We’re pleased to bring you this exclusive Q&A with the ever so talented, TJay. TJay Kowalchuk is a singer/songwriter/guitar-playing powerhouse that is originally from Carmel, New York. He is a former Division I baseball player, (he played for the Binghamton University baseball team and then pursued it professionally), but, music is where his heart lives. And thank goodness for that! TJay is a soulful blend of Blues Traveler, Steely Dan, Billy Joel, Steve Miller Band, Dave Matthews, Maroon 5, and John Mayer, and he tops it all off with his own magic spark. He has a fantastic sound, his lyrics have tremendous heart & story, which is why he’s had so much success in playing with artists such as Blues Traveler, Dave Mason (of Traffic), Leon Russell, Chris Baron (of the Spin Doctors), Southside Johnny, Fastball, Joan Osborne, Graham Parker, and Back Door Slamand. We are so happy that TJay was gracious enough to participate in our series, and we know you’ll love getting to know this musical dynamo.
TWT: When did you first start singing?
TJay: I first started at a high school talent show, because the singer didn’t show up. Up until then, I had only sung in my car, and my bedroom when I thought no one was home. My first real singing performance was in front of about 500 of my high school classmates…(yes it was scary).
TWT: Can you tell our readers more about what drew you to the type of music that you do?
TJay: I think I got into mixing rock, blues, and jazz for a few reasons. One was that I am a huge fan of Steely Dan…not many people would argue that they were the masters of mixing the three genres. Also, early on, I was a big Dave Matthews fan for similar reasons. The first bands I was in were rock bands covering Nirvana and Guns & Roses, and the like, but I was always drawn to the more bluesy aspects of the music…whether it be a guitar lick, or chord progression. Then I heard BB King play one note, and that one note had more feeling in it than anyone I had heard who was trying to fit measure after measure of 128th notes. I think that’s what really hooked me.
TWT: What’s your inspiration for your songs?
Anything and everything: life, love, work, passing conversation…just the things people do everyday, most of the time without realizing it. For me, inspiration has to just hit me. I write my best stuff when I’m not trying to write my best stuff. It’s almost like if I’m out looking for inspiration, I won’t find it…but when I’m not looking, it’ll hit me like a ton of bricks. The key is recognizing it.
TWT: Do you write your songs at a particular time of day and/or place?
TJay: I write pretty much everywhere. I have an ongoing text message to myself with an endless list of ideas, lyrics, chord progressions to try or alter (that reminds me, I better back up my phone asap.) But putting all that together comes best for me at around 2am…when I’m tired, I find things flow more easily for some odd reason.
TWT: Growing up, what type of music did you listen to?
TJay: My father is a musician, so there was always music around, musicians like Billy Joel, James Taylor, Huey Lewis, The Doobie Brothers, Chicago, Steely Dan, Frank Sinatra, were a household staple. When I started developing my own musical tastes, I got into a lot of Hendrix, Dave Matthews, Grateful Dead, and I always loved me some Hootie.
TWT: What can fans expect from TJay this year?
TJay: I have a new album coming out called “Pivot”, that is due to be released in early October. It features John Popper (of Blues Traveler) on harmonica and Ryan MacMillan (of Matchbox 20) on drums. The last album, we were going for a more organic “live off the floor” sound…with this one, we went with more of a high production approach. I worked incredibly hard on this one and I’m real excited to finally get it out there.
TWT: What advice would you give to aspiring singers/songwriters?
TJay: I’d probably just try my best to let them know that it ain’t gonna be easy. Whether you’re working a job to try and the pay bills and playing every other moment, or if you’re just playing music trying to make ends meet…there’s no easy road. You have to make sure you really love it…that’s what’ll keep you looking for the next big gig or writing that next hit song.
TWT: What was your music education like?
TJay: Well like I said before, my father plays piano, so I learned a ton from him at an early age. I first started playing trumpet around second grade, and continued to play for the rest of my high school career, so music theory was always there for me to learn and then I just applied that to anything else I wanted to play, like guitar or piano. I did study music in college for about two years, but was unable to complete the major or minor. Because I was on a baseball scholarship, I wouldn’t have been able to be in an ensemble due to the time constraints of being on a team. I still took all the classes though…always loved learning about music.
TWT: Who has been your greatest teacher?
TJay: My greatest teachers have always been my mother and father. No matter what it is about, they always seem to have the right answer…especially in hindsight…haha. As far as music, my father gave me the best musical advice I’ve ever had…he said two things: “Learn to read music and Learn as many songs as you possibly can.” I still do that to this day…I’m always looking to learn songs or new instruments…anything I can get my ears or hands on. It sounds cliché, but the key is just as simple as you learn in grade school…never stop learning…
Thank you TJay! As for all of you readers, go get his songs now. You KNOW we’d never steer you wrong!