Well, I guess around the time I was 15, I wrote my first song that was heavily influenced by listening to two records: One of them was The White Album by the Beatles, and the other one was Bob Dylan's Greatest Hits: Volume 1. For me, creatively, as far as writing songs goes, the minute I started, it was like a gut reaction or instinct, and then I wanted to play those songs in front of people. The first recording I did was with my cassette boombox in my bedroom, and my first live performance opportunity was at the talent show at my high school. It was all just rolling from there.
Please tell me you won the talent competition.
Well, there was no winner or loser, but we killed it. I had this cool band called Green Wood, and it was basically like Peter, Paul and Mary of the late '80s. I wore my flannel shirt, my brown boots and blue jeans, and my hair was a little longer. Then a straight-edge skinhead and a little, chubby Jewish girl joined me [laughs]. We're all from Philly, and I'm writing these songs influenced by Bob Dylan and The White Album, and we're singing them with two guitars and a female harmony. . . . I don't think I've ever heard an applause that loud before [laughs].
You've written articles in the past about the importance of doing it yourself in terms of becoming a successful musician. Why is DIY such a necessity for aspiring artists?
Well, especially now more than ever, no one can really help you but yourself. You see the people that are gonna make it or break through, and they're people who have conceptualized their act by accident or are very conscious about the whole thing. From all of their songs, to the style, to who they're playing for, to the way they're presenting themselves, they have the complete package. I mean, they're basically doing it by themselves or with a small group of people.
If you look at the people who have broken through just recently, you think of Odd Future or Lana Del Rey or something like that. They can break through in different ways, you know, like on YouTube, Facebook and Twitter. . . . You have to get out and have an act good enough that people will get into it. Whether you're in a small town or a big city, hopefully from there, it can grow and spread regionally and catch some fire. It's definitely the Wild West; you just gotta find a way.
You've been a professional musician for almost 20 years. What has changed most since 1993, when you were signed to your first label?
Well, that goes back to the music business because, musically, I'm the same person. My music is kind of like a river, and I'm floatin' down it, or if my music is like a wave, I'm ridin' it, trying to harness the energy of it. The thing that has changed about me over the years is that early on, the music business was something I didn't trust; I didn't care to participate in it. I didn't know how to play the game–I didn't understand it was a game, you know? I wanted it to be just about the music.
Then over the years, I realized that these people are trying to help me to get my music out there and help me make some money. Help me keep a career healthy and get a paycheck for things such as my guitar effects and everything else. You realize this is a game when you're not onstage or in a room writing songs. When you go onstage and when you're behind a microphone in a studio, that's when you let that whole thing go and let it be just about the music again.
So you started out just as a musician. Would you say you're now a musician and a businessman on the side?
Yeah. I think I'm a musician by nature and by heart, and I'm a businessman out of necessity.
We've witnessed a sort of blues-rock revival within the past few years, especially with bands such as the Black Keys and the White Stripes. Does this excite you or intimidate you?
It's really exciting with the Black Keys and the White Stripes and us, what we're able to achieve just going back to our roots Most artists are influenced by greats such as Stevie Ray Vaughn or Clapton or Led Zeppelin or the Rolling Stones. You also get the people who touch base with the roots of where those people wrote their music from, such as the Delta Blues and everything else. Obviously, Dan Aurbach, Jack White and I have all spent a lot of time listening to those old records and figuring out what was going on then, trying to emulate that as best we could.
It's nothing new, but I think it's pretty cool that it's getting a lot of recognition and people are getting excited about that reemerging. It's great seeing the Black Keys up there at the top of the charts, and their record was just impeccable. To witness that attraction, and then other roots music from the Avett Brothers, we've gained a lot of momentum this past year. You see a lot of people who are into more organic, heartfelt, roots-oriented music. That's what we've always done, and it just gives me more and more confidence to stay in that thing and hone in on my playing the slide guitar, the harmonica and everything else.
Speaking of the Avett Brothers, what did you learn most working with those guys?
I felt like that was the most inspiring, pleasant, energetic group of guys to be around. I love the way they work together; I love the way they worked with me and what they got out of me to make such a great record. I learned just to be yourself and have the confidence to open up and really emote what your feelings are, to connect with what you're singing and playing about. I feel that's something those guys do very well. The way they write songs, it makes you think about your own life. I think being able to work with them allowed me to reconnect with what I was doing, and that was really powerful.
So is it safe to say Fixin' to Die is the album you're most proud of?
Yeah, I mean, I think some of my early records will always hold a special place for me all across the board. Considering this album had so much to do with my influences–such as John Hammond, Bob Dylan, Lou Reed and Bukka White–I like it as a musician and someone who is trying to sound like the records I listen to when I'm at home. You know, I play this record; I like it.
And it's pretty cool it's a record I like to listen to, and I can listen to it when other people are around, too. A lot of times with my music, I like to listen to it when nobody else is around, but I can listen to this one with everyone. It feels good enough to put in my record collection, which I think is great because my record collection is pretty dope [laughs].
I was stalking your Facebook the other day and came across an update promoting Little Kids Rock. Can you tell us a bit about the organization and how you're involved?
Yeah! It's an organization that's geared toward supporting music programs in schools. The ultimate goal is to donate instruments to music programs in school districts and public schools that don't have much of a budget for instruments for kids. You go to these schools, and you see this young talent emerging, and you also see the teachers who are just really extraordinary musicians themselves. I've gotten to meet some amazing musicians who are running these programs in their own styles.
There's a need for more contemporary music in schools. Of course, a lot of schools have orchestras, but there aren't many guitar programs, and stuff like that is for more popular music. You know, who wants to play clarinet once they graduate high school who wants to make money? Not many. It's just really amazing to go in with these kids that range from 8 to 15 and answer these questions about the music business and what they want to do with it.
We just started working with them this past year, but we're trying to do more with them during our tour schedule or during a day off. You know, we'll go to a school and donate a bunch of instruments for the students, and I'll perform for them. I'll also jam with them. Then I'll do kind of a motivational talk about the music business, as well as answer any questions they have about what I'm doing.
You recently started your own brand of hot sauce, “G. Loves Special Sauce.” Now is your chance to play pitchman.
This is my newest thing. We just put it out this year, and you can get it direct on our website, which is gloveshotsauce.com. You can order wholesale if you're a restaurant, or you can order it by the bottle. You know, going from town to town, trying different regional specialties in every city and small town, I really like using hot sauce. So we decided to put out our own, and it's been a lot of fun. That's just a little thing we're doing on the side, but it's still really good.
What tastes good with your sauce?
It's a Louisiana-based hot sauce, so it's really good on stuff such as fried chicken and any kind of soul food. Last night, I'm with my kid, and he cuts an avocado in half and puts the hot sauce on it, and goes, “Yo, dad, try this hot-sauce-a-cado!” And I was like, “All right, man, you got it!” We put it on everything [laughs].
Since you spend almost half of your days on the road, these last few questions are all going to be tour-themed. First, what's been your favorite stop on the Fixin' to Die Tour thus far?
I think my favorite stop was down in Atlanta because I did Little Kids Rock at an Atlanta school and had a great time with the kids. On the way home, I went to this legendary soul-food stop, and I was probably the only white dude around for miles [laughs]. And then we had a sold-out show that night at the Variety Playhouse. So that was a good day.
Must-have road snack?
I like to eat healthy on the road, so I'll always start my day off with a kombucha and a yogurt with some granola. Even if I start my day off healthy, I'll get some fries and soul food later, so it's all good. But then on the late night, see, here's the problem–during the late night, I have this severe eating disorder called “the munchies.” It's pretty ferocious. My new tour manager keeps getting Nutter Butters and Oreos. Cookies and milk is a pretty dangerous thing for me [laughs].
Band you'd like to tour with the most?
Probably the Avett Brothers or the Black Keys.
Favorite song to play live?
My newest ones.
One thing you miss most while on the road?
My girl and my kids.
G. Love & Special Sauce perform at the House of Blues, 1530 S. Disneyland Dr., Anaheim, (714) 778-BLUE (2583); www.hob.com. Sat., Feb. 18, 9 p.m. $25. All ages.