One of my friends told me about a few artists from San Diego. This one caught my attention: Tolan Shaw. One of the reason why I wanted to have an interview with him is that he mostly gets his inspiration through travel. As an artist, I think it is important to look for inspiration everywhere in this world, from anyone and anything. Tolan is not only an incredible guitar player, songwriter and singer. He is also a good human being.
Get to know him through this interview :)
When and how did you start making music?
I took the standard couple years of piano lessons as a young kid and sung along with my dad, who plays guitar and sings in a cover band.. I never really got serious until my dad played Jimi Hendrix’s “Are You Experienced” for the first time when I was 14- a freshman in high school.. Something clicked, and I picked up the electric guitar and started taking lessons a week later- the very first lesson I had was learning “The Wind Cries Mary” by Hendrix.. I wanted to play guitar like that so bad.. Then later I started to experiment with my voice, taught myself to sing and write songs- then kinda just snowballed from there..
Tell us about your different experiences in the music industry. What appeals to you the most about making music?
The industry is an ever-changing beast, and I have learned to go with the tides. It definitely is, and will always be, about networking, connections, and people. It is a challenge to balance the creative side of music and the business side. Though it is a fun challenge.
The most important thing is simply that I get to pursue my passion as a living. To be able to write and play music for my life and job, no matter how hard or challenging, is an extreme blessing that I try not to take for granted.
The thing about making music for me is that it is simply natural. It just feels “right.” Songs come to me often when I first wake up in the morning, and it is almost as if “I” didn’t write them. It’s as if they were given to me.. It’s cool to kind of step back and watch that process happen because it is an almost spiritual thing. And then of course sharing the music with others, seeing their reactions, and the vulnerability of broadcasting that music to the world; that is a thrill and an excitement unlike any other.
How do you get your inspiration? What do you do when you want to extend your creativity?
Inspiration can come in literally any different shape or form. I’m a big fan of religious and spiritual reading, and those books often give me songwriting inspiration. Love and relationships. Nature. But my #1 most important inspiration for songwriting (and life) is travel. To put yourself into other peoples shoes, to look and observe and take part in the lives of other people and cultures, is to really open the mind and allow for brand new thoughts and experiences to come in. THAT is where I thrive and feel truly inspired.
Lately I have been trying to extend and challenge my creativity by trying to write songs that may not be about me or my experiences. I’ve been attempting to invent stories of people or of life situations that I may not have lived myself.. I love deeply personal, emotional, and feeling-based songs, but it is fun to jump out of that box to try to be a “story-teller,” and do something different.
Which artists would you like to collaborate with? Why?
I would love to collaborate with Jason Mraz- I think he is absolutely brilliant, especially lyrically. For me, the music and melody come easily, but I have to sit and struggle with the words. Jason has this flow with lyrics that seems so effortless and natural and beautiful, and I think I could learn a lot about lyric writing by working with him.
It would also be really cool to collab with EDM producers/artists to combine my singer/songwriter, pop/soul style with some modern electronic elements and beats. Maybe Avicii? :)
What do you think of today’s music? In your opinion, what makes a good song?
Oh man. You know I used to kind of spite what is going on with popular music these days, with all of the technology and pitch correction and gadgets.. But I have actually come to realize that it is just the change of times and that it is equally as creative and unique. There is always going to be excellent music being made, and creativity and inspiration will never cease as long as there are humans.
A good song to me sounds “timeless,” has something (a “hook” or melody) that I can really latch onto and take with me. It definitely has to have the element of the human soul; I have to “feel” the performance of the musicians/singer.. A song that creates some kind of bodily reaction in me- whether it is the chills, teary eyes, or simply a smile or tapping my foot- that means that it has affected me because I cannot control when that happens.
What music inspires you today?
Sam Smith and his insane voice inspire me. Just seeing artists rise and do their thing- that is so inspiring and makes me want to work harder and harder to attain my goals.
What advices would you give to young producers and young artists?
Well, I kind of am still a young artist/songwriter, so I’m not sure how much advice I can lend because I am constantly growing and learning and re-creating :) But my advice for anyone would be to simply work hard, keep a positive attitude, stay humble, and take one step at a time. Live in the moment. The more grounded and spiritually sound I am with life, the more of a flow I am in with my talent. At least that is what I have found. Eat healthy, love yourself and treat yourself right (and of course love and give back to others as well), and hard work will pay off..
What is your dream?
My dream is to be an international touring artist. To play sold-out shows around the world. To travel and play music. To have songs all over the radio, and to write, write, write. For myself, for other big time artists, and for film and media.
But most importantly, my dream is to get to that point so that I can start some sort of organization or foundation in which I can truly make a difference in the lives people in need, and to give back as much as I can. Not sure what that will look like yet- I need to get to a large enough level where I can make that happen!
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