By Elke Thoms
A few minutes after Andrew Tufano and I are supposed to meet, I receive a mildly frantic call from the singer/songwriter.
“I’m sorry, I just walked into Tyson’s—where is the Starbucks?” Tufano asks.
“It’s across from Gap, on the lower level,” I respond.
He assures me he’ll be there soon, just as soon as he finds a map. I hang up feeling confused as to why he picked this meeting spot.
The 19-year old has lived in Sterling his entire life, save for the past year he spent in Nashville completing his freshman year at Belmont University, where he is a songwriting major.
So how does a Northern Virginia native survive his teen years without memorizing Tyson’s layout?
Releasing two EPs and performing more than 250 shows in the past four years might have something to do with it. His first EP, Right Where We Should Be, was written when he was 16. Now he’s got a full-length album on the way, and is about to begin his self-booked “Dotted Lines Tour,” named after his second EP, Dotted Lines, which he wrote at 17. The tour will include shows in cities such as Philadelphia, Cleveland, Chicago and Nashville, and kicks-off with his show at Jammin’ Java on Monday, July 21.
A few minutes after the call, he locates the Starbucks. We sat down to discuss his music, life in Nashville, and how the moustache on his guitar became his logo.
This will be your first time headlining at Jammin’ Java, but you’ve performed there as an opener several times. Are there any songs you’re particularly excited to play at this show?
For this Jammin’ Java show, I’m actually going to be doing a full band thing. Most of the time, I’m just playing solo, or I’ll play with one percussionist. We’re doing a Counting Crows cover of their song “Round Here,” and I’m just really pumped for it, because there’s so much energy with the band. And there’s a song of my own that I’m really excited for, we just rehearsed yesterday so I’m pretty psyched. It’s called “Know You,” it’s on my last EP, and I’ve never played it with a full band except for in a studio, so it’s coming together much differently than the way we recorded it, it’s really groovy, and it’s going to be awesome. I’m really excited.
How did you first get involved with playing and writing music?
My grandparents bought me a little keyboard when I was in the second grade, and my parents kind of forced me to take lessons. After a year or so, it turned into the other way around, my parents wanted me to do homework and I was like “No, I’d rather do this.” It went from them forcing me to play music to trying to hold me away from it.
Alright, so where did the mustache on your guitar come from?
It would work so much better if I had a mustache. Six years ago, my friend and I were walking around on a beach and we had my guitar, and for some reason she had a fake mustache and she just put it on my guitar, and we walked up to this group of college kids that were partying and they said “Whoa! There’s a mustache!” and I was like “Yeah!” and since then I just left it on. I just thought it was goofy. It kind of turned into a logo. There’s really no story line. I’ve had people ask me if I was supporting Movember, which I probably should, because I always feel bad when I’m like “No, it’s not for charity, there’s no reason.” But I just started putting it on everything, every time I’d make a new piece of merch, I’d put it on there… I don’t think it’s going away anytime soon.
You’re preparing to record an album in Nashville in the fall. What’s the process like? Are you writing now?
I feel like I have a different process for writing. A lot of people will write 50 to 60 songs, and pick the best 12 and make an album—that’s probably what I should be doing, but I’ll usually write 200 half songs, and then pick the ones I like and really finish those. For this upcoming album, I have 10 solid songs I really want to record, but I do want to write more, too. And if I write better ones, we can pick the best.
What’s the difference between playing gigs in Northern Virginia and Nashville?
In Northern Virginia, there are a lot of restaurants, wineries, and bars you can hit. I’ll just play mostly covers for two or three hours… In Nashville, they’re a lot more focused on the writing. It’s harder to get a paid gig in Nashville, because there are so many people who will just play for free. Everywhere you go there’s live music, so you’ve really got to stand out. Here, it’s easier to do full time. There’s just not enough musicians.
What the biggest risk you’ve taken so far that’s paid off?
I was really set on going to Berklee (College of Music in Boston) for school. I did their five week-camp, I got a scholarship there, I already had a network there that I could go to. But I decided last minute to go to Belmont. I went and visited for a weekend with my parents, and I just felt like it was where I should be as a writer. I’m glad I went somewhere where I didn’t know anyone. I knew I could go to Berklee, and learn more about performance and technique, but here I’m learning about songwriting and the business. I don’t know which one’s more valuable, but I think I made the right decision.
Andrew Tufano at Jammin’ Java
227 Maple Ave E, Vienna
Monday, July 21: 7:30 p.m.