Oregon-based singer-songwriter Robert Meade makes stops in Venice and Santa Monica while touring the nation
By Michael Aushenker
It may sound strange, but singer-songwriter Robert Meade is performing in both Santa Monica and Venice next week as part of a month-long national tour that hinges on just one song. Stranger yet, that song is called “Stranger.”
“It’s a challenge, definitely. You’ve got to be pretty creative to get people’s attention. Have one song to have people focus on that,” Meade said.
That new track, with its crunchy electric guitars and full band sounds, is a departure from early Meade tunes such as “Run,” an acoustic guitar-fortified workout that employs a long instrumental ramp up before his vocals kick in.
Meade draws from a rich catalogue of influences from the Motown sound — as prevalent in Marvin Gaye’s “Pride and Joy” and The Temptations’ “My Girl” (“that tight, perfect sound,” he said) — to Ray Charles, Roy Orbison, The Beatles, Bob Dylan, The Rolling Stones, Neil Young and Arcade Fire.
“In songwriting, I don’t see any boundaries,” Meade said. “Neil Young: he played country music, rock ‘n’ roll, grunge, noise music. You don’t really think if they fit the genre.”
Meade was especially inspired by James Mercer of the Portland-based alternative rock group The Shins, whom he admires for taking on musical challenges such as Broken Bells, Mercer’s collaboration with Danger Mouse.
“The Shins pushed me to another place,” Meade said.
Originally from Santa Cruz, Meade was living in New York City with his girlfriend until he followed her out to Eugene, Ore., in 2005. The relationship ended, but to Meade’s surprise his love affair with his new city continued to burn, abetted by Eugene’s rich music history.
“It’s so much more relaxed than California,” he said. “It’s slow paced. Not many distractions. It rains here nine months out of the year. That’s good for a writer. You’re stuck inside to face the music. Literally.”
After many solo gigs, Meade recently formed his Nashville Trio, enlisting drummer Benjamin Schaaff and bassist Isaac Hall to embark on an ambitious U.S. tour of club dates. Thanks to Schaaff, also his producer and engineer on many recordings, Meade connected with Sean Flora, who mastered tracks on what many consider to be The Shins’ masterpiece, 2007’s “Wincing the Night Away.”
Across his nearly 15 years as a performer, Meade has enjoyed many highlights. At the Wow Hole in Eugene, he jammed with Robert Schwartzman’s band, and Weezer guitarist Brian Bell joined in.
Playing Austin’s revered music showcase South by Southwest in 2011 led Meade to perform at Sundance Film Festival in Utah the following year. He’s been playing the Robert Redford-founded film festival ever since.
“You can pretty much have a street you can play on. You can book yourself up and play nine hours a day,” he said.
Meade heads next to San Diego before playing gigs in Arizona and Texas on his way to Chicago and then back home to Oregon.
While his current tour is built around a single, Meade hasn’t entirely lost faith in the idea of making an album and intends to release a five-song EP, including “Stranger,” in September. While he has yet to record an official full-length album, Meade said he has recorded informal discs over the last 13 years.
“It’s a way of connecting with the audience for them to take home physically,” he said.
The songs that make up Meade’s current tour “are a representation of where I am today,” he said. “I feel them most at live performances, and I hope they speak well to the audience. Like every human experience, I am on a journey of ebbs and flows as a songwriter. I want to portray those emotions through lyrics and melody as honestly as I can.”
Robert Meade performs at 9 p.m. Monday at TRiP, 2101 Lincoln Blvd., Santa Monica, and plays an abbreviated set at 8:30 p.m. Tuesday at Witzend, 1717 Lincoln Blvd., Venice. (310) 396-9010, tripsantamonica.com; (310) 305-4790; witzendlive.com