“I make street-level music for the people,” says alt-country crooner Chad Cavanaugh. In 2008, the North Park singer/guitarist says he was surprised at his Best New Acoustic Artist nomination for that year’s San Diego H.A.T. Awards (Honoring Acoustic Talent). Surprise turned to apprehension when he was invited to perform “Dead Man Walkin’” at the ceremony.
“As I sat down to perform my song, I noticed all my strings had been detuned. As I tuned them up, I got to the B string, and it snapped. The whole crowd shuddered, ‘D’oh!’ I looked at the string and said, ‘Screw it, I don’t need that string anyway,’ which drew a roaring approval.”
In addition to circulating the S.D. coffeehouse and house-party circuit, Cavanaugh posts a prolific amount of heartfelt solo performance videos on websites such as YouTube and SoSayWeAllOnline.com, usually seen by himself or at intimate venues, earnestly pouring out his autobiographical and frequently melancholy — okay, depressing — ballads.
“The first song I ever wrote on my first guitar was actually called ‘Depression’…. It’s a darker song, coming from a darker period in my life when I had first become sober and drug-free.” Lyric sample: “I am in a precarious situation/ I don’t know how to escape my state of depression.”
Cavanaugh’s first recording, The Coffeehouse Rebellion, was released in 2009. He’s recording a new full-length at a converted South Park garage known as Dfab Studios. He’ll likely perform many songs from that release when he appears at Lestat’s on Thursday, October 20.
HOW ARE YOUR PANDORA STATIONS SET?
1) Cypress Hill. “I’ve been a big fan of them since I was in the Army in the early ’90s. I grew up in a predominantly Latino environment, so I can identify with it.”
2) Facundo Cabral. “I only found out about this Argentine composer after his murder. I don’t fully understand what he was saying, as my Spanish is spotty at best. I’ve read up more on him and found him to have led a fascinating life.”
3) Dubstep. “It’s a fun departure for me.”
4) Eminem. “He reminds me of a present-day Dr. Seuss for adults. The way he strings words together in his particular meter and cadence sets him apart for me. Not sure how he does it without taking a breath.”
5) Dubliners. “I’m of Irish descent. My great-grandfather came from County Carlow and worked in steel. He was a foreman for the construction of the Golden Gate Bridge, so Irish music is something that fuels my soul. It transports me to a different time and place when I hear it.
WHAT KIND OF MUSIC WAS YOUR DAD INTO?
“My dad had Abba, KC & the Sunshine Band, the Village People, Louis Prima, the Highwaymen, Waylon and Willie, the Kiss albums, Simon and Garfunkel, Anne Murray, Harry Chapin, Hooked on Classics… The mix was seriously diverse. Our road trips were always capped off with Wagner’s ‘Ride of the Valkyries.’”
WAS THAT EMBARRASSING?
[Laughs] “I don’t think any of them are embarrassing. It took me awhile to realize that I don’t have to be embarrassed about anything that I like personally, because it’s about what I like, not about what other people think I should like.”
WHO DO YOU HANG OUT WITH?
“As a father of three little girls, I don’t go hang out much unless I’m performing. They’re my day job.”
FAVORITE LOCAL PERFORMER?
“Seeing Robin Henkel play. That guy, I truly believe, is from a different era. He’s a Mississippi Delta bluesman, an old Chicago juke-joint player. He brings you to a different time and inspires you to greatness.”
FIRST TIME DRUNK?
“I’m the youngest of four, and I was the guinea pig for my oldest sister and brother. I was eight, and they had me drink a six-pack of Coors in the New Mexico summer sun. My sister thought it was funny...until I started throwing up everywhere.”
“A dog named ‘T-Shirt.’”
WHO SHOULD PLAY YOU IN A MOVIE?
“Alexander Skarsgard, one of the vampires from True Blood.”
BRUSH WITH FAME?
“When I was in the Army, I was part of a performance troupe at the Lincoln Memorial, rehearsing for Bill Clinton’s Inaugural Gala, and I challenged Karl Malone to a one-on-one at the White House lawn. Michael Bolton asked if he could take pictures with me, and I told him I had to ask my agent first. He said, ‘Okay,’ and I said, ‘Dude, I’m in the Army, I don’t have an agent.’ He was laughing as his photographer snapped a bunch of shots.”
WORST TV ADS?
“Carl’s Jr. commercials. Listening to those people eat makes me violent.”
WHAT ARE THINGS WE DON’T KNOW ABOUT YOU?
1) “I was a sentinel at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Arlington National Cemetery, Badge number 408.”
2) “I’m in the beginning of the movie The Next Karate Kid — you can hear me call a command.”
3) “I self-published a coffee-table book, A Photographic Journey Through Downtown San Diego.” ■