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A Dirty Dozen with JOHN SCHREINER of SCHREINER – May 2019


According to a recent press release: “They say that art is often borne from adversity. With his new album, ​Kingdom From​ – released April 20 – ​John Schreiner​ demonstrates how even the most perilous period in one’s life can result in some of the most moving and compelling music imaginable. “There are plenty of reasons to pursue music,” Schreiner notes. “But every real artist I’ve known insists they were writing to save their own life.” That’s certainly true of Kingdom From. Written in the aftermath of Schreiner’s seven year bout with ​drug addiction, it was spawned​ from a debilitating period in his life that found him mourning the loss of friends and family members, struggling with stifled creativity and attempting to resolve the conflict between his personal demons and the need to maintain his equilibrium and responsibilities. It was, he says, a malaise marked by moral and emotional anguish.” We get John to discuss new music, influences, and much more…

1. Tell us a little about your latest release.  What might a fan or listener not grab the first or second time they listen through?  Are there any hidden nuggets the band put in the material or that only diehard fans might find?

Well, I think the main thing people may miss in just listening through the album is the story of the 18-month period it chronicles. Within that space of time I experienced so many major life events and personal turning points. I’d lost a number of friends and close relatives in the years prior, and the grief I experienced during that time really changed my perspective and priorities. I suddenly understood the seriousness and brevity of life, and that inspired me to roll up my sleeves and start to work in earnest on the deep issues behind my substance abuse problems. So, that’s the backstory. I would say the album really got started with me kicking a longstanding addiction to amphetamines (among other things), cleaning up life, and moving forward with an entirely new level clarity and purpose. Shortly after that, my wife and I were married. A month after that I tore my left achilles tendon all the way through, but had to put off the surgery I needed because of the pace of my performance schedule. I’d had a major breakthrough in my career, which was great, but it meant that I was performing 300+ shows per year and didn’t really have the option to slow down. I’d sustained the injury during the busiest time of the year for musicians, and knew I’d need the money to pay off the surgery anyway. Long story short, I was performing for 4 months on a leg that didn’t work and was in constant pain. I finally got the surgery I needed, but by then my muscles had atrophied a great deal and the recovery was complicated. While I was still in a cast and on crutches, my wife broke the news that she was pregnant, and she began having health problems related to the pregnancy. Our son, Valor, arrived a month early, and although ultimately both mom and baby made it through, my wife’s very nearly died in the process. Afterward, she understandably required a lot of extra help during the recovery, which was made harder since I was still recovering myself. Long story short, during the 18 months leading up to the release of Kingdom From, life in all its terrifying complexity came flooding in and never let up. But, it was also a tremendously meaningful and fulfilling time creatively. Each song on the record represents so many hours of work, countless challenges overcome, and a simple willingness to continue suffering for the things that matter most.

2. What got you into music, and can you tell us about the moment you realized you wanted to be a musician?

Music has always been a defining feature of my life, but if I had to trace it back to one moment, I’d say it was during a summer camp I attended through the church I grew up in. I was 9 years old at the time, and my parents had just divorced. I don’t think divorce is ever easy, but I have to say, the dissolution of my parents marriage was particularly brutal and painful. They were in ministry together for a long time and I think in many ways the foundation of their marriage was their shared dream for spreading the message of faith. In losing each other, they also lost a vision of their lives that had been really clear and meaningful for a time, so that made it especially bitter. Anyway, I walked into that camp in a very vulnerable place emotionally and during one of the evening services, I remember being so deeply impacted by the music. I started crying and was really singing my heart out because it was the only release I’d felt from all the complicated dynamics in my home life. I think at that point, feeling that intense release and sense of inner healing, I sort of entrusted myself to music. I knew had found a place where I could deal with the deep things of life and perform the alchemical work of transforming ugly, hurtful things into something beautiful. After the service, a number of the youth leaders that were there with us had heard me singing and told me I had a real gift, something I should develop. From that point forward, I knew I was going to be a professional musician and never really questioned that decision.

3. Building on that, is there a specific song, album, performer, or live show that guided your musical taste?

I could highlight A LOT of artists that have influenced me, but if I had to single out just one, I’d say John Mayer. I was never much a bandwagon hopper, so when he first came out, I think I consciously avoided his work, just because of his overwhelming popularity. But, I got into his music when he released his second album and then spent the next few years binging on his stuff. The music I was writing at the time was on the same wavelength as his first album: honest songs about daily life, set over acoustic guitar and some interesting chords. His guitar work was on another level, so I looked up to him in that way. But, what really grabbed me was how sharp his lyrics were. Every single line enriches or moves the story forward, with no filler. When I listened to his music, I felt like he put me in the room with him and made me able to feel what he felt. Ever since, that’s been my benchmark for great songwriters: can they put you in the room WITH them?

4. Who would be your main five musical influences?

The Doobie Brothers, Led Zeppelin, The Rolling Stones, The Black Keys, and the aforementioned John Mayer.

5. If you could call in any one collaborator to do a song with, who would it be, and why?

Hard question, but I’d love to work D’Angelo. He occupies such a unique space in his music and understands R&B and Gospel so well. I’d love to compare notes with him and just talk shop in general.

6. How would you describe your music to someone who’d never listened to you before? What is the one comparison a reviewer or fan has made that made you cringe or you disagreed with?

We’ve thrown a lot of descriptive terms at our music to see what would stick, and I think the closest we’ve gotten to classifying ourselves is “Hard Soul” or “Swagger Rock”. I draw a lot from Rock and R&B and our music lands somewhere in the middle of the two genres. As far as comparisons, I’ve never been super offended by anyone on that front. Someone once told me I sounded like Ed Sheeran, which is not a bad thing, but I know my voice inside and out and just don’t think our respective sounds have a lot in common.

7. When the band are all hanging out together, who cooks; who gets the drinks in; and who is first to crack out the acoustic guitars for a singalong?

I’d definitely be the one cooking and pouring drinks. I love entertaining and find cooking somewhat therapeutic, so it’s easy for me to fall into the role of “life of the party”. As far as cracking out the acoustic, that never happens with us. I perform 300+ nights a year, so the last thing I want to do in my downtime is play more music.

8. When was the last time you were star struck and who was it?

I’ve honestly never been starstruck. Last year I met Ed Sheeran, Brian McKnight, and more recently Gavin DeGraw. I respect all of them enormously, but a person’s status as a celebrity doesn’t really register with me or make me nervous. I just accept it as a natural byproduct of doing great work.

9. What is the best part of being a musician? If you could no longer be a musician for whatever reason, what would be your dream job?

There are a lot of perks to being a musician, but right now the main one is that I get to spend time with my son during the day, basically seven days a week. If I couldn’t be a musician, I’d probably end up somewhere in the sciences…maybe in physics or evolutionary biology. Not totally sure which direction I’d go exactly, but I’m fascinated with the natural world and wish I had the time to study it formally.

10. What is one question you have always wanted an interviewer to ask – and what is the answer? Conversely, what question are you tired of answering?

I’d love to be asked: “what do you think the role of the artist is within culture?” I’ve spent most of my life thinking along those lines, so I think I might have something of value to bring into that conversation. As far as questions I get tired of answering, it’s probably the “who do you sound like?” question that irks me the most. It’s hard for artists to be objective about their own sound anyway, but my internal knee-jerk reaction to that query has grown into an expletive-laced version of “…how about you just go listen to my music?”

11. Looking back over your career, is there a single moment or situation you feel was a misstep or you would like to have a “do over”, even if it didn’t change your current situation?

There’s more than one misstep that comes to mind, but all of them center on faulty choices I’ve made about the people I’ve surrounded myself with. Over the years, I remember selecting friends/bandmates based on how much fun we could have partying together or how well they offset my personal insecurities, rather than on their ability to sharpen me and push forward our common objectives. If you’re goal is to stand at the top of your field, you need brutal honesty and inflexible expectations from the people around you. Feeling good is overrated and, for me, is no longer an end to be pursued in itself.

12. If you could magically go back in time and be a part of the recording sessions for any one record in history, which would you choose – and what does that record mean to you?

Hard question, but I’d have to say Led Zeppelin II – one of the most pivotal albums by one of the most pivotal, well-engineered groups of all time. That album marked LZ’s transition into the heavy metal and psychedelic sounds they are now known for, and to this day, still makes the hair on my neck stand up.  Being in the room, seeing them play, watching them make ALL the little decisions that added up to the final product…priceless.





Category: Interviews

About the Author ()

ToddStar - that's me... just a rocking accountant who had dreams of being a rock star. I get to do the next best thing to rocking the globe - I get to take pictures of the lucky ones that do. I love to shoot all genres of music and different types of performers. If it is related to music, I love to photograph it. I get to shoot and hang with not only some of my friends and idols, but some of the coolest people around today.

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