San Diego-based singer/songwriter/troubadour, Steve Poltz, plays tonight, Thursday, March 26, at Mojo’s. BOB GORDON chatted to him this afternoon.
Steve Poltz posted a question that he’d like to be asked today on his website.
So what better question to ask first than the question he’d like to be asked most today.
What’s your favourite movie, Steve?
“Ikiru,” he says happily, of the 1952 film directed by revered Japanese director, Akira Kurosawa. It’s about a jaded man who has been given a year to live but wants to find a reason to live.
“I love it,” Poltz says. “I try and watch it like once every couple years.”
Poltz is at the tail end of his 14th Australian tour. Last night he played at the Rosemount Hotel’s Four5Nine Bar. Just the thought of it gets him pumped for tonight’s show at Mojo’s.
“It was fantastic, man,” Poltz enthuses. “A packed little room. Tiny room! It was a really good time, so I’m looking forward to Mojo’s. I’ve played there before and I really like that room. It’s got a good vibe, doesn’t it?”
It does indeed, though Poltz is something of a master of good vibes, an expert in reading the mood of a room and working off it.
“Oh I don’t plan it out,” he says in regards to pre-show preparation. “I just go with what the vibe of the room is. I mean, I have ideas. Sometimes I’ll think, ‘oh I haven’t played this one for a while’. I’ll do a few chord changes to make sure I haven’t forgotten it and usually just start going in.
“I have a lot of songs, so it’s like whatever I feel like playing… whatever I’m in the mood for. Sometimes certain rooms call for certain songs, for some reason.”
And while some songwriters find it hard to recall their more distant tunes, it’s not a problem for Poltz.
“Do I have good memory recall?” he posits. “I do, yeah. I have a crazy knack for words. I have a really good memory for melodies and words.”
In a moving interview with Caitlin Nienaber on RTRFM’s Breakfast show on Wednesday morning, Poltz detailed his experience of suffering a stroke mid-way during a performance in Wilmington, Delaware, last October. As he sung from the stage he actually experienced blindness but didn’t let the audience know, ‘I didn’t want to worry them, because I’m originally from Canada and we don’t like to upset people’. He endured the rest of the set, then autographs… then photographs… before some friends convinced him not to drive to the next town and go to a New Jersey hospital.
A catscan and an MRI followed and five days later Poltz’s friends walked him out of the hospital, whereupon he noticed a weakened tree struggling to grow in the sunlight. He promptly burst into tears.
“It was weird,” Poltz reflects. “I just started really noticing things when I went outside. Things that I would not otherwise have noticed. It was kind of a life-changing experience. In a weird way, it was kind of a blessing, because it made me appreciate life more. Kind of like that movie, Ikira, which means ‘To Live’. I realised just how short our time is.”
Some people might stay home and water the lawn after such an experience, but following a few months of rest and recovery, Poltz went back out on the road. He’ll release a new album soon and will actually be returning to Australia for shows in November.
“There’s no real right way to do it,” he says moving onward. “You just have to be present, I think. I wasn’t going to tour again after it happened. I didn’t even want to. I had no desire to, I just wanted to take it easy. My friends said, ‘you’ll want to’ and I said ‘no, I think I’m done’.
“Then something happened. I went and played a show and I realised how much I love playing music for people and seeing new things. Next thing I know it was kind of like Al Pacino in The Godfather III – ‘just when I think I’m out they drag me back in’. That was me and I was back in. I realised how fun my job is.
“Whenever you’re on the road you have the highest highs and the lowest lows. All tours have these ups and downs. It’s really weird, some days just suck and you think, ‘why am I doing this?’ and then another show is just transcendent and you can’t believe you get to do this. That’s the weird thing about touring – it’s such a weird, mixed bag.”