Monday, April 9, 2012
Robbie Schaefer Q&A: On adult songs, children's songs, and going bald
Robbie Schaefer is a man of many talents. He is the guitarist and songwriter for the acclaimed independent folk/rock band Eddie From Ohio; he has performed his solo work since 2003 and released his first CD of children's music in 2006; and he serves as Music Director at XMKiDS on XM Satellite Radio. Also, his favorite color is red, his favorite food is sushi, and he’s really into yoga. He graciously agreed to be smart, witty, and charming in a Wolf Trap blog Q&A.
You have the distinction of being one of the few performers to play on each one of our stages- The Barns, The Filene Center, and the Children’s Theatre-in-the-Woods. What do you like best about each location?
Wow. Well, for me, The Barns is this perfect confluence of class and rustic homey-ness. Something about all that wood and the red curtains and the exquisite sound makes me feel at ease and at home, yet like something special is about to happen.
The Children's Theatre feels like an oasis to me--all of a sudden it's like you're in some magical forest completely removed from Northern Virginia. It's the nature--the wind moving through old trees, the bubbling of the creek behind the stage. There's already all that music there--why wouldn't you want to add your own voice?
The Filene Center, I have to admit, still leaves me a bit gobsmacked. Having grown up in this area, every time I stand on that stage for soundcheck and look out at the empty seats and the lawn I think . . . "Really?! I get to play music here?!" It's an incredibly special place and moment for me every time.
You’re a native Virginian, a McLean High School graduate. What was your first Wolf Trap experience?
I don't know that I remember my very first Wolf Trap experience, but some of my favorites from my growing-up years were Arlo Guthrie, Pete Seeger, B.B. King, and John Denver, all at the Filene Center. And you wonder why I feel gobsmacked when I walk onto that stage...
Other than being solo rather than in a band, how is your grown-up music different than Eddie From Ohio’s tunes? How is it the same? How about the creative process?
I think the grown-up music I play outside of Eddie From Ohio is a bit more intimate, more personal. EFO is so much about collective energy, and we do a lot of grabbing the audience by the lapels (figuratively, of course, although there was that one heckler in Philadelphia . . . .). In my solo work, I think I ask the audience to come to me a lot more often, rather than going out and grabbing them. It's a very different energy. The creative process is more intimate as well. I think I feel more freedom to say difficult or intimate things when I'm writing for only myself. When I'm writing for the band, I feel like these songs represent all of us at some level, and I try to honor that while still saying something true.
You perform children’s music and folk music. You’re a radio personality. How did you get involved in it all?
I have gotten involved in it all by saying "why not?" a lot. Eddie From Ohio did not set out to have a 20-plus year career; we set out to have fun making music. When my middle son was in pre-school they needed a music teacher, so even though I'd never done anything like that before, I said, "Why not?" It turned out that I really liked it.
A few years later, after that teaching gig had led to me recording a children's CD, the opportunity arose to do a show on Kids Place Live on Sirius XM radio. Again, it seemed like a bit of an adventure, and the timing was right for me. I heard a quote once that said it's not enough to do things you enjoy, you must also do things that put you at the edge of growth. That seems true to me and for me, and so, if something feels exciting and a little terrifying, I try to say "why not?" first and figure out the details later.
What’s on heavy rotation on your iPod right now?
Man, iPods are so 2009. On my iPhone, I'm listening to Patty Griffin (then again, I'm always listening to Patty Griffin), The Civil Wars, Joshua Bell, Gillian Welch's The Harrow and The Harvest (just when you think she can't make a better album, she goes and does it), and a fabulous project called Barnstar! featuring Jake Armerding, who plays fiddle and mandolin with Eddie From Ohio, Mark Erelli, and a host of others. The CD is called C'Mon! I'm also listening to a lot of African based artists. Really enthralled with In The Heart of the Moon, a collaboration between Ali Farka Toure and Toumani Diabete.
Any pre-show rituals that will be taking place at The Barns?
As long as there's a rope, some matches, and a Bible, we should be fine.
Actually, I crave quiet before shows, so I'll probably be doing a lot of that.
Do you shave your head or are you just bald?
I do indeed shave it, but there's not a ton there to begin with. If you can't fight 'em, join 'em.
If an actor were to play you in a movie, who would you want it to be?
Geez, these are hard. Well, my girlfriend would want it to be Daniel Craig. Hard to argue with that, and really, why would I?
What was the worst/best band name you’ve ever imagined but never used?
Mike Clem from EFO is the master of band names, so I don't know about best band name, but the best CD title I haven't gotten to use (yet) would be for an album of covers. I would call it But Enough About Me . . . . Ok, so I guess someone could steal that now. Please don't.
What didn’t we ask you that you want to talk about?
My heart's desire is the work I'm doing through OneVoice, a non-profit I founded in December of 2010 to connect children around the world through music. We have been to Uganda and Tanzania and will be headed to Kenya this coming May. In 2011, we were actually able to build a school in Tanzania with money raised by kids from Africa and the U.S. sharing their voices. A school built from music! So, that's where so much of my time and energy is focused these days. I just love it.
Robbie Schaefer and Ellis Paul perform at The Barns at Wolf Trap on Thursday, April 12 at 8 pm. Tickets are available here.