Jan 16, 2009

Tyler Stenson - "Lyrically Driven Elegant Americana"

Americymru member Tyler Stenson is a native of Portland, Oregon. He is of Welsh-German descent ( distantly ) and is a composer and performer of “Lyrically Driven Elegant Americana.” We hope you will agree with us that Tyler has a great future ahead of him in the music business. Hear Tyler on his MySpace page HERE

1. We read that you won the Portland Songwriters Association's Songwriter of the Year in both 2007 and 2008. Can you tell us about the awards, and how you found out that you had won? Were there particular songs involved in those awards, or was it for a body of work you did in each year? And was it based on live performance or recordings?

The PSA award was a series of contests over a year that whittled a large pool of songwriters down to a final top-ten competition. At the final performance, each songwriter chooses two original songs to perform in front of a panel of judges and peers; lyrics are submitted, the songs are performed and the contestant is judged based on a number of variables including song quality, stage presence, lyric quality, originality, musical competency, overall performance, rhyme, meter, hook, etc. The official title is PSA “Performing Songwriter of the Year” so it is a bit more encompassing than just the quality and craft of the song- it accounts for the performance attributes as well.

In 2007 I entered the competition with my songs, "Better Be Us All" and "Babysitting the Cowboy". In the 2008 competition, I chose to submit "Whistle Stop" and "Cellophane".

At the end of the evening, the judges compare notes and comments and grant a winner and a runner-up.

In the first competition, I performed last of the ten and therefore had to sit and listen to everyone perform before me. Needless to say, when I took the stage, I was all nerve but feel I performed well. In the end, during the judges intermission, I had to take a walk before the final announcement. When I returned indoors, the president of the PSA got on the microphone and with a drum-roll announced the runner-up then the winner… I’m proud to say my name was called second as the winner.

In the second year, I was given the choice to perform at the finals as an “honored guest” (last year’s winner) or to play by the rules and defend my title. Choosing to defend my title, irony had me placed in the very first slot of the night. I’m not sure what was worse… sitting through all of the competition and playing last or getting it over with, then sitting through the other performances. Either way, the other competitors were extremely talented and I was fully prepared to lose my title. That said, after sitting through nine other performers, president Dan Lowe smiled and told the audience that he gave last year's winner a choice and he was proud to announce that the title had been successfully defended. I didn’t expect to win that night ,so it was a thrill to say the least.

2. How would you describe your sound and style?

My four-word elevator pitch is, “Lyrically Driven Elegant Americana.” In my eyes, lyric is king: some have called it border-line theatrical. Above all, my music is very human and accessible and authentic. Although the lyrics are very rich and full of stories and metaphors, they are accessible through our common American experience.

3. You were originally from Wyoming, and much of your music seems to reflect that childhood. What was it like growing up there for you? What are some of your fondest (or strongest) childhood memories, and do you see them play out in your music?

Looking back at my childhood, I see nothing but sweetness and days that I’m very fond of. It was the perfect place for a child; a place you could run around and explore without a shred of social danger and a place that never glorified money, class or creed. It was a magnificent landscape with settings that kept a child busy with imagination. My fondest specific memories in Lander don’t necessarily play out in my music as blatant re-creations; however, the mentality of the “simpler time” and “nostalgia” is constantly exposing itself. Part of the appeal of Wyoming is the fact that while the rest of the world is sprinting to grow, Wyoming stayed somewhat frozen in time. I consider myself to be somewhat of an old soul; therefore, the pace of Wyoming and the Old West is much more to my liking.

4. Growing up, what music did you listen to? Also, we notice that you feel that at least some of your own music has been influenced by such folks as Paul Simon and James Taylor. We can hear echoes of them in some of your songs. Who else would you say has been influential in your musical development? And what have you found yourself listening to over the past month?

Growing up I found myself listening to whatever my older siblings were listening to… top 40, pop, hair bands, etc. The only culture I ever really received was from my mother, who was more of a Broadway musical, hymnal and classical-type lady. I didn’t start forming my own tastes until middle school, when I fell wildly in love with country music and classic acoustic songwriters such as James Taylor, Simon and Garfunkel, Dan Fogelberg, etc. My musical story is simple, Garth Brooks and country music made me want to sing but the VH1 Storytellers episode of Dave Matthews and Tim Reynolds made me want to write and perform the abstract. Country music is very surface level but there was a certain appeal to the obscurity in Dave Matthews’ songs. From that day forward I started writing with poetry in mind and placed my musical preferences in musicians that had something individual to say and a unique way of saying it. My biggest influences as a songwriter are Josh Ritter, Adam Duritz (Counting Crows), James Taylor, Damien Rice, Ryan Adams, Jason Ross (Seven Mary Three), David Gray, etc.

Over the last month I’ve been listening to Josh Ritter’s “Thin Blue Flame” on constant repeat… I’ve also been listening to Julian Tulip’s Licorice, Kirk Duncan and my completely random iPod mix. I suppose it is worth noting that I tend to wear my influences on my sleeve (in obvious ways) so I have limited the amount of music I listen to and have started being a bit more self-centered in that regard. The less music I listen to, the less I am influenced; therefore, the more original I become.

My general rule of thumb is to only listen to music that sets the bar high and makes me want to improve as an artist… as much as top 40 songs make you want to tap your toes and repeat the catchy chorus, it is rare to find something artistically rich and thought provoking. My intention is never to be an “elitist” but this helps me (as an artist) strive to be as individual as I can be.

5. How old were you when you came to Portland? Did you come directly from Wyoming? Sometimes moves can be hard. Were there times when you doubted the wisdom of the decision to move?

I moved to Portland as a child with little say in the matter. My connection to Wyoming has become pure nostalgia and the romantic notion that I’ll retire there one day. In all honestly, I only lived my childhood in Wyoming but it is the place of my birth, the place I go back to every summer to visit grandma, the place I still return to once a year for the famous July 4th celebration and annual Father and Sons camping trip and the place that I hold very dear to my heart. In the end, I’ve lived in Portland longer than I ever did Wyoming; however, I carry that nostalgia with me daily and I feel more at home in the plains of Wyoming than I do in downtown Portland.

6. Your song "Babysitting the Cowboy" speaks to the imagination of a child. Did you have a good imagination as a child?

I think my imagination was on par with most children but my mother always said I had the sharpest memory of the bunch and an uncanny way with words that has allowed me to immortalize those memories. "Babysitting the Cowboy" was actually a poem that I wrote for a poetry class at the University of Oregon- a poem before it was ever a song. The assignment was to write descriptively about a childhood memory so I took that vivid day in Lisa’s backyard and re-created the scene as I remembered it. That song is undoubtedly my personal favorite because it resonates so deeply within my bones as it pins the imagination of a child next to the memory of a man.

7. Your song "Whistle Stop" -- were you thinking about your own mortality, or someone else in particular, or just mortality in general? (Or something entirely different which has escaped us? lol)

Though I won’t name names, "Whistle Stop" is in memory of my friend’s mother. Though she passed in 2005, she lived her life boldly and left no doubt behind as to who she was. Yes, I do ponder my mortality in a number of other songs but this song is her legacy.

8. Some of your songs seem to involve a certain reverence for the earth and for life. "Big Hearts" and "Better Be Us All" come to mind. Are you a spiritual person, or do you see this aspect in your music?

I am a believer that everything in this life and everything on this earth that has touched me deserves its day in the sun. Whether it be people that cross my path or a tree that grew in the front yard of my childhood home, all of these things made me who I am, all of these things served their purpose and all of these things are immortal in my eyes. Though I have a spiritual side, I am not an overly spiritual person and it does not govern my life; however, I am a romantic that values nostalgia, love, history, emotion and anything else that exists inside of me or next to me. I’ve never heard your observation put into words but I absolutely admit to my “reverence for the earth and for life” solely on the fact that these are pieces that make up me and therefore deserve my long-lasting respect.

In the end, it is not the earth and life as a whole that I love and respect; it is each plot of land and individual that I’ve personally encountered.

9. One of your fans here at Americymru was very touched by "Cellophane" and it seems to be both a love song and a song about love of the earth. What was your inspiration for this one?

My friend and girlfriend bought me a plane ticket to Europe (the inspiration behind "Big Hearts"). Ultimately, I may have never seen the other land if it wasn’t for them and "Big Hearts" was my humble “thank you” to the dearest people in my life. The experiences I had were beyond compare and that gesture of the human heart was like nothing I’d ever seen. "Cellophane", was schemed in Switzerland on that same trip.

To set the stage, I was with my girlfriend at the top of Mt. Pilatus, looking out at the majestic Alps. Elegant green hills were below and Lake Pilatus was neatly framed in the center of it all. One would think that that storybook landscape would be unparalleled in beauty BUT the song contests that the eyes of the girl at my side, at that moment, matched (if not exceeded) the loveliness. A side note, Lake Pilatus is said to be the burial place of Pontius Pilate… just a little inside info.

10. When you are not making music or writing music, what are you doing for fun?

I’m a dude, I like to hang out with friends, laugh, drink beer, watch Blazer games, watch movies, graphic/web design, read, workout, eat, make comments with no merit, etc. No matter what, my favorite thing is to get together with a group of friends and simply laugh at each other’s expense. Often times, without meeting me in person, people think I’m an overly serious individual because of the depth of my writing- that’s simply not true. I’m a goof and a comedian at heart. My writing is more of a heightened reality rather than a reflection of how I carry myself in the day-to-day. Don’t get me wrong, my music and my lyrics are my thoughts and my love but I live my life with a much brighter smile than some might think.

Right now, for some supplemental income, my best friend and I have started a small creative agency on the side. I really enjoy working with other companies and brands on their logo/web/graphic design, etc.

11. For your fans on Americymru, what would you most like us know about you?

I think I’ve said my piece. Mostly I want them to know that I’m working very hard at making music my undivided livelihood but it is a tough road and I’ll need all of their support, prayers and word of mouth. I haven’t made it big yet so I’m still fighting for position in the industry, by no means coasting to the finish line. I’d also like them to know that I’m for hire. My best successes are with private events and I’m ready and willing to host the most powerful concert they’ve ever seen in the comfort of their living room, no matter where they are on the map (as long as it makes sense financially). I am a real person trying to make a humble talent prosperous… not an easy road, very thankless at times but very noble in the end.

Interview by Brian y Tarw Llwyd

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