Contributed by the Asheville Downtown Association:
Stevie Lee Combs says he found a refuge in Asheville’s busking scene after moving to Western North Carolina six years ago. It provided “a chance to stretch out and expand my voice,” he says. But “I have basically retired from busking.”
Instead, Combs is focusing on his role as frontman for a Tom Waits tribute band called Tom Waits 4 No Man. He’ll also release a “vintage, rock ‘n’ roll record” on vinyl later this year. Recently, the musician has performed at festivals like The National Jug Band Jubilee, Xpand Fest, Soulshine Farm Fest, Garlic Fest. He plays a solo show at the Pritchard Park Songwriter Series on Thursday, June 28.
Asheville Downtown Association: If you could collaborate with one local artist, who would it be? Why? What do you imagine the resulting music would be like?
Stevie Lee Combs: I want to co-write a collection of songs with Lo Wolf. I think she is a fiercely emotional and powerful artist who would show dedication to such a project. She opened for a Tom Waits tribute band I front and impressed me with her courage and resolve. The resulting music would be Benjamin Smoke-meets-Lucinda Williams with a lyrical nod to Virginia Woolf for punning purposes.
What topic(s) have been appearing in your recent lyrics and why?
Justice reform … and how nonsense or far-out phrases in lyrics capture attention and unsettle listeners. When dealing with such heavy topics like prison, it is often helpful for a lyricist to use highly figurative — sometimes fantastic — language to convey the extreme feelings “the justice system” is oft to inspire.
What’s unique about your songwriting process?
The amount of self-doubt or self-suspicion [it includes].
Over the past year or so, how have your musical abilities improved? To what do you attribute that success?
I have begun playing more electric guitar and singing with a band more. I used to perform more solo acoustic gigs, played sitting down. This has helped my sense of confidence and ability to be moved or transported by the band. The local talent pool is an education also: These players don’t just make you sound better; they make you better.
If you weren’t pursuing music, what do you think would fill that time?
A graveyard, correctional facility or English department.
What purpose does songwriting serve in your life?
Songwriting allows me to pay tribute and express gratitude for my life, my relationships and my inner experience.
What stereotypes — good or bad — do you think the public holds about musicians who play your instrument? How do you reinforce or counter those assumptions?
Many folks hate the kazoo or consider it a novelty, but I have found that if you really throw down your heart into a kazoo, the crowd will dig it.
WHO: Stevie Lee Combs
WHERE: Pritchard Park, 67 Patton Ave., ashevilledowntown.org
WHEN: Thursday, June 28, 5-7 p.m.