When Queers Collide: Margaret Cho Interviews Garrison Starr 



I loved you in Among the Oak and Ash. Your voice is lovely when doing these old folk songs. Do you have any plans to do more in that vein - covers/folkie stuff/Americana?
Aw, thanks Marge. I loved being a part of ATOAA. Josh Joplin is one of my favorite people ever, and certainly one of the nicest folks I’ve ever met. I don’t have plans to do anything, however, I do plan at some point to make a gospel record. That idea has been tugging at me for the last year or so.

When you tour, what is your favorite thing to get at the truck stop? My fave is Funyuns.

Oh shit. I’ve been trying very hard not to participate in crappy food from the truck stop for quite some time. Especially since I’ve been listening religiously to the Jillian Michaels podcast and doing her No More Trouble Zones DVD workout when I can. I keep thinking about how mad she would be if we were friends and she found out I was eating truck stop snacks. That being said, I like Combos, pizza flavor, and beef jerky. And vinegar and salt potato chips, the Lays ones.

Who is sexy to you?
Well, aesthetically, I like grungy boy rock star types and really feminine women. But overall what is sexy to me is confidence. Having no apologies for who you are and what you want. That is sexy. Standing alone in a crowd. That is sexy to me.

What makes you really want to write?
Is it a cop-out to say I really love to write when I’m inspired by something? I’m not all that prolific. I’m not the type who writes every day because I don’t really feel inspired to write every day. I like to feel moved and impassioned. I like to feel like I’m pushing a boundary. That’s my favorite time to write songs.

When you are writing, is it music first or words first?
It’s usually a melody idea that combines with a lyric idea that’s floating around in my head. But the melody always has to be there.

Do you have an artist that you compare yourself to?
I constantly compare myself to Emmylou Harris. That’s my ideal voice; if I could get there vocally, I would be happiest. I am OK with singing, but she’s the voice I’d love to emulate.

I think that you are as incredible as Tom Petty. He’s actually the only artist I can compare you with.
Dude, that’s so awesome. You know I love Tom Petty. I always use him as a comparison because his style is rootsy, yet rock to me. He’s a singer/songwriter for sure, but he’s rock and roll. What’s been hard for me in the past is being somewhat pigeonholed as a folky artist, when really, that’s not what I feel describes what I do best. I’m determined to play some shows this year with a damn band. Tom, we should tour together. I also love Emmylou’s voice. She’s undeniable. Classic.

When you are unhappy, is that a good time for writing? For me it is. I feel it heals me to put whatever is going on into a song or a story or a joke. I haven’t had the same impulse to write when everything is going well. Do you think it’s a myth that artists have to be tortured? Things that I write when life is not so great are often best?
I think it makes total sense that tension and discomfort often breeds the best work. It kind of touches back to what I said a little while ago about pushing boundaries. In my mind, stretching our limits is the only way to truly grow and move forward in life. Being comfortable is great, but it gets old for us artists. We need hunger. We need something to work toward. I think it’s what frustrates us the most but also keeps us working.

What is your family background? Where are you from? Do they come to gigs?

I grew up an only child in the Memphis area. The town I’m from is called Hernando, Mississippi, and it’s located about 20 miles south of Memphis, Tennessee. My parents are very conservative Christians, and I grew up in the Methodist church. I also went to a private Christian school, so needless to say, I have a lot of baggage.

How do you parents feel about you being gay?
My family struggles with my being gay for sure, but they are respectful, and we have a great relationship. They are such loving and fun people. We’ve come a long way, to their credit. Well, to all of our credits, actually. They have always been supportive of my music career. They used to come to every gig. Obviously, they can’t make them all anymore, but they do come whenever they can. I have always appreciated that about my parents and my immediate family. We don’t always agree, but I’ve never doubted for a second that they love me and are there for me, no matter what.

Where do you live now?
I’m now back in LA, where I’m the happiest.

Nashville still hold a place in your heart?
I can’t say I really miss Nashville, though I do miss some of my very closest friends who are there.

What did you want to grow up to be?
I’m living my own dream, though I’m afraid that sounds really dumb. I’m lucky. My life is exactly what I would have hoped for. There are things I’m striving for, clearly, but I call my own shots, and I’m not going to complain about that.

I listened to "Superhero" running through Tompkins Square park in 1999, when I lived on lower east side and jogged. It made me feel powerful and young and immortal. That was way before I knew you. I had to get everything you ever recorded after that song. I still love it. That’s my favorite after “Beautiful in Los Angeles.” What’s the story behind that song?
Ahhhhh, “Superhero.” There’s so much I could say about that song. I’m happy you asked me about the story behind it — I never really tell it. I remember exactly when the song came about. I had left college, Ole Miss, after a huge scandal of people finding out me and a sorority sister were in a relationship. That was my first real relationship with a woman and I was commuting back and forth for a time instead of living in the dorm where nobody was speaking to me anymore, for being gay. Because they were all being coached by a Presbyterian minister to give us “tough love.” So, literally, we had no friends anymore, but I couldn’t just run away with my tail between my legs, so I tried commuting from my parents’ house in Hernando to Oxford on the days I had classes. This only lasted a short time because I was miserable. So, one morning on the way to school, I had the sunroof open, the day was gorgeous, and I started writing a song about wishing I was a kid again, before I had lost my innocence.

How did you come to be so fucking talented?
Oh dude, thank you so much. I can’t take credit for any of that. I woke up one day and could sing. Personally, I would like to thank God for that.

Tags: Music