Q&A with rising blues star Selwyn Birchwood, taking the tradition of the Blues and making it into something new

"Music is the way that I relate to the world. I am admittedly quiet and introverted when I am offstage, but for some reason I have no problem getting on a stage in front of thousands of people and sharing my inner most thoughts. I view the live music experience as a time of shared energy and almost group meditation and therapy."

Selwyn Birchwood: The Oath of The Blues

Although award-winning Florida musician Selwyn Birchwood is firmly rooted in the tradition, the young guitarist, lap steel player, songwriter and vocalist sets a course for the future of the blues with his visionary, original music. Birchwood, whose band features the pulsating interplay of his blistering guitar with Regi Oliver’s driving baritone sax, deploys a singular sound and style all his own. He calls it “Electric Swamp Funkin’ Blues,” an intoxicating mix of deep blues, blistering, psychedelic-tinged rock, booty-shaking funk and sweet Southern soul, played and sung with the fire-and-brimstone fervor of a revival tent preacher with a hellhound on his trail. On his new release, Exorcist (his fourth for Alligator and sixth overall/ Release Date: June 9, 2023), Birchwood delivers the most far-reaching, musically adventurous album of his career. New album Exorcist was recorded in Florida and produced by Grammy Award-winner Tom Hambridge, with each of the 13 vividly detailed songs written and arranged by Birchwood.                                        (Selwyn Birchwood / Photo by Ivy Neville)

The soul-baring tracks all hit with lasting rhymes and unexpected rhythms. Each twists its own tale, ranging from the love-gone-wrong Horns Below Her Halo to the love-gone-terrifying Exorcist to the ripped-from-the-headlines escapades of FLorida Man and Swim At Your Own Risk to the autobiographical UnderdogLive, Birchwood is a force of nature. His ability to win over an audience—any audience—is proven night after night on the bandstand. With his warm, magnetic personality, Birchwood is as down-to-earth as his music is thought-provoking and electrifying. With his band feeding off his energy, the 6’3” musician roams the stage barefoot, ripping out memorable guitar licks with ease, his soulful, rocks-and-gravel vocals firing up his fans. When he sits down to play his lap steel, he takes the crowd to a whole other level, with the music exorcising any bad times and troubles.

Interview by Michael Limnios            Archive: Selwyn Birchwood, 2012 interview

Special Thanks: Selwyn Birchwood & Marc Lipkin (Alligator Records)

How has the Blues/Soul/Rock music influenced your views of the world and the journeys you’ve taken?

Music has always been a reflection of society and I think we can learn a lot from just “listening.” To me, music can also be like a time machine. You can hear a sound and be transported to a completely different place. It can also be medicine. I can hear a song or a sound and have all of my worries washed away. That is what it has always been for, for me.

What characterize your music philosophy? What's the balance in music between technique and soul?

Music is the way that I relate to the world. I am admittedly quiet and introverted when I am offstage, but for some reason I have no problem getting on a stage in front of thousands of people and sharing my inner most thoughts. I view the live music experience as a time of shared energy and almost group meditation and therapy.

Currently you’ve one more release with Alligator Records. How did that relationship come about?

I met Bruce Iglauer in 2012 as he was a judge at the International Blues Challenge when I competed. We made the finals that year and he was very intrigued with my sound and my band. We kept in touch and when we got 1st place in the competition the very next year, I think it really solidified his decision to offer me a record contract.

"Music has always been a reflection of society and I think we can learn a lot from just “listening.” To me, music can also be like a time machine. You can hear a sound and be transported to a completely different place. It can also be medicine. I can hear a song or a sound and have all of my worries washed away. That is what it has always been for, for me."  (Selwyn Birchwood / Photo by Ivy Neville)

Do you have any interesting stories about the making of the new album “Exorcist”?

Exorcist is the culmination of 3 years of constant songwriting. I am confident with this album in saying that I have found MY SOUND! I think you would be hard pressed to find a band that sounds exactly like Selwyn Birchwood band.

What do you miss most nowadays from the blues of the past? What are your hopes and fears for the future of?

I miss the songwriting and honesty of the blues of the past. People are so content with covering other people’s music that it starts to feel fraudulent. What drew me to this music was the high emotional content and honesty in what was being played and sung.

What moment changed your music life the most? What was the best advice anyone ever gave you?

When I saw Buddy Guy at 17years old, I saw and heard what I wanted to do in life. It was life changing for me to hear music with such passion and power. I said that day that that was what I wanted to learn and that is what I wanted to do!

What is the impact of Blues on the socio-cultural implications? How do you want the music to affect people?

I want people to relate to the music on a higher level. I want them to be able to feel like they are in good company in feeling what they are feeling. We are all stricken with the human condition and music is my coping mechanism.

What are some of the most important lessons you have learned from your experience in the music paths?

I’ve learned that music can be loved and appreciated by everyone. We have performed in 19 countries the past 9 years and I have found that you don’t even have to speak the same language to understand each other. Music is the universal language.

Selwyn Birchwood - Home

(Selwyn Birchwood / Photo by Marilyn Stringer)

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