An Interview With Grammy Finalist and Five-Time Emmy Award-Winning Composer and Producer, MARK OBLINGER!
Introducing Grammy Finalist and five-time Emmy Award-winning composer/producer/performer Mark Oblinger out of Boulder, CO. The artist takes his well-deserved place at center stage as feature artist to release his debut album, “High Water Line,” this summer on July 15th. He had had a lengthy career as a major-label nationally touring singer and guitarist, as well as an award-winning producer and songwriter. The first single from this collection was “No Regrets (Radio Edit).”
Oblinger’s illustrious music career includes performing with highly successful national touring acts, chart-topping country rock stalwarts Pure Prairie League (“Amie”) and 7 years with Firefall (“Cinderella,” “You Are the Woman”). Oblinger also worked with Rock and Roll Hall of Famer Richie Furay (Buffalo Springfield, Poco) and in recent years with Garth Brooks, Amy Grant, John Oates, Jeff Hanna (Dirt Band), Drew Emmit and Vince Herman (Leftover Salmon), Billy Nershi (String Cheese Incident) and many others.
A vibrant, fresh approach to classic Indie Rock, “High Water Line” blends unusual musical elements with vivid lyrical pictures to reflect the common storylines of our lives and times. The lyrics deal with a woman’s choice (“Julia”), the daily “work” of love (“Love Is”), the uncompromising nature of passion (“No Regrets”), an emphatic call to action/personal change (“Little Bird”), among other themes.
Oblinger pulled together a top-notch team of industry pros to create his new body of work, including producer John McVey (Chuck Pyle, Yonder Mountain String Band) and mix engineer James Tuttle (AAA radio favorites Big Head Todd, String Cheese Incident, Michael Franti, Hot Rize). He recorded the album with drummer Christian Teele, bassist Chris Engleman and Grammy-nominated multi-instrumentalist Nick Forster (Founder & host of nationally syndicated E-Town, Hot Rize) – all members of the eTones (who backed James Taylor, Rickie Lee Jones, Moby, Ben Harper, Joan Osborne, and many more). Other musicians on the album include bassist Greg Garrison (Leftover Salmon), pianist Eric Moon (Björk, Rare Silk, Jill Sobule), the Railsplitter’s Pete Sharpe (mandolin) and Dusty Rider (banjo) plus background vocals by Robert Johnson (Steve Wonder) and Linda Lawson (Amy Grant, Garth Brooks, John Oates).
Learn more about Mark Oblinger in the following All Access interview:
What does a typical day look like for you? What do you have scheduled the rest of today and this week?
Most days are pretty full of music on the business and creative side. I knew I would be busy once the promotion for High Water Line began but it’s even more than I thought. Way more! 🙂 I still produce other artists and I’m finishing up a project right now. Once I’m done with that I’ll work on finishing up the lyrics on the next group of my tunes.
Now that we are in the latter half of the year, how has 2019 treated you? What are some goals that you have had for yourself this year? How close are you to reaching them or did you already? What are you already excited about for 2020?
2019 has been a fantastic year for me. I completed and released an album that’s wanted to come out for years and it’s met and exceeded my expectations artistically and the public response has been great. Who could ask for more? I’m already working on the next group of songs that will be recorded at the top of the New Year for a 2020 spring release. And I’m really excited about getting out and playing in 2020 at a variety of venues and festivals. Onward!
Growing up, how important was music in your life? Can you recall the moment when you decided that you wanted to be in this industry? Was it an easy or difficult choice to make?
Music has always been a big part of my life because it helped me connect emotionally with the world when I was young. I carried a little AM radio around when I was about 9 years old and can remember hearing “I Wanna Hold Your Hand” and being transported to another world. I knew then that I wanted to be part of the music business. Write, perform, record – anything associated with that feeling. And it was as natural as breathing. Not much choice there!
Was there ever a time when you thought about doing something else? If you weren’t a musician today, what else could you see yourself doing? Would you be as fulfilled in life?
I’ve always had other interests and would have loved to be a master carpenter. I love to work with my hands and create things that could be a special part of people’s daily living experience and even treasured. Like music, I love the level of detail that can go into crafting fine woodwork and the satisfaction of a job well done.
What has been the biggest surprise so far about making music your career? What has been an unexpected or welcome challenge to it all? What has been the best part about it all?
I guess the biggest surprise is the amount of twists and turns the journey takes to stay “in the game.” I performed and toured in my 20’s and 30’s but once I got off the road and started a family, I realized I needed to broaden my skill set if I was going to stay connected to the business. I started doing studio work as a vocalist, which led to producing other people’s vocals, and then songs and albums. That meant learning how to engineer and record sound, which led to outfitting a home studio. I was always drawn to the emotional power of film scoring as such a critical part of the movie experience so I got into scoring some local movie projects and that led to writing pieces for some major TV shows and a number of Emmy awards. The Emmys were for working on a great children’s program called “The Big Green Rabbit” so it doesn’t get much more rewarding than that.
After being in so many bands over the years, what has it been like branching out on your own and releasing solo material? Why did it take so long to finally do this?
Releasing this solo album has been both the most terrifying and gratifying experience I could ever image. I’ve been a bandleader before but never one that played exclusively my compositions so that’s new ground musically and emotionally. I think it took so long to take this step because of my inability to fully accept myself as the artist “I am” as opposed to the artist I thought I should be or sound like. It’s so easy to fall into the trap of comparing yourself to others and until you break out of that box, it’s tough to let your creative voice shine. I’ve received a lot of recognition over the years from my children’s compositions and work for film/TV (Grammy Nominee and Emmy Awards). Coupling that with a “if not now, when” mantra that I’ve whole-heartedly adopted with the growing loss of so many of my contemporaries and friends made it possible to finally have the confidence to let this happen. Plus, I had to get over the fact that no matter how well I put these songs together, they’ll be folks that like the music and folks that don’t – and that’s fine and just part of being an artist.
What was it like putting together your debut solo album, “High Water Line” this past July? Did anything surprise you about the overall process? How did you go about choosing “No Regrets” to be the first single released?
Having produced a lot of albums for other artists and a number of successful children’s albums of my own (2012 Grammy Nominee JumpinJazz Kids – A Swinging Jungle Tale), I understand the technical process pretty well. The hard part was finding someone to help make the often-tough artistic choices that go along with it. Fortunately I found producer John McVey, shared my vision for each song and he helped me stay true to where we needed to go – and also knew when to lighten the reins a bit when we needed to go left or right. His guidance was invaluable! Being a perfectionist, I obsessed over the things I thought I would – but was also surprised by the amount of things I let go of creatively. That also comes with hiring absolutely fantastic musicians. Sometimes (often) it’s best just to get out of the way!
“No Regrets” was kind of a latecomer to the party and I had doubts about whether it fit into the album with its “hip-hop” groove and banjo/mandolin accompaniment. But I got a lot of response from younger and older listeners that really resonated with the vibe so it seemed like a good choice. I also knew we were going to release more songs to help round out my artist profile so the edginess of “No Regrets” might be viewed artistically as a risk – but I liked that choice. Go big or go home!
Where can people see you perform next? Do you have any fall tour dates scheduled yet?
I have a number of dates coming up locally plus some shows in NYC and some performances at the Northeast Regional Folk Alliance in Connecticut during the first week of November. From there, I start looking at festival bookings for the spring and summer of 2020. You can keep in the loop at markoblinger.com.
How do you think you have grown as a musician since you first started making music?
I think the more you work at your craft, the better listener you become – listening to what others are playing and then responding with note choices that can embellish and stimulate the “conversation.” I’ve definitely improved a bunch in that regard and hope to continue to grow in that way. And learning that silence (not playing) is also a very valid note choice.
How do you feel about social media? What has social media done for your career so far?
I love the power of social media to connect us but it’s no substitute for actually physically being there. My social media campaign has connected me to many groups of people that I never could have reached before, so I hope to use this tool to tour successfully where a potentially receptive audience is already waiting and aware of my music.
Who are some of your favorite artists or rather, what musicians have continued to inspire you and your music? Who would you absolutely love to work with in the future?
I’m still inspired by some of the artists I grew up with – Peter Gabriel, John Prine, Jackson Browne, James Taylor, Joni Mitchell, Bonnie Raitt and a host of others. Ry Cooder! Most of these folks are still out there performing and, most importantly, still working at perfecting their craft. There are a bunch of younger artists that also knock me out and of late, Maggie Rogers is my favorite. I’m inspired by her complete willingness to lay bare her thoughts/feelings and just go for it! I would love to connect and see how she “creates” her world.
If you had an unlimited budget and your schedule was free, what would your dream music video look like?
It’s not so much what it would look like but more of what it would say. I would want to bring people together from different walks of life, points of view, circumstance and show them how similar they really are and how many things we actually share and value. And not in some over-simplified “kumbaya – everything’s gonna be fine if we just drop our hate” message. It’s way more complicated than that – especially these days. Maybe you start with simple images of people from different cultures and economic means doing their daily tasks and move towards shots that capture our common joys and fears – playing with their young children, family gatherings, the beauty of our natural world, the loss of loved ones, loneliness and end of life. And then we begin to mix those images together where their lives meet and they trade places and experience those common emotions, wants and needs in another person’s shoes. No judgments on how each of us got there – just reminding us how similar we are on the most basic level. And maybe that begins to fuel greater connection/understanding between us.
Where would you love to hear a song of yours played?
I would of course love to hear a song of mine played at some giant arena or at the Kennedy Center or on Broadway – and at the same time, I would be just as happy to hear one of my songs played on an old, out of tune piano at someone’s family gathering where people are joyfully singing together. In the end, it’s all about that connection.
At the end of the day, what do you hope people take away from your music?
I hope people can hear the beauty I try to create and feel my sense of struggle with life’s challenges and the work it takes to be comfortable with just how perfectly flawed I think we all are. I spent the majority of my music career uncomfortable with my “humanity” – warts and all – and once I embraced them, it let all the things that mattered to me as an artist flow. And it’s still a work in progress. As a great songwriting friend of mine says, “What is most vulnerable – is most universal.” The thing you’re most scared to say as a writer is the thing that everyone can relate to – and I hope I’ve done some of that with my music.
Would you like to share anything else about yourself or your music with our readers?
I guess just the desire to see you in an audience sometime in the near future and share this great experience of live music together!