LONG TALL JEFFERSON
Interview by Robert Pally
The Swiss Singer-Songwriter Simon Borer aka Long Tall Jefferson (age 29) is a restless traveler and very fine folk musician. In this interview, he talks about his influences, why being a musician is the best job and his label Red Brick Chapel.
PSF: Do you come out of a musical family?
LTJ: I don't come from what you'd call a musical family. I mean, there's music to some degree in every household I suppose. My father sometimes played guitar and sang a couple of songs. But it's not that we were singing a lot or that there were instruments lying around, nor did I started playing very early on.
PSF: Who was the first band you liked?
LTJ: I remember playing my father's cassettes of Michael Jackson's Thriller and Pink Floyd's The Wall on repeat at 10 - they were just around and I really liked them! Later, the first burnt CD-R I commissioned from a friend for 5 bucks (most certainly from mp3s that he downloaded from Napster) was Nirvana's Nevermind - he played their music to me and he was like 5 years older so I figured it cool music to listen to.
PSF: What made you wanna become a musician?
LTJ: There was not that one moment when I decided to become a musician. After high school, I got accepted to the local jazz college and studied guitar for 5 years. It was the best excuse for myself - and more importantly for my parents - to only play music all day and still get a degree etc.. I just never found anything else to be a better job or more suited for me and somehow I always managed to make ends meet and that's it really.
PSF: With your first two bands (Methymnia, Book On Shelves), you played prog-metal, Indie rock and crossover music. What did you learn through these bands?
LTJ: We were together as a band for 10 years. We started when we were like 14 and continued ‘til (I was) 24. A lot happens in everyone's life in that period. Above all, we learnt how to be a band, how to write, to communicate, to book shows, to play shows, to tour, to connect with a scene, to leave old ideas behind and move forward. It's the basics of any musician's daily life that we built the foundation for at that time.
PSF: Why did you go solo and change your musical style?
LTJ: It all came pretty naturally a while after the band dissolved. I took my acoustic guitar home from the jam room and that's how those songs came into existence.
PSF: How come you call yourself Long Tall Jefferson?
LTJ: It seemed like a name that could fit the music I was making at the time. No big story behind that. I'm just tall, that's all.
PSF: Your debut I Want My Honey Back from 2015 and your new album The Golden Ticket Session offer pretty reduced music in the tradition of 1960’s Greenwich Village Folk Scene. What is so fascinating about folk music to you?
LTJ: I always cared a lot about songs, about the words. For me, a good song tells a story, gives me images that I can relate to, something that sticks around even when the song is over. Bob Dylan was a big influence for me from early on and remains so. Listening to people like Dave Van Ronk, Mississippi John Hurt or Michael Chapman made me want to learn finger-picking guitar. It's all of this and me being a solo artist that kind of naturally led to writing folky songs and making a folk-pop record on my Tascam 4-track.
PSF: Who are your musical heroes?
LTJ: Uff, there are so many. The ones above, of course. Neil Young, Elliott Smith, The Beatles, Conor Oberst, Joni Mitchell, Townes Van Zandt. I love Radiohead but I don't know if that reflects in my music, I feel like they are after something else than I am. And there are so many young musicians out there that blow me away. People like Kevin Morby, Phoebe Bridgers, Andy Shauf, Big Thief - such great and inspiring artists.
PSF: How come your new album The Golden Ticket Session contains 6 songs from I Want My Honey Back and 3 new ones?
LTJ: With The Golden Ticket Session, the idea was to capture the songs that I recorded on my debut album in their very bare and naked solo live-versions. Think of it more as a live album recorded for studio microphones, with a few new songs.
PSF: What is your favorite song from your two albums and why?
LTJ: Uff, hard question. I don't have favorites, really. They are all different and very dear to me. They are like my small babies and I wouldn't want to rate one over the other. Yet, quite a few people started covering “Old Friend" and playing it at their shows. I noticed, there is always something in the air whenever I sing this song. There's something about it that transcends the song itself and that makes it very special to me.
PSF: In the press kit, it’s stated that you are a restless traveler. In the last 12 month, you played over 100 shows in 7 countries. What drives you to do that?
LTJ: Well, first of all, it is my job. I write songs and play them for people; this is what I do for a living. I want a lot of people to hear those songs and so I have to get them out there and heard. I like to be on the road, I started to really love this state of being constantly on the move. It is very tiring but it is also very exciting and I feel like I can't get enough of it.
PSF: Tell me your best and your worst experience from being on tour?
LTJ: There are a lot of best experiences. Moments when you realize that everybody in the audience is with you, that you can do whatever you want, that they take you as you are and enjoy it. The worst show I ever played was my first time in Paris. I played a rooftop bar and the event was for after-work drinks and house music. I have no idea why they booked me there. No one ever paid attention or showed the slightest bit of respect. The promoter clapping after my last song was the only applause.
PSF: How easy or difficult is it to make a living with being a musician in Switzerland?
LTJ: I can't really tell as I've never worked another job. I survive and I'm fine- that's all I know. I guess it's a lot harder in other countries though, from what I've experienced on tour.
PSF: Since 2011, you’ve run the label Red Brick Chapel. Why did you found it?
LTJ: I founded it to release the first EP of my band Books On Shelves. Some friend's bands soon joined the roster. In 2015, I decided it's time to open the label up to everyone and we founded a musician collective. Now, we run the label collectively and it has grown into a very inspiring & colorful group of people with a steady stream of great releases. I'm very happy with how it all developed (see http://www.redbrickchapel.ch/artists for more).
PSF: What are your next goals?
LTJ: First, I'm going to play some more shows in Switzerland, France and hopefully in the UK too. Later, I'm going to release my 2nd studio album in fall and start touring with a band. I'm super excited!
I Want My Honey Back (2015)
The Golden Ticket Session (2017)
For more info, see his website at http://www.longtalljefferson.com/
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