Theo Katzman, singing drummer/guitarist in Vulfpeck, is set to play Majestic Theatre this Sunday, March 8, in support of his recent album release “Modern Johnny Sings: Songs in the Age of Vibe.” Tickets are $20 in advance, $25 on the day of the show and less than 50 remain, with doors opening at 7:30 and Rett Madison opening at 8:30.
Katzman is supported by bassist Joe Dart (Vulfpeck), drummer Jordan Rose (Joe Louis Walker), guitarist Trevor Menear (Dawes) and keyboardist Lee Pardini (Dawes). Katzman answered some questions by e-mail about the album and what fans can expect from his live shows.
After performing a huge venue like Madison Square Garden with Vulfpeck, how does your connection with the crowd compare in the smaller venues performing entirely your own songs?
I've spent most of my life playing my own songs in smaller venues and rock clubs, so that's always felt like home. There's a certain intimacy that can exist in a smaller room. Huge venues like Madison Square Garden and Red Rocks have taught me how to perform to large crowds, and how to (hopefully) make everyone in the crowd feel like there's an intimate connection between us, even though the venue is huge. Now when I play a rock club, even if it's just a few hundred people, I feel like I'm able to bring the energy of the huge venue to the small room. I also feel like I've learned how to translate my songs in performance so that they can work in a huge room. Some of the rooms on this tour have been pretty big (like Brooklyn Steel), so it's been a good way to bring a large energy to my songs and perform them in a big room.
Your songs always seem to come from a place of immense feeling and passion-is this something you set out to achieve when you sit down to write, or is it more a byproduct of your writing process?
Thank you. I am a pretty sensitive and passionate person, so I guess that just comes out in my songwriting. When I sit down to write, my goal is to channel something through the writing process that feels exciting, compelling, intense, and honest in my own self. If I can do that, then there's a good chance that other people will feel those things in the music as well. That's how I think about it.
How does touring with an incredible band, each talented and accomplished in their own right affect the performance and feel of your songs while on tour?
It's the best! I love working with the band to find ways to open up the songs and make them unique to this band in a live setting. We hone the arrangements together, everybody suggests ideas, and we really work to make the live performance of the songs into its own distinct experience. I never want to just "play the record." Arranging the songs in the context of a show is an opportunity to make something distinct and special for the live setting.
To me, this album felt slightly like a return to Romance without Finance, with more songs written and recorded on an acoustic guitar as compared to Heartbreak Hits, giving a totally different feel to the songs. Would you say something caused this change? What caused Heartbreak Hits to be more centered around electric riffs?
Well, I had an acoustic guitar and a piano with me when I wrote most of the songs on "Modern Johnny Sings: Songs in the Age of Vibe," so that's what felt right in terms of recording. I wanted to take the songs inward a bit on this album, because it felt like they had reached a new level in the writing process. Lyrically, this is my most adventurous album, and I think the acoustic guitar and piano provided the right foundation for me to deliver these songs. For Heartbreak Hits, I really wanted to make a rock album of tight, catchy songs, with the breakup theme as the lighthouse for the lyrical content of the songs, so I think the electric guitar felt like the right move for the more rocking elements of that album. There are indeed a few acoustic guitar songs on Heartbreak Hits as well, but there's definitely more electric guitar on that album.
Having worked with and produced Rett Madison for a few years, how have you seen her music evolve? What has it been like having her on tour?
Oh man, she has grown so much as a songwriter, it's been incredible to watch. When I first saw her play, I was immediately struck by the power of her voice and by the depth of experience in her songs. I became a fan instantly. She put a lot of work into writing and writing over the next few years, and her songwriting, which was already excellent, just kept getting better. She's really one of my favorite songwriters, and she has her own unique style. I just love her songs so much. We've become good friends, so it's wonderful having her on the road. I wanted to present a truly excellent concert to the fans on this tour, start to finish, and when you go see this show, Rett really grabs you from the start of the night. It's important to me that the opener be a part of the show, not just something to pass the time until the "main event." She is a phenomenal artist, and presenting her music to these audiences is one of my favorite parts of this tour!
You said at Paste Studios that Modern Johnny represents the “journey of the contemporary singer-songwriter.” How has your journey from Long Island, to Ann Arbor to Brooklyn, and to LA as a veritable contemporary singer-songwriter affected who you are as a person and your music? Did you find yourself reflecting on this journey while writing or producing this album?
All of my life experiences have affected me, including where I've lived. When I say "the journey of the contemporary singer-songwriter," I guess I mean mostly the inner journey, the journey within the soul and spirit. It's pretty esoteric, I suppose, but to me it feels similar to the archetypal hero's journey. I've been thinking about the archetype of Modern Johnny for years now, so I can't say that I specifically thought about the journey while writing this new album, but I definitely feel like Modern Johnny includes some witty sarcasm that I accessed on many of these new songs. I'm not sure that that makes any sense, but that's how it feels!
We’ll let your University of Michigan allegiance slide for the concert, but having lived in Ann Arbor for seven years, would you say either Madison or the University of Wisconsin mean anything to you?
I haven't spent much time in Madison, but it always seemed like a very cool town, in a similar way to Ann Arbor. The two towns are often thought of as the definitive Midwest college towns, so I think they share a lot of the same spirit!
You can check out Theo's music here.