Interview: Steve Poltz

Steve Poltz (thoughtful)

Steve Poltz is a restless and creative spirit. He is one-of-a-kind.  He’s a true Renaissance man who can change his artistic hat at any given moment. He is a musical shape-shifter who dances between genres. He is a well-spring of creative urges. Since his early days in the San Diego band The Rugburns, he has charted a unique and dynamic artistic path that few others would be able to pull off. Although he is presented as singer-songwriter, Poltz incorporates a wide background in music and the arts into his own unique stew of entertainment.

Steve Poltz (tire)

I first became aware of Steve Poltz after watching a great music documentary called “Before the Music Dies”, which essentially charts the effect that marketing and industry have had on the art of music. In the film, he is asked to improvise a song on the spot, which he does easily. I knew that he was a friend and collaborator of Joel Plaskett (who produced one of his records), and during a previous interview Joel had told me to be sure to catch Poltz live.

Steve had a professional and personal relationship with the artist Jewel, and was the co-writer of one of her earliest hits, a massively popular ballad called “You Were Meant For Me”. The song became an enormous hit and helped propelled Jewel to stratospheric levels of fame before she had reached legal drinking age. I had seen Jewel live once when I was young, opening for Neil Young; she had been ‘discovered’ by someone associated with Neil and recorded her debut album at his ranch, which Steve also played on.

I saw Poltz’s opening set at a sold-out Joel Plaskett show at the Horseshoe Tavern in December.  I was not prepared for what I experienced. He was incredibly funny and his material seemed to change gears with every song. During his sixty minute set, he did country songs, jazzy songs, cartoonish songs, folk songs, and crazy guitar workouts. He told jokes. He got into an argument with his iPhone. He composed an impromptu rap about the Horseshoe’s 65th anniversary, complete with a rhythm loop and an auto-tuned hook. He told an extended mid-song anecdote about listening to the Blue Jays win the World Series on the radio, and then he played a clip of Tom Cheek announcing Joe Carter’s game-winning home run. He also played his version of “You Were Meant For Me”, leaving the audience scratching their heads. It was a mind-boggling set that defied easy categorization.

DSC_1118I met Steve the following day outside the Horseshoe. He held nothing back in our interview. As you’ll see, he’s a super creative, energetic guy with a lot of thoughts to share, so I barely had to guide the conversation. During our far-ranging discussion, we talked about his wide range of artistic influences, the art of performance, spirituality, life in America, the epiphany of magic brownies, and how co-writing a hit song changed his life.

Audio Reckoning: First off, I have to say that was an amazing show at the Horseshoe. Joel told me to make sure I checked out your set at these gigs, but he didn’t prepare me at all for what you are all about. Joel said you put on an entertaining show, and he’s definitely right. That was my first experience with you, and part of what I want to do in this conversation in put you into context as an artist; I want to know where all this stuff you do is coming from. You’re obviously a super-enegetic, creative guy, and there are a lot of different types of musical creativity on display in your live show. So where did it all start? What was your first introduction to music? 

Steve Poltz: When I was six, I think, I took my first guitar lesson. My uncle had taken me to the Hollywood Bowl, to see this classical guitarist named Julian Bream from England. After that I wanted to play classical guitar, so I learned classical guitar to start. I was really into Segovia, and Bream, and Liona Boyd. I wasn’t a huge fan of Christopher Parkening, because I didn’t like his turtlenecks (laughs). From a young age I had this aesthetic sense of what good style should be, and I didn’t like his persnickety look.

So he was too buttoned-up, too academic-looking for you?

Yeah, even as a young kid I liked the players who were a little more….

Rebellious?

Yeah, or that had a heart. Segovia always said these beautiful things like, “the guitar is like a woman.” He had a romantic side to him. He had all this emotion and passion. Same with John Williams.

So you did study the guitar. I was wondering about that last night, during your song “Dreamhouse”, which has a really challenging, intricate guitar part. It makes sense that you studied the instrument formally.

Yeah, I always loved guitar, but then I fell in love with “Jesus Christ Superstar”. I was really into the drama. So then I went to see that at the Hollywood Bowl as well- I used to go there a lot. I have this gay uncle, Uncle Louie from Cape Breton, who moved to the States when we all came down from Canada. He is a genius piano player, and just really into the arts and really into musicals. So he would take me to see “Godspell”, “Jesus Christ Superstar, or “Fiddler On The Roof”. We went to all the Barbra Streisand movies, and all the Planet of the Apes Movies. And also he bought me every Beatles records. So I got really into “Superstar” for some reason. I loved all the different vocals and the parts.

I had that album as a kid too, and I played the hell out of it. It’s captivating.

Ian Gillian’s voice was just so good! So I got into acting out the parts of Mary, Judas, and Jesus. I would act them all out alone, in the den of our house. So I’ve always had a sense of what entertains me. And then, meeting Elvis Presley when I was a kid really affected me- I watched every Elvis movie. I’ve always liked things to be entertaining, yet I still appreciate art-music that not everyone is into. Like, I still really appreciate going to a Bob Dylan show, even though it’s a frustrating thing to get through for a lot of people. I still am able to really appreciate him, and he’s my hero. So I’m able to appreciate the fact that he’s not going to be like Springsteen.

Right. Bob’s not going to just drop the hits for three hours.

And he’s not going to sing the songs the way that you’re used to hearing them. And he’s not even going to talk to the audience the way Springsteen does.

That’s true. It seems like Dylan doesn’t even acknowledge that he’s playing a show anymore [laughs].

That being said, just to be in his presence is enough for me. I’m one of those people who drinks the Kool-Aid, if you will. I really believe. But for me personally, I want my shows to be something where everybody can bring five of their friends who never go out to hear music, and for them to feel welcomed. I’m more of the Springsteen school.

So you want to entertain?

Yeah, but I’m Springsteen-school mixed with like, Jim Carrey or Randy Newman or somebody like that. I love comedy. As a kid I memorized every Steve Martin album.

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I wanted to ask if you have a background in comedy. The timing and pacing of your stage banter seems to reflect that. It was clear that you were sprinkling the funny parts into the set in a very deliberate way.

I listened to all these comedians, George Carlin was another one, and I loved it. I loved the Smothers Brothers as a kid  too. My favourite person on the Smothers Brothers show was Pat Paulsen. He just had this ironic humour, like he was never amused by anything.  He’d always look really bored. And my other favourite guy is Chris Elliot, who I think is one of the funniest guys I’ve ever seen. I love silly humour. “Dumb and Dumber” is freaking great, and “The Jerk”- those kind of movies, I can watch them all the time, and they just slay me. To this day, “Dumb and Dumber” still slays me.

So when I’m onstage, I like to have good segues, but I don’t write them out or anything. I always feel like I’m going into battle, and I have a bunch of different weapons I can use, like humour. Sometimes I think, “I’m going to use a .38 caliber on this audience right now.”  And I play the room a lot, depending on the crowd. I play a lot of house concerts and really quiet shows, where I can do really soft stuff that makes people cry. But at a place like the Horseshoe, I want to come out guns blazing, while still getting the point across.

But, you know, I woke up this morning at like 4 a.m. to go to the bathroom, and I always do this after a show. I cuss myself out: “why did you do that in the set? Idiot! You can do so much better!”

Really?! That seems harsh. The set was great. What moments were you revisiting in your head?

I’m really critical. This is what drives me. I could have done a better show; I’m just mad at myself. The owner of the club, Jeff Cohen, came up to me before the show and asked me to do an hour. I only wanted to do forty minutes, because as an opener, if nobody knows you, you can get everything you need in about forty minutes. But he’s a fan of my stuff, which is really nice, so he said “I really want you to do an hour.” So I felt I had to do it. Don’t get me wrong, I have five hours of material, but I don’t want to overstay my welcome. And I don’t feel like people were hating on me, but I do feel like I could have crafted it better. I ended on “Sewing Machine” and it’s such a weird song…at one point I had the audience eating out of the palm of my hand. But I know I could have done better. But I’ll make some adjustments, and I’ll kill tonight. You’re talking to someone who is really, really critical. I don’t think I did well at all last night.

I do think you’re being a bit hard on yourself.

I always am!

Seriously- your set was really fucking entertaining!

Very rarely do I feel I’ve done my best. There was a show I had recently in Austin where I hit all my marks, and it rarely happens. I got up in the middle of the night and though “Wow, finally!” And I could actually relax and go back to sleep. But for the most part in those moments, I’m pissed.

Because I was a kid who never made the team. I tried out for the basketball team, and I didn’t make it- I was the only kid whose name wasn’t on the list. Everybody saw me cry. I was always little. I had asthma. I stuttered. I had eczema, hernias, the whole deal. I was picked on. And so I always wanted my music to move people, and inspire them to think that they could do it too. And make them feel good. It’s entertainment, man. We’re there to take people out of the shitty lives they’ve had, or the crappy day they’ve had with somebody yelling at them or treating them as less than equal. I want people to leave the show and go “holy shit!”

So I think when you play music, you need to have a call to action. And what I mean by that is: when you’re done, somebody needs to come up and say, “when are you coming back?”. That’s a call to action. Not just “hey, good show.” I want to hear them say, “when are you coming back? I’m bringing my friend- how can we see you again?”. Normally I tell people at gigs that I’ll come back and play their houses. And then I get all these house gigs, and I can keep it going. I play so many house shows. Because the person who puts on the house show becomes an ad-hoc promoter. Normally people just come to your show, either alone or with a boyfriend or girlfriend or whatever, and then that’s it. They don’t necessarily get on Facebook and start telling everyone about it and advertising. But if the show is in their own house, they’re rallying neighbours and other people who never come out to music. And you’ve got potentially 50 new fans there, and it’s up to you.

And in that scenario, the people who are putting on the show and attending are more invested in your success.

Yeah, they don’t want to look like they threw a house concert and nobody came. Its genius, man. And then, when you come back you’ve built a community. And what you want your audience to become is a tribe. A tribe that will go to fucking battle for you!

Because people meet at house concerts. My fans aren’t going to come into somebody’s home and not introduce themselves. There’s house etiquette! A lot of times, people bring a bottle of wine or a joint to smoke together. By the time you leave, everybody is hugging each other- that doesn’t happen in a bar. You don’t just walk up and start introducing yourself to people.

I would think certainly the bigger the crowd, the less likely that experience is. There seems to be more individual concern at bigger shows, and there’s the physical separation of the stage which prevents that intimate performance. There’s a whole construct that you don’t have at a house concert. Now there are networks of people who do house shows. But it is interesting because it’s taking music out of that and bringing it back to the people, right?

Yeah it does that. It’s totally different.

I want to backtrack a little bit. You clearly grew up with a lot of music and art in your family, and you studied classical guitar, so it seems your love for the guitar came first. When did songwriting start for you?

Writing came way later. It took me years to write a song. I tried all the time but I never could. I just thought, “I guess I’m not a songwriter.” But I did learn how to play everybody’s songs. Little did I know that it was my education. From the age of 6 to the age of 23; I think I started writing songs somewhere around the age of 23. I couldn’t write a song prior to that, even though I was good at guitar. I tried, and I probably did write one song, but it was really bad.

I grew up on seventies radio, and in the sixties- Beatles, Dylan…I didn’t like the Stones when I was growing up because they scared me. I was a Beatles guy. I thought the Stones were ugly and they scared me.

To a kid, the Stones are kind of creepy, almost like pirates.

I hated the way Mick Jagger looked, and Keith Richards. I definitely thought they were creepy looking. And The Beatles were warm and cuddly to me, and their melodies and everything were so great. But now I appreciate the Stones.

So The Beatles and Dylan, those were your initial favourites?

Yeah. And then in the seventies, I discovered “soft rock”. Like James Taylor, Gerry Rafferty, all that stuff that was on the radio then. Then I discovered Randy Newman, and all that kind of stuff really started to get under my skin. Jackson Browne was another one I loved. And then I just wanted to write a Jackson Browne song. I got really into him- I had like a man-crush on him, you know what I mean? I was so into Jackson Browne. And then I realized that I couldn’t write a Jackson Browne song or a James Taylor song. I knew I could learn them, and still to this day I can play their songs, or Dylan’s songs.

I then I joined this band called The Rugburns. But we were doing all covers. I still hadn’t written a song!

The Rugburns started off as a cover band?

We started off in college as a folk mass duo in the Catholic church. We just played in folk mass, that’s how it started.

You were playing hymns and stuff?

We were playing Catholic songs, like “Peace I Leave With You My Friend” and “Lamb of God”, the “Our Father”, all those songs. I was an altar boy, so that’s how we started. And we were a classical guitar duo, so we’d play duets in the hallway at school for passing change. And that was The Rugburns. And it’s not what our music ended up being!

So then I discovered Elvis Costello, The Sex Pistols, The Clash, Dead Kennedys, The Dead Milkmen, Mojo Nixon and all that…

That’s when you became aware of punk and started to ingest those influences?

Yeah, and then I fell in love with The Replacements. I just fell head over heels in love with them. They, for whatever reason, were like my next Beatles. They did it for me. Everything about them- I wanted to be in that band. Then The Rugburns became drunk, because I thought that was cool.

The Replacements seem to have that allure for a lot of people. They’re like the most perfectly fucked-up band ever.  They’re just a beautiful, broken machine.

Yeah- I was in love with them. And then I got really into country- Hank Williams and Merle Haggard, and started listening to a lot of George Jones, that kind of stuff. And then it all started coming out: one day, low and behold, I wrote a song! It was the weirdest thing…

We [The Rugburns] were playing on campus, doing cover songs. We had a Beatles medley. Obscure covers too- like, really old Hank Williams songs that nobody knew about. And then, I got really into Camper Van Beethoven, and David Lowery. And it was really weird: one day I picked up my guitar and I wrote this song, called “Single Life”. And I knew I was nailing it, because it scared me to write that song. It was the first real, honest thing that I wrote. It felt powerful, but I thought “I don’t think I can play this out [in front of people]”. We had a gig that night, and I did it, and I remember during the break people were asking me “what was that one song?”, because I never mentioned that I had written it. And it had this huge call to action!

And then I just went nuts! I started writing every day. Like I had the fever.

You seem like a guy who has a lot of restless creativity.

I have thousands of songs now.

And you went through a phase of listening to a lot of music and absorbing different influences, so it’s natural that it would come back out of you at some point. One of the things I was thinking about during your set is that an uninitiated audience might not know what to do with you as a musician, because you’re representing so many different ideas simultaneously. It’s great, but I can see it being confusing for some people. But for you, it’s all music, so it’s all coming from the same place.

Yeah, it’s just music to me!

But, especially with how music is presented nowadays, people seem to need those little identifying cues about genre or whatever. They need something to latch onto. But you’re going up there and sort of inverting the singer-songwriter archetype on them, the archetype being: “I’m going to stand up here and play my very earnest songs and it’ll probably make you cry”. You’re capable of that, but you’re bringing in other elements, like levity or humour or surreal storytelling or whatever.

We’ve traced the arc of your musical influences a little bit, in terms of things that you grew up with and were listening to when you started writing. You said earlier that you were a comedy fan even as a kid, so when did you start to combine that with music?

I was always funny as a kid, because I had to talk my way out of getting beaten up.  I was always getting pushed around, so I would find ways of being really quick-witted, as well as quick on my feet so that I could run [laughs]. But I got on the wrestling team, and that changed my life; I wrestled for four years. It gave me confidence. I became a really good wrestler. But I was also in the best choir group, called The Madrigals, which was great because we got to travel and stuff. So I’ve always liked everything and combining things. I just noticed that humour really started working for me on stage…

One night, I ate about three pot brownies, thinking they were regular brownies. I came in from surfing and I ate them, and my friend said “where’d those brownies go?” And I said “I ate ‘em!” He goes, “dude, those were for the party! You’re going to be fucked-up, those were really strong.” And I’m thinking “no, I’ll be alright.” So then all my guests arrive, and I fucking had a meltdown. I started asking people to take me to the hospital. I was crying.

You just went into that locked-in, dark place inside yourself?

Man, I was so scared. And then this one guy who was there said “hand him a guitar and he’ll be okay”. There were probably four people there on the beach, and they hand me this guitar, and I just started free-styling and improvising. They were all laughing so hard, and I realized “whoa, I’m a fucking comedian!” I’m improvising this shit and it’s all in my brain. And I didn’t wig out. And just thought, “I need to remember this”.

Steve Poltz (pose)

That’s like your super-hero origin story. That’s where it all came together!

I always knew that I had it in me. Even last night, when I made that loop and Jeff Cohen came out, I didn’t know how that song was going to go. But I know if I have faith in the universe and I just let my freak flag fly I’ll create something good. And I’ll be surprised, and my surprise will rub off on the audience, and shit will just happen!

So, I got more and more into telling stories. Then The Rugburns broke up and I was playing solo, and I was dying onstage because I was used to having a band. I went to see Loudon Wainwright III play and thought, “there’s my future.” And it all hit me- another influence. When I saw him, I thought that I could do that- it didn’t seem unattainable to me. I knew that I could go out and entertain people and make a living, and the universe will take care of me, because I have faith that it’s going to work. I had a job, and I quit my job in ’92 and I never looked back. And it’s all self-made. I didn’t come from a famous dad or anything.

And you’re not a guy who had a multi-album deal on a major label, with all of the support that goes with that.

Yeah, exactly. I did have a major label deal, but I got one record. It was on Universal/Mercury.

That was after The Rugburns broke up, right?

Yeah, and it was a fun experience. But what I learned was I’m not good with parameters and boundaries.

On that note, how do you boil down all of the things you do on stage to a recording? I’ve seen your Bandcamp page and it’s filled with live recordings of some really long sets, so how do you decide what to include on a record?

I haven’t learned to do it yet, that’s the thing. That’s the best answer I can give you. A recording deal is a whole different monster than seeing me live. But I know I can write good songs and get them recorded and make art. On my last record, “Noineen Noiny Noin”, I started to include some funny stuff again, like I used to do with The Rugburns. Like, I have this song on that record called “Sucker Punch”- it’s about a guy who goes to a diner and meets a waitress, and the waitress turns out to be a man who gives him Roofies. So I’m getting a little more brazen and ballsy. I finished another record and it’s done. It’s a double record, it’s called “The Accident”. That one has a look of rockier stuff on it, and really soft stuff. It’s schizo as hell, like my live show. I’m my own worst enemy in that way, because sometimes people don’t know how to classify it. If I had a nickel for every time someone has come up to me after a show and said, “I don’t know what I just saw.” Or, “I don’t know how to categorize you- are you a comedian or a musician?”

I heard that from all around me last night at your show, as soon as you walked off the stage. You had the softer stuff, and then the looping song, and the funny stuff. People were saying, “what the fuck was that guy?”

You’re just pulling this stuff out in the moment, then? You just go up there and play what feels right for that particular scenario?

Yeah. Sometimes I start and song and think “oh- bad decision”, but I follow my instincts, and usually my instincts are good. I just consider myself Peyton Manning and I read the audience like they’re a defense. But every once in a while, I throw an interception. We’re not perfect. But I’d rather keep it fresh than write out a whole setlist and stick to it. Maybe I’ll try it tonight as an experiment.

You don’t generally use a setlist?

Never. I make up my mind when I hit the stage. I just kinda walk out there and look around, and decide. I always say a prayer before I go out onstage. I just do this quick prayer where I thank whatever my idea of God is. This idea of the spirit that I feel in everybody, this sort of love. I feel like everybody has lightness and darkness in their souls, and I feel this love vibe and concentrate on it. I don’t even know if I believe in God, but I believe in an energy or force. So all I pray for is that I can shine onstage and be the best I can be, the most natural I can be, and hopefully make people smile. And then when I walk out I feel really centered. I love that feeling, and I have to have that quiet minute alone for it to happen.But that’s taken years. An audience is like a horse, and a horse knows if you’re scared of it. And every once in a while I go out and lose the battle.

But you feel like your faith in whatever gives you that calm place to start your performance from?

Yeah, my faith and my faith in the tools that I have available. I have faith that my weapons are going to work. Sometimes things backfire. If I was to write a setlist out, it might even be better. I don’t know.

No I think the spontaneity of what you do is good, and it certainly feels good to watch. I think not having a setlist serves you well. You come off like a guy who is totally engaged and in the moment.

Well I was never a shoe-gazer  But I get why people would want to be a little more aloof or whatever. I don’t expect everyone to be like me. And that comes from me drawing from all these different styles.

You’re also saying that sometimes it fails, which is a pretty honest thing to say. A lot of those more aloof performers would probably never admit to that.

You have to know “awful”, to know what “good” is. When I made a deal to get into this business, I agreed to accept a lot of things- crappy pay, bad crowds. But then the universe will repay me and I’ll have a great experience. And then just when I’m getting too good, the universe will knock me back down to keep me humble and remind me that it’s a honour to be in this business. The music is one-hundred percent of what I’m about, and there’s no retirement for me, no insurance. I’ll die onstage.

At least in Canada, everyone has health coverage. If American musicians get sick or something, that could be literally true.

In Canada, they’ll give you money for music! If you asked for that in the States, they’d laugh at you. America is a harsh country. For me to have honed my musical teeth in San Diego- I really believe that taught me a lot. It has the most indifferent music community. People don’t decide if they’re going to go out until that night, depending on whether the waves were good. People just don’t commit. And it’s California, so it’s pretty competitive. There’s a zillion bands, everybody’s a bit jaded. And the government’s not going to give you money for music. But if you can make it there- it’s like that “New York , New York” song. You can do well. But I love America. I think it’s an amazing country. It’s produced so much amazing art, and I love the history.

I wanted to touch briefly on your big pop hit. It was interesting to watch you do your set, and then pull out that song- it’s not something that people would necessarily identify with you, for obvious reasons. I think the story of the song and how it came about is known, but what I’m curious about is the aftermath.  What was it like to have that success with a song that you weren’t really as invested in as your own material? You didn’t write that song thinking that you were going to sing it, right?

No, I wrote it with Jewel. And after we wrote the song I just said, “I think you can do this one.  I’m not going to do it.” And I didn’t think it was going to be a hit. How would I know what a hit is?

She and I were both recipients of good timing. Jewel came along at the perfect time, because at that time people were kinda getting tired of grunge. So when she came along, it was like a perfect storm. And then suddenly there were all these women: Sarah McLachlin, Jewel, Paula Cole, Joan Osborne. And then all of a sudden there was Lilith Fair. It just seemed like people wanted to hear women singing; it was the time for women. Jewel was on the cover of Time magazine! Not just Rolling Stone a couple of times, but Time! And she was my girlfriend…

I didn’t even realize how big it was. I was in the Rugburns, and I didn’t watch TV cause I was always touring, and I just didn’t know. People kept coming up to me, because I’m in the video– I’m the shirtless guy.

That was a pretty big video, too.

It was a huge video! We ended up hosting the MTV Music Awards from my house! In my living room, in the house where I lived with Jewel at the time. It was a satellite thing- like, they would check in with Jewel. I didn’t realize I was all over TV. So it never got to my head, but what I noticed was that it changed some people around me. Cause people suddenly expect you to be Mr. Big Rock Star. I hate that. I didn’t believe the hype.

It actually sounds like you were kind of oblivious, in a way.

I was oblivious! But one thing I hate is when friends or people I grew up with say things like, “oh Mr. Big Star, you didn’t have time to talk to us for a while there.” And maybe they just mean that you are signing autographs or whatever. But the thing is, you’ll play a show and afterwards there will be maybe 50 people lined up to get CDs signed, and signing CDs is part of my job! Willie Nelson, after every show, will stand by his bus and there could be 300 people, but he will shake everybody’s hand and take pictures with them, and sign whatever they want. He’s old-school. So when people want me to do that, I’m fucking humbled by it, I’m honoured! So, friends of mine for a while were saying, “oh  Mr. Star guy, signing things. “ They’re the ones affected by it- “ you’ve changed”. But I haven’t changed, this is just my job. But I’ve never been snotty. 

But what I did do was get really drunk all the time, because everything was handed to me. Drinking, drugs, it was all available. So there’s a reason I’m eight years sober now.

Well, congrats on that!

That’s a long time of sobriety. It was just too much, all the time. It was available, and I was spinning out of control. I was totally losing a sense of who I was, because I was just hammered all the time.

I read about Nick Lowe talking about that. You know, you walk into a restaurant and they literally put the drink in your hand.

Yeah! Totally.

Of course, every songwriter wants to have a hit song. But it sounds like it came unexpectedly, and you struggled with how to adjust to that kind of success.

Not only did I have a hit song, but my girlfriend was totally hot and famous. On the cover of Rolling Stone. And we were together all the time. And you know, I watched her change too, because she was nineteen when all that stuff started happening. So I got to see fame first-hand, because I was in her band too. We had private jets, we always had a big tour bus. I got to go to the best recording studios, I got to sit next to Elvis Costello in the VIP section at Springsteen show at Earls Court in London. I played Woodstock! The one with the riots! Right after Elvis Costello, and right before the Chili Peppers.

I saw Jewel open for Neil Young, at Molson Park in Barrie in 1996. You were there- I remember you playing guitar in her band.

I remember that tour! I was there. She used to call me out onstage to do a song with her. We made that first record at Neil Young’s ranch. We lived there. It was like, the greatest experience ever.

I know the song still gets played a lot, but what was it like when the bubble burst on all of that huge fame?

Well, then it all ended. We broke up, but I still played in her band for a while. She was so huge- you can’t stay that huge. Now she’s doing theaters and stuff, but it’s a whole different world. It’s not sheds of ten thousand people.  But she’s the reason I first went to Australia, and she’s got a great work ethic.  The thing with Jewel is, if you put her in a room with ten other famous female singer-songwriters, she would still blow you away. Her voice is that strong; she’s that good. So she was destined to be big, but it was weird to be a part of it and then not be a part of it. I was back in my Volkswagen van touring, after all of that happening. I went back out on tour myself, and I would sleep in trailer parks in my van after the shows, after having been on bus tours and staying at the Ritz Carlton.

But I was still so happy, because I never played music for all of that stuff. I did it because I’m in search of a song. I’m in search of a better show. So I would never go back in time to those moments again, because I’m better today than I was then, and I’ll be better next year. The only thing that I know is that I’m in pursuit of excellence, and I’m not there yet. I know it’s going to be ever-elusive. I will never fully achieve what I want, but maybe one day all the dots will connect and I’ll achieve world domination.

Steve Poltz (with Colin Gibson)

Check out Steve Poltz’s website: www.poltz.com.

7 thoughts on “Interview: Steve Poltz

  1. Hey Colin, Poltzy sent me here… Great piece, probably the best interview I’ve read with Steve. I’ve presented over 25 Poltz shows in Halifax in less than 5 years (Jeff Cohen from the Horseshoe saw him for the first time in my venue – The Carleton) and folks here are spoiled rotten to be able to see Steve as often as they do. He’s one of a kind. Thanks for shining a good light on him, he deserves every ray of it…

    • Holy crap! You’re THE Mike Campbell, of MuchMusic’s Going Costal, right? I was a huge fan of your shows as a teenager. Just want to say thanks for that. Also, thanks for the kind words and for checking out my blog!!

    • Poltz is 100% original. I’ve seen him SCARE people who’ve never heard him before. He made some women very uncomfortable at a house concert I attended opening with 3 or 4 ditties about serial killers and necrophiliacs. They were all smiles until they actually started listening. It was a brilliant move on his part since it turned a social gathering in to a listening party. He certainly got them to pay attention….By the end of the night he had the whole room in his hands. I love watching people seeing him for the first time. Nice interview.

  2. You captured the essense and spirit of a fantastic “man child”… I first experienced Stve at a house concert in Bedford Nova Scotia and am a committed fan. Great interview, you obviously connected!

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