John Gorka speaks of travel and songwriting
to perform Wednesday at BluSeed
SARANAC LAKE - John Gorka's newest project is being one-third of Red Horse, a folkie supergroup with Eliza Gilkyson and Lucy Kaplansky, but on Wednesday he'll perform at BluSeed Studios by himself, sharing the stage only with an acoustic guitar, as his fans have always known him.
Over a career spanning 12 albums and more than 25 years, the rich-voiced singer-songwriter has never been to the Adirondacks before, he told the Enterprise in an interview last Monday; the closest he figures he's come is Saratoga Springs.
He's a hard-working guy this summer. Between now and Labor Day, he has 31 gigs scheduled, all but three in the Northeast - far from his home state of Minnesota. He said the touring is kind of hard on his wife and two children, ages 13 and 11, but that's how the bills get paid. And for him, it's gotten better over the years.
"The shows themselves are a lot more fun, I think, than at least when I first started," he said. "Logistics can be a challenge at times, but the shows make it worthwhile."
ADIRONDACK DAILY ENTERPRISE: What kinds of things do you take in about the places you travel through? Does it feel more like a blur or more like a slow-moving story unfolding?
JOHN GORKA: I think it's a little bit of both. I'm often in and out of a place before I can take it all in, but as I go back to places, it is a slow story being told.
I like seeing how things change, seeing certain areas where there are used bookstores, more thrift-store-type places, and seeing those places get replaced by more upscale joints. That's kind of interesting, seeing my friends having to move from the center of town to cheaper places. ... And sometimes the other way too - places that start out with an audience, and then the audience goes away as the town's fortunes might start to wane.
ADE: Do you find you write songs better on the road or at home, and why do you think that might be?
JG: I do them both places. It's whenever I've got a free morning, I think, I have a chance to see what's rattling around. But it seems more like when I'm in a place for two nights, the first morning is a good time for coming up with something new, at least lyrically that way. It seems musical ideas happen when I'm kind of sitting with my guitar just kind of noodling, and often it's right before a show when I should be concentrating on what I should be thinking about playing that night but I often myself perversely playing something I never played before. I try to be open to whenever they come. Sometimes somebody says something and they meant it in one way, and I took it in another. It seems like there's more meanings there than just the one intended.
ADE: There is a sentence at the end of your Web bio that seemed almost like a mission statement, in a sense. It says that you're "honored to be a part of the folk tradition - energetic acoustic music that is not a trend, not a fad, but an expression of everyday life." You've really dedicated your life to this kind of music. What is it about the way it captures everyday life that moves you so much?
JG: I guess I feel like it could be about anything in a person's life. It doesn't have to be about love; it doesn't have to be about any one particular thing. For me, folk music was the first kind of music that I saw that being possible. I felt like it didn't matter so much if it was a popular form. It seemed to make sense to me. It seemed, I guess, the fact that it's not a mainstream kind of music I think took the pressure off. There was no real commercial brass ring. ... It just kind of allowed you to respond to what was happening around you and what was going on inside, maybe, and try to be true to the feeling and trying to communicate what the feeling should sound like.
What is the sound of the feeling? That's the question, and trying to get that in the combination of words and music - if you can't find the words for what you're trying to say or the feeling, you might be able to express with a combination of what you can articulate in the words with the sound of the music or the sound of your voice.