The Voice of Truth, Liam St John.
Rejection, self-doubt, and a low sense of self-esteem often go hand in hand for many a musician/artist wishing to pursue a career and establish themselves within their chosen industry. For American Blues singer-songwriter, Liam St. John’s experiences of vulnerability in the underground music scene were no different in a number of aspects. He admits that he initially was attempting to ‘’Please others / And it had an impact on how I sang’’.
The Blues singer, born on a cold December night in a red Ford Festiva in his hometown of Spokane, Washington, is currently living is Los Angeles, California, amidst the glitz and glamour of Hollywood’s A-Listers. His move to L.A. came after spending a number of years on the local music circuit performing at open mic nights and empty dive bars. St. John and his band’s efforts rarely earned them a dime and were often acknowledged with a drop of whiskey or slice of pizza.
St. John’s experiences of rejection are best described as character building due to him not developing as much as he would have liked. ‘’I am grateful, looking back, that I got rejected so many times by The Voice’’. He and his band received their big break when they supported British soul-sensation Jacob Banks, who was since toured across the eastern and southern states of the US with Liam St. John.
All in all, it is safe to say that repeated rejection can go a long way towards standing an artist in good stead for the future. Since the days of being paid with a slice of pizza, St. John has chosen to work with pop sensation Gwen Stefani after finally being accepted on The Voice and is keeping the likes of Eric Clapton company in the music charts.
Without further ado, let’s get in to it…
“… I hadn’t found my truth yet; I was living to please others”Liam St. John
Firstly, thank you once again for taking time out of your busy schedule. Could we start by laying down some background? If you were to write an autobiography in a couple of short paragraphs… what would you write about ‘Liam St’ John’?
Well, to start – I was born in a car. It was a red Ford Festiva, and it was in the cold of December in my hometown. I guess I was born to be on the road! I grew up in Spokane, Washington with my two older sisters. My mom was a working single mom. I was very shy as a kid; I think that is why the blues resonated with me so much as a kid – I internalized most of my thoughts and feelings and listening to blues music was an adventure for me to express myself and process my feelings as a shy kid. That combined with my mom’s amazing taste in music. Most of my childhood memories revolve around the music my mom was bumping in her car (Stevie Ray Vaugh, Santana, Ray Charles, Lauryn Hill, the list goes on…) or in the living room of my childhood home.
Music has always been that to me – a way to process my thoughts and a way to feel. For a lot of my life, I kept that to myself (partly because I was shy). I was obsessed with sports growing up and found myself pursuing a career in track and field. After college I went to South Africa to give my pro dreams a shot – there is where I realised that track and field wasn’t what I needed to do. Since then, I have been tunnel-visioned on my career. Music, specifically live performing is what gives me life, and I am my most authentic and genuine self on the stage.
With regards to the early years of your career, you mentioned that you ‘’hustled in the trenches of the music industry’’ for years without little financial reward, and I read that you’d auditioned several times for ‘The Voice’ before finally making it through to the live shows. Can you tell us about those experiences, and how you found such resilience and determination within yourself to deal with the challenges of rejection?
I am grateful, looking back, that I got rejected so many times by The Voice. I hadn’t found my truth yet, I was living to please others, and it had an impact on how I sang. Once I finally took the jump into making this dream my career, I found meaning in the “trenches” Everything started to have a purpose to me, the dive bar gigs, the constant rejection, the continual grind, all of it. What looked like rock bottom to a lot of people, I was finally feeling myself and found my truth, and I found my voice. I no longer needed the approval of others, because I knew who I was as a person and an artist. When I got through on The Voice, it was only because I was forced to find my truth and my voice (metaphorically and literally). I think when we have meaning in what we are doing, we are able to withstand almost anything.
Obviously, all that hard work paid off and you left quite an impression on Gwen Stefani and Blake Shelton during the show! Gwen said, “I will not lie to you if I become your coach”, given you’d chosen her as your coach for the show, did she keep her word? Assuming so – what was the most useful feedback she gave to you, and how have you put that into practice following that experience?
Gwen was an incredible coach -that whole experience was the time of my life; I am so grateful to the Voice for giving me such a special opportunity. Gwen taught me to be intentional with my dynamics. I love to belt, and I am naturally high energy when I perform – she helped me to see the value in my dynamic range – to take the listeners on a journey with my voice along with my lyrics.
A good example of that would be your debut single ‘Ozark’, which was released following your time on The Voice, and ultimately reached #52 in the Global Blues Charts in October. How would you describe the feeling of seeing your name in the charts with the likes of Eric Clapton, after all those years playing in those ‘empty dive bars’?
I think celebrating moments like that is critical. Most artists suffer from some form of imposter syndrome, and it can be hard sometimes to know if the art is doing what you want it to do. Having a song next to a legend like Eric Clapton was an incredible moment for me – as a Blues fan – it’s mind-blowing, and as a blues artist, it was affirming – all the hard work I have put in is working. It also was extremely motivating, because I know what I am capable of, and now it is starting to come to life. I celebrated with my team and my family, but just as quickly we are back to work because there is so much to be done!
Speaking about the track, you said it represents a “snapshot of my life over the last few years. A lot of pain, a lot of darkness, and a lot of places. Thankfully, I found my way to the surface and caught a breath of new life”. Firstly, it’s awesome to hear that you’ve since found your way out of the darkness. Would you be comfortable sharing the origin of the track, and the sentiment behind it?
The song is about death in a way – to my old self – The self that was living to please others and the self that was not honoring my truth. I had to say goodbye to that person – and the parts of my life that were unhealthy along with it. I found my truth in music, but to do that I had to sacrifice a lot – I went through a divorce that caused a lot of pain and hurt, I fell out of my faith, but in losing those things, I found myself. Not too long after I really felt I was finally living my truth – fully and freely – I met Tori, my girlfriend. She was a breath of new life – and so this song was inspired by her. She is from Siloam Springs, which I mention in the song.
Of all the tracks that you’ve written, or indeed songs written by other artists which you’ve covered, which would you say speaks the most to your emotions?
I think each song lives on its own – Every song I write is quite vulnerable to my specific thoughts, feelings, and emotions – So I guess each song you hear is a snapshot into my life at the time I wrote the song. I will say Dipped In Bleach is the most honest song I have ever written, and I am very proud of that one. 2022 will be a lot more originals similar to that song, I am so excited!
Sinking Hole was written after my divorce. I wrote in like 20 minutes. I think I needed to write it to fully process the pain and move forward with my life. Most of my songs, I don’t have any expectations or direction when I start to write, they are pulled from somewhere in the universe – it is quite a mystery to me, songwriting, I think I like it that way.
I read that your breakthrough came following an opportunity to open for British soul-rock singer Jacob Banks. Can you tell us a bit about that; how did the opportunity arise for you and your band, and what was that experience like for you?
Never underestimate the power of simply asking. My band and I had been grinding for a year (in those empty dive bars) and we were finally starting to garner a bigger audience in the Portland area. Jacob Banks is one of my favorite artists – I respect his writing and his voice is insane – I saw that he was touring through my hometown and somehow got in contact with the right people, and we were given the green light to open for him. It was such an exciting moment, especially for my band because they had put in so much hard work for me – I was thrilled that we were starting to get the gigs I knew we were capable of. Singing to a sold-out crowd in my hometown was epic. I know someday very soon, we will be headlining through that same venue. I look forward to that.
I can imagine that was an amazing experience! And you since relocated from Spokane to Los Angeles; well-known for its diverse and thriving music scene. Would you say it’s more challenging to establish yourself as a blues artist as opposed to say, being a pop, rock, or R&B artist?
Certainly, it is challenging. Everybody here is incredible and pursuing their dreams. I guess what helps is that I stand out as a more gritty artist than what is typically seen here in L.A. Being in the entertainment industry hub has not changed who I am or how I work – as soon as things started to open back up, it was back to the daily grind. I’ve met some of the most talented singers and songwriters during my time here in L.A. What I love about it is the diversity and the grit of the city – You can go to Hotel Cafe and hear ten new songwriters you’ve never heard before who are all insanely talented and all uniquely themselves. I feel I belong here in L.A.
How did the pandemic affect you as a musician, and has it had any influence on the music you’d been writing during that time? Have there been any unforeseen benefits or challenges as a result of those many months in lockdown?
The pandemic was hard, that is certain. What was beautiful about it is that every single person on the planet was experiencing the same thing – and it brought us all together online. I did countless zoom writing sessions with people I would have never written with, participated in worldwide open mics over zoom, and met some rad people from every part of the world.
I was lucky in a lot of ways – My music started reaching people during the pandemic with the sure in TikTok – I met so many cool people through posting my songs on that app.
I was forced to sit in my thoughts and feelings during the pandemic, and many of the songs I wrote during that time reflect that. I was in a lot of pain, and the darkness was still hovering over me – Songs like Glossed, Sinking Hole and the Kitchen Song were all written during that year.
“Dipped In Bleach is the most honest and vulnerable song I’ve ever written. It both tells a story of the stains I have, but it, more importantly, speaks to me accepting that we all have stains and that it is more important to walk through life together as your true self, rather than trying to hide things from people just to please.”Liam St John
Your vocal style has been described as ‘’Smoky’’ and ‘’Rugged’’. How would you describe your own voice, and does singing in falsetto come naturally to you, or did you have to work on it extensively to both nurture and strengthen your vocal register?
I would say I have a gritty, powerful, and soulful voice. I don’t have much formal training; however, I do believe that things grow over time. I think the best thing for my voice was gigging so much for so long – literally every night for about three years I was playing a gig, singing at an open mic, or rehearsing for a gig. I think live music is the best way to nourish a voice – at least for me, as I feel like I could sing anything when I am up on stage – so naturally, I would reach for things I normally maybe wouldn’t think to try – Like those big screams 🙂
In terms of plans for the new year, what can we expect in terms of new releases, and… do you have any plans to perform live shows internationally?
2022 will be a year FULL of new original music – it’s my best work, and I cannot wait to share it with the world. As you know, performing live is my absolute passion – it is the only thing I want to do for the rest of my life – so yes, absolutely we are working on a European tour in the spring/summer of 2022 – I cannot wait to get back on the road.
Well, we’ll certainly look forward to some live shows in the New Year! Thanks again for your time Liam, it’s been great hearing from you and we wish you all the best!