Artist Interview: 1-on-1 with Fred Shafer

The guy that I am sitting with today is not only one of the nicest men that I have ever met in the industry but also one of the hardest working and talented individuals in the business.  His stage presence will put nearly every band on the market to shame.  Playing all originals except for that once in a blue moon cover song, Fred and his rock hard band will melt your face every night if you give them the chance.  Having had the chance to sit and share stories with this man was a true honor and pleasure that I hope to do again in the near future.  Sit with me today as I introduce you to the one and the only Fred Shafer.

What is your first memory of the guitar?

1959 Les Paul Jr.  I still play.  I will play it tonight on a bunch of tunes.  I found it underneath my mom’s bed.  It was Christmas time and we didn’t have a lot and I remember looking for Christmas presents around the house.  I pulled it out, lifted it up, and I didn’t even know what a guitar was.  I was 14 and I will never forget it.  I asked my mom if I could play it right there.  She said, “No, when you get older.”  So I ended up getting a guitar, my first, two weeks later for Christmas.  What’s funny, fast forward, when my first band got on the radio we eventually made it to number one.  When it did my mom gave me that guitar I found under her bed.

When did you first know that you wanted to make a run at the music business?

Two part answer.  First I started doing choral and musical theater, Community Theater, and my first one was when I was seven.  I was doing traveling until I was twelve or thirteen.  I went to events for singing and I knew I was going to be an entertainer from the start.  Second was when I got that guitar. I went in my room, faced the amp and guitar toward the window, learned E, A, G, and learned a song that day.  That was it.  I knew that I was going to be a musician that day.  It could have turned Fred Timberlake or something.

What would you be doing if you were not performing?

I went to college to be an elementary school teacher.  I dropped out when my first band was on the radio. I was young and excited.  I would be doing that or some kind of politics.  I enjoy expressing my opinions.  They might not always be right but I like to speak out on them.  I also like helping people.  When you have this kind of opportunity and you have to say something it bears a certain responsibility.

Do you have a favorite venue you like to play?

My favorite place is the Mandalay Bay at the House of Blues.  I played there with the Goo Goo Solls one New Years eve.

What is the largest crowd that you have ever played for?

I played for 100,000 people opening for Chuck Berry.  I have a funny Chuck Berry story.  He pulls up to the venue in his own Cadillac.  He shows up and gets out of his car with the guitar.  He walks to the back of the stage and immediately requests to get paid.  The promoter gives him what he is supposed to get and Chuck goes, “No, no, no,” and asks for more.  The promoter takes out more money and hands it to him.  He knew all along that Chuck would hustle him out of more.  The next thing you know and Chuck walks in and grabs some sandwiches.

While he is eating my guitar player goes up to him and asks him to sign his guitar.  He said no.  Chuck Berry does not sign autographs, he proclaimed.   My guitarist said, “Look, I’m not selling it.  This would mean the world to me.”

Chuck Berry signs it.  So I grab my Les Paul and head over.  He said, “No, Chuck Berry only signs one autograph a day.  Sorry kid.”  Then he walked out the tent.  So I go out there to open the show and try to get everyone going.  The people are going nuts.  Then someone grabs my arm violently with these grizzly hands and gets right in my face.  His eyes are tired and yellow.  It was Chuck.  He looks at me and says, “Not bad, kid.”  He never signed my guitar.

The smallest?

There was a bartender and the manager of the bar.  I am adamant that the show needs to be the same every time I go out there.  By the time the show was over they started telling everyone and we have ended up playing that venue a ton of times since.  I even ended up buying a house near there I liked it so much.  There is an eight-foot poster of me on the wall.

How many tattoos do you have?

That is a trick question because I have a sleeve and half a sleeve and really they are only two.  My right arm has three roses for my mother.  Three morning glories for my grandmother.  And three for my wife.  It is for the women in my life that raise me.  The last is a daffodil.  The other one is a coy fish that turns into a dragon.  There is a folklore that says when a coy fish reaches a water fall, as it’s mountain and life lesson, the coy will reach enlightenment.  Then, it turns into dragon.  Most are colored orange or yellow but black is for head of household and red for the oldest son.  It shows what the weakness of what was before is the strength of the future.  It is the getting through.  The eternal knot will be under my arm in three weeks.  There are bunch of meaning but one of the meaning is similar to the old biblical reference to whom much is given much is required.  The point is if I can reach enlightenment then my job is to protect and respect it.  I approach music the same way.  There is no swearing in my songs; no sexual references anymore.  All of my songs have a moving on and finding something new.  There is so much crap that goes on and even if you are just complaining it is nice to just let people in and know you are not alone.  There is a guy out there that is bleeding it with me.

Tell me what it was like sharing the stage with Journey.

That was fun.  They are really nice guys.  The new singer was very short but very humble.  You could tell that he was not kidding.  He bowed.  They were just huge.

What are your thoughts on MySpace?

I think anything social network wise is cool.  I think parameters are important.  I think that it is good people can express themselves.  I think its good people can network.  There should be strict guidelines making sure the folks that shouldn’t be on it are on it.  The only negative we as a society are drifting from human interaction.  If all of these social networks are going to double as human interaction, that’s killer.  It is great for finding fans and music.  I love to go out and chat it up.

Are you on Twitter?

Yes, @fredshafer.

Describe your genre in one word.

(Thinks) If it is in quotations does that could?  I call it rock and soul.  So I would say passion if I had to describe it in just one word.

Do you write all your own lyrics?

I write everything.  However sometimes I co-write songs.  I have written for Kelly Clarkson and some other people.  I look at it as two things.  There is the art to writing songs.  There is the purpose of expression.  I can write music for other people that does not sound like myself allowing me to express that art through someone else.  They have set a standard in which I have to live up to.  They have a standard of lyrics content and plausibility.

I have tried to sing songs “ho hum” and not really think.  I have noticed that people do not like the fun songs.  They like the personal songs that come from me.  That is good.  It is almost a weight to make sure I am coming with truth all the time.

Where do you get inspiration for a new track?

Everything.  Life.  Love.  The journey.  I get it from everywhere.  I get it from other people.  For a song to ring with truth it has to come from some place authentic and it doesn’t have to be you.  I have had people dictate stories to me and I was able to write a song on their situation.  There is always a part that I can identify with.

Tell me about the Fred Shafer EP.

The Fed Shafer.  I was luck to have the guitar player from Staind to produce it.  I also had some Moby inspirations in there.  I made it in New York City.  It was the basis of what became Resister, my new full length, and it was neat.  It was me finding who me was.  That is why I called it the Fred Shafer EP.  It was more or less an exercise of what I am.  It is not a complete representation of what I am but it shows some of the breath of what I will end up doing.

How did you react to the news of the passing of Michael Jackson?

I was sad. Oddly, not moved that much.  My life has had a lot of ups and downs.  I am not necessarily shaken by death as I once was.  What he did after most of his hit music it was hard for me to forget.  I listened to a lot of MJ afterward.  I listened to Off the Wall non-stop.  He was a great talent.  He was in the top five entertainers ever and I think that kind of weight and that is hard for anyone to carry.

If you could live anywhere in the world where would you go?

(Thinks) I would like to live in Italy.  That is where my family is from.  I think Europe would be cool.  When you live in Italy you could travel all over Europe easily.  I loved Alaska.  It was beautiful.

If you could tour with any band in the industry today whom would you choose?

This is going to be nuts.  James Brown.  James Brown was the hardest working showman in the business today.  I would like to have tried to take him out.  I would have loved that.  That man had soul.  I would like to see where I measured up.

What are you drinking on stage?

Goose Island soda.  I drink their soda because my wife works there.  I also drink water.  I have been sober four and half years and I don’t drink alcohol.  I was sponsored by Bud for a while and used to drink 101 Wild Turkey straight.  I have not for a while.  I try to drink a lit of water.  There is nothing like a good AP.

If you could be any cartoon character whom would you be and why?

(Thinks) *Band manger says already a cartoon character.

I would go Mickey Mouse because I like to go big or go home.  I am definitely a Type A personality.  I am not the Daffy Duck of the crew.  I want to be driving tugboat.  I would go that way.  He is classic cool.  I have a classic Mickey shirt.  You can’t go wrong with him.

What would someone expect coming to a show if they have never seen you before?

To believe.  Everything that we do, the rock, soul, to country, to pop the singing, the playing, before and after is authentic.  There is no BS and no gimmick.  We don’t use things to make my voice sound a certain way.  We do not use anything to cover up sucking.  It’s a guy bleeding his soul for you.

If you could only play one cover song for the rest of your career what song would you choose?

I would choose Dock of the Bay by Otis Redding.  I might just bust that out tonight.  I did that song because I didn’t know any other cover songs.  I played that song a long time ago.  I treat this like it’s my songs.  It is one of the most requested songs I do.  I feel like we go way back and I knew what he was talking about.  My version is more somber but honest.

Let’s say you are about to headline a show at Madison Square Garden.  Who is the opener?

The Foo Fighters for two reasons.  They are nothing but energy.  They are so badass that I would have to bring my A game to follow that.  It would have to be a flawless show so people wouldn’t boo.  That is why I want to play with James Brown.  I don’t want to be average.  I don’t want to be forgotten and I want believe to believe and say, I feel like I know that guy.  That would be a badass show.

Where do you see yourself in five years?

Right here doing the same thing.  The same thing I have been doing for five years and the same thing for five years after. Just getting to write and play music for people.  I think it is a very unique and special opportunity to be able to express yourself and communal feelings of other people.  I am not going to waste that opportunity.  I am not in it for fame.  I have done a bunch of stuff that should but I am, not in I for the money or the fame.  I get to do this and that is where I will be.

What do you want to be remembered for when this is all said and done?

(Thinks) I want people to feel whole.  I want what I did and what I have done and the music I have made make people feel more connected.  More a part of and to believe in this bigger whole.  If I can do that and that is how I am remembered I couldn’t ask for anything else.  A facilitator.

I always let the artist get the last word.  Go.

(I love how he thinks and doesn’t just say the first thing to come to his mind.)  Not mine.  In the end the love you take is equal to the love you make.  That is by the Beatles.  Thank you.