Q: You wrote your first song at the age of four. How did you get into music being so young?
A: That's the reason I used the photo of my four-year-old self on the cover. I come from a musical family. My mother plays piano beautifully by ear and both she and my dad had magnificent singing voices. Dad played French Horn all through college and sang in the Capitol University Glee Glub and quartet. He was a Lutheran minister and music is a big part of the liturgy. My mom says she and dad both used to sing to me every day and night when I was an infant. She says the first anyone heard me do was sing before I talked, and that I used to pretend jump ropes were microphones and sing for hours. When I was two, I used to take the cans out of the cupboard and line them up like a choir and conduct them with a wooden spoon. Then I would use the pots and pans and their lids as drums. She said it was much cuter than it was annoying, but maybe she is being nice. She took me to choir practice at church and I was singing the whole liturgy by age four. I used to make up songs and begged her to write them down for me so I could see it. We don't have any of them anymore. Would be fun to see what I came up with.
Q: Your new album, Acoustic Remedy, is stylistically eclectic. How did the CD come about?
A: I love all kinds of music, and I have noticed that when I check out my friend's iPods, they do, too. You'll see standards, classical, jazz, and hip-hop all on one device. So I didn't worry about genre. Each song reveals itself, and I allowed that to happen. I think the continuity comes from the fact that I'm singing them all. It all still sounds like me. At one point in the process, a musician offered to "sneak up on my songs and give them a commercially appealing sound." I liked the sample that he gave me very much except that it was no longer me. It sounded like him. I told him it would be great for a remix, but I needed to stay true to my sound. I do realize it is unusual to have songs with prayers in them, jazz ballads, reggae, techno and a standard with a harp, but the songs come from a lifetime of living. Painters have a whole palate to choose from, why shouldn't musicians? Some of the songs are recent, but several were written decades ago. One song, "Time to Cry," has been recorded four different times over the years. Several times when I was younger, I connected with fledgling record companies that wanted me to be their first artist. None of them ever panned out. I also hooked up with an "entertainment lawyer" who took a lot of money and never did anything. So I kind of gave up. Then, in October 2012, I recorded "Invocation" and played it for Marianne Williamson. Her response encouraged me to do the album I always knew was in me. Recording it was the happiest year of my life, hands down.
Q: Were your parents supportive of your interest in music?
A: Absolutely! They paid for music lessons and I had my first solo in church when I was four. I was the Little Drummer Boy at Christmas a few years. They humored me when I wanted to entertain frequent guests who visited with a song or two. I was always a ham, always wanting to perform for people. Many times at night, we would stand around the piano and sing instead of watching TV. As a result, I have this album and my younger brother, James Martin Schaefer, sings with the L.A. Opera. He has an amazing voice!
Q: Where did you grow up and did your environment influence you creatively?
A: I was really fortunate to grow up in Porterville, CA, which is known for its outstanding school music programs. My high school, Monache High, had about 1,300 students when I went there and we had five choirs and marched more than 300 on the field for band. I played trumpet in both jazz and concert band. The choir and band director at my high school both attended our small church so I sang with them from the time I was small and they really encouraged me. My senior year I composed and arranged a four-minute piece for our entire band. I wrote out every single note, and it was pretty good. I got a standing ovation from the crowd of about 1,600 people in attendance and won outstanding senior bandsman. I also composed the score for our drama production of "Taming of the Shrew" using brass. I got my BA in music from Cal State Fullerton, where I majored in composition and voice.
Q: What artists inspired you the most and why?
A: The difficult part of growing up in Porterville was that it is the most conservative part of California, and I am gay. I was picked on in junior high under the perception that I was gay. Thankfully, it was cool to be in music in my school so it stopped in high school for the most part. But a singer who really got me through those dark times is Grammy-winner Melissa Manchester. Her songs are comforting and affirming. The intimate, soulful quality in her voice was a beacon of light to me. She was my companion and she got me through those lonely, terrifying days in the closet. Interestingly, I am not alone in that. Director Abe Sylvia grew up in Oklahoma around the same time and wrote and directed a film called Dirty Girl a couple of years ago which featured Melissa's music throughout. The film tells the story of two unlikely friends, one of whom is a gay kid who loves Melissa. I used to tell people that if I could do for someone what Melissa had done for me through music, my life would be a success. Other musicians who move me are Rickie Lee Jones (I think "Your Sweater" and "Row, Row/Moon River" are influenced by her), K.D. Lang, Rufus Wainright, Sting, Paul Simon, and musicals. I had to include a mash-up of two of my favorite Melissa Manchester tunes on my album, "Midnight Blue" and "Lights of Dawn," and I ended up as one of the winners in her cover contest. I now get to perform love with her in concert! How cool is that? Quite a stretch from sitting on the nosebleed section for her concerts at the Greek Theater and Universal Ampitheater back on the day.
Q: How did you get author Marianne Williamson to appear on your album?
A: I have been attending Marianne's lectures since the '80s, and she has profoundly molded my life for the better. I was one of the early volunteers for Project Angel Food when she founded it. I have also been the cantor at Blessed Sacrament Church in Hollywood since 1981. There is a chant I sing each year right before the Gospel reading at Pentecost, which is the feast of the Holy Spirit. The chant is called The Golden Sequence. It was written 800 years ago and is attributed to the Archbishop of Canterbury. As I was singing it, it struck me how similar it is to Marianne's opening prayer, which she has opened each lecture with for years. I wrote them both out and laid them side by side and was amazed at how well they mirrored one another. I decided to compose music to go underneath them. I started with a drone on an A played by a didgerrido. I arranged it so that Marianne and I were alternating a few lines of her prayer and a few lines of the chant. I work with a wonderful musician, George Reich, at a studio in his home in Glendale. We selected instruments like shofar and sitar and wove them in and out of the lines of spoken and sung word. I decided to finish it before approaching Marianne with it, since it was rather unique, and I didn't want to leave it to her imagination. When it was done, I contacted her and asked if I could meet with her. She invited me to her home, and it happened that I went there the morning after she appeared on Oprah's Super Soul Sunday. It was great to get an insider's perspective on that. I played the music for her and she said "Wow. You've already blessed the world just by creating it. Congratulations on your talent. I would love to hear more." With that, the spark was rekindled, and I decided to finally record the album I had always wanted to do. Talented film editor, musician and director Michale Canyon Drebert made a spectacular metaphysical video for "Invocation." I recorded two more songs utilizing Marianne. One, "Closer than You Think," incorporates a beautiful prayer on relationships that she said in a lecture in the '80s into a song that came from the prayer. That prayer taught me how to be in relationships. It is one of the most powerful prayers in my life, and I have had numerous people tell me they were moved to tears buy it. The other is "Wake Up!" which features material from her New Year's Eve 2012 lecture as well as soundbites from many different lectures. Given her recent announcement as a candidate for congress, it is a fitting summary of her message.
Q: You are quite open about being gay but also Christian as well. Was it difficult for you to understand how both can be united?
A: Yes, at first. I struggled all the way through college, suffering anxiety attacks and wishing, even praying, that God would let me die in a car accident because I was taught that suicide was unforgivable and was certain God was disgusted by me. My father found a love letter that I wrote to a young guy, but chickened out of delivering, when I was working at Disneyland in the Main Street Electrical Parade. He said "Do you want to talk about this?" I was embarrassed and really loved my dad, so I didn't want to disappoint him. He said, "Look, God loves you, I love you, it doesn't make any difference." That was a huge gift to me, because he died not long after that of lung cancer. I then went to a counselor who was also a Lutheran minister because that connection was very important to me. I asked him to help me stop being gay. He said "Why don't we not set an agenda, but just be open and see where it takes us?" Gradually I came to see my sexuality as a gift from God. I, and those around me, have learned so much about love we wouldn't have learned any other way. Marianne Williamson and A Course in Miracles were a huge help to me in that, as well. Dave, the counselor, paved the way for her. He had me read a lot of Jungian books, which are an excellent preparation for ACIM. ACIM is not a religion, but uses Christian terminology in non-traditional ways to train the mind to think thoughts of love instead of fear. It's a bit like the twelve-step program. One of the key lessons in the Course is "I am as God created me." My song "Little Bits of Heaven" is about the time I spent with Dave, learning that I was OK just the way I was.
Q: Did you encounter any resistance from your church about being homosexual?
A: The Lutheran Church that I grew up in now accepts gays and lesbians and even performs marriage ceremonies. They also allow gay clergy. Blessed Sacrament is rather unique as Catholic parishes go, in that it is run by Jesuits (the new Poe is Jesuit.) We have a gay and lesbian ministry and had an HIV support group for many years. I have always felt loved and welcomed at Blessed Sacrament. My friends and I joke that we get it from both sides. Many gay people say "How can you sing at a Catholic Church?" and many more conservative Christians say, "How can you be gay and sing in a church?" I have encountered some of that with my album. It has three songs featuring prayers and a gay-marriage anthem. But that is who I am. And I think it's really important for glbt folks to know there is a place for them in church. Blessed Sacrament's mission statement says "Many made one around the table of the Lord." They allowed me to announce sales of my album in church. They have been wonderful.