Interview: Jeffrey Gaines Chats With Niki Kaos Gearing Up For New Year’s Eve in Saratoga Springs
Written by Staff on December 29, 2022
Jeffrey Gaines’ music has rock-n-roll and a lot of heart and soul. His lyrics paint the human experience
with the watercolors of our emotions. The single “Hero In Me” from his first album had listeners taking
notice. Then he made a splash with his take on Peter Gabriel’s “In Your Eyes”. Jeffrey’s songwriting
invites you to lean in and listen to the message, and the message is universally relatable. The Feature
performer at the Universal Preservation Hall for Saratoga New Year’s Fest, I am lucky to catch Jeffrey for
an interview to learn more about how he writes and performs such beautifully crafted songs.
RRX: Your songs have a definite Brit Rock influence, which I love. And your ability to communicate the
range of feelings and human connectedness shines. You’ve got this vibe exploring the emotional side of
music and creating songs that are introspective.
JG: I’m more into that, to the point that I’ll take music away from a final mix to make sure the message
and the words get heard. There’s times when we’ve all been in the studio, having a lot of fun making the
song and playing the parts – cool guitars, cool this, cool that – and by the time I’m doing a critical final
listen, and it’s me and the song and the control board, I’m just pulling things away. Because they are
obscuring the singer. They’re getting in the way of the direct communication.
That’s how the solo thing happened. If someone told you, this last audience you get to play to, what
would you like them to have as your takeaway? It’s not the cool effects on the guitar pedals. You know
what I mean? I just mute everything and communicate human to human. Music is the vehicle,
absolutely, and that’s the joy and that’s the pleasure, but the objective is to reach somebody. You’ve got
to go one person at a time.
So when they say you can only reach one, yeah that is true, you’re only trying to reach one. But then the
album gets mass produced and it gets sent out to the four corners, and you’re making that personal
relationship with a lot of people. But it’s a one on one. Each person I imagine listening in their
headphones. Just me and them.
RRX: For me, as a songwriter, that resonates a lot. The idea of mass producing an intimate experience is
daunting for a creative soul. You don’t want it to be commercialized, per se, but can’t survive unless you
make money from it. There’s this push-pull around the business side of music and what you just
described. Can you tell us more about that? For example, for New Year’s Eve you’re playing as a solo
artist, but sometimes you might want to rock it out with a full band experience. How does that balance
work for you?
JG: Either way, it’s really going to be fun. The only problem with the band thing is – when you’re in a
band, you pre-decide the tempo and the direction. When I play solo, I incorporate the moment. It’s very
specific to each night. That night will be that night. Unlike any other night. And me and that audience –
me and that group of people assembled will make it up as we go. Because I’ll be feeling the energy so
directly and it’s free enough to go wherever that takes us as a collective.
But I’m not a solo performer who needs a lot of nurturing. I come from rock bands first, being a front
man in the band, so there’s a tougher edge to my leather, you know?
RRX: I do! I want to dig into that a bit about your background and your influences. I feel the same way. I
grew up on PJ Harvey and Patti Smith and I really dig that ballsy rock-n-roll vibe but stripped down
sometimes. When you’re connecting to the audience, it’s powerful.
JG: The hint in this conversation is – it is supposed to be more fun.
RRX: I’m expecting exactly that, and people are looking for that. And that is really a powerful and
beautiful thing. Those are the best concerts.
Let’s get into some of your lyrics and what inspires you with your songwriting? On our Tuesday Tributes
we played “Headmasters of Mine” and “Love Disappears”. I feel like “Headmasters” was talking about a
broad scope universal kind of situation and “Love Disappears” is talking more about an interpersonal
situation. What inspires you when writing lyrics and what brings you there?
JG: I think what brings me the ability as a lyricist is that I’m quiet. As life is happening, I’m more of a
passive observer collecting all the dialogue. Waiting for my opportunity for my rebuttal, so a lot of times
I’m lagging in real time. I do lag. And I’m like… ah…eh… and the moment’s gone. And I would have said
this. And then the “would have said this” becomes the answer. The lyric.
Those moments are moving past a lot of the times where I’ve been in situations where somebody’s been
emotionally elevated and completely disgusted with how calm I’m being in the midst of it. But I’m just
watching it all play out. And then like three days later, I filtered it. Try to understand it. And here’s what I
have to say about it.
So that’s how I write lyrics. It’s just things that I should have said. Things that I should have known. And
more often than not, you find when you’re singing a thing, people go “exactly” “me too” or “how did
you know I was feeling that exact same way?” I figure with that happening so often, as I think I’m writing
about something I experienced, and it turns into, we’re all on this planet. There’s all these things that
are happening everywhere. In everybody’s house. Behind every closed door. Kind of the same stuff.
So hopefully that makes you feel less alone. And if you’ve got a guy on stage with the lights on him.
Going through this material that somebody sitting in the dark in their anonymity has shame about, and
the guy on stage is able to sing it and say it in the light, maybe I could feel less weird about what I’m
feeling. You know what I mean?
RRX: I do. That’s amazing. You’re there as a connector. You’re a conduit to help people feel less alone,
which is a beautiful gift!
JG: Yeah. I don’t want that for myself. I don’t want that for anyone. It’s something I’ve always been
concerned about while I’m in the middle of some of the very best times. I wrote a song called “Love Me”
It’s about the folks on New Year’s, who, you know when you turn and kiss someone? There’s somebody
with no one to turn to. And I think, my God. Everyone’s having a different experience.
So when I’m somewhere, when I’m on tour and you can’t believe you’re in Paris right now. Or Saratoga.
Thinking this is the best, yo – check it out! Even in those times, I’ve messed it up going, yeah, but what
about somebody else. Since I was a child, I’ve always been thinking about it. That song “Love Me” is on
the record “Towards the Sun”. It’s like the person who’s just sitting there at the prom and everyone got
all dressed up, and somebody’s there by themselves and not having fun.
RRX: It’s like the wallflower.
JG: Yeah. Love the wallflower.
RRX: I know you’re from Harrisburg, PA. I’m a big fan of Hershey Park. Do you like roller coasters? Have
you been there and what is your favorite roller coaster?
JG: Wow -this is funny. Hershey Park has always been a part of my life! And they’ve got their shit more
and more together over the years.
RRX: When I was a kid I went there, and I rode the Super Dooper Looper. You know what one I mean?
JG: Yeah – totally easy!
RRX: Well thanks for shaming me! LOL. I was not a courageous child.
JG: Funny, but there is a sad aspect of living too close to an amusement park. There is a casualty of
riding too often, and doing radical things too much, basically, I’ve been riding roller coasters everywhere
forever. But now they have this technology where they take your photo somewhere during the ride. And
I was playing a gig at an amusement park, and they said you’ve got to ride our roller coaster, it’s the
scariest thing ever. And the photo revealed I was just sitting there calm, deep in thought. Everyone else
in the photograph, the whole entire train is just screaming, and fainting and losing it. And I swear it looks
like I’m doing my taxes.
RRX: So you’re a roller coaster Zen master is what you’re saying. Maybe someday we’ll get a chance to
get a photo op on a coaster and I’ll see if I can look as calm as you!
Thank you so much for talking with me! People who want to keep up with your music and live
performances should check out www.jeffreygaines.com and catch your performance at Universal
Preservation Hall in Saratoga Springs on New Year’s Eve.