Home / Music / Artist Interviews / INTERVIEW: RJ Comer

INTERVIEW: RJ Comer

How would you classify your music?

Americana Rock. Lots of Blues influence. The most recent release “Nightly Suicide” is an Americana Rock EP. I don’t play banjo on this record. The last one, “Hell Hole Swamp”, was Americana Swamp. I played banjo on every track of that record and, again, it was strongly Blues influenced.

Who are some of your top 5 musical influences?  

My influences break down into two categories: Classic and Contemporary.

Classic:

  • Merle Haggard – both as a songwriter and a performer, Merle is a bad-ass with a heart, who confesses the truth about himself but is never vulgar or grandiose about it. He also has convictions, though I don’t share his penchant for doing “political” songs, I respect that — like all outlaws — the man has a code.

  • Joe Cocker – as white bluesy singers go, there are plenty of bigger better voices but Joe is the one who gets at my heart. I got a much prettier voice than him, but he reminds me that singing pretty (or pretty loud) isn’t always what the song or the story needs.

  • Jim Croce – Jim was the first singer songwriter to touch my heart… and he still does. Jim showed me you can be tough, streetwise, sly, and still tender so long as you’re being truthful and artful about it all.

Contemporary:

  • Richard Thompson – Contemporary?! And old guy like Thompson?! Look, the guy is only 14 years older than me, so from my perspective, he’s a contemporary. And given the veritable dearth of inspiration among younger artists playing mini-martins and all trying to sound like Ed Shearan, yagotta work with me on this one. Richard’s musicianship and ability to do many things with his voice to serve a song really inspires me.

  • Chris Stapleton – Yeah, I was surprised as anyone to find a guy on the contemporary country charts that inspires me, but Chris is the real deal—more southern blues artist than a country artist. There’s a reason why Chris Stapleton was joined by Bonnie Raitt and Gary Clark Jr. for a Grammy Awards tribute to B.B. King this year.

What do you want fans to take away from listening to your music?

Like every songwriter, I hope they come away with a bad case of earworm… unable to get my songs outa they’re heads and singing them through their day. But beyond that, I hope fans come away with an insight into their own lives or the lives of others from the stories and images in the songs. There’s a story in almost every song I do, and I don’t like telling an audience what to think, what to feel, or how to vote. I want to tell them storiesand share images that enchant, arouse, provoke, or humor them. Hopefully, the experience deepens their feelings, insights, and thoughts about themselves or others. Or maybe is a just great soundtrack to a beer and shot on a bad day.

Tell us about your latest release, “Nightly Suicide” and your new video for the song also called, “Nightly Suicide”.

Nightly Suicide is my most intimate and confessional record yet. This is about a time in my life when every bad decision I made – and I made mostly bad ones back then — killed a little bit more of me. These here aren’t light-hearted sweet songs with chanting vowel-sound choruses that could play under a laundry detergent commercial. I hope I ain’t wrong thinking there’s an audience for songs that take them into the grinding and painful shadow dance of longing and desperation. This time in my life was not without some laughs, but yagotta listen carefully for the dark humor in this record.

As an artist, I’m grateful to my Producer Jef Scott (The Men), who pushed me and encouraged me on this record. Both “Losing What You’re Losing” and “One Day” started out with completely different lyrics. Jef insisted I start over, telling me what he loved about the songs but challenging me to come up with a better story in the lyrics. I wrote all the songs, but the record is truly a collaboration between me and Jef. This record captures what I want to say and how I want to say it, better than any previous record.

The Nightly Suicide video is both an homage to Charles Bukowski (“Barfly” “Post Office” “Ham on Rye”) — the poet laureate of Barflies — and a portrayal of my own past life of drinking too much and making trouble. My songs mostly tell stories and convey emotions with imagery. So I like to make music videos that do the same thing. To me getting the story of the song on-screen is more important and more interesting than three minutes of me lip-singing on-camera to the same performance that’s already on the record. Nightly Suicide was primarily shot in Spain, starring Marcos Tinez as the younger RJ, and directed by Guillermo Rodriquez—the same team that did the Smothered music video from Hell Hole Swamp. My scenes were shot in Los Angeles at The Mint.

What do you love and hate about the Music Business in your opinion?

I hate that I sound like some be-grizzled anachronism when I implore people to BUY MUSIC and decry the myth of “Exposure”. Look forget the evil empire that was the record labels… I had a record deal once, I get it. Forget the mythology of how great it is that “getting your music out there” no longer depends upon some A&R tastemaker deciding you’re good. Here’s the reality—neither the raw democratization of indie music distribution nor the denizens of dream machines promising indie artists “exposure” but no pay have changed the fundamentals of how musical artists make money. We make money getting paid to play, selling music (either on-line or at our shows), selling merch, and a lucky few make some money licensing music for film and TV.   Notice what is not on that list? Streaming is not on that list. YouTube is not on that list. Exposure is not in that list.

The very best thing a fan can do for an indie artist he or she loves is commit to spend $50 a year. BUY THE MUSIC, pay to see a show or two, buy some merch. Most indie artists collect between 75 to 100 percent of every dollar earned on their music and merch. So spend some.   After that if you wanna share a video or spread the word on social media—that’s hugely appreciated. But first spend some money. It really helps.

What I love about the music business is connecting with fans who get something out of what I’ve given. I was doing a show in Canada; the place was packed, and the audience was surprisingly young (20’s & 30’s). And I hit a spot in a song where I do a twist on a famous line by TS Elliot about how the world will end, and this young woman leaps up and whoops. After the show she came up to me and raved how cool it was to hear a play on TS Elliot in a blues song. And yes, she bought a CD. I may be playing Americana rootsy music, but I don’t dumb it down. What I love about the current music business is I don’t have some hipster half my age who has never been in a grown-up fistfight and who can’t define — much less identify — “irony” telling me what I should sing about.

What is the best concert you have been to? What do you like most about playing live?

I know you wanna hear about a concert years ago that was EPIC! Here’s the truth for me, the best concert I have been to is always the last good concert I saw. Yeah, I saw KISS live, and I’ve seen B.B. King, James Brown, Keb ‘Mo, Joe Cocker, Lucinda Williams, Marylin Manson, and Lisa Gerard all live. But as I answer this question right here and now, I’m thinking about a singer named Antione Reynaldo Diel doing his show at The Spotted Cat in New Orleans last September… singing his heart out for a small stipend and tips—like we all do in New Orleans. And that cat schooled me on how to give everything you got to a song and everything you got to an audience. Y’see the best concert for me isn’t the one with the biggest crowd or the biggest name, or the most fireworks. It’s the show that sends me home loving music. Most recently, that was Antoine Reynaldo Diel at the Spotted Cat in New Orleans.

What I like most about playing live is connecting with fans who respond—and the challenge of reaching them. I do a fair share of tour support gigs, opening as a solo act for more established artists on a leg of their tour. So I walk out on stage—usually a big stage—in front a large audience who paid $25 to see the headliner. Most of them have never heard of me and I have 30-to-45 minutes to get their attention and turn them into fans. I love that.

How have you evolved as an artist over the last year?

 It sounds so cliché to say “I’ve found my voice.” It sounds cliché and pathetic to say it when you’re a 50-year old singer. “Gee man, what the F— have you been doing the last four decades?” But it’s kind of true. After decades off from music, I came back to being a pro musician in my 40’s when a band I started for fun got signed. And since then I ploughed through various American musical genres: rockabilly, blues rock, jazz, classic rock, singer/songwriter, yada yadayada. Going solo a few years ago was a huge evolution—from a seven piece band with a horn section to me and guitar—and I ain’t a great guitar player neither. Vocally, I turned away from my “big voice” and held myself back—purposefully making my voice sound raspier and crappier than it was. One producer said my big voice was too “Ethel Merman, Broadway Bulls—t.” But this past year, especially playing New Orleans, I found a way to bring my big voice back but keep it real. I came into 2016 sort of having lost the joy of singing, and ended the year happily using all of my voice. As a songwriter, I feel like I sort of cracked the code of writing roots-based songs that sound contemporary without being a trend-lemming and without simply re-hashing decades-old musical ideas. But I think the press and the fans ultimately have to judge that.

If you could meet, play a gig, co-write a song, have dinner or converse with any band or artist (dead or alive) who would it be?  

I’d like to spend time with Jim Croce. I’ve had the honor of working with his son, A.J. Croce, in the studio and touring with A.J., but Jim was and remains my favorite and most influential singer/songwriter.

What is next for you?  

You hear God laughing? Or is that the Devil? Frankly I can’t tell their laughs apart, but I hear that laughter whenever I deign to predict the future. I suppose what’s next is some shows around the country supporting this Nighty Suicide EP. I’m looking to move from Los Angeles to Tennessee. My wife and I have been looking at places outside of Nashville, some place where we can finally live out in the country. I’ll set up a studio out there, and try to train teach them goats to stopping crying when I’m trying to record. I’d sure like to get to the U.K. soon where I have a growing fan base who have never seen me live.

About RJ Frometa

Head Honcho, Editor in Chief and writer here on VENTS. I don't like walking on the beach, but I love playing the guitar and geeking out about music. I am also a movie maniac and 6 hours sleeper.

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