Szlachetka has a new release produced by David Bianco (Lucinda Williams, Bob Dylan, Bruce Springsteen): Heart of My Hometown. In case you haven’t given his music a spin, Szlachetka creates moving songs and has one of those voices that sends a chill down your spine. On his tour, Americana Highways caught up with him in time to talk about his perspectives on songwriting and hometowns across America.
Nostalgic hometown feelings are pervasive in this album, with lyrics recurring in several of the songs in addition to the title track. How do you reconcile those sentiments with the fact that you’ve moved so many times?
“As a kid, I had a bystander’s perspective because I went to school outside the neighborhood where I lived, and then later I had friends from various towns, between where I lived, school, activities and the kids I played music with.”
“Now when I am touring across the country there are little bits & pieces of things that remind me of little bits & pieces of my childhood town experiences. Going to all these places, I still feel like an observer—that’s how a lot of these songs came about, just through observation.
“But at the same time, people you meet on the road become like temporary family. I think that there’s a lot more similarity between everybody in this country, and if more and more people would get out of their own town and explore other towns, a lot more people would have common ground than they are led to believe right now. Given what’s going on in our country right now — everybody knows there’s this great division – some travel and nostalgia might be a good thing. “
“It’s so disheartening now, watching the news—I don’t know if it’s just the sign of the times. It’s people talking, people talking over each other. There’s no taking turns, there’s no give and take, nobody is listening to each other. With technology, people can hide behind their computers and there they can say things that are really nasty they wouldn’t say in person. People need to listen more, think more, and, I think, experience more. “
Considering how divided things are in the country, what would you say music’s role can be in in healing that divide?
“Music has always been a channel to consider different ideas and different points of view. From the mindset of the writer, the purpose of the song is to connect with someone emotionally and trigger something that maybe you didn’t know was inside—the song pulls it out. It can open your heart to something, and open your mind to something. Some of the best songs are ones where there’s a little bit of a personal aspect, but it’s a balance, because if a song gets too preachy that can turn people off. So ideally what make a good song is to have a little bit of the personal in it, and leave the rest open to interpretation. I think that’s one of the main jobs, and the beauty of a song.”
“Glenn Frye once said there’s always a little bit of a song that’s yours that nobody else will ever understand. But the rest of the song is open, and it belongs to everyone to interpret. I hope that my songs bring people to more open mindedness during the process of connecting with their messages.”
What are some of the best experiences you’ve had, touring on the road 200 days a year?
“I honestly feel fortunate to have had a chance to see these awesome small towns on the outskirts of cities, or these destination places somebody tells you just have to play at – there are some real gems. For example: Appleton WI, is just awesome – their Mile of Music festival in August is unbelievable; Winthrop, WA east of the North Cascades— the drive from Seattle is breathtaking on Highway 20 past Diablo Lake. And there there are others: Centralia WA, Aurora OR, the whole San Luis Obisbo part of CA is great; Nazareth, PA is an amazing community. There are all these unknown pockets of Americana music support all across the country. Redding CA is another spot. Amaraillo and Lubbock, Texas: Buddy Holly is from there and the Blue Light is there. People come out and listen and pay attention. I’d never played there before and I showed up to play a late show like 11pm on a Tuesday and like 40-50 people show up and you can hear a pin drop while you’re playing.”
Tell us about the production of your new album!
Heart of My Hometown was produced by David Bianco. Working with him was life changing. He is an amazing human being and his musical pedigree is incredible and his discography is so large. He did the complete reissue of Lucinda Williams’ Sweet Old World; he’s worked with Springsteen, Dylan, Petty. He would sit with the songs and bring new life to them. I always write pretty concisely, which made them ready for additions. For example, he added a “Muscle Shoals” intro to “Cheated Time” and then had the guitar solo extend over the last chorus. On the title track, he suggested we do the intro a capella. The vocal track in “My Hometown” was done live, there’s an integrity and an essence that was captured. There were live guitar vocals on “A Letter Each Morning” and “Wildflowers” too. Producing is an art form in and of itself. In putting out an album it comes down to other aspects of your team—I trusted him completely. He’s done some of my all time favorite records, having that kind of experience in the studio creates a very relaxed feeling.
What’s on the horizon for you the next couple months?
I’ll be doing a lot of touring, trying to wrangle as much with the full band as I can. And I am already looking toward the next album. (laughs) While this album was coming together, I kept writing and I have a ton of songs ready. Going into this record I had 35 songs but whenever the next record comes, I’ll have about 100 songs to sift through. I still believe in albums, so it’s finding the right group of songs to work together to tell a cohesive story. Songs are like children, you love them all, but making an album is about finding the right songs to go together.
Find Szlachetka’s new release and tour info here.