Chris O’Brien, singer-songwriter, shares why he became a musician, his favorite spots in New England, and his favorite place to watch a sunset. He also shares words of wisdom for aspiring musicians.
Lauren — Travel and Write Today: How did you initially decide to become a musician? How old were you when you started writing songs? (You are truly one of my favorite musical artists!)
Chris O’Brien: I’m not sure I ever decided to be a musician. I was raised around music but never knew where I fit in terms of my love for it. When I “discovered” the guitar, almost instantly it became who I was. I was a terrible student in high school, and music is the only thing that motivated me. I became a musician fortuitously because I couldn’t think of anything I’d rather do.
I started writing songs almost immediately. The beauty of being a singer/songwriter is that you only need a couple of chords if what you really want is to write folk songs.
TWT: I know you grew up in Amherst, Massachusetts? Do you ever get back there? What are some of your favorite spots in the area?
CO: I miss Amherst a lot, and almost never get back there. In so many ways that town will always be my home, no matter where I live, and it’s a big part of who I am. In terms of food spots, I hit when I am home, Bueno y Sano, Antonios, Pasta e Basta, and The Black Sheep Cafe are all amazing. Also, don’t miss Atkins Farm in South Amherst. In terms of local spots around town, I grew up swimming in Puffer’s Pond in North Amherst, and can’t recommend it highly enough. Hiking along the trails at Amethyst Brook is a travel guide favorite, and it is quite beautiful.
TWT: Okay, I need to spend more time in Amherst!
TWT: What is one of your favorite songs you’ve written? (I love all of your songs, but Cigarettes & Rain will always hold a special place in my heart).
CO: I think Blood Like Yours is the song that is most about me, and the most honest and vulnerable. It’s one of my favorites, and, I think, my best.
TWT: What are some of your favorite spots to visit in New England? What are some of your favorite restaurants?
CO: Oooof, this is a big question, and one that could fill a book. I grew up spending large periods of time with my grandmother at her farm in Stowe Vt, so that area is among my favorites. While it’s a little far from Stowe, The Mill at Simon Pearce in Quechee, VT is amazing. I also have family in Brattleboro, all the way down south, and consider it kind of a surrogate hometown that is not to be missed. I married into a family that spends a week in the Rockland, Maine area every year, and that has quickly become one of my favorite places in New England. I recommend day trips to Camden and Rockport, and the ferry ride to Monhegan Island is SO worth it. I go to Rock City Coffee most mornings while I’m there, and Primo is one of the best restaurants on the planet.
TWT: Adding Rock City Coffee and Primo to my list!
TWT: What is your favorite book?
CO: This one is tough because I read so little fiction. I am a bit of a history person, so anything by David McCullough. I love Mario Puzo, and my favorite of his is Fools Die.
TWT: What is your go-to coffee order, and from where?
CO: Cold brew with cream and one liquid sugar from Dunkies. Every day.
TWT: I bet we cross paths at the local Dunks!
TWT: Where is your favorite place to watch the sunrise/sunset?
CO: We took a trip to Tuscany a few years ago, and rented a villa near Florence. Every night we’d bring our chairs to this one spot to watch the sun set over the vineyards. We started to call it “sunset o’clock.” It’s hard to imagine a better spot than that.
TWT: Can you share a memorable moment you’ve had while working in this industry?
CO: I mean, the most memorable moment as a musician is still playing live on NPR’s A Prairie Home Companion in 2007. I was 26 and I had no idea what I was in for, but from the moment I got there it was just one of the greatest experiences ever. The whole thing was a dream. Playing on the main stage at Telluride Bluegrass Festival was pretty awesome too. That’s another great place to watch the sunset!
TWT: I love your response here!
TWT: What advice would you give to aspiring musicians?
CO: Just work on your craft and try to ignore the other stuff as much as possible. Seems like everyone wants to find the thing that’s going to break them in, and some people pour money into publicists and agencies. Really good music finds its own way to people. The things that have helped my music career the most came to me because someone really connected with my songs, and all of them were free.
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