Tim Hockenberry is a singer/songwriter who is set to release his debut album of all original songs in early 2016. He achieved international fame when he made it all the way to the semi-finals on the popular TV show America's Got Talent. The judges were very impressed after he nailed a touching version of Imagine by John Lennon... accompanying himself on piano and wonderfully enhanced with a cellist to add color. He was the only singer left in the competition. Tim brings a lot of experience to his songwriting as he was a touring member of both Mickey Hart (Grateful Dead) and the Trans - Siberian Orchestra. As the head of a musical family, Tim had help from his two sons on a couple of songs. I recently corresponded with Tim about the upcoming album and his career.
R.V.B. - Congratulations on your upcoming all original debut CD release. I understand you had some songs from the past and some song were written recently. Tell me about the process of putting all of this together.
T.H. - Many of the songs were written over the last few years and some even longer ago. “Carrying You” was a little ditty I wrote on the bus when touring with TSO back in 2009. It was for my daughter, Lola who was around 5 or 6 at the time. I used to ride her on the back of my bike to the top of Mt. Tamalpais in the SF Bay Area and we would spend the night in a rustic cabin and the following morning I would ride her down the mountain and drop her at school and then I would leave to go on tour for three months with the Trans-Siberian Orchestra, inevitably missing all the holidays with my kids. “Nothing Better To Do Than You” is a song I wrote in response to a conversation I had with Natasha last year. I called her at her office and asked her what she was doing? And her response was, “You know, Tim , I’ve got nothing better to do than you. But many of the other tracks are songs I wrote about relationships good and bad(mostly bad:). Two of the tracks, “If The Sky” and “Me And You” were co-written with my two sons who are avid songwriters themselves. I would argue they are better than I am at that craft.
R.V.B. - San Francisco is a breeding ground of artistic creativity. Were some of these songs tested so to speak live or is the release the test?
R.V.B. - How did the interaction of working with Justin and Natashia Miller come into play while creating the individual songs?
T.H. - Natasha was helping me put together a band for our live stuff as well as the recording. As an experiment she had her two brothers, Justin and Jeremy, meet me at a rehearsal space and we jammed a bit. Afterward, I realized that her family was kind of plagued by crazy talent. Jeremy has a completely unique style of guitar and Justin is a world class bassist and guitarist himself. Neither one of them really approach live music as a career option so it was a bit mind boggling to me that they were so damn good. I guess some of us have to practice more than others. While Jeremy really didn’t have the kind of time it takes to commit to the project, Justin was on board to do anything. We sort of hit it off right away. Natasha and I were looking at large studios and producers in the Bay Area and were sort of floundering a bit as to where we should break ground on the recording. One thing led to another and I found myself in Justin’s apartment in Oakland fleshing out the record with him and really being amazing at his knowledge of recording engineering. Not to mention his playing and producing. He is one of the most multi-talented people I have ever worked with. Much like his sister.
R.V.B. - I see that your son's helped with a few songs. Are they pursuing music as well?
T.H. - Maxx is 22 and finishing his last year of college in Vermont. He is a 4.0 philosophy major and can pretty much play anything with strings on it. Jack is 19 and living in Missoula Montana playing lots of live gigs with his all original rock band there. He is a decent drummer and a really strong and driven songwriter.
R.V.B. - When you were young, what kind of music were you exposed to and how did you initially get involved with music?
T.H. - My father played trombone and had a New Orleans jazz band that would rehearse at the house every sunday in Upstate New York. I started fooling around with his old horn when I was around 11 and continued wrestling with that damn instrument for the next 10 years. I was an orchestral performance major with a jazz minor at the University of Minnesota. After many discouraging auditions with large symphonies and a cancelled year long tour with Clark Terry(Count basie), I decided to hang up the music and pursue a career in the restaurant industry. After about ten years of that nightmare I found myself singing and playing piano in front of people for the fist time in Napa California at some little dusty Irish Pub. I was 30 years old. The rest is history.
R.V.B. - Were you always basically a solo artist or did you ever have a band?
T.H. - I work solo, duo, trio, and quartet. But solo is how I make my living most nights.
R.V.B. - How did you enjoy the TV experience of "America's got Talent?".
T.H. - AGT was a trip. Natasha asked me long before she was my manager if I wanted her VIP spot to audition in SF. I told her I thought I was too old for that but my daughter then informed me that AGT is the show that takes “old people”. All in all I had a great time but it was difficult because I was juggling that show with a non-stop tour with the Mickey Hart Band with Dave Skools of Widespread panic. I felt the show was a little weird in that I was competing with acrobats, dogs, and weird acts where a guy would just have people hit him in the testicles with different large objects. Then I would come on and sing and play. Strange and a bit annoying in that they only give you 90 seconds to do your thing.
R.V.B. - How different are the musical environments of Charleston and San Francisco? Do you grab from the different cultures and employ them in your music?
T.H. - They could not be more different. SF is just such a stressful and monied city. Really a terrible place to play live at my level. Most of the live venues are gone. While SF has a huge history of music and many iconic musicians still live there, the city is more about restaurants and technology as I see it. It was very difficult to try and survive on local gigs. Charlston, on the other hand, is very small and has a really booming little economy. I can play here 7 nights a week if I chose to. It is a beach town with lots of clubs and restaurants and churches. People are much more connected here than in California. As far as musical styles relating to cultures, I am not aware of me taking anything from any one particular genre, but I have learned a few country songs down here for my live gigs.
R.V.B. - What are some of your favorite gigs to date?
But I have to say I really just enjoy singing and playing in a little club for locals here in Charleston.
R.V.B. - How did touring with Trans-Siberian orchestra differ than with Mickey Hart. Both of them must have been educational musically with the different genres.
T.H. - Their styles and visions could not be further apart. Neither of those bands are really in my wheelhouse so it was a fun challenge to try and fit in. I was a way better hippie than a Christmas metal head, that is for sure!
Interview conducted by Robert von Bernewitz
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For more information on Tim Hockenberry Visit his website www.timhockenberry.com
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