Interview: John Lefler (Dallas)

Tuesday, April 24th, head out up Willy Street to Mickey’s Tavern. Alas it won’t be for brunch, however the consolation will be an evening of music from a guitarist from a surprisingly huge band. That’s the charm of Mickey’s really. Along with Milwaukee musician Mark Waldoch (of The Celebrated Workingman), John Lefler will be performing songs off his efforts outside of being the guitarist for Dashboard Confessional since 2005. The sets start at 10:00PM.

First off, I hear you play shortstop in Dallas in softball. With baseball season just started, favorite player of all time and why?

My favorite baseball player of all time is Mike Scott, who pitched for the Houston Astros in the latter half of the 1980’s.  In 1986 he was easily the most dominant pitcher in sports, and therefore was accused of cheating by ‘scuffing’ the baseball.  Also, he looked identical to my father, who used to sign, “Mike Scott,” autographs at my swim meets growing up.  I’ll bet that in the Houston area there are still dozens of grown men who believe they met the 1986 NL Cy Young winner and NLCS MVP.

Switching from performing in Dashboard Confessional to doing a Midwest tour solo must give a sense of “going back to the roots.” What has touring solo taught you when you tour with Dashboard? And what has touring with Dashboard taught you about touring solo?

I’ve been touring solo as, “John Lefler,” since my first album came out in 2009.  It doesn’t feel like ‘getting back to roots’ because I had never toured alone prior.  It never occurred to me, so I guess I learned that from Dashboard.  Words like, “baggage fees,” “free Internet,” and, “one way rental,” never existed to me with Dashboard.  Now, stuff like that is all I think about.  I’ve become terribly boring.

How did you and Mark Waldoch of The Celebrated Workingman first meet? What clicked and made you want to tour with him this time around?

I met Mark through my best friend (and Dashboard bassist), Scott Schoenbeck.  He has a wild and woolly circle of friends in Milwaukee that I hang with every time I’m in town.  Mark, who is a great musician, bar tends at our favorite spot.  We’ve gradually become good buds over the years.  With Dashboard I toured with so many bands that I never really hung out with, or had much in common with.  Now, it’s important to me to travel and play with my friends.  Since we don’t make any money, we might as well laugh while we’re doing it.

Do you still play the piano with seven fingers and two thumbs? (Reminds me of Django Reinhardt, minus the caravan fire that left him to perform with less than all 10 digits.)

Yes, although these days I tend to play the piano with my fists more than anything.  I find it’s the easiest way to be heard in rowdy Midwestern bars.  Also, Django Reinhardt would be horrified if any of my playing was ever compared to his (regardless of the instrument).  I prefer the comparison to Mordecai “Three Finger” Brown (in honor of baseball season).

You have your “Shout Fire EP” available on the tour, especially at Mickey’s Tavern. What’s one song that stands out personally for you and the story behind it?

One interesting back story is for the song, “Shelter In Place.”  It was an expression that I heard my geologist father use in reference to a chemical leak in the Houston area.  A, “Shelter In Place,” warning is issued during any chemical accident, or terrorist situation, where something toxic has been released into the atmosphere.  It calls for you and everyone in your household to seal the windows and doors, cover the vents, and wait for further notice.  It’s a short term solution for a disaster.  I thought it was a good metaphor for how people trap themselves in terrible relationships for the smallest, most transient of reasons.  The song (and the EP) kind of took off from that point.

Where does the title of the EP come from?

The song and EP title come from the expression, “shout fire in a crowded theater.”  It’s about using fear to achieve your own person agenda.  The EP has a somewhat frenetic, nervous feel to it.  The title seemed to convey that. 

What does the rest of 2012 have in store for you?

Honestly, I have no idea.  Likely, it will be more of the same.  I’m hoping that this EP will catch on somewhere, or perhaps lead me to something.  At the very least I need to hit the East Coast later in the Summer. 

What’s something about Wisconsin (or Madison) that, touring through the years, makes you excited to come back? What would you do if you had a day entirely free here?

When I think of Wisconsin, I think of two things: Scott Schoenbeck and beer.  Wisconsin has the best bar culture of anywhere I’ve been – and frankly, some of the most reverence for rock music.  If we were millionaires, we would just sit on bar stools in Milwaukee, hanging out all day, every day.  I actually have a day off there after the Madison show, if anyone cares to join us…

Thoughts?