Exclusive Interview with Tony Memmel
When it comes down to it, Tony Memmel is a musician whose talents are exceeded only by his modesty.
It isn’t just that he is capable of crafting music that listeners eat up with pleasure, or even that he carries such an inspiring backstory where he self-taught how to play guitar despite being born without his left forearm. Memmel has an attitude of a musician that is mature yet confident, the demeanour of a man who has clearly overcome a lot of challenges yet carries on with a positivity and humility that is contagious.
“It became about commitment to practicing every day,” Memmel says after describing the process of teaching himself how to play the guitar. Yes, this is a similar mantra that all musicians carry, but perhaps that’s the point. Hard work, no matter the challenge, is just one of many things needed to overcome a great challenge and accomplish a great goal. “Fame and public recognition gained from a human interest story alone is usually short-lived,” he says. Despite the backstory to his career, Memmel makes it clear that his merits are on his artistry, and his artistry alone. That, in itself, is something that all artists should take note.
In our exclusive interview with Tony Memmel, we managed to see for ourselves the hardworking, confident, yet humble talent behind the charismatic musician. We also chat a little bit about his recently dropped album “We’ll Be On The Radio.”
24- In 140 characters or less, let us know who you are and what you do.
T- I am Tony Memmel. I’m a touring singer-songwriter, speaker, entrepreneur, clinician and composer.
T- My writing is a blend of americana, folk, and rock music. I write a lot about my experiences on the road, family, friends, hopes and fears, and people I meet.
24- What’s been your favourite part about playing music so far?
T- Anyone who’s ever been in a band can tell you that musical collaboration can sometimes be a source of great pain and frustration, but I think that’s part of what makes the flipside so great. There are few things on this earth as powerful as playing as part of a group. There are moments in concerts, and even rehearsals, that really lift me to another place.
I’ve had the opportunity to collaborate with some really talented artists — everything from playing in a 5-piece rock band, performing my music with a full symphony orchestra and chorus, teaching my music to a school choir of 400+ students, and touring the country and playing music with my wife, Lesleigh.
24- Your journey as a musician has been inspiring. Could you describe the challenges and breakthroughs in teaching yourself how to play music?
T- Thank you for saying that… the journey started when I was young. I always loved music, and found myself drawn to the guitar. I was born missing my left forearm and hand, so I knew from the get-go that I’d have to learn how to play a bit differently than a traditional guitarist. I figured that if I could create some sort of device to secure a guitar pick to my left arm, I could strum and play a left-handed instrument.
I started learning to play the guitar when I was 13, and didn’t really hit my stride until my early 20s. After a lot of trial and error, I found Gorilla Tape when I was 21, which is how I build the adaptive cast I use today.
For me, the challenges started with just figuring out how to hold a pick. From there, it didn’t have much to do with my arm at all. It became about commitment to practicing every day, writing songs that I was proud of and that would resonate other people, booking tours, and connecting with fans and friends all over the world.
24- “I don’t want to be a good guitarist with one hand, I want to be a great guitarist and songwriter, period.” I love that this is your mantra, especially now that you’re up-and-coming in an industry where representation is becoming important. However, do you still struggle with people giving you “special attention” that sometimes isn’t so flattering? How do you overcome this?
T- When I say things like that, I don’t mean them in an angry or bitter way. I am always appreciative of someone’s interest in my music and/or backstory.
That being said, one piece of wisdom I’ve gained from years of experience in the music business is that being a quality musician with quality songs is the most important element of meaningful success. Fame and public recognition gained from a human interest story alone is usually short-lived, if that is the main thing sustaining a person’s career and livelihood.
24- Has it ever sunk into you how much of an inspiration you could be, maybe, to kids around the world?
T- While I don’t think a person can know the full extent of the impact he makes in lives around himself, I have been fortunate to receive hundreds of letters, emails, video posts, and coloring book pictures from people all over the world. It’s humbling, and it feels like a big responsibility, in a way, to keep going and to keep doing everything I can to continue to make a meaningful impact.
24- What can fans expect from your upcoming album?
T- It is objectively the best album we’ve ever recorded and ever written. It is a common thing for an artist to feel strongly about a new release, and to compliment it, and say it is his or her best project. Sometimes what he or she says is true, sometimes it’s not. This is true.
24- Could you describe the writing process? What were the challenges, and what were some of the things that you learned about yourself?
T- I’m my own biggest critic and motivator, and I strived to reach for greatness with this album. Anytime you aim to do something great, you risk heartache along the way…
I’ve learned to be a better writer. I used to live in Milwaukee and I loved it for a lot of reasons. One reason that it was great is that the songwriting scene was really supportive. My wife and I moved to Nashville in 2013 where the songwriting scene is more critical and competitive. It seems like most everyone who lives here is aiming to break into the music business. Some people leave the city and scene because of this. It made me want to press on and get better.
I practiced my guitar A LOT – sometimes 4-6 hours a day, until my fingers hurt, and I was sweaty, and my back was aching. I wanted to learn how to be a lead player so I could do the solos, myself (a personal goal of mine). I play all of the lead guitar (except one solo in the song “The Good Land”), most of the bass guitar, and all of the acoustic guitar on the record.
When I have the opportunity to talk to students about learning a craft, I like to emphasize that the harder you work and the deeper you dig into truly learning to do something well, you find there are always areas to improve, and there is always room to grow.
24- Any specific things on the album you want to spoil for us? Even just a hint or two. Give us something juicy.
T- Haha, something juicy. I like it. The previously-unreleased track, “100 Years,” was originally written and recorded as a birthday gift for my wife, Lesleigh. The original version was completely different. For the studio, we decided to strip it down, and the song really came to life in a new way. I think it’s one of our best songs yet.
24- Are there any artists, past or present, you would love to do a collaboration with?
T- I’d want to collaborate with someone who is known for their collaborations. My first instinct is The Muppets. They seem like they’d be cool to work with. If they’re unavailable, I’d gladly do a Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band collaboration, if they asked. Better yet, all of us could collaborate together.
24- One last question, and this one is super serious, just a heads up. If you were to suddenly turn into a dessert treat, what would you be?
T- If the common phrase, “ You are what you eat” is true, then I would be a Reese’s Bell left over from my Christmas stocking.
24- Thanks for the time, Tony, I can’t wait to hear your new music!
T- Thank you!