ER: You might be my very favorite singer-songwriter. It's true. Your lyrics can be both deeply poetic and touchingly humorous, such that I feel both light and lifted after a show. Do you have a particular framework for writing a song, a discipline when it comes to songwriting, or is it simply when inspiration strikes? Is there a most requested song, a standout audience favorite?
CT: I tend to have a discipline once inspiration strikes, and I think that has been helpful to my process. For instance, my former bandmates and I decided to do a reunion record this year, and that led to a period of inspiration for me. I was able to pump out sixteen songs quickly, reminiscing about endless miles on tour, soaked in alcohol, and musical love and friendship. But one needs to have the discipline to set everything else aside when inspiration strikes. I try to always have my heart open to other people's stories, their pain, passions, and perspectives, because in them I see my own story reflected back to me, and can write in a way that hopefully connects my story to theirs. At this point I've been writing songs for so long that it is almost second nature to me.
I think Keg on My Coffin has become my most universally appreciated song, which is odd because it is kind of a funeral dirge. I can get an audience to sing it with me the first time they hear it, which is not easy to do generally. But the melody is fairly simple and the message sneaks up on you. I sometimes will joke with the crowd to get them to sing with me to imagine I'm a big creepy purple dinosaur and they're a bunch of toddlers, and then they realize what they're singing about, essentially the afterlife, and it becomes both a humorous and sentimental moment. I always like the moments when you can catch a crowd with their guard down, and get them to laugh and cry almost simultaneously.
ER: You're currently touring with Martin Sexton, another one of my favorite singer-songwriters, and there are several phenomenal clips on YouTube of you guys singing Sexton's hit, "Glory Bound" together. Do you guys ever collaborate when you're on the road?
CT: Martin and I go way back. We have had sort of parallel lives, both growing up in large working class Irish Catholic families in Upstate New York. We both tried to make music a career around the same time too, and came out of the Boston open mic scene. We both signed major label deals, and started to become national acts in the late nineties. I think Martin may be the most musically gifted person I know. He is able to jump styles and genres with authenticity. He has been a mentor to me, and I have supported him on cross country tours more times than I can remember. The coolest thing I think we share still to this day is an enormous sense of gratitude to be able to do music for a living. Our dads worked hard jobs to raise kids, and we're out playing guitar and singing every night and getting paid for it. Oh yeah, to answer your question, we collaborate all the time. We're singing two songs together during his set, one of mine and one of his, and we do the encore together.
ER: Your music has been featured in such films as "There's Something About Mary," "The Devil Wears Prada," and most recently, "Some Kind of Beautiful." How does your music get chosen for TV and film? Is it a thrill to hear your music in that context?
CT: Each film and TV placement has come about in different ways. It used to be they would just use a song I had previously recorded out on the marketplace, whereas nowadays It seems like I get asked to write songs specifically for certain scenes. It is always a huge thrill though. I suppose it makes me feel a false sense of immortality.
I always tell newer songwriters not to underestimate the power of touring. I can remember when I would first leave the comfort of Boston to play New York City. After each gig I would have a few business cards in my pocket, and then gradually with each New York gig the business cards started to get a little more official with names like Sony or Warner Bros on them. And the same happened as I played Los Angeles which in turn led to some Hollywood relationships.
One of the nicest stories I have is after a gig in Pittsburgh, I met a woman named Gretchen Berg, who was just at the show as a fan. Now I can't think of any place further to Hollywood than Pittsburgh, but a couple years later I got a request from the WB network to write a theme song for a new sitcom that starred Rebecca Romijn called Pepper Dennis. It turns out Gretchen had written a show, it got picked up, and she remembered me being a nice person and someone who might be easy to work with within the structure of a high pressure network show. The show aired for one season, but was one of the most amazing unexpected moments of my career. I got to be on the show too in a scene with Rebecca Romijn, and I remember thinking that if you had told the younger version of myself this would happen I would have asked what drugs you were taking.
ER: I met you years ago in the beloved Boston singer-songwriter scene. How has that scene grown and changed over the years?
CT: Honestly I don't know much about the Boston scene, because if you want to become a career musician, you have to leave the scene behind. I know what is was when when I came up though. It was very lyrical. Martin (Sexton) used to have a songwriter's circle on his back porch in Somerville MA, and we would meet up with a small group maybe six or seven of us. We would play ideas off one another, exchange leads for new gigs in town, and try and offer songwriting suggestions too, stuff like maybe add a bridge, or try to simplify the verse, etc…I remember at the time, we were all local singers, and then through the years I realized all the participants of Martin's songwriter's group had gone on to become national acts, like Catie Curtis, Patty Griffin, etc..
ER: I still have my Chris Trapper chapstick from when you opened for Colin Hay at the Palace of Fine Arts. How's that market working out for you?
CT: I feel guilty selling merchandise that is meant solely to be a billboard for my self promotion, so the chapstick is at least a little more useful. Eventually I'd like to have a whole line of health and beauty aids: body wash, deodorant, hair gel, etc…I just haven't had time to do it.
ER: I'm taking my Mom to your show on Friday night at the Mystic in Petaluma. Will you come over and say hi?
CT: Well of course! I pride myself in being mom-friendly, as long as the mom has at least a little truck driver in them.