Tim Lancaster: 'We May Be Starting Our Own Genre Here'

Jun 6, 2016

Since the show began almost two years ago A Change of Tune has highlighted some of the best up-and-coming artists out of these West Virginia hills with podcast-y chats ranging from Tyler Childers to Ona, Teammate's Scott Simons to Jordan Andrew Jefferson and beyond.

But those interviews have been a bit infrequent, and since West Virginia Day is coming up (not to mention A Change of Tune’s second birthday), we thought we’d do something special: 30 days, 30 brand new #WVmusic interviews that range from Morgantown alt-rockers and Parkersburg singer-songwriters to West Virginia music venues and regional artist management and beyond, all of which contribute to this state’s wild and wonderful music scene.

And today, we are chatting with West Virginia-by-way-of-Florida folk troubadour Tim Lancaster. If his name sounds familiar, that's because he was just announced as Harpers Ferry National Park's Artist-In-Residence for Summer 2016 (which is kind of a big deal). We spoke with Lancaster about that prestigious gig, as well as his experiences making music in both big cities (i.e. Orlando) and up-and-coming towns (i.e. Huntington).

Tim Lancaster's newest release is My Times with You. Keep up with the young singer-songwriter on his website and through social media. Hear more #WVmusic on A Change of Tune, airing Saturday nights at 10 on West Virginia Public Broadcasting. And for more #WVmusic chats, make sure to go to wvpublic.org/wvmusic.

Interview Highlights

On his musical origins:

My father plays a little bit when he’s off from work. He was always around playing “Dust in the Wind,” and I thought it was the prettiest song I ever heard.  I figured if I could learn how to play it, I’d be happy, and of course I finally learned to play it, and then I wanted to learn more.

But then I got into high school and started wrestling, and with wrestling you don’t have time to do anything else, at least how I approached it. So I put all of myself into wrestling and took a break from the guitar. By senior year, I had enough of starving myself and decided to pick up the guitar again.

Tim Lancaster doing what he does best: playing music and telling stories.
Credit Melissa Stilwell Photography

On becoming a folk musician:

I wouldn’t say I’m a professional or anything, but I really got into that style of playing a guitar in 2008. I went to Wilkesboro, North Carolina with a buddy to go to Merlefest, which is a festival put on by Doc Watson in honor of his son Merle who passed away in a tractor accident.  I went just because my friend was going, and I was into that music, but the first time I heard Doc Watson play he was twenty feet away from me.  It struck me like a bolt of lightning, not to be cliché, but it was really something. Just how honest and pure it was.  When I started listening and trying to do my own thing with it, that’s when I feel I finally found what I was supposed to do with my instrument.

Up until that point, I was all over the place. In high school, you want to be in a band that sounds exactly like Radiohead or Led Zeppelin, but it wasn’t until I found this style of music that I was able to be happy with the way that I sounded, and I wasn’t trying to sound like anybody else. Granted I was taking from a lot of inspirations, but I was able to morph in into my own voice.

On finding West Virginia:

I first moved from Florida when I was 19 or 20, and I had a friend who had a friend in Huntington who had some recording gear. I wanted to record some songs that I had, which ended up being my first album which I called A Finer Line. I started recording in this room called The Record Room with Shayne Barker, who is good friends with Max Nolte. During that same weekend I was here, Max also recorded me, and those are the recording we ended up using for that collection. The rest is history.

After that, I’ve always felt that Huntington was my second home because whether I was living in New York City or northeastern Vermont, I was always coming back to check in on my Huntington bubbies. It’s always on my mind. Here I am. I was just in California last summer, and now I’m back here. It’s been a weird home base, and some people think I’m crazy for it, but there is something special here.  Every place is different; it’s just what kind of different you like.

Tim Lancaster and one of his best "bubbies:" his guitar.
Credit Melissa Stilwell Photography

On deciding to permanently move to West Virginia:

I’d been living in Vermont for three years, and I loved it there. I loved it there so much, and it was really hard to leave. But we’re too young to be set in my ways, and I hadn’t lived here permanently. So I decided to check it out, got a place here, lived here, really liked it, and made a lot of new friends. Those are the same friends that brought me back here. I lived here for ten months, got the itch, went out west through the fall and early winter.

But when I was out there, every time something crazy would happen, I kept finding myself calling my bubbies in Huntington, wanting to tell them what wild thing happened or to check up on how they were doing. Then one day I thought, “What the hell. There are a lot of good things going on in Huntington. Let’s give it another shot.” And I’ve been very happy since I made the decision. The people here are great. What I like about it is there’s a great balance between having a good time, and the amount of productivity that happens here, which is an important thing. It’s important to have a good time and get down with your friends, but then also to get something done that’s meaningful is even more important than that. Both of those things are happening here, which I enjoy.

On recording his first record in West Virginia:

I recorded it a couple days before I moved from West Virginia last year with Max. Max Nolte will probably be the one to record everything I will ever do, at least if I have anything to say about it [laughing]. He’s my bubbie. He’s a comfortable person to be around. He’s improving, and I’m improving. With each time we do something, it’s interesting watching each other grow, and it’s nice to not have any real pressure. With My Times with You, I knew I was moving, and I wanted to record something because I had been living here for 10 months and I hadn’t recorded anything, so I was just able to get up in The Loft with Max and record a few songs. In a couple hours, they were all done with a first take. They were all done in the first take, and here we are putting it out.

A couple things have changed [since My Times with You’s Bandcamp release in July of 2015]. It has a new cover, which is a photograph of me in a birch tree in Maine, a silhouette image, which was taken by my friend Shane Tulp when I was living in the Northeast. Picture was taken in the last couple of weeks of me living in Vermont. I think the image really captured what the album was about: half of the songs were written in my last year living in Vermont, and the other half are a reflection of that time in my life.

On rereleasing My Times with You on physical format:

Tim Lancaster's latest release will have a new and improved look later this month when it becomes available in physical formats.
Credit Courtesy of Tim Lancaster

I guess I’m tired of having the same albums on the merch table [laughing]. But when you release something on a physical format, it gives a certain level of legitimacy to that collection of songs. And these are songs that I think are great songs, I don’t want them to be written off as something I can just throw on the internet. I want them to be something that somebody can be hold in their hands and hopefully in their hearts.

Bandcamp makes it really quick and easy for people to access your music. I just found that it’s harder for me to sell my songs because not a lot of people know who I am. But maybe if they see me perform and like what they hear, they’ll be more attuned to buy the album from me right there as opposed to, “Oh, well I have this thing on Bandcamp that you can log onto later when you are hungover if you remember talking to me at all.” [Laughing] So it’s much easier to get the album to them at that moment than have them think about it later. But maybe I should be performing better to make it stay in their [potentially hungover] minds.

On the story behind My Times with You:

I’m trying to think of how I can phrase it without embarrassing myself [laughing]. It was kind of about my first experience with love, which I found in Vermont. And then we decided to do different things with our lives, and I moved to West Virginia. So the other half of the record is me reflecting on that time that I spent up there.  And I’m fortunate to be able to incorporate her. The liner notes of the record are a poem of hers, which I think is very, very cool to have that on there.

You always have to be positive with everything. Things change; that’s just how it is. You have to be fine from it and take from it in a positive way. You can’t let it get you down, because you can learn something from any situation. And that’s just going to make you grow. You’re always going to be constantly changing.

You know, I’m not sure [if the ex-girlfriend gives the record five stars]. [Laughing] I remember after she listened to it, she said that I played the songs a little differently than I would when we were in the cabin. But I think she’s cool with [the record].

On the highlight of his musical journey:

Playing music has given me this cool vagabond troubadour persona, which has given me the confidence to go places. That’s probably my favorite part of it. It’s almost an excuse for being young and making music decisions to be able to be like, “Hey, let’s catch a ride to New York City and live there. Hey, let’s go work for rent in Vermont for three years. Hey, let’s go to California.” [Laughing] It’s nice to have that in my back pocket to use like, “Oh yeah, sure, I’m doing this because I’m trying to be a responsible musician.”

What's next for Tim Lancaster? Wait and find out...
Credit Melissa Stilwell Photography

On that one time Tim Lancaster wasn’t Tim Lancaster:

When I was playing music in Florida, I went by Tim Holden. You’re in your teens, and you want to be anyone but yourself. No name can be possibly good enough for you [laughing], so I called myself Tim Holden because the name of the band I had at the time was called The Holden Boys. I would get mail which would be addressed to Tim Holden, so my mom would be like, “Who is this? What are you doing?” Looking back, it was pretty silly of me. I mean the most important thing I can be is myself. And Lancaster doesn’t sound that band when I think about it. I think it works.

Music Featured in this #WVmusic chat:

Tim Lancaster- “Let Me, Let You”

Tim Lancaster- “Riders on the Plain”

Tim Lancaster- “Sweet Pea”

Tim Lancaster- “Singing in the Wind”