Quick Q and A with Patrick Coman

Patrick Coman loves music and it shows.  Whether it is on the radio airwaves when he was the host of the WUMB “Local Folk” show or whether it’s on stage singing his own songs or cover songs by classic artists.  Patrick is touring behind the release of his most recent album, Tree of Life.  This Oklahoma native sings about the ups and downs in life and has a knack for zeroing in on the listener’s heart.

Patrick is appearing at the me&thee in Marblehead, MA as part of a Tribute to John Prine on Friday, February 16.  He’ll be playing with Amy Fairchild, The Meadows Brothers, and Jenee Halstead.

To learn more about Patrick, check out his website.

Here’s a solo performance of “Tree of Life.”

You jumped at the chance to sing some John Prine. What do you consider to be his best songs and why?

One of my favorite things about Prine is his ability to use a very wry sense of humor in his writing. Songwriters can sometimes be a very self serious bunch, but I love the way he can inject some funny images into songs like “Spanish Pipedream,” “Your Flag Decal Won’t Get You Into Heaven Anymore,” or one of my personal favorites “Illegal Smile” even while attacking some heavy subjects. However, I think his best work is still “Sam Stone” which to me is the greatest anti-war song ever written. I still remember the first time I heard it, when that chorus comes in and the whole song takes a dramatic left turn “there’s a hole in daddy’s arm where all the money goes ….”

Have you ever experienced John Prine live?

I had the very good fortune of playing a warm up set at Blue Hills pavilion a few years ago in their VIP tent or whatever they call it, and that night Lucinda Williams and John Prine co-headlined. Lucinda and her band were incredible and then John took the stage with just his guitar player and an upright bassist and absolutely mesmerized us for about an hour and a half. I’m not sure if he’s always been this way or it’s something he has grown into with age but he had so much grace in his performance and seemed so comfortable with himself on stage it almost felt like he was playing for you in the living room.

Tell us about your album, Tree of Life.  How does it differ from previous recordings?

Probably the biggest thing that has changed with this album is that it was my first time working with an outside producer. In this case I had guitarist Peter Parcek and drummer Marco Giovino (Robert Plant, Buddy Miller) co-produce in addition to playing on the album. I have admired both of these guys for years for their excellent playing but also for their ability to translate that playing to recordings that leaps out of the stereo and demand to be heard. I had bigger ambitions for this album and a bigger sound to go with it and these guys really helped me learn how to create that atmosphere in the studio.

What is your favorite thing about this album?

I am so proud of this album because I think it finally captures a sound I have been striving to create for years. It is a true mix of blues, country, rock, and folk music that feels very authentic to me and my background and I don’t think it could have come from anyone else. It took a long time and a lot of work to get to the point where I could make the sound in my head match what I heard with my ears. If other people love it or hate it or don’t care about it at all I can rest easy because I know this is exactly the music I want to make.

You grew up in Tulsa, Oklahoma.  Do you carry that red dirt music in your soul and how does it reflect in your songs?

Yes definitely. Red dirt music is like this amazing stew with country, blues, jazz, and rockabilly all cooked down together to where you can’t tell one from the other. That’s something I’ve always carried with me whether I like it or not, even if I wanted to be “just” a folk artist or a blues or country artist I could never stick to one label, it’s hard for me to hear where one ends and the other begins! I think a huge influence on that approach in Oklahoma was Woody Guthrie who famously played with both black and white musicians in a time where that was very uncommon. Along the same lines, his affinity for working class people and the way he could call out a rigged system is something that I think has impacted my songwriting, especially on this album.

You’ve spent some time as a stay-at-home dad.  What have you learned about yourself through this experience and has it affected your songwriting? 

Being a songwriter means grappling with your inner demons in an incredibly public way. That’s something that I have always been afraid of and so I’ve often avoided writing about myself. One amazing thing about being a parent is that it forces you to be honest with yourself. Digging into my fears and doubts in songs like “Keep My Soul,” “Tree Of Life” or “Heartbeat” for this album was painful at the time but now when I perform them it feels so cathartic to share those emotions with other people and I’m always amazed because those tend to be the favorite songs when people come up after the show.

You recently moved to Charlottesville from Boston.  How is the music scene there?

Charlottesville is a much smaller town than Boston but it has a very vibrant music scene. There is a real love of roots music both in the music community and among the general population which is great because you feel there is a lot of enthusiasm for what you are doing. To be honest though I haven’t had a chance to learn as much as I like about it yet because most of my shows this fall have been on the road, but I’m looking forward to spending a good amount of time there in early 2018 before kicking off my album release tour in February.

Take a listen to a podcast about this John Prine tribute show.

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