Seven Questions In Heaven With Tony Memmel

PHOTO CREDIT: Lesleigh Memmel
I was recently introduced to Tony Memmel's brand of indie rock that blends soulful lyrics with catchy hooks. After just releasing his fourth album and also getting picked as a grand prize winner in the Counting Crows Cover Song contest, Tony Memmel was kind enough to sit down and answer our Seven Questions In Heaven.

Describe your music for our readers who may not be familiar with you.
I am a singer-songwriter, born and raised in Wisconsin. My music is definitely firmly rooted in Americana, Folk, and Heartland Rock, but I'm also influenced by indie rock, classical music, and pop.

Who are your musical influences and idols?
I enjoy a lot of different styles of music and I believe they all influence me in different ways. I tend to go through phases where I'll dig very deeply into a single artist or genre. My deepest influences range from Bruce Springsteen to Johannes Brahms to Fiona Apple. Some of my favorite artists are Bob Dylan, Ben Folds, Arcade Fire, Bon Iver, The National, The Killers, Iron & Wine, Dr. Dre, Wilco, Counting Crows. Also, some more underground indie bands like You Won't, Field Report, and Reed Waddle.

What was the first album, cassette or CD you bought with your own money?
I got a Walkman for Christmas when I was in 4th grade. At the time, I was really into '90s pop music and bought Seal's album, and Des'ree I Ain't Movin'. "Kiss From a Rose" and "You Gotta Be." Awesome. To complete the story, I remember being really torn about which one to choose and ended up getting both within weeks of each other.

When I got a CD Player in 6th grade, I bought Counting Crows' Recovering The Satellites and that's still one of my favorite albums.

Can you tell us a little about your latest EP? Do you have plans for a full album?
My new EP is called Clenched Hands Brave Demands. It's my five absolute strongest songs that I've written. I had originally intended for it to be a totally different record than it ended up becoming, but I'm so proud of it that I'm really glad it worked this way. I have a full-length album totally written and on the back burner and I play some of the songs live already.

What happened is that I went on a writing spree and came up with the songs that are on Clenched Hands Brave Demands relatively quickly and they were intensely personal yet (hopefully) relatable. My wife, Lesleigh, and I recorded and performed all of the orchestrations ourselves and I recorded it in my small home studio in Wauwatosa, WI. I felt like I wanted to make a statement and to move forward from my previous efforts and Clenched Hands Brave Demands definitely does that.

You recently won a Counting Crows cover song contest. Why were you interested in entering and do you feel your own music is in the same vein as Counting Crows?
Counting Crows is one of my all time favorite bands. I remember my cousin Brad showed me their music when they first came out in the early '90s, and I was so drawn to the lyricism and true Americana/folk-rock style of music. I think that they are one of my earliest and most long-lasting influences in music.

Lesleigh entered herself in a contest last year to design the album artwork for Adam Duritz's solo album, "All My Bloody Valentines," and Adam selected hers out of over 1,200 entries. Adam is really great with corresponding with his fans, so we've built a little bit of a friendship through Facebook and Twitter over the last year.

And then this year, we submitted to the cover song contest and actually met Adam at South by Southwest in Austin. I introduced myself to him and he knew who we were right away and started talking about our cover and how much he liked it without us even bringing it up. He's a really cool guy and he does a lot of great things for indie musicians. I really just want to be his friend. So, it's been really cool to be in touch and to have someone who's been a huge influence of mine listening to and commenting on my music. It's really cool and I feel honored in a way to have been so fortunate.

On your website you talk about building a grassroots following. How has that been going? Has being an amputee made it harder to get the notice of mainstream labels or do you think you're going down the usual path that indie musicians follow?
Building a grassroots following is easy and hard simultaneously. I am just coming off of a 7 week tour that was largely financed by me with some help from my friends and tour co-sponsors at the Lucky Fin Project. They're an awesome support group for children and adults with hand and limb differences. I have been working as an ambassador of sorts for the cause.

In some cities I play for several hundred people and in some I play for 25, but I always stay until I've shaken everyone's hand and I try to build real connections with people and put on a consistently strong show each night.

As far as mainstream labels are concerned, I wouldn't say that being an amputee has helped or hindered me. I've always, with the help of my wife and occasional volunteers, performed the duties that a label would perform, on my own. I'm not shy about describing my backstory of learning to play guitar with one hand. I just feel that my music and character need to be the most important aspects of what I do. Playing guitar with one hand is one aspect of what I do, but ultimately I want the respect of my listeners and I want to be truly great at what I do. My door is open. If the right deal came along, I'd definitely consider it.

You're in charge of a music festival. You're the opening act and you get to pick any five bands, dead or alive, to appear on the bill. Who do you choose? And what song do you all get together and perform as the finale?

Though I'm tempted to invite Seal, I think he's booked elsewhere that day. Jeff Tweedy would open the day as a solo acoustic act, perhaps joined by Wilco on a few tunes. I'd book the Beatles (Shea Stadium era). Because you can't not book the Beatles, if they're available. Late '60s/mid '70s Bob Dylan. I want to hear him play "Tangled Up In Blue" and "Visions Of Johanna." I always think Queen would have been awesome to see live. Their concert footage looks so high energy and cool. I'd have to go with Bruce Springsteen as the headliner (who invites me on stage to dance during "Dancing In The Dark."). We'd all get together at the end of the show with, get this, a surprise guest appearance from Tom Petty And the Heartbreakers and we all play "Free Fallin'."

More Tony Memmel: Official | Facebook | Twitter

PHOTO CREDIT: Lesleigh Memmel

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