Your career of playing music is kind of more recent to the public eye.
Well, yeah, I was described as going through the looking glass, 'cause for many years, even though I did music as a hobby — I wrote songs and played guitar for my own amusement and for friends — I was a music journalist. I wrote for Sauce for a couple years, a local magazine. I wrote for Playback: stl for many years. I did a little bit for the River Front Times and other publications as well, so that's kind of what I was doing besides my regular proofreading job at an ad agency, but that was the bread and butter.
Yeah, you always have to have something steady.
Yeah, 'cause very few people make a living from writing about music, you know. [laughs]
Dave Marsh maybe...
Yeah, exactly. I was doing that for a long time and I had dreamed about making a record some day. I always felt like I had enough good songs to make a record but had no delusions about actually getting into it seriously until late 2008. I did a Neil Young tribute show and people started telling me I sounded like Neil Young; the guy that owned this little coffee shop was really impressed with this little guest slot I did there, so he asked me if I wanted to do my own show and I said sure. I talked a couple of friends into joining the deal with me, and I just started doing that very casually. But meanwhile I'd written this song called "Up in the Air ." Most of my songs tended to be about uncertainty or not knowing what the heck I was doing with my life or longing for love — all the grandiose things. So I thought it was a pretty decent song, but I wouldn't have done anything with it if a movie hadn't come along called Up in the Air. It was an astonishing bit of serendipity. And still, nothing would have happened if Jason Reitman hadn't come to St. Louis. If he had been shooting it in L.A. or something, and I sent him a tape or CD through the mail, it never would have gotten to him. I know that.
You gave him a cassette tape, right?
I gave him a cassette tape. I had recorded most of my songs on cassette. I was a lo-fi kind of guy. I didn't have the money to buy digital equipment at that point.
So were you using just a stereo cassette deck to record things to or a 4-track?
It was a little Realistic recorder — an old RadioShack thing. The night before his lecture, here in St. Louis, I just put a couple of takes of the song on there...