El Paso Music Scene

Chris McFarland Interview

Chris McFarland is starting a western tour after a show on Friday, May 20, in his hometown of Austin. The following night, he'll be in El Paso. We caught up with him by phone as he was making final preparations.

EPMS: Hi, Chris. lets start with an easy one. How old are you?

Chris McFarland: Thirty-one, as of this past Monday.

EPMS: Happy Birthday!

Chris McFarland: Thanks.

EPMS: Looking for info on you, I found lots of CD reviews, and almost no interviews. Even your own bio on your web site is not a bio. I saw one person refer to "McFarland's sad and tortured world." Did you spend, like, twenty years in jail or something?

Chris McFarland: LOL. No, I don't think so. I've got my own share of hard luck, for what it's worth, recorded on albums. People focus on things they relate to, what's most unique. I've never been accused of creating uplifting music. People think whatever catch-phrase is stuck on a person defines the artist. I definitely didn't spend twenty years in jail. Not even twenty minutes in jail.

EPMS: Well, I've got you beat there.

Chris McFarland: LOL.

EPMS: How long, total, have you been performing?

Chris McFarland: Since a child, as far as theater projects, choir, etc.. With the guitar, since fourteen.

EPMS: How long have you performed as Chris McFarland, i.e., with your name as the name of the act?

Chris McFarland: Since about 1996 or '97. I'm approaching the glorious ten-year mark.

EPMS: When did you start touring?

Chris McFarland: The first tour I did, solo, was in 2000. I recorded my first solo record in 1999, released in 2000, then went on a five-week solo tour in my car. Prior to that, I had been out with other bands on tour, but not my own material.

EPMS: Your music has also been officially described as "Percussive, acoustic-based." What do you mean, percussive? I had to look that up, and I got 1) related to percussion, especially striking. 2) having powerful impact.

Chris McFarland: Mostly when I play live, as a solo artist. having no backing musicians, I am forced to fill in the spaces. It is about the way I play, my finger-style play. I'm a string-breaker, I'm not nice to the instrument. I'm not a delicate guitar player. I'm filling in the spaces by playing with emotion in my hand. It refers to the way the instrument is played.

EPMS: You also have described your music as angry folk: was your music less angry before your 2001 accident?

Chris McFarland: No, I don't think so. The accident was a de-railing moment, I was on tour with a full backing band; it was like an army. Getting over that accident was a big hurdle. It took over a year to recover, financially, and equipment-wise. It made me less trusting of others behind the wheel. I'm very controlling now with who drives.

EPMS: How can you trust airplane pilots?

Chris McFarland: Umm, I don't know. I have yet to fly to a gig. It doesn't feel the same. I don't have travel paranoia. Maybe if I had all my gear on the plane.

Since that day, I've never allowed any other person to drive on the road. I don't have anyone to go with me. Basically, on the road, 90% of the time, I'm completely by myself, I do the driving, I square things up with the booker and/or promoter, I perform, I sell the merchandise. There are definitely days where I have a ten-hour drive, plus all the other activities of a travel musician. I'm more comfortable having that sort of control.

EPMS: What is the compelling reason to be a one-man band?

Chris McFarland: To me, even as a music fan, I prefer a lack of spectacle, a simple, honest performance. While I appreciate the entertaining aspects of a big show and all that goes with it, I think a true performer can do it himself. Part of me wants all that stuff, but I have a significant financial limitation as a DIY artist. I'm not in a place in my career where I think I have a choice... Most of time, those other musicians are hired guns. I couldn't bring someone with me, and pay them more than I was receiving. I hate that it always wraps around money... I'd much rather see a performer by themself than with a full band; it seems more honest.

EPMS: So your music is not angry folk?

Chris McFarland: I don't know. I recorded my first solo in 1999, and when I started trying to get attention, I was always asked to categorize my music. At that time, when you played acoustic guitar, before indie and acoustic became popular, people thought, if you played electric guitar, you were punk, or if you played acoustic, that you played in coffee shops. Acoustic through amplifiers seems like metal at times, but the lyrics are a lot more personal; in that way it relates to folk. It's a lot more narrative about my life, similar to folk. "Angry folk" is a catch-phrase. Or, I could say I sound like Hayden's Everything I long for, and people know what I'm talking about. It's aggressive , confessional, narrative music.

EPMS: Have you always lived in Austin?

Chris McFarland: No, but I've always lived in this part of Texas. I grew up in Temple, about sixty miles north of Austin.

EPMS: What is Austin like for music?

Chris McFarland: As a local musician, Austin is relatively tough. There is an enormous amount of competition. It seems like every third person is a singer, guitarist, or is somehow in music. A lot of times, if you have ten people in a room, six people are in the music scene. There is enormous talent, of all genres. If you're playing in one club, there's probably somebody two or three doors down in a different club, playing similar music. As a touring act, it's a lot different. but Austin definitely has a lot to offer, musically, in any genre.

There are enough variations in show times so that you could see one show at seven or eight, then go to another club and see the same kind of music at ten or eleven somewhere else. This is every night of the week, every week of the year. I don't know if Austin is renowned for being an incubator as much as for having an abundance of good artists.

EPMS: How are the different parts of the country different for an artist?

Chris McFarland: I feel the most appreciated in the Midwest, and the Northwest coast. Those audiences have responded the best to what I do. It seems I hit a venue up there, and six months later, I recognize the same faces.

EPMS: You're more appreciated there than in Austin? Why?

Chris McFarland: I have no idea. I think, maybe it's the type of music, like Moby, a singer/songwriter with an acoustic guitar. The Northwest put out a lot of acts that people would put into that category... it's that part of the country's music history. I had someone at a Seattle show that had the same name as me, Chris McFarland. He showed me his driver's license. He bought a t-shirt; he thought it would be cool to have a t-shirt with his name on it.

EPMS: So, do you have a day job?

Chris McFarland: I actually do have a day job when I'm at home. Last year, I was on the road 4-1/2 months. There is so much down time, that unless you get a record company stipend, you have to have other income. I rember as a teen, Buffalo Tom was my favorite band. They achieved success early in the 90s, and during the time they produced their first three records, they all had day jobs until they made it big.

EPMS: What kind of day job do you have?

Chris McFarland: I work at a furniture clearance center as a bookkeeper; I do payroll, taxes, ordering. It's my friend's company. He allows me to tour without any real grief. So, it suits what I need.

As a musician, I'd love it if I could only play music, but even people I consider moderately successful, who sell thirty or forty thousand copies of their CDs, those people barely make ends meet, though they're considered successful.

I generally don't come home with large amounts of money. I play music because I have to; it's a therapeutic necessity. I don't feel I'm a musician by choice... it's a part of life I don't have a choice about. It's the only thing that seems to make sense, not that I'm incapable of success at another career.

EPMS: Well, what if you couldn't be a musician? What would you be?

Chris McFarland: A roadie. With my family, I joke, if I weren't a musician, I would be a truck driver. It goes to my love of being on the road, of traveling daily to a new location, on the highway, with the world out the window.

EPMS: Let me get you to react to some of the things that are written about your music: www.nyrock.com says There's enough integrity to make you sit, listen, and reflect on what you've done in your life so far... Wow. How does it feel to have so much power?

Chris McFarland: I think, it is gratifying to be appreciated, to have people relate to what you've written about. I don't know that I see that as power.

EPMS: ...gives the acoustic style a hardened, punk rock edge.

Chris McFarland: Don't think I've heard that. When I grew up, I was listening musically, to punk rock. I grew up with an aggressive musical landscape. It's hard to shake that 100%. I was listening to heavy metal, punk rock. Where I came from is surfacing a little bit.

EPMS: I know that was in the San Francisco Independent Live. Portland Mercury says "Radio music about a decade too late..."

Chris McFarland: Yeah, I remember that one. I don't know, I've never written a pop song. Radio is about pop songs with a hook and a melody. I don't know if I'm in that category. It's hard for me to see myself as radio-friendly. I write whatever songs are in my head; I don't have a formula, I write what comes to me.

EPMS: Portland Mercury also says, "Overly dramatic radio-grunge, good for daydreaming to..."

Chris McFarland: LOL. To me, that means somebody realizes they can put on one of my albums, and play it start to finish. It justifies the idea that I don't put out albums that people need to skip around on.

EPMS: Who had more influence, Elvis Presley or the Beatles?

Chris McFarland: I'd say the Beatles. Elvis Presley as a vocalist, but the Beatles for musical landscape.

EPMS: Who was the best music act of all time?

Chris McFarland: Umm, I'll have to go with Elvis Costello.

EPMS: Let's try a more goofy question: Let's say you have to choose between Andy Taylor's job in Mayberry, Fred Flintstone's job at the quarry, and Homer Simpson's job at the nuclear power plant. Which would you choose?

Chris McFarland: Uh, I'd take Fred Flintstone's job. It just seems a little more laid back. I don't wanna be around nuclear waste.

EPMS: Well, in that case, I don't have any more questions. Thanks a lot.

Chris McFarland: OK, thanks.

Chris will be at the T Lounge on Saturday, May 21. Doors open at 8 PM; 18 and over, $5 cover.

- Charles Hurley

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