Interview: Steve Poltz

Steve was born in Halifax and later moved with his family to California. He attended the University of San Diego, where he received a degree in political science and there met guitarist Robert Driscoll. They would form a band; The Rugburns, and release a couple of records. The band began gaining national attention, when, according to Wikipedia, a romantic involvement with pop-star Jewel Kilcher and subsequent co-write of her Billboard #2 hit single “You Were Meant for Me” turned the attention of her millions of fans towards Poltz and what he was doing. Well it turns out, it was anything he wanted, as long as it made people smile. He’s released 13 albums, including his latest “Shine On”. We talked by phone about politics, the era of Trump and the illusive hit song….

Mb: Hey Steve.
Steve: Hey buddy, how are you doing?
Mb: Great. How’s your day so far?
Steve: It’s going good. Pretty normal, for me.
Mb: You home in California?
Steve: Ya. I don’t live in California. I’m visiting here. I live in Nashville.
Mb: Right. You have 3 homes.
Steve: (laughs) Ya, Halifax, San Diego and Nashville.
Mb: How do you like Nashville?
Steve: I love it! I’ve been there 3 years now. I keep wondering why I didn’t live there sooner.
Mb: Maybe because San Diego gave you an award for being their Most Influential Artist of the Decade? That it’s hard to leave the love?
Steve: Ya, that’s true.
Mb: Are you finding Nashville is shaping your sound now?
Steve: No not really. I’m always going to sound like me. It’s just that, there’s so many more opportunities in Nashville and so many cool people to write songs with, and discuss things with and make videos with and make art with… It would be like if you were living in Silicon Valley in the 80’s. Nashville is just going nuts. Where ever I go it’s like every day is SXSW or Folk Alliance or Americanafest or that feeling?
Mb: Speaking of song-writing, tell me about writing You Were Meant for Me, with Jewel. It was a #2 Billboard hit!
Steve: Pretty crazy. You never know when something’s going to hit. You just don’t know. It’s the strangest thing. I don’t know what a hit song is. I don’t know if hit songs even exist today, because there’s so many different ways for people to listen to songs. Back when that song became a hit, 1996, people were still listening to radio and hey were definitely buying cassettes, and records and CD’s. It was a good time to have a hit… and they were watching MTV. I got in at the very end of it. It was like, someone was looking out for me. I don’t know how it even happened. I seriously don’t! I’m flabbergasted by it. It’s almost like winning the lottery.
Mb: When you wrote it did you two think, this is a hit song?
Steve: No, we didn’t know anything. That’s what’s funny about it. We had no clue. We just thought “Another song. Let’s throw it on the demo.” I thought this other song we wrote was the hit and that song was called Food Stamp Love and then Atlantic Records said “Hey we want to make this a single.” That song!? I would have never guessed.
Mb: I imagine that song has given you the financial freedom to now write and record songs that don’t have to have commercial appeal?
Steve: I’ve never tried to have a hit. I’ve never written thinking “This is a hit” or…
Mb: What are you thinking?
Steve: I’m just thinking it’s fun. It’s so fun to co-write and make up a song, you know?
Mb: So a song like Hey God, I’ll Trade You Donald Trump For Leonard Cohen, what goes through your mind when you come up with a lyric like that?
Steve: Everything from me is just goofing off. In the hit song, when we were writing that, I’m just goofing off. “This sounds fun, let’s follow this.” It’s like following a crazy trail of spontaneity. The way I look at it is, they’re only songs. I’ve never taken it that seriously. So the Donald Trump one… was I really angry? No. I thought it was a funny song title. I try not to get too upset about politics. Like, why? What does it do for me to be upset? That shit is so far out of my control, what am I going to do? I can write a song. I can hang out, but there’s nothing worse for me than going to see somebody on stage and they’re just preaching politics. Everybody has their own show but if I’m going it’s because I like their music. Not that they shouldn’t talk about it, and be who they are, but I’m so bored with it all. I’m like the Clash song I’m So Bored with the USA. It’s so boring after a while. It’s like, “Oh what did he do today?” He just took control of the whole news cycle.
Mb: Interesting you say that, given you have a degree in Political Science. You must have a real interest in how politics works….
Steve: I love it! I love reading about it. It’s fun for me and I do read about it. Every morning I wake up and read. I really believe I know more than everybody else. I’m not even being facetious. I even tell my audience that. “You know why I don’t want to argue? Because I know more than everyone.” I have a Political Science degree, so I am obviously smarter. (laughs) In a way, I joke about that, but in a way, I really do kinda believe I know a lot, because I read a lot of news. (laughs) It’s like you’re talking to a crazy person right now because, I really do believe half this shit is out of our control anyways. It’s like the Elvis Costello saying “I used to be disgusted, now I’m just amused.” That’s me. Our whole system is so controlled by money. Trump is only one of the symptoms. That’s all he is. He came out of nowhere, and everybody that backs him is so crazy. They’re complete nut-cases. “Put more tinfoil on your head!” Yet, I don’t want to walk around all day, there’s nothing worse… I have this friend who’s so angry everyday about it. Everything on Facebook and they’re just so upset and I get around them and they’re upset and all they want to talk about… and I have to tell them “Look. You’re the one letting this dude live rent free in your head.” Like, come on. It’s a fascinating time to be alive and we have so many news sources. Clinton didn’t have twitter back when he was impeached, and for Trump to be able to use this platform as a powerful tool? It’s an interesting time to be alive, with all the changes, so, I love love love discussing it with people. It’s one of my favourite things and part of the reason is because I just don’t get upset, I laugh. I have so many friends that voted for Trump, because I know a lot of people. I know some musicians that wear it like a badge “None of my friends voted for Trump.” It’s almost like a musician saying I’ve never gotten a bad review. I don’t want to be around those kind of people. “What have you really done? You have some fans that voted for Trump, I guarantee you.” (laughs) If you’ve lived long enough, and you’re in this country, half the guys I graduated from highschool with, who I am still friends with, are total Trumpists. You know what? I just laugh. Do I love them still? Yes! They’re my friends. My accountant is a huge Trump guy and he’s one of my best friends. On stage I’ll say “You know what? I hate Trump, but I’m glad my accountant likes him because you want your accountant to be a Republican.” People just laugh. I try to find some sort of humour because we’re all going to be dead. (laughs) People forget that. How do you want to spend your time? Are you going to complain all day and not do anything about it? How can you make the world a better place? For me, I make people smile and when they leave my show they feel good.

Steve Poltz appears at Market Hall Saturday October 19, 8pm

Read more about Steve Poltz poltz.com