Nashville Magic is the 5th release by Maynard & The Musties, yet it is their first to be recorded in Nashville, where Maynard spent much of his childhood before moving to New York City for art school. After 30+ years, Maynard began commuting back to Nashville to help his aging dad before finally moving back. Nashville Magic evokes that transition. While "Sell-By Date" represents the end of Maynard’s time in NYC, "I’ve Got Friends Everywhere" is based on visiting retirement homes with his dad, who walked into one declaring, “I’ve got friends everywhere!” The instrumentation is mostly Nashvillians, including Donnie Winters (dobro and Les Paul), Tim Jones (harmonica), Jon Estes (Steelism), Aaron Mortenson (Los Colognes) and Michael Randall (guitar). Here, Maynard answers his Essential 8 including his musical mentors, the story behind the album's title, and more.
Did you have a musical mentor? If so, who was it and how did they influence you?
Growing up in Nashville in 2nd grade my parents split up and my mom was a night-shift nurse. We slept over at a baby-sitters’ often and one night she had a “hippie-party.” Kris Kristofferson apparently spent the night, and in the morning we had breakfast, discussing which was better: Sugar Pops, or Super Sugar Crisps. I believe this was my first bonafide aesthetic discussion with a bonafide artiste. My mom was super psyched that I met him, so I figured songwriting was something the ladies admired.
When I was in my early teens, our youth pastor at church was an artist. He made me realize my fantasies, doodles, what-have-you could be taken past a “hobby” level and when someone asks you what you do, you can literally say, “I’m an artist.”
I listen to everything from Free-Jazz to… well… Kris Kristofferson. My favorites for the past decade, songwriting how-to-wise, have centered in the territory of John Prine, Lefty Frizell, Willie, Waylon, etc.
So many, not a single mentor.
What was the a-ha moment when you knew a song was completed and perfect?
I write a lot. I tweak a lot. I add a verse six months later, or take one out. But mostly, I rely on having fun performing a song with a band. I’m a band guy. If a new song sticks I play it over and over because it makes me feel good. If it doesn’t make an impact with my bandmates or has zero audience response, and especially, if I don’t respond, I tend to move on. Sometimes a song makes me feel good for a year or two, then I’m tired of playing it, and it goes to the back of the set list and I eventually forget about it. It’s more of a process than a moment.
What’s the story behind your album’s title?
It’s two-fold. First, the obvious thing is that Nashville has a mystique about it that is more than a mystique: There are simply an insane number of musicians and songwriters here, many of which are that guy from that town in say, Kansas, Indiana, Mississippi, that does those hot licks. They seem to be drawn to this town in droves and there is a wealth of talent that is uniquely “Nashville.”
The second facet is what Nashville means to me personally, in my development, my childhood memories. Nashville was where my parents were last together and we were a “happy family.” Even immediately after their split, though serious problems emerged, my life was mostly happy, and Nashville has been a fun, warm place for me. When we moved north to Milwaukee then Michigan, things for us turned rather dark. So Nashville, ca. 1969 is my “happy place.”
Where do you draw inspiration from when writing?
Lovers, family, friends, politics, sticky or unusual social situations, tragedy, ecstasy, boredom, pain… You know, life. On this album it is change, specifically my dad’s aging, my aging, having to come back to Nashville and help with his care giving. In moving here, I left a life in New York City involving friends that I’ve had for decades, a relationship that may have been waning, but none-the-less a new distance from my most important friend for over a dozen years, not to mention, a niche in my self-employment in NYC that I couldn’t replicate in Nashville. There are several songs that draw from specific events, though most are not literally reported upon but rather through metaphor, etc.
Do you write about personal experience, the experiences of others, observations, made-up stories, something else, or a combination?
You’ve probably heard this before, but the creative process can be a survival mechanism, a coping mechanism with life or what have you. Or, it can be a mental sketchbook for possibilities, inevitabilities, paths not taken, regrets, etc. When I write about specific things from reality, I focus on the spirit, the feeling or essence of that event or person, a focal point, a kernel of something, a detail illuminating something larger. My friend Tsaurah in NYC had a line, “without poetry, life is a puddle of piss.” Art makes the ethereal palpable, endurable, pleasurable, examinable, and it’s just plain fun and energizing to create.
When and where do you do your best writing?
There are rare occasions when I actually write a song during rehearsal, but most of the time I write when I get up in the morning… occasionally in the middle of the night. If I am having a day when I’m playing for a couple hours in the middle of the day or evening, a song comes out of the strumming. I’d say mostly in the morning, though… even on the shitter! (Like Nabokov.)
What’s the best advice you’ve gotten from another musician?
The best advice was very simple and practical. During the making of Cheap Cigar, our producer “Roscoe” (Eric Ambel) said something like, “the drums, bass and rhythm guitar are the rhythm section. The trombone, fiddle and lead guitar are the “weirdos.” You, Joe, play the hillbilly high hat on rhythm guitar and the weirdos just do whatever they want.” Here in Nashville, I tend to play with different musicians nearly every gig, unrehearsed, so I tend to start the intro with the key phrase, facing the band, then I turn to the audience and start the song. I stay on the simple rhythm part and let whoever the phenomenal picker-du-jour may be do his or her thing… so many of them in this town!
What is the best advice to give a musician just starting out?
Follow your joy, your passion and don’t do it if it’s forced. If you’re feeling like it’s a drag, step back and… I don’t know… go make some money, or go to a party, or someone else’s gig. If you need to you will create. If you don’t need to, then any other activity will probably make more money! I don’t know about advice on how to make money at music, because I never have, but you can ask one of those guys that do...
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