, and I’ve had success and failure with all of those ways. Musically, I used to just jam on guitar until something unique came out, then I’d marry a melody to it and start crafting lyrics. It was always a relatively quick process, but it left a lot of my early songs lacking in either melody or overall construction. With the songs on Chrysalis, I mostly used a different method. I spent about six months just grabbing my guitar at random times, playing chord sequences or riffs that would come to me, but then taping them for reference and setting them aside. Once I got through that six months, I sat down and listened to them all with fresh ears, picked out 14 or 15 ones that seemed promising, and then started working on them individually. It led to a lot more continuity from a lyrical perspective, because most of the album was written in close proximity.

But sometimes there are exceptions. The last song on the album is a good example – that was actually a little writing exercise I was doing with my wife, where we were trying to write a song using only one chord. I’ve read a lot about how artists write songs, and the thing I’ve learned from all of that reading is that you need to be open to the song — you can’t go into things with any preconceived notions. Sometimes you have to hammer it out note by note, and sometimes it’s like getting a letter from out of nowhere, fully formed.

Galen writes, performs, & records all of his own music.
Galen writes, performs, & records all of his own music.

H&W: What is your earliest music memory? Was it a specific song, or an instrument that you started to play?

GC: Music was always a big part of life in my house. I don’t have any conscious memory of this, but my dad always used to say that I’d get up and dance as a small child to any rock and roll that he’d play on the stereo at home. I also remember when I was a kid, we’d make these long drives across country to visit my grandparents, and dad would always have these rock mix tapes playing as we drove. It was an interesting hodgepodge of stuff – Led Zeppelin, the Beatles, the Moody Blues, Arlo Guthrie, Paul Simon. I remember sitting in the back seat of the car just listening to the songs, and thinking that what I was hearing was reaching me in a way that TV and other things never really did.

I took guitar lessons at age 8 but never practiced and wasn’t that interested, so I just stopped, you know? And then five years later, one of my friends started talking about how he had been playing guitar, and I randomly got interested again. It’s been part of my life ever since. Recording and producing came into things later, but I knew once I started playing that I was going to want to write songs and then record them. To me, that’s what music is all about.

H&W: What is your favorite song that you have ever written?

GC: This question is hard to answer! It’s like choosing between your children, or your pets, if you’re not into children. It’s probably the song “Apology”, which appeared on a pre-iTunes album of mine in acoustic form, and then in electric form on the “Against The Sun” album, which IS available on iTunes (it’s called “Apology 2” on that album).

H&W: Would you say that music is something you “have” to do? Or do you find it more as an escape or hobby?

GC: Funny you should ask that, because I was very close to selling most of my gear and moving on to other things before this new album was recorded. It’s obviously more of an escape for me than anything else, because I have a full-time job and several other activities that keep me busy (and actually make money). But it’s also something I have to do, because I feel the creative impulse and it continues to want to find a way to manifest itself into something. I don’t have the patience for writing books, and I don’t have the skill for professional photography or painting. But music is something that I’ve done long enough that I finally understand how to use the technical abilities I have to get the creative vision I have in my head out there and in front of people.

I’ve been playing guitar now for 21 years. I’m not nearly as good as I should be at it, given that length of time – I am not a great live, off-the-cuff player. But writing songs, recording and producing music…these are things that I’ve done for almost two decades and they feel like a part of me now. I hope that never goes away, it’s too enjoyable and too much of a creative outlet.

H&W: If you could play your music in any venue in any country around the world, which country would you choose, and why?

GC: The Ryman Auditorium in Nashville, TN. It’s the original home of the Grand Ole Opry, it has the most amazing acoustics you’ll ever hear, and it’s in the heart of one of the best music cities in the United States.

H&W: Who is your favorite musician, living or dead, and do you find that your musical style is similar or different from this musician?

GC: My favorite musician of all time is probably Neil Young, and yes, I find my musical style and attitude tends to be very similar to him. I think a lot of my earlier projects and albums had such an obvious debt to Neil Young that it was hard to miss. This album is a bit less so, because I have listened to so much music over the last couple years — all of these various elements have melted into my brain and so what comes out ends up being a bunch of musical styles that are hard to pin down.

H&W: When you’re not playing music, you also blog & host podcasts. Tell us a little about your other projects. 

GC: I enjoy all kinds of things – cooking, sports, podcasting, blogging. I wish I could just write about things and podcast about things every day, but I never have enough time. Most of my podcasts are either on sports (basketball and football and soccer, primarily) or on cultural elements. I generally podcast on pop culture during the summers when I have time, and then I focus on the sports stuff during the fall and winter. It’s a great time to be doing this stuff – not only is it easier to find an audience, but it’s easier to connect with other people like yourself who are interested in sharing their thoughts and ideas and creativity. I really value the ability to interact on that level.

H&W: Wine or craft beer? Any recommendations for either/both?

GC: I could go on for days about both wine and craft beer. I think it’s both natural and advisable for people to love both. I can say that if you’d asked me this three years ago, I would’ve unflinchingly gone with wine, but craft beer has grown on me in ways I never expected.

One of the problems with both wine and craft beer is the snobbery that sometimes accompanies both. In the wine world, a lot of it focuses on the supposed superiority of certain foreign wines over domestic ones, or even the ways in which people drink it. With craft beer, there’s a lot of hop snobbery, where certain aficionados of beer are unsatisfied without a huge hoppy flavor, and that ends up being both intimidating and a turn-off to those who have yet to process those sorts of flavors. I have tried to sample as many different types of wine and craft beer as I can, and I find now that I enjoy almost all of them. I have favorites, same as everyone else, but my biggest wish for both worlds is that we’d quit treating them like exclusive clubs and start trying to educate people on the wonderful things present in both.

Anyway, you asked for recommendations — On the wine front, I have become recently infatuated with southern Italian wines, particularly reds from Sicily and Campania. The flavor is so much cleaner and tangier than the heavier varietals from Chianti and Montepulciano, and you can thank the volcanic soil and warmer climate for that. As far as craft beer, if you’re interested in trying a beer with a bit of hop flavor (but not too much), try New Dogtown Pale Ale by Lagunitas Brewing Company. It’s got just enough bite to let you know what you’re drinking, but still goes down easy. If you’re just not into hops, try a Rogue Dead Guy – it’s a Maibock, so it’s got more of a malty profile. It’s probably my favorite beer overall.

H&W: Thank you very much, Galen! Your album is great, and I encourage everyone to check out your music on iTunes.

You can find Galen on the Internet here:

On Twitter: @DoctorGC

On ReverbNation: Galen Clavio

**Please support local & independent musicians by purchasing their music on sites such as iTunes.

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