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Q&A with Ernest Troost at Ojai Underground Exchange on March 13

3 14 TROOST
Photo submitted
Ernest Troost 

 

BE THERE OR BE SQUARE: Ernest Troost, Clint Alphin at Ojai Underground Exchange, 1016 Ojai Ave., Friday, (March 13), 7:30 p.m. Cost: $20. CALL: 805-340-7893.

 

“There's not a better folksinger out there than Ernest Troost — he writes great songs with clever lyrics, plenty of hooks and he's an astute guitar player — what else is there? Just this — Troost has a swell voice as well … You can't play this album too many times and you'll be continually amazed with what a lot can be done with such modest trappings.” This writer thus described one of Troost’s albums — he’s got a couple — and they’re all even better than my humble words. Find out for yourself and invent some new adjectives when Troost plays the Ojai Underground Exchange Friday night (March 13). Also on the bill is another singer/songwriter of note, Clint Alphin.
Most musicians only want a few things — hit records, the cover of the Rolling Stone, headlining Coachella, free beer and of course, getting their music in movies and TV. Not Troost. He already did that — he has scored for movies and TV for decades and even won an Emmy. But tired of being basically, a side man, Troost, started making his own music, and others liked what they heard. He won Kerville, sort of the Emmy and Oscar combined for singer/songwriters back in 2009 and he’s threatened a new album this year. Donald Trump probably won’t like it, but let’s let Troost tell it…
ET: Hey, Bill…
BL: Mr. T — how’s the music biz treating you?
ET: Pretty good. I’ve been working on a new album for quite a few years, but I kinda had to stop and restart it once Trump got elected, and …
BL: New songs demanding to be written?
ET: Yes, new songs demanding to be written is right. I’m close to sending the last one to my producer, then we’ll get into mastering, mixing and all that stuff.
BL: Sometime this year perhaps?
ET: Oh, yeah — this year, definitely.
BL: On our vacation last summer, my son and I drove through the Confederacy, and while we were driving across Texas — which seemed like it took a year, we came around a turn and there was Kerrville, and I thought, “I know a guy that knows Kerrville.” That would be you. So how did winning Kerrville back in 2009 change things for you?
ET: Well, I guess what it did was give me a certain amount of credibility. It’s just something that’s recognized in the singer/songwriter world and not just the folk world. I was able to go back to Kerrville the next year and do a small tour that they helped set up. So I played a lot of places in Texas and even on the East Coast people just know it, but I haven’t been back because in the summer, Texas is really hot. Kerrville is kind of an event, but it still takes three days to get there. So were you there when the event was happening?
BL: Naw, just passing through — we did a Civil War tour and went to Andersonville in Georgia.
ET: I played in Alexandria, Virginia, this year which is pretty near Gettysburg, which was pretty neat, a very cool place.
BL: Been there many times, even in July kicking it with the ghosts. So, how did winning an Emmy change things for you?
ET: Well, that really kind of influenced a lot of the jobs I got afterward for scoring films. A lot of TV people came to me and I was able to get some things I might not have gotten. It kind of helps but it’s hard to really know because in that business, I’m not really doing scoring anymore. The thing about scoring films is that when you’re done you spend most of your time trying to get a gig, the next gig. So you’re really making an effort to keep in touch with all the producers and directors that you work with and what might be coming up. The Emmy definitely helped and there were people that hired me because I had the Emmy.
BL: It seems like you did things backwards because most musicians I talk to want to get their music on the big or small screen but you went from scoring to performing.
ET: You know, I’d been doing the scoring for about 25 or 30 years and I have done a lot of different types of scoring — documentaries and children’s films on the East Coast before I came out here — an all of them kind of demand different styles, and I love that.
BL: That’s what makes you indispensable.
ET: Well, that’s true and it kept me busy for a long time, but I finally decided that I wasn’t writing music for myself — mostly writing things that made the TV show work. And that’s great but you’re helping a producer or director tell their story. You’re really like an accompanist at recital and you’re the piano player at the back of the stage.
BL: You’re the sideman and it’s not your story.
ET: Exactly, and it’s a wonderful thing and I got to work with some of the best musicians in the world. I don’t know how many times I recorded at Capitol Studios and that’s a dream thing, but I think maybe Kerrville had a lot to do with it. I just kinda presented my own stuff that I had come up with over a period of years. I wasn’t copying anybody except the old Piedmont blues guys, so when I wrote my own songs and played a concert there, and people really loved them so I thought, “OK, so why don’t I just do this?” There’s lots of reasons why people can’t do it because you have to make a living, too, and doing singer/songwriter stuff is not the most effective way to make a living. I love doing house concerts and museums, and it’s a lot of fun.
BL: This is supposed to be fun, right?
ET: Yeah, this is supposed to be fun. At some point in your life, you ought to have some fun which is partly why I do it.
BL: So is songwriting a gift or a skill that can be learned?
ET: I think it’s a combination. There are definitely things you learn by doing it over and over again and try to refine what you have. I think a lot of the techniques have to do with editing in some ways while the writing and inspiration might have something to do with — I don’t know — daydreaming, really but I can’t really put my finger on it. I think it was Richard Thompson who said, “I can tell you what I do to start a song and I can tell you what I do to finish a song, but I can’t tell you what happens in between.” I think that’s pretty accurate. You use whatever tools you use to get going and then something takes over. For me, it’s the lyrics and the thread of a story that all happen together, and all of a sudden I have this thing and then I spend quite a bit of time editing, and I think editing has a lot to do with technique that you learn from just doing it.
BL: I had a teacher at UCLA, Sol Cohen, who told us that “Writing is rewriting what’s already been rewritten.” Pretty much, that’s editing.
ET: Yeah, I think so.
BL: Last time we chatted, you told me that writing a song is sort of like making a film. How so?
ET: Well, what I try to do, especially with a story song is to try to create a cinematic image to the listener, which is trickier than it might seem. The songs that I’ve done that work best are the ones where the details are not laid out so literally — you leave enough out so people can sort of fill in the blanks. I don’t know quite how that happens but I know those songs have had an impact on people. Ten people will come up and tell you the song is about different things.
BL: Yeah, who knows how that works, but it’s cool when it does.
ET: It’s really cool.
BL: What’s the advantage about being a guy and a guitar, besides not having to argue about the set list?
ET: That’s true and another thing — it’s tough to tour these days, and if you have a band, you have to pay to support all that — equipment and vans and people and lodging, but my wife and I just go stay in a hotel and I have a little high quality amplifier that I can use for a house concert.
BL: Do you guys ever pull over and just camp?
ET: No, we haven’t actually, but we probably would’ve 30 years ago.
BL: Was it hard to learn to play guitar and sing at the same time?
ET: No, it always seemed very natural to me. There’s something symbiotic about playing and singing at the same time — you remember it all as one thing. 
BL: How often do you play?
ET: I sort of do tours a few weeks at a time each year but this year, I’m not planning too much because we’re contemplating moving to the East Coast.
BL: You’re going to move back?
ET: That’s what we’re thinking. I’m originally from Connecticut and my wife is from the Boston area.
BL: Maybe you’ll start a trend — it’s too crowded out here as you well know.
ET: I like it here and I’ve been here for 30 years but our families are on the East Coast.
BL: You put in your time.
ET: That’s what is seems like, and I can always come back on tour and visit the people that come to my shows.
BL: One more loaded question: Dodgers and Red Sox — whose side are you on?
ET: I’m not a sports guy.

 

— Bill Locey covers the music scene in Ventura County.

 

If I had a faster car, a richer girlfriend or even one with a job, here’s where I’d be lurking in the back this week:
Pussy Riot at 1720 in Los Angeles (March 13)
Umphrey’s McGee at Wiltern Theatre in Los Angeles (March 13)
National Cat at Winchester’s in Ventura (March 13)
Fitz & the Tantrums at Ventura Theatre (March 13)
David Gorospe at Greater Goods in Meiners Oaks (March 13)
Brian Faith Band at Island Brewing Company in Carpinteria (March 13)
John Fogerty at Chumash Casino in Santa Ynez (March 13)
Paul Collins’ Beat at Highland Park Bowl (March 14)
The Strokes at the Forum (March 14)
Aaron Neville at the Canyon in Agoura Hills (March 14)
Urban Dread at Copper Blues in Oxnard (March 14)
Raging Arb, Spencer the Gardener, Frank Barajas at Bombay in Ventura (March 14)
 Tiki Luau Lounge at Deer Lodge in Meiners Oaks (March 14)
Kinky Friedman at Ojai Underground Exchange (March 14)
Shaky Feelin’ at Topa Mountain Winery in Ojai (March 14)
Redd Kross at El Rey Theatre in Los Angeles (March 15)
Jodi Farrell at Winchester’s (March 15)
Teresa Russell at Deer Lodge (March 15)
Sarah Lee Guthrie at Ojai Underground Exchange (March 15)
Bob Bishop Duo at Island Brewing Company (March 15)
Ball & Sultan at Cold Spring Tavern in Santa Barbara (March 15)
Flogging Molly at Hollywood Palladium (March 17)
Jerry McWorter Trio at Copa Cubana in Ventura (March 17)
Spencer & the Worried Lads at SOhO in Santa Barbara (March 17)
The Growlers at Ventura Theatre (March 18)
Brittany Howard at Arlington Theatre in Santa Barbara (March 18)
Shane Alexander at Bogies in Westlake Village (March 19)
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