Tyler Stafford stays grounded on his sophomore album
Forever mellow and intensely sincere, the Reno singer-songwriter releases his sophomore album — Before We Get Carried Away — Sept. 14 at Wingfield Park
~By Mike Sion~
“Got a pocket full of pennies and I want to get away from here. I don’t know where I wanna go and I’m not sure what I’ll do when I get there,” Tyler Stafford wistfully sings in Pocket Full of Pennies — one of the 11 tracks on his new album, Before We Get Carried Away. “But I got a mind full of memories and I’m happy as a poor man can be. And I’ve been looking for some answers, I just wanna know I can believe.”
The veteran Reno indie-folkie has stayed true to his belief in humble, sincere, confessional songwriting throughout his 11-year career as a Reno-based troubadour and tunesmith. Putting a premium price on quality over quantity, he has taken his time releasing his second album since releasing his rookie output, On a String, in 2011. For fans, family and friends, the creative hiatus will officially end Sept. 14 at Wingfield Park Amphitheater, when he releases the new album at a concert under the last full moon of summer.
Tyler (the comfort level conveyed by his low-key persona invites first-name usage), backed by four Reno veterans who contributed to the album’s recording, are slated to take the stage shortly before the 7:52 p.m. moonrise. (The players: Dave Berry, Jelly Bread, on electric and lap-steel guitars; Eric H. Andersen, of the Novelists, on keyboard; Gia Torcaso on bass; Kris Stosic on drums.) Their set — to include all the songs on the new album plus numbers from On a String, as well as unreleased Tyler originals — is to follow a half-hour opening set by Buffalo Moses (solo artist Bryan Jones, best known as a founding member of former Reno Americana quintet Buster Blue). Tickets are $25 at the event, $10 for ages 12 and under; $20 and $10, respectively, plus a service charge in advance at www.tylerstaffordalbumrelease2019.bpt.mek. Gates are to open at 5 p.m., with music starting at 6:30 p.m. Seating is on the lawn (low-back chairs and/or blankets suggested); a food and beverage truck is scheduled. Admission includes the album as a CD or digital download.
It’s been an eight-year wait for the sophomore album by the likable, laidback acoustic guitarist who popped up on Reno’s open-mic circuit in 2008 after leaving college as a 23-year-old freshly bitten by the music bug. Fairly quickly, he developed his stage and compositional chops to an ear-pleasing level, then progressed to paid gigs. He released his first album almost precisely eight years before this second album, at a show in Hawkins Amphitheater in Bartley Ranch.
With boyish good looks, an unflappable temperament and — foremost — a big, natural, attention-grabbing singer-songwriter tenor with which he effortlessly delivered pleasant notes full, round and clear, Tyler won both the respect of the leading lights of local artists who play original music, and a devoted base of fans who share his penchant for introspective songs that rely on ambiance, intricate instrumental textures and insight rooted in modest candor, rather than earwormy hooks or riffs, hyper-emotive delivery or inciteful wordplay.
In the lengthy interval between albums, Tyler copped a number of awards as a ubiquitous artist on the Reno circuit, instantly recognizable by his tan fedora and his brown beard fringing jawline and chin. On a String (buoyed by a radio-friendly ballad, Lullaby) earned a Top 5 placing on the Reno Gazette-Journal’s local music of the year list for 2011. Tyler also copped top honors at the fifth Made in Reno music showcase in 2013 with three new songs (one of which, Take Me Home, is on the new album), and took home three awards (for male vocalist, singer-songwriter, and Americana music) at the 2016 FORTE (Fans of Reno-Tahoe Entertainment) Awards.
The new album — largely tracked and mixed at his northwest Reno home, with assists from a few local engineers — is pristine in production, full of deft playing courtesy of a Who’s Who list of local-music luminaries. Tyler handles lead and background vocals, strummed acoustic and electric guitar (as well as various texture adders, such as tambourine, shakers and a toy xylophone). Supporting him on various tracks — in addition to those who’ll join him on stage at Wingfield — were Novelists’ Joel Ackerson (mandolin), Zach Teran (upright bass) and Miguel Jimenez-Cruz (cajon and shakers); Tristan Selzler (organ); Rachael McElhiney (baritone sax, bass clarinet); the Fantods’ Ben Wilborn (lead electric guitar, mandolin and fiddle); and singers Grate Gatsby, Kate Cotter and Lisa McCuiston.
Wilborn also is a luthier, and Stafford’s favored instrument is a six-string acoustic Wilborn hand crafted. (“It’s a smaller body guitar that fits my style well sonically and is very comfortable for me to play,” Tyler says.) That guitar, supporting Tyler’s room-filling voice, is central in most of the tracks on Before We Get Carried Away.
Most of the songs are characteristically mid-tempo, unrushed as they unfold. “Take our time, there’s nothing better than a clear, calm mind,” Tyler sings to the object of his affection — a lover separated by physical and emotional distance — in Pocket Full of Pennies.
The song — track No. 2 on the album — surely is the most airplay- and streaming-friendly offering in the new set, with its throwback rhythm and mood reminiscent of Neil Young circa 1972 (particularly Out on the Weekend from Young’s album Harvest). The remainder of Tyler’s album largely is a collection of mood pieces that rely on the spellbinding quality of his commanding vocals, as well as his collaborators’ national-caliber chops and vocal harmonies (especially on the Appalachian-tinged Take Me Home, which puts a twist on folk with a military snare arrangement anchoring it). Tyler’s voice and his friends’ musicianship are the twin ingredients that provide the songs’ potency, rather than captivating storytelling or memorable melodic motifs (read: hooks).
Much of Tyler’s artistic appeal is oxymoronic: His music is intensely mellow. This is singer-songwriting that doesn’t plunge into angst, much less plumb socio-political pique. It is distinctively non-Millennial despite the happenstance of Tyler’s birth in the mid-1980s. His lyrics issue no call out to remedy sociological or economic injustice for name-your-group-with-a gripe, nor are they a cry out for absolution from an oppressive lover, nor are they desperate paeans of love and devotion.
Tyler’s songs are self-contemplative yet, above all else, comforting. The case they make is clear: There is depth in simplicity. There is strength — maybe even wisdom — in easy tunes and harmonies that eschew complex colors or even slight discord. There is none of that jazz. If contrast is the first rule of art, the charm of Tyler’s style of music is its striking of a counterpoint to the dissonant tone of life in the 2010s. The message is that thoughtfulness need not be shrill. Softness can ring loud, indeed. Leave clever wordplay to the rappers and hipsters; verses need not be poetic, just sincere.
“So I go up into the mountains, I go down to the river, just to leave this world behind, the ways it makes me shiver. Well, I know how I feel, I know how I feel, I know how I feel, how I feel for you,” he sings in one of the few up-tempo songs: the lead-off track, Do You.
Call it gentle power. The passion is not so much subdued as it is measured. Tyler keeps his cool. He has a mature sensitivity. At 34, he is a minstrel with a receding hairline and a man bun. His very approach to songwriting and performing is a statement in itself.
The message is this: Slow down, ground yourself in the present, tune into your true inner self.
Before We Get Carried Away, in essence, is meant to be played in full, agreeably issuing from the Bluetooth on a lazy Sunday morning or the car speakers on a dazy road trip when the mind frees itself from the highway drudgery and lifts into a meditative state. Languid moments chilling at home and marathon treks behind the wheel, after all, generate those binges of reflection on where one is in life, where one’s been, and where one may be heading.
Tyler’s music draws the listener into that zone — with a reminder, however, to not get carried away by it all.
Pennies have dropped out of the U.S. economy — free for the taking on most convenience-store checkout counters to cover unrounded sums — and fill more of a sentimental need than utility as a means of exchange. Tyler’s pocket full of tunes may not translate into big bucks in the music industry of 2019, but they are valuable for their charm and (to coin a pun) good sense.
Follow Tyler Stafford’s music at www.tylerstaffordmusic.com
20 Questions with
1) Why did it take eight years for your sophomore album to be released?
After On a String was released, I didn’t really feel any pressure to rush to get something new done. I was constantly writing new songs (even before the first album was finished) and had felt a little bit of a relief that I had put together a really nice collection of songs for someone that didn’t really know what they were doing, ha-ha. I had also started to slowly build up a home studio and an interest in learning how to use the gear that I had acquired. Once I started moving forward with the concept and garnered a bit of confidence in the engineering aspects, I was able to focus a little more on how I thought the new album should sound. One of the most encouraging things along the way has been hearing how people remember the (On a String album-release show) at Bartley Ranch and how they still listen to my album on a regular basis. Then people started asking about when a new batch of songs would be ready for them to get a hold of. I think that’s what really sparked my interest in recording a new album. The connection people had with the first one and the lasting effect it’s had is pretty amazing to me. I never want to put out music just to put out new music. I want to make my catalogue something I can look back on and really be proud of. It takes time to produce that result.
2) How many songs have you created in the intervening years that aren’t on the new album?
I’ve probably written close to 40 to 50 songs since then that will potentially be on future albums. I know that the concept of an album these days is a little out of favor, but when I think of how I want to release music and how I want to be received as an artist, that model still works for how I write.
3) Are you a full-time musician, or do you have a day job or other source of income?
Full-time musician since 2012.
4) How is your music career fulfilling and gratifying for you?
I thoroughly enjoy the process of observing, writing and performing music and the connection to people it can produce. I don’t think I’ve experienced a better feeling than what I do when someone has a story of how my music has either impacted their life or has been the soundtrack to a chapter in their life in some way or another. I want my music to have the same impact on people the way the music I listen to does for me.
5) How many gigs do you perform a year?
I would guess around 150. It feels like a lot.
6) Your favorite and/or most frequent venues at which to perform?
I really look forward to playing on the outdoor stage at the Great Basin Brewery in Sparks every summer. It was one of the first stages I played when I was entering the open-mic scene back in 2008, and still feels a bit like home to me. I played a show at the Mountain Music Parlor at the end of last year and really enjoyed the concert hall they’ve put together there.
7) Ambitions for performing live outside the Reno-Tahoe region?
My ambition is absolutely to test the waters with touring. I’m not sure exactly what that looks like yet, but I have some good connections in other cities that I’m sure have good advice, and even friends in Reno that have had a good run at it that could teach me a thing or two. I’ve noticed that wherever I’ve gone to play, I’ve gotten good responses to what I do. It might not be everybody’s favorite music or style, but I think, given the effort and a little luck, there’s definitely an audience out there for what I have to offer.
8) Ambitions for terrestrial and web radio airplay, streaming and downloads — and, perhaps, licensing?
I would love to be considered for licensing. I’m not a huge fan of streaming, but I know that most people are probably digesting their music on those types of platforms. I’ll be releasing my new album on CD and on digital download cards for my physical packaging to start. Eventually, I’ll be digitally distributing my music online.
9) How are you promoting your music to your fans?
I’ve found that of all the social-media platforms, Instagram seems to be the best for me because it’s easy, and the engagement from followers feels more substantial. I still like Facebook for setting up and promoting event,s and I try to keep my website up to date as much as I can.
10) How has Reno served you as a place to develop into an artist?
I’ve loved growing as an artist here. I’m inspired by the landscape and the hustle of the city. I love the music scene and how the majority of participants in it are supportive of each other. I love that people in the community genuinely support the arts.
11) Describe your growth as a singer, songwriter, guitarist, musician, producer since your first album was released.
I think my growth as a songwriter, in particular, has developed as I’ve had new experiences and my perspectives have changed. I find that I’m looking more at the bigger picture than maybe I was capable of before. I’m married and have a house that I’m always working on. My immediate family is growing and changing (as are my friends and their families). As a producer, I think I’ve learned to listen a whole lot better. I think the biggest thing overall is picking the right musician for the part, trusting their intuition and not being afraid to offer up a little guidance to get the part that the song requires. In the end, the song is the most important part of the equation. Less is, usually, more.
12) What locally based musicians have been most essential to your growth?
I can start by saying all of the musicians that played on my new album are immensely talented and have inspired me personally in one way or another. Working with them in the studio opened my eyes to a whole new level of respect and gratitude for their talents, which absolutely has had an effect on how I continue doing what I do. Honestly, any time I see people playing music and really having a good time, it reminds me not to take myself too seriously. I think that’s been a big part of inspiring my growth as an artist. If I can write music that I enjoy listening to and playing for other people, I’m on the right track.
13) What would you like to see changed or improved about Reno as a place for a singer-songwriter to thrive?
I would like to see more listening rooms in town. Reno is full of bars and restaurants that host music, but even in some of the venues that have done a good job with designing their space with music in mind, there lacks a sort of intimacy and focus that works better for quieter shows. I think, in the small-venue category, the Mountain Music Parlor has done a great job with the music they host and they provide a really unique listening space that feels and looks great. I rented the event space in the back of Craft this past spring, brought in all of my own sound and lighting and put on a show for about 100 people that went great.
14) Your main musical influences?
To me, it’s less about any one or two specific bands or artists and more about finding the elements in the music you like that are unique and pique your interest. In particular, I pay a good amount of attention to the phrasing and rhythm of the way certain singers present their vocals. You’ll get a whole different perspective of the same song depending on the singer presenting it. Willie Nelson, Eddie Vedder and Stevie Nicks will give you three versions of the same song that will sound completely unique from one another. You can do the same with guitar players, bass players and drummers. In general, I just love and am influenced by music with substance and intention. If it sounds good and attempts to provide an authenticity of experience, I can find something about it to appreciate.
15) Acts similar to yours on the national stage now?
I don’t really keep up on new music as much as maybe I should, but if you were to generalize an answer to this question, maybe Ed Sheeran, Amos Lee, Jack Johnson, et cetera. I haven’t really seen or heard anybody out there that does what I do like I do it, and I think that’s an important detail to recognize. More often than not, people tell me I sound like James Taylor, Cat Stevens and Ray Lamontagne, but I think that’s just a way for people to categorize a sound that is familiar to them.
16) What is the role of the singer-songwriter in this age where hip-hop reigns supreme, dominates the pop charts and heavily influences the rock and country charts?
My role is to follow my interests and to continue to make the music that makes me happy and hopefully connects to my audience. If I spent all of my time worrying about keeping up with the current trends and homogenous nature of mainstream music, I wouldn’t have the brain power to create anything at all. I’ve seen what chasing trends can do to bands and artists, and it never works out the way they think it will. As long as I stay focused on what inspires me and keeps me interested in making the music I want to make, I’ll be a much more successful and happy person.
17) In your promo blurb for your album-release show, you write: “The subject matter of this collection of songs revolves around existential observations and personal experience with the occasional reflective narrative that is seemingly lost in today’s technologically overrun society. In this, we gain reassurance that change and direction come from within us as individuals and that love will not be sacrificed for show and bravado.” How do the songs on your album direct people to understand that “change and direction come from within”?
I would say the quote from my promotional bio for the show is more of an artist’s statement of how I view this collection. I would hope that people would read the description and listen to the music with it in reference, but I know full and well that the listeners of this album will connect and react to the music in their own way.
18) Explain the title of your album.
“Before we get carried away” is a lyric from the song Breathe on the album. I think with the current political, social and global state we’re in, it’s a good idea to pause and reflect on what’s really important in this lifetime, and to let go of what we cannot control.
19) Your favorite track(s) on the album — and why?
One of my favorite songs on the album is Turn Around. I love it for it’s honesty and simplicity. It probably won’t get much radio play because it’s over five minutes in length, but I think it’s one of the strongest songs on the album.
20 What’s next for Tyler Stafford?
My wife and I are expecting our first child at the end of October, so that should keep us pretty busy through the rest of the year. For 2020, I’d like to extend the reach of my music through some touring and hopefully more festival type shows. Possibly even start the process of recording the next album, but we’ll see!