Interview with Troy Stewart of The Windsor Player (Part 2)


RB: When and how did you first become interested in music? How long have you been playing music?
TS: I was drawn to music at a very early age due to my Mothers record collection. Loads of 45′s and LP’s which I would hover around and play over and over. Seeing my interest, she purchase me a guitar when I was 6. I took lessons for a couple years in grade school from a hippie type teacher who taught me Bob Dylan and Beatles songs but I am mostly self taught. I immediately started writing my own songs, obviously not brilliant, but it was something I loved to do. I would spend hours in my room (still do) putting simple chords, melodies and lyrics together.
RB: What are your musical influences?
TS: My Mother took my sister and myself to see Johnny Cash and the Carter Cash Family with Sammy Davis Jr. opening the show when I was 6 or 7, this was my first ever concert experience. I still remember vividly, the theatre going completely dark then a big, deep voice saying, “Hello, my name is Johnny Cash”. That show and music had a major impact on my life for sure. Other early influences, also due to the records I was exposed to at home, were Burt Bacharach, Elton John, The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, Neil Diamond and John Denver.
RB: What musicians do you admire, and why?
TS: Elton John for his great piano playing, song writing and use of instruments which brought a country flavor to a lot of his earlier work. Jeff Lynne of ELO for his use of organic strings with the combination of rock and Tom Petty because of his simplistic approach to writing and lyrical story telling. These are just a few of my favorites.
RB: What instruments do you play?
TS: My main instruments are guitar and piano but I also play drums, bass and whatever else I can get a noise out of.
RB: How did you get your start as a musician?
TS: At 14 years of age I was living in a very conservative, religious and depressed part of the country. My family was part of a extreme evangelistic church, this is also where I went to high school. There were a total of 35 kids in the high school and 7 in my graduation class. We were very limited in options or activities through school but music was something that was free and always available, all you needed was an instrument, so that is what I focused on. I had started playing drums at this point and put a band together with a friend who played guitar. We would play together every chance we had, writing rock songs and doing the guitar/drum duo thing. Eventually a whole band was formed, writing, rehearsing and playing shows was my entire existence.
RB: What made you decide to make music your career? How did you make your transition to making music a full time gig?
TS: By the age of 16 I new that making music my career was what I wanted to do. At this point it was something that I had to do because it was what I did day in and day out. Music was what made me happy and still does.
After high school, I hung out playing in bands for a couple years then one day I decided I was going to focus on playing guitar full time so I traded my drums for a guitar, an old 60′s Orange Matamp and matching 4×12 cabs (which I still have), put them in the back of my truck and drove 2,000 miles to the west coast. I played in bands around San Francisco for a couple years then headed to Los Angeles. I played in bands up and down the sunset strip and worked really bad temp jobs. One of my roommates at the time was a sound engineer and had just picked up a gig touring with a band across the U.S. He told me they were looking for a guitar tech for the tour and asked if I would be interested. I didn’t even know what a guitar tech was and after it being explained to me I thought, what…I can get paid for doing that? I did the tour and it turned out that I was pretty good at it (with help from some very cool veterans on the tour who took me under there wings and showed me the ropes). After that tour the phone just kept ringing with offers from other bands. I would tour as a tech, save money then come back to L.A. and play in bands. I always let it be know that I was not just a tech but also a player, eventually I was playing in bands I was touring with. I was then able to work as a tech as well as a session player. It’s been a strange and long path but everyones path is different.
RB: How did The Windsor Player start?
TS: The Windsor Player started while on Snow Patrol’s “A Hundred Million Suns” tour. I was sitting in a hotel room with Marc Carolan who was Snow Patrol’s F.O.H. engineer for the tour. We were playing music and I played a few of my demo’s for him, he loved the song “Big Texas Sky”. Marc had a studio in Dublin and we were going to have a couple days off there so he asked if I wanted to come in and record the track. Richard Colburn of Belle & Sebastian was on that tour playing percussion with Snow Patrol so I asked him if he would be up for playing drums on the session, he said yes, Marc rang a friend of his who played bass, we recorded the song and that is what kicked it all off.
RB: Where did the band name come from?
TS: The Windsor Player name came from a Windsor Player piano which is in Gregg Williams studio, ‘The Trench’, in Portland, Oregon where we recorded the rest of the record. It is a player piano which has been in Gregg’s family since the early 1900′s. His grandparents ordered it out of a catalogue from a company in Chicago and it showed up from the train station in Eastern Oregon to their farm via wagon. We used this piano on almost every track of the record, it is a beautiful instrument and the center piece of the studio and the record. As Gregg and myself were trying to think of a name for the band, Gregg told me the story and history behind the piano, it’s journey west felt somewhat synonymous with mine….destiny?
RB: How did all the members come together for the project?
TS: The members for The Windsor Player came together via a “Build it and they will come” mentality. I was extremely fortunate and blessed with all the musicians who gave their talents and time for this record. Years of touring, meeting musicians, making friends and just asking all came together at the right time.
RB: What was the writing and recording process like?
TS: All the writing for the record was done by myself. Half of the record are songs I picked from over the years and the other half were written while recording. As the recording process developed, I would be more and more inspired. I would leave a 10 hour session, go home and write a new song inspired from the previous session.
None of the musicians were allowed to hear any of the songs before doing a session, except for Jote Osahn who was flying over from London for 10 days to record. Jote, who plays for Elbow, wrote all the string arrangements for the record and played violin, viola and cello as well. She obviously needed the songs prior to the sessions but everyone else came into the sessions blind. No two musicians played together at one time during the recording process, I wanted to tap into every musicians natural playing and instinct. Everyone had only about 3 passes for their parts on every song and Gregg Williams and myself would comp and edit each session. I think this approach gave the songs a feel that it was a live band playing together.
RB: Where did you find the inspiration for the record?
TS: The main inspiration to actually record The Windsor Player came from recording the first Tired Pony record, ‘The Place We Ran From’. We only had 8 days to make that record and Jacknife Lee’s approach was very eye opening and inspiring. It showed me first hand that catching musicians natural instinct is very important. Musically and lyrically, inspiration for The Windsor Player was pulled from musical styles I love, lyrics based on my life story and more selfishly, making a record that I would want to listen to.
RB: How would you describe the sound of the band?
TS: I would describe The Windsor Player sound as American, Alt Country and Rock.
RB: What pulled you to the Americana/Country inspired genre?
TS: The lean into the Americana/Country inspired genre is something that happened very organically, stemming from the natural way I like to write. All of my songs start with acoustic guitar, a melody then lyrics. Just myself and guitar in my room, playing and writing what comes out naturally, what gives me feelings of melancholy, hope or happiness. Another part of the process is the instrumentation which I like hear and use. I’m a huge fan of piano, pedal steel, dobro, mandolin and strings, classical and fiddle style violin.
RB: Did you have any idea what the record was going to sound like before you started?
TS: The finished sound of the record was a very big and pleasant surprise. It was much more than I could have envisioned or hoped for. This is due to the brilliant musicians who played on the record, Gregg Williams incredible engineering skills and Dave Friedlander doing an amazing job mixing.
RB: The album is very diverse with sounds on each song, was this something you had planned or did it come from the collaboration with your other band members?
TS: I think the diverse sound of the record comes from my love of many different styles of music and very much from collaborating with the other band members, letting them do what they do. Melting heavier electric guitars with acoustic instruments and using effects and unconventional methods to create and twist the sounds was something we very much embraced. This is something I also learned from Jacknife Lee while working on the recording ‘A Hundred Million Suns’. He taught me that there are no limits when recording, if you can think or come up with it…you can record it!
RB: Where did the inspiration for the songs come from?
TS: As I said before, these songs are based around my life. These are stories, journeys and passed experiences which start with the first track ‘Release’ to finality with ‘Big Texas Sky’. Some literally and others in more of an abstract sense.
RB: What can we expect from the next album?
TS: It’s hard to know what to expect from the next album. There will probably be some of the same styles from this record but there are so many other styles which I would like to explore. It’s fun to go into a studio environment and be surprised by what comes out creatively. This is what I would like The Windsor Player to be, constant surprise.
RB: Are there any plans for more Windsor Player shows? Would you like to take it out on the road?
TS: I would love to put The Windsor Player on the road but nothing in the works now. Being an unsigned act, touring is quite and endeavor and my hat is definitely tipped to the bands that do it. We have played a handful of shows in Portland, which were a great experience, and would love to do more, time will tell.
RB: Do you think collaboration with other musicians is an important thing to do?
TS: Collaboration with other musicians is a very important thing to do. It provides learning of other styles and leads to improvement on your own style of writing or playing.
RB: Would you say that having different bands and different creative outlets is vital for a musician?
TS: Yes, very much so. Expanding ones creative style by playing with different bands and musicians is key to become a good songwriter and musician. As a wise old man once said, “You never stop learning”.
RB: Do you write songs on your own or do you like to write with other musicians? Which do you prefer?
TS: I generally like to write on my own but also enjoy writing with other musicians. While writing with other musicians, I focus on parts for whatever instrument I am playing while letting the key songwriter focus on progressions and arrangements.
RB: What kind of a role do you play in the group songwriting process?
TS: This varies depending on the group I am working with. In Tired Pony, I mainly play piano so I focus on piano parts that will round out the sound of the song and try to create counter melodies that will not step on any of the other instruments or parts. With Little Matador I play electric guitar and work with Dave Magee (guitarist) on creating a fat bed or wall of sound. I also focus on lead and odd noise parts, sometimes from the approach of what might be created if I were playing a synth or keyboard.
RB: Do you think writing and working with the members of your bands has helped you become a better musician? Or songwriter?
TS: Absolutely it has. I am very fortunate and continually humbled from the playing and creative experiences that I have had and continue to be a part of. Once again, you can always learn something new…it’s a perk of the process which is to be embraced and sought after.
RB: What do you enjoy about the process of collaborating?
TS: The biggest thrill I get from collaborating is the excitement when the recorded song is played back through the speakers and the music, melodies and parts all work together in ways you could not have imagined or done on your own. When the emotion is turned into sound, it’s very magical and satisfying.
RB: Do you prefer to be in the creative environment of a studio or touring and playing live shows?
TS: Studio and live are such completely different beasts and I enjoy them both. The searching and experimentation in the studio can also bring a little madness but I very much enjoy it. I also love playing live, rehearsing for hours and obsessing on playing every part perfect as well as with feeing and emotion. Delivering those combinations live is very satisfying.
RB: Do you have any projects you would love to do? Any future goals?
TS: Yes, there are some amazing musicians around Portland I would love to write with. One is Jerry Joseph who is in my opinion one of the most honest songwriters and human beings I have ever had the pleasure of knowing. The only future goal I have is to do my best at living life on my terms, being an artist and to never stop being creative.
RB: Would you ever do a solo project?
TS: It’s wise to never say never but it’s not really something I have thought of.
RB: With all your projects keeping you busy, how do you spend your downtime?
TS: One day at a time.
RB: How do you balance your professional and personal lives?
TS: That’s a very, very, very good question. I believe the jury is still out on that one but if I ever come up with the answer, I will then write a book on the subject.
RB: What music have you been listening to lately? Current favorite artists or albums?
TS: I don’t listen to albums very much, strangely enough, I listen to radio. My favorite artist at the moment and the past many years is a brilliant band out of Portland, Oregon called ‘Blitzen Trapper’. Their records, songwriting and live shows are amazing. They can go anywhere with their music, are always evolving, have worked extremely hard to get where they are at, are good and decent people and I am a huge fan.
RB: How have you seen the industry change since you started?
TS: When I started, the industry was all giant labels, big machines. In my L.A. days, everyone was focused on getting a deal or chasing a scene to get a deal. This was always very disheartening to me and never felt quite right. Not that I didn’t want a record deal, it just seemed that the drive to ‘get a deal’ took precedence over making music because that’s what I loved to do. Over the years I have seen the start up of indie labels and now independent artist able to put out their music on a very large scale though avenues such as CD Baby and others. I think think companies such as CD Baby give musicians the chance to be creative by making the music they want to make and allow the artist to send his or her art out to the world…and let the fan decide what they like.
RB: What have your experiences in music taught you about the industry?
TS: That’s a question with some very dark answers. In lieu of sounding dark, I will say find YOUR way, YOUR path and persevere on the high road.
RB: Where do you see things going for the industry? (Especially with everything being available digitally. Do you think this can be a good thing for musicians?)
TS: If I had a working crystal ball…I would write a second book.
RB: If you had a new artist coming to you for advice, what would you say?
TS: Make music and write songs for the love of making music and writing songs. Discover your own unique style through exploring your favorite artist’s styles. Be true to yourself and your art but most of all…play, play, play and never stop playing.
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