JP - circa 1998
This is from a Brunswick High School Pep Band photo shoot around 1998. It’s quite surreal to be able to look back in time, and I’m glad I’ve managed to keep this photo all these years. That’s my original candy apple red Schecter Stratocaster - it would hardly ever leave my side and I’d often be seen carrying the guitar and case around the school. Also, make sure to note the typical look of teen melancholy and, if I say so myself, the on-point hair (it took a lot of daily work to perfect the curls.)
"I'll change if I want to,
I'll do what I gotta do,
Whether or not you want it
It's true, the world's gonna change,
So I will, too..."
The idea of writing a bio for yourself is a bit daunting, but after a bit of reflection, I think these lines from Same Old You (off 2012's Kingdom On A Thread) is a pretty good place to start. After all, my musical journey has been as much shaped by my own musical curiosity as it has by a willingness to change directions and paths as opportunities, and limitations, presented themselves.
My first experiences as a musician started back when I was 11 or 12 years old and I first picked up my father's mahogany Guild dreadnaught acoustic guitar. I took to the instrument quickly, and Dad and I soon picked out a candy apple red Schecter Stratocaster that would become my main instrument, and constant companion, for many years.
My father was a bassist in his younger days, and my entry into music corresponded with the rekindling of his own musical meanderings. And since those first days so many years ago, it's been a constant source of bonding over shared interests and led to countless hours of conversation. I know my mom and my wife must marvel at how we can still talk about music and guitars after all this time.
My parents were my biggest supporters and my early days were spent either in my room playing and refining my technique for hours on end, or being shuffled from one gig to another. Which, as a kid who was barely old enough to be in high school, let alone play in a bar on the weekend, was no small feat.
By the time I left high school, the seeds of change were starting to take root. I had honed my skills on the music of more traditional guitar players such as Clapton, SRV, Buddy Guy, and many others. However, in 1997 I saw Lindsey Buckingham from Fleetwood Mac for the first time on television. He was playing his acoustic rendition of Big Love from 97's The Dance live album, and I was totally hooked. The mix of the acoustic guitar, unusual fingerpicking techniques, and songwriting intensity was unlike anything I had heard before. I didn't realize it yet, but this artist would influence me for years to come, and still does to this very day.
College saw the next development as a bit of disappointment set in. I had always loved playing the guitar, but as time went on I felt I had reached bit of a technique plateau and wasn't sure where to go. I was frustrated with the never-ending circle of rotating band members and playing with musicians who weren't dedicated, and I also started to realize that when it comes to electric guitar players... there are just so many out there.
Many of them have the same basic influences, play the same style instruments, and as guitarist you start to become acutely aware that there's always another player in town who is faster, more versatile, or more popular. It's a tough niche to carve out.
So, after a few years of mulling over these various frustrations, I finally came to an answer in my senior year of college. I realized that to have a career in music, I had to give the world something different, something new. The key was songwriting, and finding a way to present those songs and my love of the guitar in a way that didn't require other band members. And so, my first full solo show as an acoustic singer/songwriter/guitarist took place just before I left college in Summer of 2002.
The next year saw me traveling around the tri-state area between Washington D.C., Baltimore, and Virginia playing the singer/songwriter circuit, learning the ropes, and carving out a decent catalog of songs I was proud of. I was moving from more traditional types of tunes to a unique style with more personality. I was developing a multi-layered approach to the acoustic guitar, where fingerpicking would blend with percussive elements and separate bass and treble lines to create the illusion of a fuller arrangement. Mixing that approach with songs that were now incorporating strands of jazz, R&B, pop, rock, and folk formed the foundation of the music I'm still making today.
As wonderful as those days were in Maryland, I knew that to have a real shot at success I had to make the jump to a bigger area with more opportunities, and more competition. After much thought, I settled on Nashville, TN. And in summer of 2003, I packed up my belongings and made the 12-hour journey south and settled into my first 200-square-foot apartment.
I still look back at that little place fondly, and that one tiny room would give life to so many songs. I was working a steady day job and learning the Nashville music scene at night. I was finally able to work with other musicians and songwriters who had the same dreams, goals, and struggles. The shared experiences fostered a friendly atmosphere of competiveness, which in turn led to a refining of our collective talents. It was also in these early years that I formed my first (relatively) stable group, the JP Baldwin trio.
The mix of an upright acoustic bass with hand percussion was a perfect backdrop for my catalog of songs. The band and I went into a local home studio to record demos of our entire live set. We did it like the old days; the band set up in the studio with live mics and played through our whole show in studio a couple of times. The result was Live In Studio 2006, and while I didn't originally plan on releasing it, I came across the demos many years later and was impressed by the quality of the recording and how much energy our little trio had. I still look at it as a great showcase of my style, and if someone ever asks me to describe what I do, I can still point at that little live record as a great example.
In 2007, I recorded my first real record, Open Your Eyes, with producer Chris Rosser in Asheville, NC. Many of the songs on the live record appeared here, but the improved studio setting and Chris's fantastic ideas helped to fully flesh out these songs that had been bouncing around for so long. The result was an eclectic collection that combined my favorite elements of acoustic jazz, pop, and folk. The acoustic guitar and vocals were still front and center, but Chris helped to surround the songs with a sense of 'color' and polish. I was, and am, still really proud of Open Your Eyes.
The record did well on college radio, and a few of the songs charted well nationally. A small tour followed, and as the album cycle wound down I found myself at the drawing board again, and approaching another crossroads. I had started writing songs for the follow-up to Open Your Eyes, but found myself wanting to create something a bit different. I had been on the same path for some time, and was ready to stretch myself out artistically.
Whereas my first records were influenced by my love of artists like Sting, Dave Matthews, and David Gray, I thought it would be fitting for my follow-up to return to some of my roots. I revisited some of my favorite records from Eric Clapton and Mark Knopfler, and began the journey of rediscovering the electric guitar again.
My goal was to write a simpler type of song that would allow for denser instrumentation. In the past, my acoustic had done most of work, basically laying out what the bass and drum parts should work around. I wanted the songs for this next project to be a bit more anemic and have room to breathe and be creative with the production. I also liked the idea of having a fully produced song on record that I could present in a different live context acoustically.
Up until this point, I felt I'd never quite brought together my songwriting, acoustic, and early electric guitar skills in a successful way. So, I knew my answer was to attempt to home-record a few demos I was satisfied with and start looking for a producer to bring my vision into reality. This proved more difficult than I anticipated. It was hard to find someone that not only had the right sound, but was able to steer my raw materials into a product that would fit my goals. There was only one solution, and it's wasn't something I had ever really considered.
I had to self-record and self-produce the next album if I was going to be able to successfully bring the sounds in my head to fruition. The only problem was I didn't have the practical knowledge yet to do it. And so the next long journey began.
What started as a few bedroom demos for an EP in 2009, morphed into a fully-functioning home studio LP that was released in 2012. Yes, that’s right, it took 4 years to get the project together, and that was far longer than I had ever anticipated. To say it was hard would be a colossal understatement. I had to learn a whole new skill set, from setting up a studio, to recording and producing techniques, to thousands of hours writing, performing, and refining tracks. But, I kept at it, knowing I would finish someday if I just kept working.
During these years some wonderful changes were happening in my personal life as well. I'd always envisioned myself as a drifter, working towards my musical goals for my foreseeable future and that I would mostly likely be a bachelor. A great deal of obsession comes with any commitment, and it was almost impossible to see how a real relationship would, or could, fit into my life with music.
That is, until I met Candice. And Candice changed everything.
I could certainly describe how she supported me though some of my most difficult times both musically and personally (which she did), or how she totally changed my idea of what a partnership could be (which she also did), or that I somehow knew I would marry her in the first week we were dating (which I did). But it'd probably be more effective to point you towards "Anything But Ordinary" from 2012's Kingdom On A Thread, because it's all there in the song.
After Kingdom On A Thread was released, life was going wonderfully, and I was very proud of what I had accomplished. I think the record is an artistic achievement that, while different from what I may be best at, represents the culmination of many musical paths and experimentations I had taken from those first days with my candy apple red Schecter Stratocaster in my bedroom.
However, while I felt artistically successful, the record was not a particularly commercial success. Times were changing, college and triple-A radio were becoming antiquated, and social media was upending the whole musical paradigm.
I spent the next couple of years happy, but quite frustrated artistically. I knew another change had to be made.
This time though, the change wasn't a musical one, it was personal. I needed to shift my perceptions of success, and of how I perceived myself in relation to music, or else I was in danger of losing the enjoyment from the craft I had cultivated for so long. The guitar had always be a safe haven away from the pressures of everyday life, and a conduit through which I could truly express myself, not just in the performance sense, but in an emotional one. Often, even after a particularly tough day, I can sit down for a few minutes with just an acoustic guitar by myself, and after a few notes can feel a sense of calmness and balance returning.
So, as was my normal tendency, I made big changes. I got a new day job. My wife and I moved across the state. I went back to school and made a massive career change from humanities to healthcare. I worked to become happy with myself in a way that didn't depend on the perception of myself as a musician. I started working on new songs and finishing old ones that had been ping-ponging around notebooks and my noodling for many years. I was revisiting and finding my center with the acoustic guitar and the types of "self-contained" tunes that are what I can confidently say I do best.
I had a wonderful baby boy.
Now having a child changes everything. In one second, you realize how utterly unimportant every little thing you've ever worried about really was. And I couldn't be happier.
I found as my personal life aligned better than I ever dreamed it could, my creativity and desire to play was also growing stronger. Demos have been made for the next record, tentatively titled "The Hard Way", and plans are being set for a proper album. This time, I'd like to do a live recording that shows off as much personality that the music can muster.
Throughout the entire journey, the songwriting has stayed consistently unpredictable. While the musical building blocks are always present, subject matter has run the gamut of topics from stories about everyday life, love lost and found, and tales arising from my own thoughts, experiences, and interpersonal relationships.
Just as with my interests in new types of sounds, I’ve always been on the lookout for a good story. These types of meditations have led to quite a few character study songs. For example, in my current set, the players in my songs range from a young man joining the circus, to a depressed king questioning his reign, to a secret wedding between a blacksmith’s son and his upper class lover. No story is too quirky, and no life is too mundane for a song. I’ve found we all have our parts to play, and sometimes simplest of actions can lead to the most beautiful and inspiring results.
The shows are still solo and acoustic, just one man and a guitar, but the sound has grown. The next evolution in style has me using a variety of sound effects and loopers to give the listener a dynamic live show that incorporates some familiar covers in with my repertoire of acoustic/jazz/pop material.
As I said, the world's gonna change, so I might as well, too... I'm looking forward to seeing what's next, and I’m hoping you come along with me.
Shows are currently being booked throughout 2019. Check www.jpbaldwin.com for details.
For more information to inquire about booking opportunities: email@example.com
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