Backstage: Keeping up with Jason Sinay during pandemic

Jason Sinay’s fingers keep working during the Covid-19 lockdown.

Jason Sinay, an acclaimed L.A. session guitarist for the likes of Neil Diamond, Jerry Lee Lewis, Toots and Maytals, Mike Campbell and others, is part of The Dirty Knobs, whose album “Wreckless Abandon” is set to release on Sept. 20. The following is an interview between Jon Siembieda of Tahoe Onstage and Sinay as part of a series catching up with artists during the Covid-19 pandemic, to see what they are doing for creative output in these times.

You’ve been playing live stream performances during quarantine and overall have been active on social media. What have you learned during these shows? How do you adjust to playing to a virtual audience? How many songs have you played so far? 

Jason Sinay: I started doing live streams as soon as they became available on Facebook and soon after on Instagram. I joined Instagram in January 2017, so it’s been awhile. The difference I found now is that the size of the audience has not only grown for obvious reasons but the gratitude they express is truly heartwarming. In terms of adjusting to a virtual audience, that is an ever-changing task for me. I have tried streaming in my studio, my living room, my backyard, etc. In the end, I’m finding that when playing to a virtual audience, one either just puts on a show or engages with the people. I try to do both. As far as what I present, it’s a combination of singing my originals with an acoustic guitar, doing electric riffing and using a loop pedal so I can solo over chords, and I like to engage with the people. It’s really fun or me or I wouldn’t do it.

You are in The Dirty Knobs with Mike Campbell. Your new album “Wreckless Abandon” was set to release in March, but it looks like it’s been postponed to Sept. 20, I assume that’s because of the pandemic and your tour dates being moved as well?

Jason Sinay: Yes, I love being a member of The Dirty Knobs! And yes, the Covid Pandemic sidelined our tour and the release of our record. It will be released in September whether we can tour behind it or not. As far as tour dates, we have plenty on the books but it’s nearly impossible to know when any band can perform LIVE. My heart broke when we couldn’t tour behind the record. It really hit hard.

Any cool stories from the album process? I listened to the title track and really dig it. It seems like making this record would have been a blast. 

Jason Sinay: Thank you, yes “Wreckless Abandon” is a killer track and song. I honestly have no recollection of recording that song. It was maybe one or two takes much like the rest of the record. It wasn’t a record that we set aside a month and did it. Some of it was tracked before Mike went out with Fleetwood Mac, some when he was on break and we finished it when he was finally off the road. There’s a ton of cool memories but I think overall it just was pure fun to make the record. There was no stress or weird vibes. It was just light and inspirational.

Of course, having George Drakoulias producing with Mike made for a good time no matter what was happening. My favorite memory was when we tracked “Fuck that Guy.” It’s a really J.J. Cale-kinda vibe. For some reason Mike wanted me to play the slide guitar part and solo. Having Mike Campbell giving me that job was daunting. His slide playing is legendary. But we hit record and played the song live and in one or two takes it was done. Everything, including the solo was live. That was a moment for sure.

Where’s the first place you’re going after quarantine is lifted?

Jason Sinay: I haven’t really thought of that, but I just want to go to a crowded Mexican restaurant, eat chips and salsa and smile at people.

What record did you recently get that everybody needs to go and check out right now?

Jason Sinay: I have an admission to make, I suck at seeking out new music. I’m always looking back at the roots of what I love. I did hear a great new country artist that blew me away named Logan Ledger. I was scanning Sirius and landed on the Outlaw Country station. I thought he was some old guy from the ‘50s that I missed. His songs were real, and unaffected. Once I looked him up, I wasn’t surprised that T-Bone Burnett produced the record. The record is out now.

Ethan Miller (Howlin Rain, Heron Oblivion) has been curating a lengthy and deep quarantine playlist. What at-home listening are you vibing on nowadays? 

Jason Sinay: I’ve been mostly listening to the music my girlfriend has been playing. It’s been a mix of traditional Mexican music, Tame Impala and George Harrison. It’s been really refreshing actually. Some of the traditional Mexican music is extremely complex and beautiful. 

Mike Campbell, left, and Jason Sinay of The Dirty Knobs.

You’re a prolific guitar collector. What new axes have caught your attention recently?

Jason Sinay: I recently let go of a couple guitars, including my 1960 Burst! I really want a ‘59 but I’m waiting for the prices to drop. Sadly, because of Covid the values of fine vintage anything all drop. I did a trade as well that I’m very excited about. I traded out of my ‘59 ES355 for a KILLER ‘62 Strat. It’s a gorgeous refin, and I will be regretting it, but I think it might be one of the greatest Strats on the planet. 

TB500 or Tiger?

Jason Sinay: I love both the TB500 and Tiger… but if I HAD to choose it would be Tiger all the way. It’s an absolute masterpiece of a guitar. After over two years with her, I’m still getting acquainted with her extensive vocabulary.

I’ve long been an admirer of your solo songwriting. Any new tunes in the works?

Jason Sinay: Thank you, and yes I’m actually writing again for the first time in years. I go through spells when I tend to write a bit, but this is different. I’m obsessed with these new songs. I feel like I’m finally writing from a place of joy rather than it being a chore. The material is very acoustic driven and very lyrical. It’s all about getting to the solo lol.

Do you have a message for musicians and artists on the search for creative inspiration? In your opinion, what’s the best thing people can do to support the arts during these times?

Jason Sinay: I wish I could deliver a cohesive message, but honestly I know how hard it is to find true inspiration. For me, I had to finally drop my need to write a song that furthers my career or gains approval of others. I just don’t care anymore. I truly don’t. If they like it and it moves them, I’ll be honored, but I am enjoying a creative freedom that has eluded me for over 20 years. I’m not saying to just blurt anything out and riff away and there ya’ go. I work harder now on my songs that I ever had in the past. In fact, I have a lyric for a song that I’ve been crafting for two weeks. But I don’t mind, because at some point if I keep at it, I will have a fucking great song. The point is I dig the song, I enjoy writing it and it’s a gift to be able to pour myself into something and know I did my best work. There is a lot to write about at this time in history. I’m deeply affected by this crisis. There are days that I wonder if it’s even real. The solitude in music and the gift of creativity is not an option for the majority of the planet. We might as well use our gifts and help others get through.

Where can people keep up with your live streams, new album, and band activities? 

Jason Sinay: I’m thrilled to announce that I have invested in a new system for my live streams. I’m no longer going to do them off an iPhone. I’m putting together a rig including several microphones, cameras, recording gear and more. I will have the ability to drop in videos to my live feeds of either my band, the Grateful Dead, or anything. It will be very interactive. But the best part is that my guitar and vocal will be studio quality. It will be a work in progress. Additionally, my band that I do shows and record with separate of the Knobs will be doing remote recording and filming with me. I have lists of cool stuff in the works.

I’m releasing singles off my “Live at United Sessions,” that I have posted online. My first single “Little Wing” (Instrumental) is now on Spotify, Apple Music, Amazon, etc. I plan on releasing lots of singles from not only that collection but from other things I have stowed away.

Jon Siembieda

ABOUT Tim Parsons

Tim Parsons
Tim Parsons is the editor of Tahoe Onstage who first moved to Lake Tahoe in 1992. Before starting Tahoe Onstage in 2013, he worked for 29 years at newspapers, including the Tahoe Daily Tribune, Eureka Times-Standard and Contra Costa Times. He was the recipient of the 2011 Keeping the Blues Alive award for Journalism.

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