In today’s post we interview singer/songwriter, rocker, and music veteran, John Faye. From his first band, The Cualfields’, major label record deal, to his nationally touring group, IKE, for which he is most well known, John Faye has 20 years of solid experience in the music industry. With 4 bands, 13 albums, and opening for Bon Jovi under his belt, everything John Faye says is gold because he’s got the experience to prove it. We especially loved hearing his opinions on making music in a decade when the internet wasn’t even a thing yet! Remember the 90s? Today’s post will definitely give you something to think about, whether you’re new to the game or whether you’ve been in it for just as long as John.
1. For readers who have never heard of you or listened to your music, can you give us a quick rundown of who John Faye is? Can you share how you got into music and give a brief look into your music journey so we can get an idea of who you are as an artist.
My curiosity with music began as a very young child born to a Korean mother and an Irish father, neither of who grew up with modern popular music. I was born the year “Revolver” came out if you’re doing the math, and when I was about 3 or 4, I have a distinct memory of my three older half sisters and a few family friends singing “Sloop John B.” at the kitchen table in Korean. It wasn’t until years later that I heard the Beach Boys version and realized the melody had imprinted itself in my brain even in another language. I think that’s truly one of the reasons my songwriting puts such an emphasis on melody. By the time I was 7 or 8, I was totally into AM radio and my sisters’ small but substantial record collection, which contained several Beatles and Beach Boys albums and 45’s, as well as some Simon & Garfunkel, Janis Ian, Carol King, Jim Croce, and Elvis Presley. Around 1979 or so, I saw the B-52’s play “Rock Lobster” on Saturday Night Live and my best friend and I immediately paid for their debut album with pennies at the local mall the next day.
My own musical identity started to form, with a big obsession with punk and new wave.. Elvis Costello, Blondie, The Clash, The Sex Pistols, The Jam, Talking Heads, The Police, The Go-Go’s, Squeeze, XTC.. these were my bands and I got into a lot of arguments with my friends who were mainly into Zeppelin and Kiss. I realized later in life that I didn’t dislike those bands because I didn’t appreciate their music, it was because I couldn’t relate to their fans. Over the years, I’ve integrated plenty of heavier rock influence into my music, and I can safely say that “Back In Black” by AC/DC is the one album I’d want with me on a desert island. I’ve become more or less a student of rock and pop history, and only a few major artists’ appeal genuinely still eludes me.. The Grateful Dead for instance.
…the fact of the matter was I was determined to do it whether I made money at it or not.
2. Over the years we’ve spotlighted working artists who use music-making as their primary or sole source of income. Can you tell us how you decided to go this route? Was it an easy decision? Have you ever second-guessed your decision?
From the first time I was “playing along” to records with a tennis racket, I knew I wanted music to be an important part of my life. I’m sure I made a conscious decision to make music my primary source of income, the fact of the matter was I was determined to do it whether I made money at it or not. My band in college played a lot, sometimes 15 shows a month, so it always seemed viable that I could make a career out it. When The Caulfields were signed to A&M, there was definitely an amount of money involved that I only wish I was wise enough to save, but you live and learn. I think that, having made many more records as an independent artist, I have worked out a way to avoid “the real job” and that is through teaching. I’ve been teaching songwriting at Drexel University for 9 years and do a little private instruction for voice, songwriting, and guitar, and most of my students have some connection with my original music career, so it becomes a symbiotic relationship where one thing feeds back into the other. I’ve never second guessed myself on the career choices I’ve made. You learn to live without a few things but I don’t think the alternative would be a good thing for me.
3.You’ve been in the music industry for well over 20 years, which makes you a music veteran. With 4 bands (IKE, The Caulfields, John & Brittany, and The Meddling Kids), so many albums, and thousands of shows under your belt, what has been the most rewarding part of music-making for you.
My newest solo album, Meddling Kid, will be my 13th studio album since the Caulfields debut in 1995, and that’s not counting two live albums and a DVD. I’ve been very lucky. I feel like the songs I’ve written have been produced the way I would have wanted them to be, regardless of whether I was on a label or an indie release. That’s a good feeling to have a body of work you can be proud of. That’s probably the most rewarding thing to me.
4. You started out in the music industry when the internet was still a baby. People weren’t using it to promote their music and most households didn’t even own a computer, let alone a laptop. Did you sense a shift in your career when the internet gained popularity? Was it a positive or negative one? Or both?
It is funny to think about but it’s true.. When the Caulfields released our debut major label album, we were still sending out snail mail postcards to let people know what was going on. We had an AOL email address that was the sole means of electronic communication and it was just coming into use. It was definitely the age of dial-up! I feel like we really wanted to embrace the internet but the Caulfields were gone before it took off so IKE probably was the first of my musical projects to utilize the web. I took great care administering our Myspace page :) As for the pros and cons, people talk about the playing field being leveled but on the other hand having to wade through so much awful music, all of which is true. I always just look at it as trying to make the best use of the resources and do it in as creative a way as possible.
Those Meddling Kids played in front of 5,000 people this past July…but I can honestly say that it’s the smaller shows that make me feel more connected with people.
5. You’ve expereinced both sides of the coin: Major Label and Independent Artist. Your band IKE opening for Bon Jovi at the height of their career, but you’ve also played solo shows in intimate coffeehouse. In the age of the independent artist, do you look back on bigger opportunities and lament that technology has significantly leveled out the playing field. Or is it just a matter of adjusting to how things are these days? Do you sense that the independent route has given you more connectedness to your fans?
I honestly look at everything the same. A big opportunity is something you work toward and I try to make the most of them. Those Meddling Kids played in front of 5,000 people this past July at Festival Pier at the Radio 104.5 Block Party and it was a huge thrill to do so but I can honestly say that it’s the smaller shows that make me feel more connected with people. I love house concerts and small venues. A lot of times if a listener discovers you in those settings they become very loyal fans. Playing a big concert will never get old but for true connection, I like and need to strike a balance with more intimate shows.
My advice, if it’s asked for, is work your home market to the point where people in a true position to help you get out of town in a good situation take notice.
6. Keeping with question #5, you used to do extensive touring nationally. These days you have the local Philadelphia market in the palm of your hands, can sell out a 500-seat room at World Cafe Live, and have the support of all major media in the general tri-state area. You rock…literally! What advice can you give to artists that struggle between staying local and being on the road. Is there a balance? Is one more important than the other?
I used to be very attached to the idea that if you weren’t a touring musician, meaning away from home a lot, you were somehow less valid than musicians who cultivate their own home turf. I don’t feel that way anymore. I love touring and travel, but it’s a huge financial drain, and it’s one I personally can no longer justify. I’ll definitely make small trips here and there but the days of going out there for a month or two at a time are over. The thing is, if you’re “playing the game” in the music biz, everyone wants your “story,” so there’s this constant pressure to always have something in the offing. That was a big reason I stayed on the road a lot, especially just after my major label deal ended, because I was still holding onto the hope that I’d get another big deal, even though I had to do everything independently. Being able to say “oh yeah, we did 20 dates out in the midwest” not only validates you in your own mind but it looks like you’re moving and shaking to people in the industry. No one talks about the thousands of dollars you spend making that tour happen. My advice, if it’s asked for, is work your home market to the point where people in a true position to help you get out of town in a good situation take notice.
7. Last but not least, if you could go back 20 years to the younger you and tell yourself one thing with respect to the future, what would it be.
8. Oh yea…one more question. Did you know that next week, Oct 21, is Back to the Future Day. Thank you, Michael J. Fox!!
I did not know that.. I was always more of a “Family Ties” man myself :)