Meet the 'Steel Sessions' Artists: John Hufford

Posted by Gerard Longo on

Singer-songwriter John Hufford has evolved into a passionate storyteller with much to say. He tapes PBS39 Steel Sessions this Friday, Aug. 14 at 12:30 p.m.

First, how did you find out about PBS39 Steel Sessions?
My friend Matt Smith told me about the opportunity. He is a local journalist, photographer, and musician. 

In your opinion, why is an opportunity like Steel Sessions important for up-and-coming musicians?
For many up-and-coming artists, exposure is a key element in successfully and effectively communicating their art form. A motivated artist will continually be out sharing their music, whether that is at open mics, on the internet, or at live shows. Steel Sessions opens up a much larger audience and provides artists with a very effective, meaningful, and efficient way of communicating to people. Also, given that a respected organization like PBS39 is involved, it provides the artists with a substantial reference for future opportunities in the media world.

Discuss your earliest forays into music, starting with your teenage years and continuing through college.
I began playing guitar when I was 17. I had always wanted to play, but I never got around to it until then. My first teacher was a man named Ernie King. Now that I think back, he taught me so much about the guitar and how to be a true musician. In college, I studied jazz and I had two teachers, John Sheridan and Dave Cullen. Dave had a great impact on my playing, because he stressed the fundamentals so much. A lot of my writing on guitar now is based off of techniques I learned from him.

I was in several bands outside of college. My first band was an emo band named Emerald, which transitioned to Braving the Rain. We had fun, and even got to play a show with Vanilla Ice at one point. My friend Mike Scales led that band, and honestly, I think he’s one of the best musicians I’ve played with. My last band was an instrumental project named The Infinite Choir. My brother wrote all the music for that. He’s an incredible writer. Until a few years ago, I always saw myself as simply a guitar player.

It’s interesting to note that you never considered yourself a songwriter early on. Why not? What changed your mind about songwriting? 
I believe it was because I never really had the desire to work at it. I still remember the first song I ever wrote and performed. I was 20, and I was actually quite proud of it. I would write songs from time to time. If I were performing for a coffeehouse or something, I would write a song the day of. I really had no desire to write or express myself in that way. It was like there was a huge part of me that was unexplored and undeveloped. Kind of like if the United States looked over at Colorado and denied that it was a part of the country. Sure we would visit once in a while, but we would never really explore it. Too many mountains, too much hardship, too dangerous; but then again, look what we’d be missing out on. I’m glad I decided to explore that scary place.

What changed my mind was hardship, and the need to express myself somehow. I was in the hospital recovering from Lyme disease. I had already begun writing, but while I was there, I watched the documentary “No Direction Home.” It was the story of Bob Dylan and his development as a songwriter. I thought long and hard about the fact that I had never given songwriting a go. Quite honestly, that documentary inspired me. I was out of work for the next 5 weeks so I spent that time writing. My buddy Nathan was in the scene at the time and got me involved with an open mic. As I met more songwriters, I became more and more inspired.

You’ve since become increasingly passionate about songwriting, which has provided you with more opportunities to be seen as a musician. Talk about how you’ve grown as a songwriter, and how that continues to open doors. 
Songwriting is a rather frustrating endeavor. When I first started writing, it was as simple as writing feelings down and putting them to music. I knew little of editing or rewriting. I would write things and be satisfied. As time has gone on, I’ve learned that, many times, there is a good bit of refining that has to take place for a song to effectively communicate a message, much like we need to be refined as human beings. Over the years, we are refined through life, and that process is really difficult at times.

Since I began songwriting, I have used different outlets to express my songs. It’s apparent that the things I write impact folks, and I guess that’s why I’ve been given some of the opportunities I’ve been involved with. It’s kind of humbling in a way, because I don’t usually think much of many of my songs, but it’s also inspiring to know that I can create something that touches others.

I believe that relationships open doors. If my friend Matt hadn’t told me about this Steel Sessions project I never would have had this opportunity. If I didn’t have a relationship with an audience, my music would simply stay with me. If my friend Nathan hadn’t encouraged me in my songwriting, and invited  me to those  first open mics, I never would have experienced the  joy of sharing live music or grown as a stage performer. I hope that answers that question clearly. 

Your EP, “Person,” was released in October and consists of original material. For those new to your music, what can listeners expect? 
“Person” is a project that seemed to take forever, but it was such a good experience. Instrumentally, it is fairly stripped down and driven by acoustic guitar. I like to fingerpick, which means most of my guitar writing is developed out of a fingerpicking style. All of the songs on that EP are derived from that approach.

One thing I do regret is that I did not include many vocal harmonies on the recordings. However, I feel that the vocal melodies are strong enough to stand alone in this case. There is definitely a strong, ambient feel to many of the songs, and we did get creative with some effects on the guitars and the use of piano and organ.

People say my music is calming and soothing. I write a lot of mellow stuff. “Person” is representative of that.

What are some of the lyrical themes present on “Person?”
“Person” deals with the inner person. That is why I named the project such. Some themes include the fear of losing closeness with the people we care about, the effect that unconditional love has on us as humans, the desire to know someone in a true and deep way, and the endeavor of identifying with the refugees of this world (people who are refugees on an emotional, physical, or relational level).

I go deep when I write. I’m not really satisfied unless that happens. Even if I’m writing a joyful song, I don’t see the point of keeping things light or shallow. If I’m writing a love song, there needs to be something that goes deep. If I’m writing a song about walking down the street, then there’s probably something significant or meaningful, even in that. That’s just how it works for me.

You’ve recently added a full band to the mix. How has that made your sound and live show more dynamic?
Oh my goodness, I am amazed at what these musicians did to my music. When I’m playing with the band, my songs are no longer simply mellow and soothing. There’s definitely an added power and emotion to them. I guess I would compare the addition of the band to what takes place when an orchestra interprets a composition. Sure, it’s great on piano, but give it to a full orchestra, and the performance reaches a higher level. I believe there is more energy and emotion in every song because of the band.

I really appreciate that pretty much everyone in the band sings. Have you ever noticed the effect that united voices have on people? As people, we respond to the human voice. I believe it’s the most beautiful instrument on this planet, and I feel blessed to have the ability to express my music utilizing vocal harmonies. My friend Kim is amazing at harmonizing, and so is my friend Eric. 

You’re set to tape Steel Sessions in front of a live studio audience at the PBS39 Public Media & Education Center Fri., Aug. 14 at 12:30 p.m. What can those in attendance expect from your performance?
I would say to expect an energetic performance. Also, if you like vocal harmonies, we will have plenty of that. Come out to relax, but I would also encourage thoughtful listening. Part of being in an audience is being willing to engage our senses and our minds into what is taking place. The experience becomes so much more worthwhile! 

Anything else you’d like to add?
I am honestly so grateful for this opportunity, and I really want to express my thanks. I remember being a youngster growing up and watching PBS. There was a special that would play which featured Peter, Paul and Mary. I still remember how much joy I had when I watched that. It’s truly a blessing to have the opportunity to bring my music to people in the same way. Hopefully, they get the same joy I had when I was a kid watching Peter, Paul and Mary!

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