Recently, The Hit Lounge sat down with singer/songwriter and traveling troubadour Kevin Sandbloom, whose ad hoc performance
recordings and unique vocal stylings have charmed audiences all over the country. Keeping a very busy touring schedule, we were fortunate to catch up with him, as we discussed his family background, career path in music, his latest project entitled Viva Los Angeles, and much more. We hope you'll find this interview to be insightful, entertaining and inspiring, as we were left with those sentiments at the conclusion of our chat. This is a special one, as it is The Hit Lounge's very first EXCLUSIVE interview. So, without further delay, sit back, get comfortable, read on and enjoy!
THL Mr. Kevin Sandbloom, Thanks for taking time out of your schedule to talk with us. How’s everything going?
Sandbloom It’s going alright.
THL First off, are you a native of Los Angeles?
Sandbloom Yes. I grew up in Pasadena; born and raised in the Los Angeles area.
THL Growing up, did you travel much around the states or have you been pretty much local?
Sandbloom No, growing up I was local. Well, I mean, just around the L.A. area, but we just kind of stayed put. I didn’t actually travel until I started playing music.
THL Speaking of music, did you grow up in a musical household? Sandbloom Well, my mom was a singer in a doo-wop group back in the 50’s, and my sister was very musical. My sister and my brother are both musical. When we were kids, we were singing and my sister would direct these plays, these musical presentations for the family, so we’d get together and work out these songs.
THL Do they play instruments?
Sandbloom No, they’re both singers. My brother is actually a classically trained vocalist. He used to sing with the Pasadena Boys Choir which is very prestigious, then he sang with the Vienna Boys Choir and also with his college choir that performed in Russia. So, he’s got a lot of musical background for sure.
THL How old were you when you first picked up the guitar?
Sandbloom About sixteen. I was interested in music, and I was always singing when I was young. My mom was always telling me what a great voice I had. Funny story, the way that my brother got into the Pasadena Boys Choir was, one morning, on a Saturday morning, she was like “Oh, they’re having try-outs for the Pasadena Boys Choir. I’m gonna take you,” and I was like “Hell no, I‘m not going,” and she was like “Fine, I’ll take your brother instead.” And he was like “I don’t care,” but he got in. He got in the choir and he ended up loving it. It ended up being a perfect thing for him, but, for me, that just wasn’t my bag. I was good at sports when I was younger.
THL What did you play?
Sandbloom Baseball, mostly but a little of everything. I used to race motor-cross bikes and skateboard, tennis and all that. I was pretty athletic, so that was just my thing.
THL At sixteen, who was your main musical influence?
Sandbloom Probably Bob Marley. Bob Marley was a big influence. I was listening to a lot of Punk Rock, for a while. I was into New Wave, Punk Rock groups,Depeche Mode,Devo, and Ex, which was a Los Angeles local Punk Rock band. All kinds of bands, like Minor Thread. There was this band called Bad Brains out of D.C. which was Punk/Reggae. So, they’d have some Punk songs, they’d have some Reggae joints, and I was like “I like the Reggae joints.”
THL Interesting juxtaposition.
Sandbloom Yeah, so then, that kind of segued into me liking Reggae and Ska music. So, then, I started getting into specials. Which would be all those English Ska bands. We would go down to a live music club in Long Beach and they would have Ska bands and we’d check them out. That was the thing to do. It was also around that time when I discovered Bob Marley, and man, that really struck a chord with me.
THL A lot of musical careers have been started through the influence of Bob Marley.
Sandbloom Also, The Police, various Ska and Reggae influence. So, they were a huge influence. I’d probably say The Police and Bob Marley were the bigger two bands I was listening to when I started playing.
THL Did you ever take lessons for guitar?
Sandbloom I actually took one but I’m self-taught. I figured stuff out on the guitar. I listened to records and would play along. Then, I got to this certain point where I kind of hit a wall. I wanted to progress. I didn’t really know what was happening, theory-wise. So, I took a guitar lesson at a local guitar shop, and the guy spelled it all out for me. He was like “Here’s all the notes on the neck…and here’s how the chords fit together.” I knew bar chords and open chords; I had taught myself that. The way he laid it out was so perfect. I was like, “That’s it! I don’t really need to know any more. Thanks a lot.” And he was like, “Alright, well, see you later.” That was the extent of my musical training; this one lesson that this guy gave me, but it was the greatest lesson I ever had. Most of my learning was through listening. I would just listen to songs and try to pick out what they were doing on the guitar. I would try to figure it out.
THL Guitar-wise, who’s your guitar “hero” or “idol”, if you will? Or, do you have one?
Sandbloom That’s the thing…it’s tough because I just love the guitar as an instrument, but there’s some greats, like Prince is one of the best guitar players ever, so I could probably put him down as a guitar idol. Obviously, Jimi Hendrix is a great player. Actually, when I started playing, I was listening to a lot of BB King, and I think that’s where I got influenced. I was very influenced by the Blues at an early age. I enjoyed his playing. I used to listen to a lot of Steely Dan, and all the players. They had these rippin’ session players on the Steely Dan records. It was a whole bunch of guys…Skunk Baxter, and I think Lee Ritenour played on some of the stuff. But all those guys are smokin’ players and what they played over that music was so perfect. Those guitar solos on the Steely Dan records, that was my music college right there.
THL Speaking of college, you were actually a guest instructor at my Alma Mater, Berklee College of Music. How was that for you, being an instructor?
Sandbloom It was awesome. I worked with a producer for a long time and she produced Prince, she was Prince’s main engineer for years. She’s a friend of mine and she got out of the music business and ended up being a professor at Berklee. (Susan Rogers) So, she was like, “Hey, I want you to come and do a recording session with the kids at the college. I’m going to assemble a band and you’re going to record some of your songs with them and that’s going to be the lesson.” So, that’s what I did. She told some of the other teachers that I was coming in, and what I did, so they got me to come speak to their classes before we did her session. I went and spoke with a couple of different classes about being an independent musician and I didn’t think they were really going to care about what I had to say, but they were all ears. The class wasn’t long enough to cover everything that we could have covered. It was a really great experience.
THL Thinking back on my experience, I’m sure it was invaluable for the students to have a lesson by someone who‘s actually out in the world working right?
Sandbloom It’s just application of what you’re learning. That’s really the most important thing.
THL With that teaching experience, did you feel a sense that teaching might be in your future?
Sandbloom I did and I do. It just hasn’t been really something that I’ve pursued. People ask me for guitar lessons and I give lessons once in a while, and I’ve been thinking of developing some different workshops like a workshop on songwriting, a workshop on guitar playing by ear and another workshop on being an independent artist. Also, doing gorilla-type recording or gorilla-type touring. I’m still working out what those curriculums would be and how to set it up, but it’s something I would like to do in the future, something I’m thinking about doing. I’m so busy touring, playing and recording, that it hasn’t been something that I’ve gotten to yet.
THL So, what was your first gig?
Sandbloom My first gig? Or my first touring gig?
Sandbloom Ok, my first gig ever in life was at a place in Pasadena that’s very well known, very popular. It’s called theIce House. It’s been there for years; it’s still there. I think I was 16 or 17. My first touring gig, I was in a band for a long time called The Congregation. We didn’t really get out of L.A. that much, but we toured a few times up north in San Francisco in a little Jazz/Blues club. I’ve been so many places, it’s really hard to pinpoint memories down sometimes. The first place I toured as a solo artist, came out of being a solo singer/songwriter. When I started going to “Da Poetry lounge” and other poetry spots, I started meeting people that were asking me to come tour, so I went to Sacramento for a poet up there named Chloe; everybody in Sacramento knows who she is. She brought me up for a couple of shows. That was kind of the start of what I do now; my touring on a professional level, my full-time incarnation.
THL You’ve been traveling the country now for a while and, for the most part, you’ve been doing it on a solo level with the conclusion of the tour, "Soul Troubadour". Talk about that.
Sandbloom "Soul Troubadour" is actually a one-man-show that I put together last year. That’s something that I do intermittently in the tour. It’s not something that I do every night. My main gig is still going to a poetry spot as the feature. I’ll be the feature at a showcase. People put together these shows and they’re like, “We got the hottest comedian in Baltimore and we got the hottest musicians from all over the world.” I’ll be one of the people in the line-up. That’s my main thing, doing 4 or 5 songs. The Soul Troubadour thing is a 90-minute session. It’s actually a mixture of some spoken word, some monologues and a lot of music. What I basically do is segue between setting up a track on the loop-station, then, do a monologue over it, then, I’ll do a song. It’s kind of a mixture of everything that I’ve been exposed to and have been doing. It’s kind of like a timeline, an overview, of my music career. I go back to where I started playing guitar and who I was, and what I was doing. I’ve spent enough time doing this, that I have enough experiences to draw from. I’ve been doing that around the country here and there trying to expand what I’m doing. I want to take the show into the theatre setting. I’m presenting it to the same niche audience that I’ve been playing for: the poetry crowd. I’m working up to doing more of a theatre thing with it. Really, my intention with it is to put myself into different venues.
THL With an inherent audience that’s familiar with your work, transitioning into a one-man-show for theatre sounds like a natural progression that’ll have a lot of support.
Sandbloom And that is also an extension of the fact that the reason that my stuff fits into the poetry setting is because it’s a listening crowd and people are paying attention. It’s not a bar where there’s a lot of background noise. Your music isn’t ambient, it’s focused. You really need to be focused on what I’m doing in order to get it. So, I want to just shoehorn it more so, into that category of the theatre setting where you have to be clear and present of what’s going on. If not, you’d probably be like “Uh, who’s that dude on stage with the guitar?”
THL (laughs) You mean, the dreaded, inattentive crowd that doesn’t appreciate the music being played on stage?
Sandbloom Right!, and I’m not a noisy, over the top, energetic act, so I’m not going to grab people. What I do is definitely more on the subtle side.
THL So, your energy is in the songs?
Sandbloom Exactly! It’s in the songs and lyrics and the delivery of it.
THL When did you actually start writing lyrics, because I know that’s a different mind-set from writing just music alone?
Sandbloom I actually started to write songs when I picked up the guitar. I knew that’s what I wanted to do. So, I wasn’t ever really just playing guitar. I picked up the guitar and immediately learned a couple chords and then, I started trying to put some songs together. It’s funny, I was just talking to my wife yesterday about the very first song I wrote was a straight rip off of “Walking on the Moon” and I just put my own lyrics to it. And, I didn’t realize what I was doing, but that’s how song-writers start out.
THL Through osmosis, you start to see your influences surface in your “original” music?
Sandbloom Exactly, whatever it is you’re listening to at the time, it’s going to be immediately apparent in what you’re doing.
THL I think as musicians, we’re all sponges. It just depends on how it gets filtered through right?
Sandbloom Sure. All my songs were like, “And here’s one that’s a rip off of a Sly Stone song Fresh, and here’s one that’s a rip off of a Police record, and here’s one …” I didn't really realize that’s what I was doing until a little bit later and I was like, “ Oh, I see what that is now. Yeah, ok, so, I’m going to write some more songs that’s completely original.”
THL I want to congratulate you on writing the titled track “Supernatural” forRobben Ford. How was that?
Sandbloom Awesome. Pretty crazy. That was actually through Susan Rogers, as well. I was working with her on some projects for a while and she was like “Oh, ok, I’m recording this record for Robben Ford,” and to be honest, I wasn’t familiar with Robben Ford at the time. And, so, I was like “Who’s that?” She was explaining to me who he was and what he did, and I was like “Cool.”
THL For the audience who doesn’t know who Robben Ford is, tell us a little about who he is.
Sandbloom Well, he was one of the founding members of the Yellow Jackets, which is the widely known and revered fusion band. Before that, he played on some Joni Mitchell. I think that was his first gig, he played guitar on a Joni Mitchell record. He’s been in a bunch of different bands and he’s been putting out solo records since the 80’s. He’s an amazing blues guitarist. I became familiar with his stuff through working with him or presenting some songs to him. Susan Rogers said to “Write me some songs, record me some songs and I’m going to submit them.” Because he doesn’t actually write a lot of music, he takes other peoples music and re-interprets it. So, I submitted some songs and he picked that one (Supernatural). It’s just a crazy experience. He picked the song and I went over to his house and he was like “So, show me the song; show me how to play it. Give me some pointers…I‘ll see you at the studio. We‘re going to record the song.” So, I went into the studio, I was there for the recording of the song just so that the band could be like “Does it go like this? Is that how it goes?” which is weird to be sitting there with Vinnie Colaiutaon drums and Robben Ford on guitar and they were looking at me like “Is this how it goes?” And I’m like “Yeah, yeah, sounds good man. Um, you don’t really need me. I’m gonna go into the other room now.”
THL Is that when you had a sense you were doing something right in this business?
Sandbloom Yeah, it was an amazing confirmation. It’s one thing to be an artist and be driven to write and have a sense of yourself and your music and your place in the world, but you really only know what you’re doing by the feedback that you get. And that’s what I’ve always done in my career, is like, “Oh, people react to this song or people react to this thing that I’m doing. Maybe I should go this way.”
THL You’re influenced by your audience, in a sense?
Sandbloom Yeah, in a sense. That’s who really keeps you going; the people that appreciate what you do. But, that experience was off the charts! And, on top of that, I had another session where I got to sing back-up on some of the other songs. One of the other back-up singers was Michael McDonald. He actually co-wrote another one of the songs too. So, I was sitting there in the room with Michael McDonald, and we were singing back-up together. He’s a really great guy. A cool, down-to-earth dude. And, a funny story is that, I was playing a gig atsome random festival up in Northern California on one of the outside stages, and I went inside to go get paid and Michael McDonald was just coming off stage and he walks into the backstage area, and he saw me. I hadn't seen him in years. He was like, “Hey Kevin, how’s it going?” And I was like, “What the F$%&? you remember who I am? We met one day at the studio.” I was like, “That’s cool.” He was like “Yeah, good to see you.” It was pretty wild. So, that experience was great. And then, they ended up picking that song to be the title track on the record. So, that’s awesome. They really liked the song. And, they re-released it on a live recording a couple of years ago, too.
THL Do you know the name of it? What is it called?
Sandbloom It’s called, something with the number ten in it because I think he has ten tracks. I’m sorry. He put out a live record a couple years ago, 2009 or 2010, and he put that song on it, again. So, I was like “thank you very much for doing that” because you know, that was a payday.
THL From a writing perspective, are you writing from an autobiographical standpoint, or are you a writer that interprets life experiences from others and put them in a song, or a combination of both?
Sandbloom It’s a combination of both. I think it’s mainly personal experiences, for the most part. I don’t really write too much from other peoples points of view or perspective. I’m either writing from my distinct personal viewpoint on something or I’m writing from a world-view, this is how I see the state of the human condition or what’s going on in society. That’s basically my two standpoints or viewpoints for songwriting, but I’m always open. I’m actually trying to write some things right now from a different place. And, what I never do is write lyrics first, and then music later. It’s always music first, lyrics last. That’s how it goes, always. I’ve been thinking I’ve just got to write some stuff down and just see what happens afterwards. I think that could be really interesting. I’m going to force myself to do something like that.