Interviewed by Charles Morgan III
What is it about Mississippi? Not at the top of the charts as far as education and progressive issues, but a disproportionate number of writers, musicians and athletes have come from the Magnolia State.
I think when you try to hold people down, there’s a reaction to it that comes out in sports, music and the arts. I think it has something to do with that, and a strong tradition of storytelling. Lots of rebellious people here willing to go the nontraditional route—when you’ve got nothing, you’ve got nothing to lose.
You started young. You’ve had a great career performing, recording and writing your music. When did you sense that you could make a life in music?
I always enjoyed writing songs, and when I was in college I made a record called Broken Arrow on a shoestring budget. It moved the needle enough to where I could make a living, and I never looked back. That was 20 years ago.
You’ve cut an outsized swath throughout your career. You hang out with cool people, you operate on a big stage… you’ve got a life bigger than music. How’d you do that?
Well, I think making music for a living over a long period of time has just by its nature put me in a place where interesting things happen. Birds of a feather. My life isn’t that big. I’ve lived in Mississippi most of my life. I drink coffee with my best friend from high school. I play small ass coffee shops, and I play stadiums. It’s all the same to me.
You’ve got a look—I’m scared to describe it. What is it?
I’m always traveling around, and clothes are kind of like my home. I think my look changes. I’ve always liked clothes. I’m friends with several clothing designers. I like comfortable stuff. My look? I dunno…how about casual gangster?
How would you describe your sound? Alt-country? Folk rock? It’s pretty, there is melody…but what is it? Something entirely different?
I think my music has evolved into a hybrid form of folk and country that incorporates grooves not usually associated those genres—maybe if Bill Withers was a white boy from Mississippi or something. I always like jam bands, and I wanna see the hips movin’ more than the fists pumping. I need melody. I like classic songwriting structures.
What is your daily life like?
I like to spend time outdoors. I walk in the woods. I drink lots of coffee. I live in Oxford, and you can walk all over the place. I play guitar and try to stay out of trouble.
You spend most of your time in Oxford? The beach? How’d you figure that out?
I grew up going to the beach in Destin with my family all through my early life. I’ve always loved the Emerald Coast. I started spending much more time in that area the last few years…it really calms my mind. I love the sun. I love being in the ocean. I love seafood. Lots of nice people living a life removed from the rest of the hustle and bustle.
When we first met, you were not much more than a teenager. You played at Harbor Docks in the early ‘80s, and there were always a lot of girls. How’d you do that?
Those were some wild times…some of my wildest. I played lots of college towns, and when Spring Break and such hit it was a natural fit to head to the beach for some shows. That was the late ‘90s. I took lots of pills. I drank lots of tequila. You were there. It was nuts.
When you write, do you do the music first, then the lyrics? How’s that work?
I write both at the same time usually. It just happens.
You like the 30A Songwriters Festival? A lot of these musicians get a few days at the beach. It’s your stomping ground. Do you enjoy being around song craftsmen like yourself?
I really do. Songwriters are loners that don’t want to be alone. It’s nice to come together and share some fellowship. We are always ships passing in the night, so it’s nice to sit down with some friends and catch up.
And what about Yoga? What’s with that?
Well, it’s a great way to relieve stress, become more centered and learn to use the breath to become more present and happier. It’s way easier on the spirit than pills and booze.
Charlie Mars performs at the REP Theatre in Seaside April 7 and 8. Find out more at LoveTheREP.com.