From last week’s column on newcomer singer-songwriter Sarah Crosby, this time around it’s another Mainer, Slaid Cleaves. Born and raised in Maine, Cleaves has been honing his singer-songwriter chops for more than two-and-a-half decades, and his career has been chronicled by almost a dozen albums.

In 1991, he packed up and moved to the Austin, Texas, area to pursue his love of music, and it was there where I recently contacted him via the phone to chat about his musical life and a new album that’s soon to be released, called “Ghost on the Car Radio.” He’ll make the trek from Texas back to Maine for a gig at Johnson Hall on May 6.

Q: I’ve been really enjoying the new album. Your wife sent a link so I could listen to it online. When will it come out?

Cleaves: The release date is June 23.

Q: Will folks in Gardiner get to hear some of the songs from that album?

Cleaves: I’ll definitely be playing some of the tracks, for sure.

Q: You hail from South Berwick, correct?

Cleaves: Yup.

Q: Are you out on the road right now?

Cleaves: No, we’re home working on getting the new record ready for release — all that behind-the-scenes stuff.

Q: Did you ever think, back when you first started out, that you’d have such a long-running career?

Cleaves: Well, I never knew for sure. I kind of hoped it would be, but when you’re just starting out, it takes a certain amount of delusion to keep going despite all the signals telling you that you’re not going to make it, but I got lucky.

Q: That you did. But a lot of its skill, too. I mean, your lyrics have such power and the melodies stay with you as well.

Cleaves: It takes a lot of persistence, that’s for sure.

Q: Is there anything you haven’t done yet that you’d like to, careerwise, that is?

Cleaves: Not really. I’ve carved out a nice little niche for myself and make a decent living. The main goal is just to hold on to my little scrap of land here and try to keep my fans interested enough to hang on with me. I used to dream about getting on “Austin City Limits” or driving a tour bus instead of a minivan, but those dreams have pretty much all receded. I feel like I’ve kind of reached the audience I deserve.

Q: Is that enough for you?

Cleaves: It is. I see that the little niche that I’ve carved out is such a tiny, little part of American culture. It doesn’t have any effect on the American culture the way the heroes that I grew up listening to had an effect. It just feels a little bit like I failed to make a dent on the national scene overall. But then, on the other hand, I don’t really have that much interest in the national culture as a whole, anyway. I’m not into mass-market activities, so it makes sense that I’ve found a tiny, little niche of audience to work with.

Q: Who are the people you looked up to?

Cleaves: Growing up, you mean?

Q: Yeah.

Cleaves: Well, people like Bruce Springsteen and Tom Petty and Tom Waites and Hank Williams, Woody Guthrie — you know, the pillars of American folk and singer-songwriter music. They were my heroes and the guideposts coming up as a guy trying to learn how to do this, a guy inspired to make music because music has such an effect on me. And that’s where I’m deeply satisfied. It’s through fan interaction I know there are a handful of people out there that have been deeply moved by the music that I put out. That was really the primary goal when I set forth on this journey to recreate that connection with people, so that’s very gratifying, and I can make a living, so I’m not complaining at all.

Q: Making a living doing something that you love. what’s better than that?

Cleaves: You got it.

Q: What are your thoughts about performing at Johnson Hall?

Cleaves: We just played there once and it was fantastic. We had a great crowd; it’s a great facility and friendly staff. Yeah, when we played the show last year, we immediately booked two shows for a year hence, and those are the show that are coming up in May.

Q: Oh, so there are two shows there.

Cleaves: Yeah, I think we’re doing a Sunday matinee.

Lucky Clark has spent more than 45 years writing about good music and the people who make it. He can be reached at [email protected] if you have any questions, comments or suggestions.


Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.