David Hobbes is setting out on his own and he’s looking for something in particular with his debut LP that drops come the new year in January 2024. So with the release of ‘Searching for a Home‘ right around the corner, the California storyteller came through to talk not only about music, but passing down creative attributes, authenticity, and more!
Kendra: There are songwriters and there are songwriters who have that author in them, the ones who thrive as storytellers. You fall into the latter, but what inspired your way with words in that regard? Were you an avid reader growing up, or did you always relish in music that told something more?
David Hobbes: Well, first of all, thanks for noticing. I put a lot of effort into writing songs that tell a story. I’m not sure I could say why that’s important to me, but it always has been. I’m a logical type, and so I want things to make sense. I often wish I could write impressionistically because you have such a limited amount of time to work with in a song, and telling a story that makes sense can be a real challenge.
To me, the platinum standard for a songwriter who both makes sense and writes poetically is Paul Simon. Take Slip Sliding Away. That song gives me a chill every time I hear it. It starts with the chorus and with poetry – “Slip sliding away…the nearer your destination the more you’re slip sliding away.” It’s not obvious what he’s referring to, but there’s a sense that he’s saying something important and I better pay attention. Then those three vignettes come that are so vivid and so poignant. It is not easy to tell three different stories that say everything you need to know about the characters in four lines, that all tie up to the same sentiment, ‘slip sliding away’. But the song doesn’t say everything. It invites me to make my own sense of exactly what ‘slip sliding away’ means.
I aspire to do this – telling a story that makes sense and is grounded in specifics but also invites the listener to take their own meaning from it. I would say this is one way I’ve grown as a writer, especially with the help of working with Rachel Efron. My inclination before was to tie everything up neatly like a Hollywood movie. But that robs the listener of the satisfaction of making it their own and finding their own endings and meaning in it. I think that’s where the magic of connecting through music happens.
Yes, I was an avid reader, and I always have seen myself as a writer and have done a lot of writing in various forms in my life. And yes, I have always relished songs that told specific stories that gave a window into universal truths. Some other examples that come to mind:
“Romeo and Juliet” – Dire Straits
“The Queen and the Soldier” – Suzanne Vega
“What It’s Like” – Everclear
“Waiting For My Real Life To Begin” – Colin Hay
“Thunder Road” – Bruce
“Angel From Montgomery” – John Prine
Kendra: You’ll be delivering your tales when ‘Searching for a Home’ drops in November, and being that I just had a move and had the task of looking for a new place to live, I’d love to know – if this album were a home, what would it look like? What sort of decor and style would it have to match the overall aesthetic and vibe of the record?
David Hobbes: I think the bridge of the song says what I have to say about what the home would look like: ”I see a hideaway surrounded by the trees. I see an open door, a wooden porch, and sunlight through the eaves. I see a room to play my music and a workshop for my tools. I see the furniture I built myself and every day I use. And when I’m outside, I can hear the silence.”
Whether that matches the overall aesthetic and vibe of the record, I will leave it to your judgment.
Kendra: If I had to decorate a room based solely on “Measure of Degree” I’d go with something that reminded me of the ‘90s because this song definitely took me to a college campus where students were in indie band tees playing hacky sack. Other than a possible decade relation, was this song inspired by a real-life instance?
David Hobbes: This song was actually inspired by a line that popped into my head: “She was always wrong, became a writer. He was always weak, became a fighter.” I started writing it a long time ago, in the early 2000s, when I was living in Los Angeles. I can remember where I was sitting when it came to me and my thought was, “Huh, that’s better than usual…” But I didn’t really know what it meant. I “finished” the song pretty quickly and played it at some open mics and then life went in different directions and it kind of went into the files. Then when I was working with Rachel I remembered it and presented it to her and she really liked parts of it and I started rewriting based on her feedback until it became what it is on the album, which is so much better than that first version.
I imagine there was a real-world relationship I’d had that inspired my take on the relationship in the song. But I can’t draw a clear line to one in particular. I certainly can relate to and am guilty of both trying to hide something I don’t like about myself by trying to be its opposite, and of seeing the person I’m in a relationship with through the lens of who I want her to be.
Kendra: And I know you initially started to pen “When You Need a Hand” for someone else, your son, but you eventually realized it was more about your desire to be a parent. By nature, and I think because I was the oldest in the house growing up – I am nurturing but I knew I never wanted kids, but I do sometimes wish I could pass along certain aspects of myself to someone. What parts of your creativity did you always dream about sharing with your kids?
David Hobbes: I actually never wanted kids, either. I am an unplanned parent. I never dreamed, let alone thought, about things like what I would want to pass along to a child because I never expected to have one. I came into being a parent much the way a child comes into the world – kicking and screaming. I also am not together with my son’s mother, so I came into being an only and full-time parent during the times I’m with him. So I definitely found myself totally unprepared and thrown into the deep end of the pond. And I had a lot of doubts about how I would be as a dad.
That said, brief aside here, I actually found parenting an infant and toddler pretty straightforward. I know there are a zillion books on it, but I can’t really understand why. The kid tells you everything you need to know if you just pay attention. And I learned quickly that 99% of all problems are solved with food, even when you are sure the problem couldn’t possibly be about food.
I wrote this song at New Year’s when he was two years old when I was still adjusting to this wild change in my life to being a dad. I try and take New Years as a time to assess the last year, but more importantly, think about how I want to improve in the next year. I felt the need to make my ‘Dad’ resolutions – who and how I wanted to be for him. I thought I was writing a song for him as some sort of testament.
It wasn’t until later that I realized I wrote it for myself, as a reminder.
I think not having expected to be a parent freed me from thinking about things in terms of what I wanted to pass along or share. Frankly, I’m more interested in what he can teach me than what I can teach him. Maybe that’s terrible or greedy of me, I don’t know. But he knows all these things I’ve forgotten, like how to find easy joy and amazement in so many small things in life that I’ve come to take for granted. He, like all kids, is so naturally curious and creative that if anything, I feed off that rather than the other way around.
Of course, I want him to like doing the things I like, and I’m lucky that for the most part, he seems to. But I really don’t think about what I want to pass along. If anything, I want him to have a clean slate. My guiding principle is what I say in the bridge of the song, “I promise I’ll do all I can to help you be the most you.” So I do my best to pay attention and see things from his perspective.
Kendra: Overall, your goal in life is to remain authentic. This is something I think we truly have to work at in a time where so much of our lives is overshadowed by the filter of social media. Do you ever find yourself falling prey to the pressures of keeping up an online presence?
David Hobbes: Oh man, another thing I have come into kicking and screaming is social media. But everyone said, ‘You gotta do it,’ and so I started this fall on Instagram. And boy, it blows me away that people choose to spend their time this way. But, at the same time, I’m starting to get that it’s actually a gift to people like me who are releasing music independently, because how else could I develop a following?
I’m a very private person, except in my songs, so it has been a real inner conflict to think about how to engage with social media authentically. But I stumbled across something when I posted my first video, which was perhaps a way to be authentic while still kind of nodding to the ridiculousness of social media, by making videos about my experience. I actually worked for a number of years as a video editor, so it’s been interesting to be dusting off those chops.
I see what I’m doing as satire. Some may just think it’s silly. I can be pretty silly. My son tells me I am all the time. I guess being silly is being authentic.
I’m still just on one platform and I can’t fathom how artists are managing more than one. And it remains to be seen what I can or will keep up there. But I’ve gone from seeing social media as a negative to something that actually enables me to engage in other aspects of my creativity beyond music.
Kendra: Time for a side note – with it being November, a month we give thanks, I’m asking everyone this…what is one album you’re grateful for, an album that inspired you to do what you’re currently doing right now as an artist?
David Hobbes: Of course, it’s hard to pick one, but if I have to pick one it would be “No One Is Really Beautiful” by Jude. I can still picture where I was when I picked that up at a flea market on Melrose Ave. in Los Angeles many years ago. If it was possible to wear out a CD, I would have worn that one out. I was and still am blown away by his lyrics. Unbelievably good and hard-hitting and honest and clever. But the way he wraps them up in a melody and song is just fantastic. He’s also a great singer and performer, and I really enjoy the way he fluidly uses the higher register of his voice. I can’t sing as well as he does, but I’m sure the high note in the chorus of “Searching For A Home (song)” is due to Jude’s influence. As I said, I wrote a first draft of Measure of Degree back then which heavily references the rhythmic approach in Jude’s “Rick James”, if not other ways. I also just realized recently that the cover art on ‘Searching For A Home’ references the cover art on ‘No One Is Really Beautiful.’
So as much as the Beatles and Paul Simon and CAKE are my go-to references for influences because they’re so well known, I would say Jude has been the most directly influential.
Kendra: Lastly, with ‘Searching for a Home’ out in January, what can we expect as we finish out 2023 and head into 2024?
David Hobbes: I expect I’ll still be having to put a lot of time and effort into promotion for a while. I’m basically starting from scratch here and there’s a lot of legwork yet to be done to try and get the album noticed and to develop a listener base. When people listen, they seem to really like it, and the more they listen the more they like it because there are layers in all the songs. But it’s not easy to get people to listen. I have historically been really bad at promotion, and I know I can’t afford to let that happen here because it’s really easy for an album not to be heard. So I expect to be putting a lot of my artistic time into promotion.
The other thing I want to be doing is playing the material out. That will be my second focus. Rachel Efron has done such a fantastic job with the production on the album, giving every song such varied sounds and rich textures, that frankly I’m still trying to figure out the best way to cover my own material. I can’t re-create the album live, but I also want to reference the album in the way I perform the songs live, and it’s still a work in progress.
Finally, I’m continuing to write, and dare say I’m getting better. And by better it means I’m getting from idea to final draft quicker. I worked with Rachel for four years on the songs on this album, and there was a lot of rewriting. I’m getting better at rewriting as I go along. I’m also feeling more confident in my particular way of saying what I have to say.
But competing for time with these endeavors is that I’m a half-time full-time parent, and my first obligation is being very present and active in my young son’s life. That means a “real” job to pay the considerable bills here in California, along with other constraints.
This album was a push from me. No one was asking me to make it. My secret aspiration is that this album connects with enough people where there is an external group saying, “We want you to make another album, and we’ll be here to listen when you’re done.” I have the material and I’m ready to get going on the second album if I start hearing that.