Chosen as one of the best soundtracks of 2017 by Gigwise.com, Jeff Mix’s album and movie Lost Vegas Hiway is an innovative approach to releasing music and stretching the concept of a music video to new limits. The movie and the songs that fuel it are a worthwhile and engaging experience. Once I started watching, I had a hard time stopping despite the fact I had other responsibilities to attend to. However, I have finally seen it the entire way through and this is excellent art and creative limits being pushed to their limits.
In this interview spotlight, I speak with Jeff Mix about the movie, the process, challenges, motivations and much more.
Full Q&A along with links and the film Lost Vegas Hiway below.
Where are you from and what style of music do you create? (In your own words, not necessarily in marketing terms or by popular genre classifications.)
Our music is a cross of Tom Petty and country. The term is Americana, but I sometimes worry are we not country enough for Americana and then I think we’re not rock and roll enough. I think you can only do what you know. I grew up in Daytona Beach Florida as a heavy metal drummer kid with long hair into all of the 80’s metal. It wasn’t until later that I went back to the stuff I heard from my dad as a kid and got into the Jerry Jeff Walker, Guy Clark and the early Buffett stuff, when he was still honky-tonk. I think making music is like an old iron skillet. Whatever music you heard all of your life, seasons your own pan. No matter how hard you try to cook a specific style, and if you’re being authentic, it comes out with the flavors of your past. Growing up in Florida, I worked with people from Gainesville. They’d always brag about Tom Petty, but I was so into Dokken and Motley Crue, I’d be like ya whatever! Now when I hear some of my tunes, I can hear the influence that he had on me. Growing up in an area where you had the Almond Brothers, Petty and Skynard I think it’s unavoidable. I like music you can’t put in a box. That’s freedom. That’s being true, because everyone nowadays has the ability to be influenced by so much. Good honest music shines through no matter the genre.
What led you down this path of music and what motivates you to keep going?
I wrote my first song when I was in the fourth grade. I saw Willie Nelsons Honey Suckle Rose movie at the drive in. That was the film that had On the Road Again in it. I wrote a song called Hiways. I misspelled it as a kid and would write Hiways on my notebooks and stuff. I made a cassette recording of it and gave it to my friend Jimmy Cliff at school. The next day he told me he couldn’t really understand the words.That made me happy because I thought it was just like the songs on the radio. When I titled our album, Lost Vegas Hiway, it’s a nod to the that same kid still in me now and I misspelled it.
My Dad was a drummer and I started playing drums like him in the 6th grade. My brother took up guitar and we played together till I finished High School. When I was 19, I moved away to Vegas to learn how to make neon signs and sold my drums to pay for that. Many years went by without playing anything. My Dad lent me his guitar so I could start learning to play some of the songs I was now into. It’d take me another 10 years before I’d get the nerve up to do an open mic. That helped my confidence. I started working on writing and singing. In 2013 my wife got a trip to Nashville for a songwriting workshop where Mary Gauthier was an instructor. That week changed me. It opened my eyes to the fact that I am a songwriter. I went all in on writing and haven’t looked back. It’s a tough thing to do and put yourself out there. It’s a pretty personal thing to do and when folks don’t get it it’ll bum you out. When someone does get it, that’s the fuel that keeps you going. I imagine everyone wants to quit this daily, but I think it’s in you and you can’t. You may put it away but it’ll make you a sad person. I often wonder if there is some kind of dopamine rush on doing this. Maybe as a child you get positive feedback and you start to equate your worth to performing to get that rush. That’s why we strive for this. It’s full of heartbreak and let downs. Financially the chance of getting to a place you don’t need a full time job, is pretty slim. So why do we do this. Honestly I’m not sure. I only know when I don’t create, I’m not as happy as I am when I do.
What inspired you to turn your latest project into a movie? How long did that process take?
Lost Vegas Hiway is my debut album. It’s also the first time I really acted, made a film or edited this much footage. The project started with a chance encounter with a conman coming through Las Vegas. Selling real estate as my day job, I had a call from a guy looking for 2 million dollar homes. He had fake closing papers on a home closing in California, fake clippings from when he was a pro baseball player over seas. Well it was all a lie. Of course for a 2 million dollar sale you’re likely cast doubts aside, at least for a little while. After a couple of days figured out he was full of shit. I thought about him in his motel room coming up with scams and thought I should write a song about him. That morphed into the idea of writing songs about a bunch of down and out characters at a dive motel. Ironically it was first set in Lima Ohio. Then I learned Glee was placed there so that was out. Las Vegas made a lot more sense. The first song I wrote was about a prostitute, Find My Way. That song ended up being part of a compilation CD to raise funds against domestic violence. There was a grand prize for a 25k music video from a local company. I ended up winning that. meanwhile I had been shooting videos for real estate. I hired a young guy on a site called ODesk to edit the videos I was shooting. You can hire people from all around the world to do work. I hired Zohaib Latif, who was from Karachi, Pakistan. We talked on skype and he talked like a surfer kid from California. We became fast friends and a year later he was coming to Vegas for a film convention thing. I said why don’t you stay with us for your two weeks. That was a weird thing to explain to my wife, that the guy from half way around the world was going to stay with us for a couple of weeks. I told her don’t worry I met him online, it’ll be great. It did turn out great. He’s become like family to us.
When he came to town, we cut our track Fremont Street and made a video for it. The original idea was to have the 25k video I won and this one as a cool long piece. Well you start creating and shooting and you think well we can do a story for this song and this song. Before we knew it we kept adding to the idea and ended up with a 1 hour visual album/film. We were to dumb to know any better. Like they say ignorance is bliss. If I knew when we started, how much work and time would go into this, I may not have tried. It took more than 2 years to finally shoot and finish editing. If it was your main gig and had money and time you could do this much quicker, but when you’re learning on the job, it takes a little longer! The funny thing is the 25k music video never came through. They kept putting us off and we just did our own thing.
We had the album tracked here in Vegas before we I started really piecing together the idea of the film. I had rough mixes of the album and after we sat on those for a year, while working on the film, we reached out to a young guy in Nashville, Eddie Spear. He’s the assistant to Dave Cobb and has got to be part of that whole scene. Eddie had mixed my friend and costar from the film, Jack Evan Johnson’s record. So we got Eddie to mix the album and he was able to have fresh ears and take the songs further. He then got us in touch with Pete Lyman who’s done the Isbell, Sturgill albums to master ours. This was a long road for all of us, to finally get it all done. My big payoff came when we premiered the film to a sold out crowd at the Inspire Theater during the Neon Reverb Music Festival this past March. My 19 year olds’ girlfriend told me that after leaving that, my son said, ” My Dad didn’t know anything about making movies but he did it. It shows me I can do anything.” That simple sentence made every bit of work worth it. Even if we get nowhere commercially with this, I did something more than I could have imagined.
Name one or two challenges you face as an indie musician in this oversaturated, digital music age? How has technology helped you (since we know it does help)?
Today’s music industry is almost too good of thing. There’s so much music, so much talent and it’s so much easier to make an album or film. The bright side is you have to try harder than most to cut through the noise. My biggest challenge as an indie has been getting the larger americana radio stations to play me or the big press publications to take notice. Without a big budget to hire a press agent, it’s been tough. Fortunately I really believe in the power of persistence. You can’t quit. If you go out and do the best you can, make art that’s true to yourself, it makes it easier to be able to stand behind it and to pitch it yourself. The cool thing is with sites like spotify and youtube etc, you can reach an audience that was not possible when I was a kid. I subscribe to that idea of 1,000 super fans. I’d rather have maybe 3000 that would spend $35 a year on my stuff. That would enable me to make a living and solely concentrate on the one thing i love to do, that’s create.
Where is the best place to connect with you online and discover more music?
Our site is www.jeffmix.net we’ve got everything there. We also have a separate site for the film, www.lostvegashiway.com
Anything else before we sign off?
I’d really like to have people check out the Lost Vegas Hiway. It’ll give you a good understanding of what we’re all about. We have a lot of artists from our Vegas scene in it. Vegas is a weird place because we’re literally an island here. There’s basically nothing in a 200 mile radius of us. That’s made for a tight nit community here. There’s a cool Americana scene here. It’s been great for success that The Killers and Imagine Dragons have had but there’s a lot more to Vegas than the glitz of the strip.