Boston based rocker TJ Courtney is beginning to see his hard work and perseverance pay off in a big way. His debut EP Into The Sky has just been released, and it’s a soaring melodies are sure sweep listeners off their feet and into the stratosphere! Not one to give into the current trends, TJ Courtney prefers 90’s music to any other mania sweeping the nation. In addition to his inspiring, highly introspective compositions, Courtney admirably covers the Duran Duran classic Ordinary World with a keen sense of wide-eyed wonder. Here is an interview we conducted with TJ Courtney to find out more about this talented artist more than ready for the big time. Read on…
What was the name of the very first song you wrote, how old were you, and what was the song about?
I was ten years old, and it was called “The Dunk.” It was a parody of the song “Gump,” by weird Al, which of course was already a parody of “Lump,” by The Presidents of the United States of America. I was obsessed with basketball and for some reason chose to spend a night writing that little ditty. Then I started playing drums and went on a songwriting sabbatical until four years later when I picked up guitar.
Where are you based out of and what is your local music scene like there? Are there any local bands or artists you could recommend?
I am based in Western Massachusetts. Unfortunately the music scene here isn’t anything like it was when I was a kid. There used to be at least two shows every weekend, all local bands, and they would be packed. Now it’s a lot tougher to get people out. We are trying to get it back and every now and then there will be a great vibe at a show. Gone by Daylight and Maverick West are two awesome local bands to check out.
Is there any story or concept behind the EP title Into The Sky?
Well I wrote the lyrics to the title track when a lot of positive things started to happen in my life. I was making some big breakthroughs with my music career. As a result I was put in a lot of situations that were very positive but anxiety provoking. Questions like “Am I good enough to be recording here?” and the like started surfacing. The song Into the Sky and a lot of the EP in general is about me dealing with that anxiety. And I think its very relatable – I was grinding and having no success for so long that once I started to make a breakthrough all my self-doubt started to emerge, and I knew I had to find a way not to let it weigh me down. I thought calling the EP Into the Sky encapsulated the positive side. And I was hoping it would serve as a self-fulfilling prophecy and help launch my career.
Select any two TJ Courtney songs and what inspired the lyrics.
Don’t Worry was inspired by a terrible relationship. There was a lot of passion there, but it had a lot of ups and downs and we dragged it out way longer than we should have. The lyrics were inspired by some of the last times I saw her.
Who Are They was inspired by everyone’s obsession with online voyerism these days, but it goes beyond that to touch on some age-old themes, like wondering who you can really trust. I was going through some rough patches in my relationship and some friendships when I wrote it.
What is the background behind the One Day video and how long did it take to film? Who directed the video?
The song One Day is all about our impact on the environment. We were having trouble coming up with a video concept that wasn’t larger than life, because the song has an over-the-top Apocalyptic feel. On June 1st last year my parents’ house (the house I grew up in) was severely damaged in a tornado. After helping them with whatever I could over the next few days, the director of my other videos, Emile Doucette and I thought the wreckage would be a perfect set for the One Day video, and I agreed. I was hoping it would also raise some awareness of just how bad that storm hit the area. Since it was on such short notice Emile couldn’t come out and Sean Martin stepped in as director and killed it, with help from Tommy Papows.
What made you decide to cover Ordinary World and do you know if any of the members of Duran Duran have heard or commented on it?
I was originally doing that cover for another project, but it came out so cool that I decided to throw it on the EP. I’ve always loved that song and when I got the chance to sing it in the studio I ended up really connecting with it as a vocalist. A lot of the lines really rang true for me. At the end of the day it’s a song about having your whole world turned upside down and feeling completely lost, which I really related to. I don’t believe any of the members of Duran Duran have heard it yet, though I do know a producer who worked on some of their more recent tracks so I’m going to try and get it to them!
What is a live TJ Courtney show like for those of us who have yet to see you play?
It depends on the venue. Some are intimate acoustic performances but most are full-rock shows. You can expect a lot of energy, and a lot of awkward deadpan stage banter between songs. We usually throw in a few covers, Foo-Fighters, Incubus, or sometimes the Duran Duran song from the EP.
Do you prefer playing acoustic or with a full on band?
Acoustic shows are great. I love being able to really converse with the audience during the show, but nothing beats a rock show with a rowdy crowd.
How much touring have you done in the past and do you have any interesting or scary stories from the road you could share?
I have done quite a bit of touring and I’ve got plenty of stories. When I was touring as a drummer for my old band several years back we had a cop pull us over at 2 in the morning in Texas and accuse us of trafficking cocaine and/or heroine. He was very suspicious of our van and trailer and general appearance as semi-homeless rockers. The cop didn’t want to listen to any logic and that was scary, I thought we were gonna end up in jail. I’m not even really sure what made him finally leave us alone, but we got pretty lucky. I also had to spend a week in Tucumcari, New Mexico once when the transmission on our van blew. We had to wait until they rebuilt it and the entire town consisted of a very creepy motel, a Denny’s (with a piano in it) and a K-mart. Needless to say we spent most of our time by the piano in Denny’s.
If you could open for any band either current or who has ever existed, which band would that be and why?
I have to go with Nirvana here. And since we’re in fantasyland, it would be their homecoming Halloween show in 1991 at the Paramount Theater in Seattle when Nevermind first blew up. From everything I read about those days there was an uncontrollable electricity in the air. People were excited to be part of a music movement. That’s what’s missing today. And also I’d be sharing the stage with two major heroes of mine in Kurt Cobain and Dave Grohl.
When can we expect to see you play here in the Los Angeles area and have you ever played in here in the past?
I am hoping to play a show out there in the near future (within the next 12 months). I have played there a few times. Mostly dives like the Cat Club and the Joint, but also Dipiazza’s in Long Beach which was a cool spot.
How close are you to recording and releasing a full length album?
Pretty close. I am currently finishing up an EP to follow up Into the Sky, and that should drop in the fall. The plan right now is to release a full-length album with some tracks from the two EPs and new tracks in early 2013.
What’s up next for you?
Right now we’re setting up touring for the summer and fall. I’m hoping to be out on the road (mostly Northeast and Midwest) for a good 4 or 5 months. Maybe we’ll hit LA.
Any final words of wisdom?
Yes – With the thousands of bands and music sites out there its tough to get a fan’s attention and its tough for fans to navigate through it all. I’m sure your readers are wondering why they should check my stuff out and support me over everyone else out there – so here’s my pitch. We need to bring quality music back to the mainstream, so that music fans can actually turn on the radio and enjoy it, so that true music fans aren’t pushed to the fringe of the music industry to find a great artist with no chance of sustaining a career. I really believe I am one of the few artists out there fighting this fight – and I plan on pushing until I break through without compromising the quality of my songs. I’m working my ass off to try and get there and every little bit of support helps!
Thank you for taking the time to answer these questions!
No no, thank you!
(Interview by Kenneth Morton)
Note about video below: This music video was shot in the wake of a tornado that hit TJ’s house this past summer.