INTERVIEW: Jeff Engholm Talks (And Premieres) New Music Video For “I Can’t Look At You” + New Album

Hi Jeff, welcome to VENTS! How have you been?

I’ve been great!  Things are starting to pick up on the booking side and the 21–22 season is filling in nicely. It is amazing to play for real human beings again!  

Can you talk to us more about your latest single “I Can’t Look At You”?

This is one of those songs that just fell out of me when I didn’t even intend to sit down to write a song.  It fell together so quickly.  It’s really a song you can take a couple of different perspectives on.  On one side, it can be about someone you’ll never see again, but it also can be about how much you are looking forward to seeing again soon.  Missing someone that much can be confusing and disorienting… memories that make you smile and cry at the same time.

Did any event in particular inspire you to write this song?

Not really anything specific. Really it’s a stack of feelings and experiences built up over time.  Some people have asked if it was about my divorce from a few years ago, but I really don’t think so.  It’s more of a story of someone who is just feeling the sting of someone’s absence.  We’ve all had the experience of a painful goodbye, whether it was temporary or permanent. You never really know where a song comes from, or even where its going once you start it, but I sure like where this one ended up.

How was the filming process and experience behind the video?

Filming was a great experience.  I was actually quite nervous as I really haven’t done it before as just myself doing my own thing.  I felt a little laid bare.  Mike Thienes of Rubinski Works Video came up with the concept of having the song be a phone conversation.  He was very easy to work with and very creative with his camerawork!  

The single comes off your new album Little Big Things – what’s the story behind the title?

In short, pandemic life.  The title track of the album is about the things that become important when all the busy-ness of life is stripped away.  It’s about not taking those things for granted and carrying the lesson of the last year forward in our lives.  It was one hell of a way to learn, but actually slowing everybody down maybe was the one good thing that came out of this year of madness.

How was the recording and writing process?

A few of these songs on the album are 20 years old.  “Gathering for Winter” was originally written for 9/11!  “I Can’t Look At You” is hot off the press though.  I wrote it and demoed it and it pretty much stayed the same with just a few lyric tweaks.  I recorded everything in my home studio except for the drums which I recorded at Rockhouse Productions, the late, great Bobby Vee’s studio, where I was a recording engineer for over fifteen years.  My friend Muggsy Lauer overdubbed the solo guitar lines at his place.  I love the recording and mixing process, and I’m really happy with how the record ended up sounding!

What role does Nashville play in your music?

My friend and fellow songwriter Dennis Warner describes my album as having “non-Nashville” chords, which was a term I had never heard before, but it makes sense.  If I have anything to do with Nashville, it would be in the late night sessions at the clubs when the studio cats play standard jazz tunes!  I have a huge background in jazz and have been a jazz bass player for over 20 years, which would explain where a lot of my stranger chord changes come from.  Nashville to me, mostly, means great songs and great songwriters.  Songwriters who know, love, and are continuously learning their craft, reaching people with a personal, yet universal message.  That’s the kind of songwriter I aspire to be.

What aspect of life and entrepreneurialism did you get to explore on this record?

In some ways, this is an album about getting older.  There’s aspects of being a father, a son to aging parents, and loves come and gone.  The entrepreneurialism aspect is in a song called “Startup Man,” which talks about the real price of creating something if one isn’t careful, which are the people who you love most.  This can come in the form of a running a business, starting a company, or, yes, being a musician.

Where else did you find the inspiration for the songs and lyrics?

Last summer my mom died very unexpectedly over the course of two months.  I didn’t think I was writing an album because she died, but I understand now that out of that experience, I needed to create something, express myself in some meaningful way. There’s only one bit of the title track that is actually about her specifically, in the middle section of “Little Big Things.”  It contains some things she always said to me, and starts with “I remember, you lived what I became…”

What else is happening next in Jeff Engholm’s world?

The craziest year of teaching I could ever imagine is finally coming to a close.  I’ve been teaching music for 11 years at St John’s Prep School and everyone in education is so ready to put these days behind us.  For the summer, I will begin my performing schedule again with lots of shows.  It’s so great to be able to connect with audiences again, and now I have something brand new to bring to and share with them.   I will also start the process of writing the next album, which hopefully we’ll be able to talk about next year at this time!

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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