Interview with New Zealand artist, John Egenes

How long have you been making music and how did you get started?
I’ve been playing music all my life. I started playing accordion when I was about 6 years old, then graduated to guitar, learning chords and songs by playing along to Johnny Cash records. This was back in the late 50’s. I sort of cut my teeth on bluegrass and folk, and along with others of my generation was blown away by the Beatles, the Kinks, the Stones, the Yardbirds, and lots of other cool British guitar bands. Over the years I’ve been a sideman and session player with lots of people, including Eliza Gilkyson, Bill and Bonnie Hearne, Gary P. Nunn, and played in bands all over New Mexico, Texas, and the American southwest. I picked up lots of instruments along the way, including acoustic and electric guitars, mandolin, mandola and mandocello, banjo, fiddle, keyboards, bass, dobro, pedal steel, Weissenborn, and musical saw. There are probably some others in there, but I can’t remember them right now.

Who are the other members of your band?
Just me. Oh, and my roadie, Gunther Flutney. He’s not very smart but he can lift heavy things and he does have his own MySpace page: www.myspace.com/guntherflutney

What genre of music do you usually perform?
Folk music is my thing. Contemporary folk. I love playing behind singer/songwriters, and am a songwriter myself. I was strongly influenced by the whole Texas songwriter thing, and spent years playing down at the Kerrville festival, and in and around Austin and the Texas hill country. My own material has a sort of Americana vibe to it, I guess. I play lots of different styles when I’m wearing my sideman hat, from rock to old timey, bluegrass, urban folk…you name it.

Not using typical genre classifications, how would you describe your material?
I’m a storyteller, I guess. I use stories to relate feelings, situations or ideas about how we live and relate to each other. I suppose I’m into metaphors a lot, because many of my songs seem to use them. On the surface, the song might be about a rodeo cowboy, but it will have a layer or two beneath that describing other aspects of being a man, being out of work, being alone….that sort of thing.

Who is your inspiration?
Big question. I hesitate to answer this because it’ll look like one of those MySpace pages where the person lists 200 names of everyone from Bill Monroe to Jesus Christ. Basically, I’ve taken a bit from many, many people. Of course, Johnny Cash was a huge influence on me back in the late 50’s and even through the 60’s (my musician friends couldn’t figure out why I liked the guy). Guitar players like Clarence White, Django Reinhardt and Joe Pass; songwriters like Cash, the Beatles and Ray Davies of the Kinks; pedal steel players like Buddy Emmons, Curly Chalker, Weldon Myrick; fiddlers like Richard Greene, Stephane Grappelli; bands and artists I saw in the 60’s in Los Angeles at the Ashgrove, the Troubadour, and other folk clubs–these were artists like Taj Mahal, Bill Monroe, Jim Kweskin Jug Band, The Kentucky Colonels, Babe Stoval, and a long list of others.

What was the name of the last song that you wrote?
Up For Air

Who or what inspired you to write that song?
Just life in general… reaching a point where I’d like to stop and take a breath once in a while.</

What new things do you have going on? A CD release, tour,etc?
I’m mixing my new CD, which should be released sometime in November of 2008. I’ve been recording with artists in the states, and here in New Zealand, including Jaime Michaels and Jono Manson (New Mexico), Hannah Howes (Wellington, NZ), The Verlaines (NZ), and producing a couple of Kiwi artists: The Chaps, and Lindsey Shields. I’ve been doing gigs as a solo artist and as a sideman. I’ll be gigging with the Willard Grant Conspiracy when they come to town here in Dunedin. The first of the year, 2009, I’ll be performing at the Whare Flat Folk Festival in New Zealand.

Are you working on anything new? 
Well, I’ve been commissioned to compose a series of short pieces for harp and guitar (that’s a 34 string celtic harp). I’m also composing for mandolin orchestra and have completed a few things for that. Also, I’m doing more stuff with musical saw, which I love playing and fooling around with.

Where are some of the places that you have been playing?
Since I’ve moved to New Zealand in 2005 I’ve been able to tour around both islands and see a lot of the country. I’m living here permanently now on the south island, so I’m gigging here and there around south and central Otago and the Southland. Doing a few solo gigs here and there, and playing as a sideman on pedal steel, guitar, dobro, mandolin, depending upon what the gig calls for.

Where can people learn more about you? What’s your web site?
I can be found at www.johnegenes.com

What words of wisdom do you have for other musicians who are just getting started?
Buy some mechanic’s tools and learn how to work on your own car. Because as a musician, you’re never going to have enough money to pay someone else to do it.

Is there anything else that you’d like to share with the fans?
Go out and see live music. Pay to get in. Buy stuff from the musicians. Support them, but hold them to a high standard. It’s live music that will carry us through.

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