Artist: Reckless Son
Hometown: New York City
Latest Album: Reckless Son
Which artist has influenced you the most … and how?
If there has been one consistent touchstone for me, particularly as a songwriter, it’s been Bruce Springsteen. I can remember the exact moment I fell in love with his music. I was a bit of a punk rock kid growing up and for the most part Bruce had always struck me as too theatrical, too earnest for my taste. But I was also a real bookworm, and I remember one night at a party listening to the song “Backstreets” from Born to Run and I was blown away by the lyrical scope of the song. It felt ambitious to me on the level of really great literature. I think as far as influences go, and this extends beyond my life as an artist or musician, I’ve always been looking for people that I could model myself after. In that moment, even though I was a kid growing up in Manhattan who had never been behind the wheel of a car or set foot in Asbury Park, I felt like Bruce was someone I could model myself after, someone I wanted to be like. I’ve also always been drawn to artists that I felt really had something to say, artists who’re seeking something rather than just looking to be entertaining, and to me Bruce was that.
Lastly, I’ll say that Springsteen on Broadway was a big inspiration for me specifically when it came to writing Reckless Son. I’d been traveling the country performing in prisons for a long time and I desperately wanted to communicate what I was seeing and experiencing to people who would normally never have any exposure to those places, and when I saw the Springsteen show I said to myself, “This is how you’re gonna do it.” His character sketches in songs like “The River,” “Born In the USA” and “Highway Patrolman” just blow me away. Those songs are entire novels in three minutes and thirty seconds. Not only do you feel like you know those characters inside and out by the time the song is over, you feel like you could be them, or that you at least totally relate to them. That’s maybe the most remarkable part about it. You can listen to one of those songs, and although you seemingly have nothing in common with the narrator, you can relate to the point where their struggles could be your own. I wanted to make the experience of incarceration and all the circumstances that lead to it something relatable to people who live a life completely removed from that world. I wanted to make that experience tangible and human, to inspire some compassion. I feel like more than anyone, Bruce showed me not only how to do that, but why it’s so important to do that.
What’s your favorite memory from being on stage?
I’ve amassed a pretty incredible repertoire of stories and scrapbook of memories, but if I had to narrow it down to one I think I’d have to pick the very first time I ever played a show in a jail. It was in November of 2016 when I was given the opportunity to do a show in the Heroin Recovery Program of the Albany County Jail. I took the train up to Albany. I remember most of the leaves had already started falling by that point but the ones that remained on the trees were just incredible. It was a gorgeous train ride but I was so nervous. The entire time I kept kicking myself, thinking, “How did I get myself into this?” Once I got to the jail, I remember the sheriff walking with me down these long corridors and crossing checkpoints with huge metal doors banging and slamming into place behind us each time, each one its own “point of no return.”
When I finally walked into the unit, the men all seemed to turn and look at me at once, completely perplexed by why I was there. But I literally just put one foot in front of the other, unpacked my guitar and got ready to play. After I played my first song, the craziest thing happened. They all started clapping! I’m telling you, I couldn’t believe it! And when I played my second song, an even crazier thing happened. They clapped again! Before long, we started talking to each other in between songs — the space was small enough to have a conversation with the maybe 20 or 30 guys in the group. They started telling me how they felt about each song, about if and how they related, and they started telling me stories from their own lives. My life changed inalterably that day. An entirely new world of possibilities opened itself up to me, not only as an artist, but as a person.
What other art forms — literature, film, dance, painting, etc. — inform your music?
Like I mentioned, I’ve been a bookworm most of my life and I’d have to say that books and literature have impacted my music more than any other artform. I work as a bookseller at an independent bookstore in my neighborhood in Manhattan called 192 Books and besides playing music it’s the best job I’ve ever had. You go on these epic scavenger hunts though the inventory when you’re restocking and you come across so many special books accidentally you would have never discovered, and each one sort of feels like it was waiting for you to find it. Books let you travel in time and travel all over the world and for me they feed a kind of spiritual wanderlust.
It’s the same sense of adventure that motivates me to keep making art and music. The discovery of some new landscape, a new color or texture, a way to feel a little bit closer to articulating my interior world and making it something I can share with others. Great books can also give you incredible insights into the mind and the soul. In my songs, I feel like I’m constantly grappling with the question of “Why do we do things we don’t want to do?” Great literature and poetry don’t necessarily give answers to that question, but they help me accept, embrace, and maybe even celebrate all the inevitable limitations that come with being human.
If you had to write a mission statement for your career, what would it be?
The final song of Reckless Son is called “Just One” and I think that song is about as close to writing a mission statement for myself as I’ll ever come. When I introduce the song, I talk about how I’m pretty terrified every time I walk into a jail or a prison to perform. The problems people are facing seem overwhelming and impossible to solve, and it can feel silly at times thinking I can do anything to help, but the way I get past that doubt is to tell myself if I can help just one person in the room, then it’s worth it. If I can make just one person feel a little more seen and a little less alone, then I’ve done my job and I’ve done it well. I think it’s easy to underestimate the profound difference we can make with just simple acts of kindness and respect. Sometimes I think the only real way to make a difference in the world is on a one-on-one, individual basis, and this song reminds me that no matter how powerless I feel I know I’ve got it in me to be helpful to someone, somewhere and somehow.
How often do you hide behind a character in a song or use “you” when it’s actually “me”?
This is an interesting question, because every song on Reckless Son is written in the first person, so I might definitely be hiding in “I.” Part of it is a craft thing. Sometimes I don’t think I’m a good enough writer to make something feel interesting or intimate enough from the narrative distance of third person, but with Reckless Son I also knew I was trying to write a body of work that felt like it was all coming from one person’s point of view. The Reckless Son is a character I sketched together. He’s an amalgamation of different men I met inside correctional facilities, but he’s also got some of me and my life experience in him too. While I’ve never been incarcerated, there are elements of that experience I believe I can identify with. I also make a point in the show to say that even when I take on a character in a song, if the lyric isn’t still somehow drawn from the truth of my own experience, it will fall flat.
I think another reason why I created the Reckless Son was because I didn’t think that I was an interesting enough person on my own, that my life story isn’t particularly compelling, and I needed to invent something to get people interested. It seems common for artists to create avatars and personas for themselves, but this is something I think about a lot for two reasons in particular. First, I plan to keep writing songs and I don’t know if they should still be coming from this character, and second, because I think it probably says something about my own insecurities and sense of identity that’s worth being mindful of. And that, to me, is the real wonder of the creative process. This journey took me all over, I learned so much and saw the whole country by visiting these shadowy places most people never see, all the while learning more and more about myself. It’s an inner and outer unfolding that happen simultaneously, and I’m eager to see where it brings me next.
Photo Credit: Shervin Lainez
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