“I make street-level music for the people,” says alt-country crooner Chad Cavanaugh. Coming up in the highly competitive San Diego acoustic scene that produced Jewel and Jason Mraz, Cavanaugh delivers a lyrical style compared to Bradley Nowell of Sublime and infectious grooves à la Jack Johnson and Jason Mraz. It’s common to see people dancing at performances, as he uses his raw lyrics from life experience and layers them over lighthearted and simple melodies.
His influences date back to his childhood. “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.’”
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.”
“I’ve been a soldier in the United States Army Infantry and a sentinel at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Arlington National Cemetery, and have lived and experienced life all over the country,” he says, reflecting on life experiences and using faith, daily struggles, and accomplishments to provide fuel for his songwriting. He is also an aspiring photographer, having self-published a coffee-table book called A Photographic Journey Through Downtown San Diego.
Cavanaugh’s first recording The Coffeehouse Rebellion was released in 2009. In 2011, he began recording a new full-length at a converted South Park garage known as Dfab Studios.
However, he then decided to reinvent himself as a comic-book artist. His first such publication is called The Map, and he says sales are way better than any CD he ever recorded. “Sales are through the roof. I wasn’t prepared for that. I ran out of packing and shipping materials. I’m, like, this is an awesome problem to have.”