After writing a review of Mel Washington’s latest release (available here), I was very excited to have the further privilege of asking him a few questions about his life, his music, and what the future holds for him.
Do you prefer writing, recording and performing with a full band, or more acoustic and solo?
They both have their perks, you know? I spent the larger portion of my 20s in a band, and I have to say that I miss being a part of a unit that is bigger than I am. The memories and music I made together with those dudes are unbelievably great, and I wouldn’t trade them for anything in the world. The solo stuff has me working harder and also gives me a little more liberty to do what I want even though that wasn’t something I felt like I was starving for in All Get Out. It’s definitely been a learning experience as well to be in the direct spotlight again and to build a brand that doubles as the thing that people call you on a day to day basis as well.
How did you learn guitar, and which artists inspire you the most in that?
I’d be very bold to say that I ever “learned” guitar. I’m not a great guitar player. What I know, I’ve taught myself. My voice is my primary instrument, and I think it’s what I’m best at.
Which artists have inspired you the most vocally?
I’m not sure who has inspired me vocally, you know? I grew up listening to all sorts of folks sing and have always had super talented friends, and as an adult and professional, I’ve forced myself to listen to an even wider spread platter of vocalists, that I’m not sure if there’s ever been anyone that stood out and I thought, “Man, I want to sing just like that!”
You seem to have a strong undertone of home, roots and family. How have these factors inspired you, and how much are they currently a part of your life?
I can safely say that I spent the majority of my 20s on the road, separated from my family. My parents are considerably older than I am (my dad was 44 when I was born), and I just went through that rebellious stage where I didn’t think my parents were in tune and could understand everything I was going through. As I’ve gotten older and learned, I’ve come to grips with the fact that it was actually ME that was out of tune with the way things are. My parents have much more experience than I do at living life and I’m glad to have finally come around to being teachable and learning wisdom from them. There was also the tragic reality, that I would leave home for months at a time, and I’d come back and my nieces and nephews were growing up very fast without me even knowing what was going on in their lives and I felt so disconnected from everything that was such a central part of who I am as a person. What you hear me talking about in “Houses” is kind of the waking up to all of those realities.
The song and video for “Daddy Can’t Fix” are extremely powerful. Is this song based on a story from your life, and if so would, you mind sharing more about it?
It is. As a songwriter, I’ve never been one to write songs about ex-girlfriends. But, I’d gone through a pretty gnarly, confusing break up and didn’t really know how to handle it. The girl was too perfect in my eyes. The situation was too perfect in my eyes. This one COULD NOT go wrong. But it did. That relationship came to a screeching halt out of nowhere. I had gotten to the very end of my rope, and called my dad, as I normally do when I’m weak. He can always tell when my heart is heavy. I didn’t know what to tell him, and he didn’t pry. He just said, “Mel, you sound down. You doing okay?” I replied, “Yes sir. I’m just trying to keep my head up.” His response was the birth of the song, “Well you have to keep your head up, or you won’t be able to see where you’re going.” I immediately went home and wrote the first verse and chorus of the song. I then sat with my good friend David Adedokun, explained the situation and the song, and he helped write the second verse. As an aside, writing with him was a huge honor and extremely educational. I knew I wanted to make a video for it, so I enlisted the help of my good friends at Nine Line Productions who were responsible for the majority of the video content that I released last year. We went through a few different concepts and landed on the one we released. The video took a total of 7 hours over two days to shoot, edit, and export. We released the video on my birthday while I was in New York City and the response was overwhelming. Friends of mine who never comment on my work were immediately texting me talking about how much they were impressed by it. The wrong audio mix was uploaded with the video, which I take full responsibility for, and I was so self-conscious, but people really locked in on the visual aspect and the dudes at Nine Line do unbelievably incredible work and I applaud them for making a video that really captures the meaning of the song.
You have partnered with Regenerate Music. How have you grown as an artists through this?
Regenerate is the entire reason I’m still doing music right now. If it weren’t for those folks, specifically Chris Garmon, I’d probably be working at McDonald’s. When I parted ways with All Get Out, it wasn’t by choice. I had only recorded a little over half of Houses at the time, and I couldn’t stand the thought of holding a guitar or standing up in front of a crowd ever again. I’d poured over half a decade into a dream and it was taken from right under me. I was bitter and confused. When I told Chris about it, he didn’t have a little pity party with me or ask a thousand questions and take my side, but instead he said, “What do we have to do to put this album out?” He immediately encouraged me to pursue what I knew I had been created to do. So, I finished the album in the fall of 2012, and we worked hard together to release it at the top of 2013. I am so very thankful that they have been there EVERY step of the way to encourage me to be the person I was created to be and to do the things I was created to do.
Is there a song from another artist that you wish you had written first?
Tell me a bit of the story behind “Celebration“; what inspired it, was there anything unique about the recording process, a bit about the people you worked with.
Celebration was just an idea years ago. One that I often questioned. But it’s a reality now. It was a challenge, but a fun one. The producer, Wolfgang Zimmerman, was the only person I had worked with musically on the record in the past, so this was a whole new set of ideas and ears and hands and personalities to bring to the recording process.
What are your musical plans for 2014?
2014 is going to be an extremely busy year. Currently in the middle of production on an album we are calling Petty Cash. It’s a tribute to the works of Tom Petty and Johnny Cash. I’m collaborating with my good friend, Hunter Duncan, who goes under the moniker “Yosef”, and whom I was able to bring to the Regenerate label a couple of years ago. Excited to release that over time throughout the year of 2014. There will be another LP as well under the moniker MEL WASHINGTON. There are going to be a couple of EPs that come out throughout the year. I’m also going to be taking more of an executive roll at Regenerate, rather that just being an artist. I’m extremely excited about that. I’ve been given the opportunity to extend what Regenerate has extended to me, to be everything I was created to be. 2014 will be a very busy year in terms of content as we will release even more videos than we did this year as well and I’m excited to make this one of the most productive, excellent, interactive years in history.