Every now and then a youngster comes out of nowhere in the music business, seemingly overnight, and begins to showcase their talent to the world. Whether they are first seen on popular televised talent shows like 'The Voice', are discovered simply by chance while going though their daily life, or actually have the ability to interest someone in the entertainment business to give them their break, young teen artists such as Lorde, Miguelito, Cody Simpson, and Austin Mahone are just a few young teens who have become quite successful with their musical talent.
A CD found its way to my desk a few months ago, via old fashioned means - snail mail. I took one listen and instantly knew I had to find out more about the unique and extra special young creative talent showcased on the disc. His name is Gareth Laffely, a fifteen year old multi-instrumentalist, vocalist, songwriter, and producer, from Gallatin, Tennessee, just outside of Nashville. He is not only gaining recognition for his unique use of the Native American flute and his songwriting, but through his genuine ability make a difference in the lives of others with his music and by challenging teens everywhere to get involved with a cause to help make their community a better place.
Gareth released his first full-length CD entitled, The Journey in July 2013. He even enlisted two-time GRAMMY Award nominated hit songwriter and Dove Award winning producer Robert White Johnson (Celine Dion, Larnelle Harris, the Beach Boys, Edyta, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Cheap Trick, .38 Special), top Nashville session musicians Dave Cleveland (Guitar), Mike Noble (Guitar), Jason Webb (Piano), Jeff Roach (Piano), Craig Nelson (Bass), Scott Williamson (Drums), Steve Brewster (Drums), Thornton Cline (cello), Susan Oliver (Background Vocals), and GRAMMY Award winner Gary Dales (engineer) to assist on his project.
I recently had the honor and privilege of chatting with Gareth Laffely in person in Nashville, TN just a stone's throw away from the Grand Ole Opry. We were joined by his mother, Susan Oliver, and his father, Neil Laffely.
William Kelly Milionis: Gareth, it is so wonderful to finally have the opportunity to meet you in person and chat with you.
Gareth Laffely: Thank you.
Kelly: You are fifteen years old and just released your debut full length album in July 2013. It is quite a phenomenal album. Tell me a bit more about it?
Gareth: The name of the album is, The Journey. There are eleven songs on that album; I've written all but the last song which is Amazing Grace. On my album. The Journey there's been a great number of studio musicians that have helped me out, Dave Cleveland on Guitar, we had two great drummers in Scott Williamson and Steve Brewster, and tons of great guys that are actually good friends of my producer Robert White Johnson. It's just a great group of guys with great hearts. Robert White Johnson is also a songwriter, he wrote Where Does My Heart Beat Now for Celine Dion. Also helping me were Mike Noble (Guitar), Jason Webb (Piano), Jeff Roach (Piano), Craig Nelson (Bass), Thornton Cline (Cello), Susan Oliver (Backing Vocals), Gary Dales (Engineer) and recorded at Sunset Boulevard Studios and Robert White Johnson's personal studio as well.
Kelly: Backing vocalists?
Gareth: My backing vocalists? Actually, I had Robert White Johnson doing my backup vocals, as well as my mother, Susan, doing the backup vocals on the song Love Is Closing In.
Kelly: How special was that?
Gareth: It was great! Back when I was little I used to go and sing with her and now to be able to bring her up to sing with me is very inspirational to me.
Kelly: When you were tracking Love Is Closing In, was your mother singing together with you or did you record separately?
Gareth: She came in after I did my vocal, then added it on.
Kelly: So she wasn't trying to take the microphone away from you, so she could sing your lead part [laughing]?
Gareth: [laughing] no, not recently [laughing] [more laughing].
Kelly: [laughing] not recently [laughing]?
Susan Oliver: [laughing] Gareth actually sang on my CD when he was 12 years old. I did a song called, Rain which appeared on my album Feather In God's Wing.
Gareth: I was younger than 12, I was 8.
Neil Laffely: Gareth was 8 years old.
Susan Oliver: Gareth came in and did a vocal in the bridge of that song which is really cute.
Kelly: So, that was 'mom'. How was Gareth as a child?
Susan Oliver: Always singing, always talking, always creating his own games; he kind of came out of the womb singing and playing [laughing].
Kelly: What is your favorite song on the album and what is the story behind it?
Gareth: My favorite song to play would probably be The Chase. It's just a really fast fun flute song. I always imagine seeing two old trucks chasing each other across the desert whenever I play that.
Kelly: Did you write any songs on your album with family members in mind?
Gareth: Most of the songs that I've written, I wrote what was in my heart. Basically, I can't stop what comes out sometimes and I just feel the need to write it down. Last year, I was informed that my Great Uncle Walter was very ill and he was going to pass away. We made an offer to go over and play some flute for him. My dad played guitar, just to try and soothe him. He actually passed away the next day with the last conscious thing he heard being Amazing Grace on the Native American flute. That just made me want to really get involved with Hospice, because I thought if I could just do that for one more person, just to give one more person peace, then it'll all be worth it for me. One of the song's I'd like to say a little something about is Steal The Moon. Awhile ago, a good friend of mine now Dana Ross, a flute maker down in Georgia, gifted me a beautiful flute just to help me out with my journey. Recently his mother passed away, so I dedicated the song Steal The Moon to his mother's memory. I had originally just started writing the melody, but I knew that since Dana had reached out to me in a time of need, when he needed me the most, I was going to be there for him. And, I dedicated the song to his mother.
Kelly: How many songs have you written over the course of your young life?
Gareth: Recently, and professionally recorded, I've written thirteen songs. When I was younger I used to write a lot of songs for fun, so there's no telling how many I've written.
Kelly: Do you keep a bound book with all your writings inside?
Gareth: Yes, I do [laughing].
Kelly: You must have a favorite player, musician, that you have followed over the years?
Gareth: Actually, I had written a song awhile back for a friend of mine who passed away from cancer and we had that song made into a music video. Well, the man who filmed that music video for me also filmed, The Valley Of Dreams with John Tesh and Robert Mirabal. So I have always kind of watched Robert Mirabal play flute and he's kind of become an inspiration of mine.
Kelly: Have you actually met Robert Mirabal?
Gareth: Yes! Last summer I had the great honor of going out west to Robert's house and play flute with him and study with him.
Kelly: Who has really inspired you and influenced your musical career?
Gareth: Well, really my parents have been so great and supportive. I really wouldn't be here if it wasn't for them. Also, just so many great music teachers that have just always pushed me to be my best and to follow my dreams above all else. And, I am definitely a big Jethro Tull fan, that's a big inspiration of mine as well.
Kelly: Is there a specific music teacher you would like to give a shout-out to?
Gareth: I would actually love to get a shout-out to Thornton Cline. He was actually responsible for the first recording I ever did of one of my original songs; I was, I think, five or six years old.
Kelly: Is Thornton from Nashville?
Gareth: Thornton is from Hendersonville, TN. He was living there but originally from, I believe, Richmond, Virginia.
Kelly: Where were you born and raised?
Gareth: I was born and raised in Tennessee; from Gallatin, Tennessee.
Kelly: What instruments do you play?
Gareth: I actually started out playing the drums. Then, after that I took up piano, then added violin, then Native American flute and I'm currently studying the bagpipe.
Kelly: At what age did you start on drums?
Gareth: I was about three or four years old.
Kelly: Were you known to play all of the pots and pans in the kitchen [laughing]?
Gareth: [laughing] all the time [more laughing].
Kelly: Did you come from a musical household?
Gareth: Yea, I grew up around music, my dad being a music therapist and my mom a singer herself. My grandmother actually played the violin when she was back in high school. I am actually now playing her violin that she played back when she was in high school.
Kelly: Have you recorded that particular instrument yet?
Gareth: I have not recorded that yet.
Kelly: What is your favorite music?
Gareth: I'm a big fan of the old '80s rock music actually; Journey, Aerosmith, a lot of the old groups like that.
Kelly: How long have you been playing the Native American flute?
Gareth: I have been playing the Native American flute for about two years now. The Native American flute is just so special to me; it seems more an extension of myself rather than just an instrument.
Kelly: Who are the manufacturers of the Native American flutes that you use?
Gareth: Ah, I have lots of different flute makers that have helped me out; Dana Ross down in Georgia; a good friend of mine up in Maine, Tony Francis; as well as, Brent Haines, Robert Mirabal, and also Odell Borg.
Kelly: What is your favorite flute?
Gareth: My favorite flute is probably my G minor that was made for me by Tony Francis up in Maine. It's just magical to play...I've never picked up an instrument like it before. It's an aromatic cedar, which really, whenever I play it, the smell of the cedar just wraps around me and everyone in the room. It's just very spiritual and almost healing too.
Kelly: You are really into the healing portion of your playing, with not only your flute use but your emotive nature by the use of your voice. What other organizations have you worked with?
Gareth: Other than working with Hospice, I have done a lot of work for the American Cancer Association. One of my songs that I have previously written, Move On, was released in 2011. I donate all of the proceeds that I make from that song to the American Cancer Society.
Kelly: Have you performed many live shows?
Gareth: I have played a lot of live shows. The majority of shows that I play are actually going into middle schools, elementary schools, and high schools. One of the songs on my CD, This Time, I wrote about the struggle against bullying. I have been taking that message of anti-bullying and zero-tolerance in the schools, into schools across the country.
Kelly: Very interesting, unique, and quite humbling really to be sitting with someone so young, so full of life, and so inspiring. You are really setting the example for others to follow. You carry quite a few different messages currently. Will you continue with the same organizations into the future or are you looking into others as well?
Gareth: I am definitely going to keep working with the same organizations that I am now, but I want to continue to work with new organizations. Music was a gift that was given to me and I want to be able to give back with it and be able to help as many people as I can.
Kelly: Your music has a natural healing element to it and 'father' Neil is a music therapist, has 'father' used your music in his daily dealings?
Neil Laffely: We just did a show for some special needs students for a group called "Project 22". We did a big performance using all Gareth's songs and talking about the flute.
Kelly: What was the follow-up with the kids?
Neil Laffely: We'd love to take the kids on the road with us because they are his biggest fans! They're yelling, "Gareth sing, sing Gareth"!
Kelly: Now, you mentioned you have performed quite a bit recently. You just completed what amounts to be a very big performance for the world's preeminent Native American flutist, nine-time GRAMMY Award nominated R. Carlos Nakai and his organization's Renaissance of the North American Flute Foundation (RNAFF) event The Gathering at the Great Smoky Mountain Heritage Center in Townsend, Tennessee?
Gareth: That was great playing at RNAFF, just to be able to get onstage with Carlos Nakai; really the reason why all flute players are where they are now. It was just incredible, just to be with so many great guys and ladies playing the flute. It was great.
Kelly: Have you done any duets?
Gareth: I have done some duets. Probably one of the most fun duets was playing with John Sarantos at RNAFF. I know John through a flute maker friend of mine up in Maine, Tony Francis; they're good buddies and they have become good buddies of mine too.
Kelly: Are you looking at recording with others in the future?
Gareth: I'm not sure exactly at the moment. I'm always open to possibilities. I still have to play around with some possibilities and figure that out.
Kelly: Will you continue offering a variety of your personal multi-instrumental talents through your works or will you scale back and concentrate on flute playing or singing?
Gareth: At this point, I'm still having a hard time figuring out exactly which way I want to go. I know that the songs that I was looking for, for the next album, I'll be working on are primarily vocal. I'm going to probably work more at that, still don't lose the flute, and still keep on incorporating that in my music.
Kelly: As the Chicago Live Music Examiner, have you been to Chicago?
Gareth: I have not been to Chicago. Not yet. I am hoping to soon, for sure.
Kelly: I appreciate you taking time out of your hectic day to give me this interview.
Gareth: Thank you. I appreciate it.