originally published on Nov. 8, 2018
The High Plains Drifters Interview
Check out their video for the song Virginia
1. How much have your friends and families played a part in your career so far?
Since I got serious about pursuing music (which happened late in my life), I have had a recurring fantasy about accepting a Grammy Award, probably for some “Best New” category. My name is announced (and almost surely mis-pronounced). I walk up onto the stage. As I do, the audience gasps (audibly), for I am clearly theoldest person onstage by a decade or two.
And the first words out of my mouth are, “Well, gee, I’d like to thank my family for all they’ve done to get me here, but I can’t do that. My folks didn’t push me to study music or an instrument.” In fairness to them, with 5 kids, they couldn’t afford private lessons for us.
Still, as much as I’d like to thank them, they had almost nothing to do with me getting here. Except in perhaps the one way that matters most of all: my parents raised me to believe that I could achieve anything and triumph against all odds. So, I’d thank them for that. When I decided to pursue music, my mindset was, “Screw it. If a guy with Lou Reed’s voice can get on the radio, so can I.”
2. When did you decide that a career in music was for you?
I am pretty darn delusional — one must be, to think that one can write songs that deserve to be on the radio. But I have never been so delusional as to believe that I can have a “career” in music; using “career” in the sense of making a living at it, or being able to support a family.
I watched — from the inside, as a music lawyer from the 1990’s through the turn of the millennium — as the Internet and the piracy it brought destroyed theworldwide music industry. Earnings that used to be measured in dollars became measured in fractions of pennies. It was really depressing to see. But it convinced me that this old industry adage was more relevant than ever: “Don’t give up your day job.” And I never have and never will.
3. Who are your musical inspirations and why?
I can’t say that any particular artist’s music “inspires” me — at least, not in the sense of being “inspired to write music”. I didn’t start writing music BECAUSE I heard some band’s song and I thought, “I want to do that.” Well, I guess that’s not strictly true, because as a child in the 1960’s I, like probably every kid, would listen to the newest releases by The Beatles of The Rolling Stones and I’d think, “Damn, I’d like to be able to do that.” But I still can’t say that even those guys “inspired me”. I didn’t go yell at my parents to buy me a guitar and get me lessons. I didn’t demand music lessons of any kind. Then came high school, and around sophomore year I realized that songs were writing themselves in my head. I didn’t then know (and still don’t know) how or why it was happening — it just WAS. It took me many years to embrace it.
Now that I’m much older, and I arguably have “perspective”, I do find inspiration in the careers of artists who have enjoyed longevity as songwriters. I like to take a single letter of the alphabet and say to myself, “Okay, Studnicky, what artists whose names begin with THIS letter have had decades-long careers with awesome creative output.” Then I’ll ponder whether a single letter takes the prize.
I don’t mean for this to sound too “Sesame Street”, but for me the winner is almost always The Letter W: for Weezer, Paul Weller, and Paul Westerberg. I’m sure others could play this game and come up with letter-based lineups they believe to be superior (maybe I should build a website for the contest, and let the public vote?). I think they’d be wrong. “W” takes the cake.
4. Can you tell me 3 things about yourself that people might not already know?
Nobody yet knows ANYTHING about me, so this is like a trick question. But here are three things that my close friends find amusing many years later.
1. As a senior in college, I had to write a (book length) Senior Thesis. Mine was about the bauxite industry in Jamaica. During winter break that year, while my buddies were toiling away on their theses — at a freezing, snow-covered campus — I was in sunny Kingston, Jamaica, at University expense researching mine and drinking nightly with the U.S. Navy. I was a (mild) legend upon returning to campus. Then I finished the darn thing, turned it in, and ended up winning the prize for theBest Senior Thesis in Politics (cementing my legend status). I probably shouldn’t tell stories like this — stories like this make guys like me easy to hate.
2. I was a high school nerd who was largely shunned by all womankind from age 14 to 24. At age 32, after rejecting the invitation to do this for moths, I agreed to do a photo shoot and ended up as the January dude in a calendar called Wall Street Men (fully clothed, to be clear — in a tuxedo). So, there’s an “Ugly Duckling” aspect to my life. Being a guy, and therefore inherently shallow, I ended up dating a string of beauty queens. It’s probably something else that just makes people hate me.
3. I didn’t start this album project with any intention of singing any of my tunes. I planned to have the other guys in the band (John Macom and Mike DoCampo) sing my songs — they’re really talented singers. I had been told (and believed) since grade school that I couldn’t sing. The guy who produced the album’s first songs, Charles Czarnecki, forced me to sing SUMMER GIRL. I barely pulled it off — my vocals were really weak (not “present”) and tentative. But the song got radio airplay in about half the States.
While SUMMER GIRL was in release, I had an accidental encounter (not in connection with music) with a professional voice coach named Maria Fattore. I disclosed to her the album we were working on. She listened to SUMMER GIRL and told me, “Larry, you HAVE all the notes but you don’t know how to sing. I can teach you.” And she did. Six months later, I cut the lead vocals on VIRGINIA, the first single from The High Plains Drifters. I’ve been singing all the lead vocals ever since; and I re-sang the lead vocals on SUMMER GIRL (which are much improved). I still have so much to learn, but I’m learning.
5. What song of yours best describes you and why?
Our pop-punk homage to America’s greatest rock band, The Ramones: FIRST AMENDMENT BLUES. It is a politically incorrect, irreverent rant that’s an unapologetic defense of the First Amendment freedom of speech. It’s as close to an expression of “me” as you’ll find on the album — for I’m not a particularly introspective guy; I’m a shallow guy. Like most guys.
6. If you could perform a gig at any venue where would it be and why?
The stage at The Ed Sullivan Theater. It’s in Manhattan, within walking distance of my office, and is one of only a few places I can think of where Sinatra, Elvis, and The Beatles all performed.
7. What has been your best achievement to date and what would like to achieve in the future?
My daughter Anne Studnicky is and will always be my greatest achievement.
8. What do you like best about being a musician and why?
The best thing about being in a band is collaborating with my bandmates and whoever is producing whatever song we’re working on. It is the coolest thing in the world to start with the germ of a song idea (usually me, singing the lyrics unaccompanied by any music) and then watch as all my musical-genius collaborators bring their own special magic to the mix. It’s mystical and spiritual and I don’t know anything in the world like it — other than bringing a life into the world.
9. If you were not in the job you are now what would you be doing?
My day job is being a corporate lawyer. If I weren’t that, I’d likely be something that most of the public finds equally repugnant, like an investment banker or a hedge fund manager. I need to have the kind of job that produces enough disposable income to let me pursue my passion for music without my family being hurt economically. I know, I know — it’d be so much cooler and hipper if I was a starving/struggling artist. Sorry, I am responsible for other people’s lives and I can’t indulge fantasies like that.
10. What would your ideal festival line up be and why?
As my daughter is 11 and almost ready for her first festival, my ideal lineup would have to cater to both our tastes (which largely overlap as to the Top 40 acts she favors). I’d go with The Killers, Ariana Grande, Maroon 5, Weezer, Camila Cabello, Kings of Leon, Selena Gomez and Justin Bieber (but not appearing one-after-the-other), The Chainsmokers, Imagine Dragons, The Struts, Ingrid Michaelson, The Kooks, Katie Perry, Charlie Puth, and Sean Mendes.
And of course Taylor Swift. But only if Taylor would perform her song “Mean”. I fell in love with her, as a songwriter and performer, years ago when she performed that tune at the 54th Grammies. I miss the country version of Taylor, don’t you?
11. What would you say is the best piece of advice you have ever been given?
Talent and smarts alone don’t bring success. You must have perseverance and self-confidence.
12. What things make you happy and what things annoy you?
My family and friends (including my band) make me happy.
13. What things do you like to do when you are away from music?
Between being a dad and a lawyer, I am, unfortunately, away from music most of the time. But my job as a lawyer is very rewarding when I work with startup companies. I work with a lot of them. My favorite thing as a lawyer now is to watch something start, with the one or two founders who wound up in my office looking for guidance, and then watch it grow to where they’ve succeeded and given jobs to tons of other starry-eyed kids who want to help change some little corner of theworld. People like that are what makes this country great.
14. Do you think social media and the internet are a good thing in the music industry and how do you cope with using social media to build a profile in music?
A pox upon them! They are a curse. Social media too often substitutes for going out and actually doing stuff and meeting people. And the Internet made it really hard for recording artists and songwriters to make money plying their trades.
In my life, I use social media mostly to stay in touch with family and friends spread around the world. I have to remind myself constantly that everyday I should also put on the High Plains Drifters social media hat. I am still learning how to do that.
15. How important do you think your look and image is when it comes to being in the music industry?
You can’t be my age and worry much about your “looks and image”. That said, I am a lucky guy with, I guess, good genes (probably thanks to my 100% Italian-American mother, Saint Joan). I have almost no wrinkles and the same hairline as when I graduated from high school. And for most of the last decade people keep telling me that I look (and sound) like a younger and healthier version of John Goodman. So, I got that going for me.
16. Can you tell us about any tattoos have and the significance of them to you?
Sorry, I am no fan of tattoos on anyone, male or female. If you call me after this interview, however, I shall share with you (not for publication) my story of my favorite tattoo (of all time!) on a woman.
17. What would your ideal day consist of?
Performing in a huge outdoor arena, like Citi Field in NYC, and being paid whatever Taylor Swift commands these days.
18. Can you tell me as much as you can about any new releases gigs or anything else coming up soon?
I am doing this interview because, later this Fall, we release our self-titled debut album, The High Plains Drifters. I know that I am biased, but it’s a record full of strong, radio-friendly singles spanning mainstream musical genres that most of this country grew up with.
19. If you could say one thing to your fans what would it be and why?
Please share our music with your friends.
20. How would you answer the questions who are The High Plains Drifters?
We are a band of experienced musicians whose long exposure to (and love of) many genres of music influences our sound in surprising ways.
21. Can you tell me one thing about each member that people might not already know?
There is not a single guy in the band who sings like a whiny little girl. It’s fine for female lead singers to sound like women, but too many male lead singers these days sound as if they’ve been sitting hard on racing-bike seats since allegedly reaching puberty.
22. What was the first record or song you purchased and why?
“Meet The Beatles”. It needs no explanation.
23. What would say to someone thinking about becoming a musician and getting into the music industry?
It’s not just about you. No matter how talented you think you are, you’re competing against other hugely talented people, some of whom are actual musical geniuses. Find a few of those geniuses and make them part of your group; or, if you’re a solo act, then let them produce you or figure out how to co-write with them. Everyone in HPD, and both our producers, are musical geniuses in their own way. The songs I write wouldn’t be half what they become after being transformed by my bandmates and our producers.
24. If you could collaborate with any other band/singer or musician who would you choose and why?
Cole Porter, because he’s probably the most inventive lyricist who ever lived.
25. If you could have written one song from history which would it have been and why?
“I’ll Be Watching You”, by The Police. It’s gorgeous, and haunting, and bit creepy in a “stalker” kind of way. To this day, it remains possibly the only song where I remember EXACTLY where I was the first time I heard it: on the banks of the Charles River, in Cambridge, MA, supposedly studying for the Bar Exam, but in actuality just catching rays and scoping girls in bikinis — because I am a guy; and we are inherently shallow.
If not that, it’d have to be “There She Goes”, by the La’s.
If I hear either song, it’s stuck in my head for days and days.
26. What things make you uncomfortable?
Going to a party where it’s not “my gang”. I am very shy in those circumstances.